Of Mutharika’s Slippery Grip On Power

Of Mutharika’s Slippery Grip On Power

In Malawi, it is no longer clear whether President Peter Mutharika is an incompetent leader or he just provoked the wrong type of enemies who are doing so well to make him seem bad at leading the country.

In the history of the country’s politics, he is probably the only leader to have made a series of decisions that have been deemed illegal, unconstitutional or unprocedural by the courts, one case after another. In some cases, people opting for martyrdom!

Mutharika: With New High Court Judges, Secretary to Government and the Chief Justice 

Without fear of contradiction, I would be safe to say he is a leader that has spent much of his time strategizing on battling opponents than managing the affairs of this country.

Unfortunately, the Malawi leader continues to use the same political strategy, human resource and yet, it so seems, expect a sudden change in fortunes.

Perhaps I am being unfair. He is doing everything he can within his political powers. But then, if “everything in his powers” has yielded such results all the while, one ought to stand up to the old man and tell him like it is.

His record, especially at the courts, is embarrassing for a law Professor. It doesn’t reflect well on his alma mater. As a former Professor of law, this does not reflect well on his former students.

Also, his unpopular political decisions could be further shedding off his support base. The decisions he makes seem to benefit only the same group of citizens that are closer to him, making the majority feel disenfranchised.

Every now and then we hear citizens complain about various decisions made by Mutharika.

As I write this piece, I am fully aware that APM, being President, has to make close calls. Decisions that cannot appeal to all, all the time.

Making decisions on its own is not a big problem. But the big problem with Mutharika is a resistant approach to change. His rigidity is a great danger to his political survival.

Satire: An illustration of APM’s Logic On Lockdown (Daily Times)

The President needs to appreciate that sometimes those that criticise publicly, loudly and in a fashion that smacks of disrespect can be turned into key allies.

With due respect, the President has been less strategic in his recruitment of critics to his fold. He has targeted the praise and worship type.

As a politician, Mutharika is supposed to make tough decisions. Such decisions should not always be seen to be arrogantly pursued or forced on people. There should be time he should be seen to be compromising for the country’s greater good.

My guess is that his decisions should be tested by a panel of internal critics within his party whose job would be to tear apart such decisions, perfect them to the liking of a majority and make sure they are in compliance with the law before they are made public. I never knew car producers wrecked their own cars to test their safety features. The moment I knew this, I immediately imagined the effect this would have on politicians.

I am tempted to believe that those that surround Mutharika are hand clappers and praise and worship type of advisers. I am also tempted to believe that the President is the “know-it-all kind of a leader”. I wish I knew for a fact but absence of resignations among the advisors or absence of firings tells a story of conformity to the status quo.

APM’s Rigid Leadership Style Will Taint His Legacy

Because of my confessed ignorance as to the certainty and correctness of my assumptions, however, I choose to keep guessing, lest I affix a problem where it does not stem from. But one thing I can say for a fact is that Mutharika is struggling to impress and this reflects badly on his record as a leader.

The President’s other weakness is that he seeks to be always on the right side of the argument – not that conceding to be on the wrong side helps all the time! There are times in life when one should admit wrongdoing. More so in politics, a leader should be seen to be tolerant.

He has demonstrated that an idea conceived by the opposition is not a good idea at all. You think I am joking? Go and research about the abolishment and reintroduction of the Junior Certificate of Education and the Quota System respectively.

He literally changed his mind after being hand twisted. He evidently hijacked ideas of the opposition for political mileage he never got because the truth is well known!

Perhaps these examples are a bit rusty and old – you need some from Mutharika’s recent political gaffes.

We are currently facing one of the greatest crises in our lifetime – the COVID-19, a disease caused by the novel Coronavirus.

In order to contain the further spread of the dangerous disease, the President, through Minister of Health Jappie Mhango, ordered a 21 day lockdown.

Surprisingly, the Malawi leader endorsed the lockdown – which in my view was necessary – without giving due consideration to the majority poor.

The President has taken a 10% pay cut. This is commendable. But he has miserably failed to speak to the benefits derived by the poor from his benevolent gesture. 

What is conspicuous is that companies, banks and some SMEs with collateral will benefit from the measures his government announced. Some jobs lost will likely be regained.

But talking about the poor – most of whom did not benefit from the Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP), government is making available cash to buy maize and other produce.

To say farmers with produce to sell to ADMARC will be cushioned in this manner is laughable. This is a pure business transaction. What government needs to do is buy food and give to its citizens before locking then up in their homes.

The messaging by the President on the COVID-19 seems to be designed to ride on the dangerous nature of the disease. The response neglects the fact that a majority of the people survives from hand to mouth.

He might have anticipated this would backfire. But his worst fear was that the political opponents would see through his intent to maintain a tight grip on power by disregarding the court ruling on fresh elections through the back door. Ironically, he made it clear this was not a matter to be politicized. How can a matter of such political voltage be dismissed that easily?

While the opposition leaders have responded, notable action has emerged from clusters of interest groups such as vendors, jobless youths and many other citizens whose economic standing has been made more precarious by the pandemic.

Defying Physical Distance Out Of Rage

Had he addressed concerns of a majority of some of these stakeholders, the damage would have been attenuated.

Locking up hungry citizens without even reassurance of support is inhumane. Locking people away as a measure to safeguard them from death caused by a disease without realising that they will, nonetheless, die of hunger does not seem convincing.

The unmaking of Mutharika could be illustrated by his monopolistic approach to decision making. Just like during the protests, he maintained a position that saw the opposition become more stronger and united.

The most dangerous thing is that like during the anti-Ansah protests, he did not consult any other stakeholders other than his “hand-clapping” cabinet ministers operating a Cabinet Committee on the COVID-19.

I think I am a reasonable person. As such, I would not expect things to go my way all the time. However, I would feel better if I was consulted on my views and later told why my views will have to be sacrificed for the benefit for the most deserving. I would expect to be heard, at least. Oftentimes, people will accept the fact that you decide against their wishes as long as they feel they have been consulted.

In arriving at the decision to impose a lockdown, Mutharika and his team did not give a chance to listen to people like me, my now jobless friend James who recently lost his job at a local hotel, my mother who is domiciled in Dedza since my late father’s retirement or myself as an owner of a start-up business venture.

If we all had, at least, been listened to and had a chance for input in relation to the lockdown, some of us would have surely regarded the process as fair or the President and his people as considerate.

Citizens need to feel important. They want decisions that are made to carefully consider their diverse views.

In the lockdown incident, people felt neglected. Their input was not valued. All they see is an unfair process and a betrayal by those that are entrusted with the duty to care for them in times of need.

I should not be unreasonable as to imagine that all people will agree with all decisions. There surely are some that will never appreciate the President’s decisions because an entrenched hatred instilled by a strong desire to see him off the throne.

Well, we just have to realise that even in life in general, being loved by all is impossible. Imagine, even God is not worshipped by all as it should have been!

The framers of electoral laws realised this “natural political hatred” when they said only 50% plus 1 majority vote is all a candidate requires. The other 49% will comprise of of fence sitters and unreasonable people out to hate all the way. This, however, does not give him the license to be offensive to those that disagree with him.

Sometimes being offensive to those leading a push for social amenities for a particular segment of the population can only succeed in giving credit to the political opponents.

It is laughable that in the news discourse lately, the governing party, the DPP has played the role of “refuter” while the opposition or their “proxies” such as the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) have hogged the limelight by being the agenda setters.

This approach reduces the governing party to proving and exposing their own inadequacies and insensitivities to the needs of the majority citizens and poor strategic organisation.

In politics, just like in life in general, decisions cannot be made in a vacuum. If I make a decision on who to marry, some of my people may resist. Some will do so for genuine reasons others for very frivolous reasons.

But I, as the spouse, will hold the key regardless of what the others say or think. In some cases, however, it would be painfully necessary to look the other way.

Just like the decision to identifying a spouse, introduce her to the family and soliciting their views, good politicians will also consider seeking buy-in, limiting opposition, utilise the responses to gauge temperament and weigh the options and, in the process, limit embarrassing outcomes.

The smartest decision a politician can ever make is to announce a popular decision that earns him people’s confidence or regain support. Politicians have the opportunity to use their power, abuse it or loose it.

An Example Of Proper ‘Stay at Home’ Inducement?

President Mutharika has failed to mobilize allies. If he were to mobilise, he wouldn’t have monopolized the country’s response to the COVID-19.

Mutharika has also been horrible at timing. Imagine announcing a lockdown without preparing to answer the most basic questions for the majority of his people who were starving or struggling to fend for their families prior to the pandemic.

It’s unimaginable and smacks of political amateurishness to announce a highly controversial decision without doing the preparatory work.

If Mutharika’s people had properly done their homework prior to the Thursday announcement, they would have known that a lockdown was necessary just that people were willing to die trying to wade off death due to hunger, than due to the Coronavirus.

Chakwera and Chilima: Giving APM Tough Time

His people should have known that capitalising on the Coronavirus to sway things towards the DPP politically would be obvious without an interparty committee providing insights to the ministerial committee.

A consultative process that goes beyond archrivals MCP leader Lazarus Chakwera and UTM leader Saulos Chilima would have surely helped identify supporters. Oftentimes, those consulted are less likely to resist decisions even when they go against what they had hoped for.

In this case, we are seeing a President whose grip on power is becoming slippery as he keeps making decisions that pits the majority against him.

The lockdown affects all of Mutharika’s people across the political divide. The COVID-19 will equally be indiscriminate. It is, therefore, necessary to realise a need to build a united front.

Of course, the decision to defy physical distance to show rage is stupid and a danger to the general population. 

A resilient human shield against the merciless disease while not neglecting other prevalent merciless vices in our midst will give Mutharika an edge.

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