- Category: Cut the Chaff
- Published Date
- Written by Ephraim Munthali
The story goes like this. One night, on July 18 in 64 AD, the city of Rome was engulfed in fire and, for six days and seven nights, the inferno razed 70 percent of the great imperial city.
As is always the case when such tragedies happen, rumours started doing the rounds. In this case, Rome’s leader, Emperor Nero—a bizarre character I must add—was accused “of ordering the torching of the city and standing on the summit of the Palatine playing his lyre as flames devoured the world around him.”
No one ever proved these claims against Nero and most historians have debunked the story through several published accounts. But the narrative has since then served as a lesson to leaders globally: Do not fiddle—meaning that as a leader, you cannot occupy yourself “with unimportant matters and neglect priorities during a crisis”.
While Nero was fortunate enough in that people still doubt whether indeed he was enjoying himself while his empire was burning, there are a number of occasions when President Joyce Banda has been caught fiddling.
For example, as her economic reforms peel away the flesh of most Malawians, she has been going around presiding over meaningless functions, a majority of them about “Me! Me! Me!”
As her own austerity measures were crippling the economy, businesses and social order, she took away more than K300 million to go to New York in the United States with friends and some unproductive government officials for three weeks to attend a United Nations General Assembly, allow herself to be admired, pick up a personal award, say all the right things her captivated audience wanted to hear and, of course, talk about herself.
Thursday this week was the last straw. As the whole government machinery crumbled around her, she left it all behind and jumped on a free ride to Equatorial Guinea where she was expected to attend the Africa-South America (Ascof) Summit, a talk shop most Malawians have never heard of.
By flying out of the country before resolving the strike that by now I suspect has already cost the country billions of kwacha in foregone productivity, delayed contract processing, implementation of programmes and impact on the private sector in general, most of whom government is their major client, President Banda has clearly outlined her priorities—she will concentrate on the only thing she has chalked some level of success: foreign policy.
Domestic policy, which is what makes or breaks a presidency, has been pushed to the back-burner. Mrs. Banda seems to reckon that she would rather be in the presence of an adoring foreign audience she has set out to please than in the angry and irritating proximity of a bitter local population that has come to conclude that their President cares more about herself than about them; that she is a spoiled daddy’s girl who wants the country to pamper her rather than lead it out of numerous crises.
Put it in a few words and it means that the country has a weak and cowardly President.
At least, with Nero, there are other accounts which say that he rushed to Rome from his palace in Antium and ran about the city the first night of the fire without his guards, directing efforts to quell the blaze.
Compared to our President—who has temporarily abdicated and left her minions to douse the fire—Nero looks quite impressive on this account. Mrs. Banda has even left behind little girls and boys who are crying out to her to help them return their teachers to class.
The little children may have been betting on the President’s self-professed passion for girl child education to hear their cries, only to be faced with her disappearing back as she was boarding her free flight.
The irony of it all is that whatever Mrs. Banda claims the summit might yield for Malawi—and I have my doubts—in the sectors of agriculture, infrastructure, energy and sustainable development, will have to be implemented by the same civil servants she is running away from and whose concerns she has miserably failed to address.
Mrs. Banda has dumped all these problems on the shoulders of Vice-President Khumbo Kachali and some bureaucrats while she goes for the job she knows best—talking and talking without results—hoping that by the time she returns, the crisis would have disappeared. No such luck madam.
The President is the Head of the Civil Service and the issues the government workers are raising can only be achieved through the application of her immense executive powers.
Mrs. Banda made her bed with devaluation, austerity for everyone except herself and Cabinet as well as wholesale free market policies to please her Western coddlers even as some of us warned of a resultant social unrest. Well, on her return, she will find the bed she made and must lie in it.