Cronyism is the problem

Hon Folks, the good thing that has come out of DPP’s spectacular loss in the October 17 by elections is that it has made APM realise his prospects of vacating the State House in 2019 are real if he does not play man of the people eager to hear their woes and personally do something about it.

Hardly a week after scooping a mere ward in a contest where three parliamentary seats and three wards were up for grabs, APM met with the management of Egenco and Escom, the two government-owned companies responsible for the generation and supplying power respectively amid the worsening load shedding which has pushed us back to the “Dark Ages” and pulverised small enterprises.

APM also met Admarc and NFRA managers on Monday then announced the lifting of the ban on maize export. These interventions came on the heels of another intervention on bloodsuckers. Though he came in late, APM talked to the people and when the so-called bloodsucker hunting spread to Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial capital, he deployed both the army and the police.

In a country where Cabinet ministers and public sector professionals survive by playing the cheer-leader, telling and doing not what is right but what pleases the hiring authority, the President may remain detached from reality unless he identifies a by-pass that takes him to the dump-pit where cronies heap the unsavoury issues that matter most to the electorate.

Kamuzu Banda woke up to the reality that cronies thrive on telling the master sweet lies rather late in his 30 years of autocratic leadership.  Having bragged for years that he had transformed agriculture so much that in Malawi “there was no question of hunger and no question of poverty either”, cronies were afraid to contradict him when hunger struck in 1987.

Ministers and other party cadres went about telling hungry people: “do not sell all your maize but reserve some for food”.  Acknowledging hunger would have implied Kamuzu’s claims that there was no question of hunger or poverty in Malawi were a farce. Who would dare do that?

When “intelligence” tipped Kamuzu that the prevailing food shortage posed a threat to stability, he was surprised. He then summoned some of his closest cronies—Florence Tsamwa, Hilda Manjankhosi, Robson Chirwa and others—to a meeting at Sanjika Palace which was broadcast live by MBC Radio.

“Do people in your areas have food?” that was the million dollar question Kamuzu asked, making it crystal clear he wasn’t expecting political niceties, lies or exaggerations but an honest answer.

Unshackled, it was Mai Tsamwa, OLM, who started by giving a cinematographic description of heart-rending hunger and deprivation that made children at Chigumula in the outskirt of Blantyre City live on cooked green mangoes. The others came one by one to tell a pathetic story of how hunger dehumanised the people in their respective areas.

I was a local news page editor for The Daily Times then and I could hardly sleep that day because I had just put in the paper stories about the same people urging the same hungry people not to sell all their maize but reserve some for food as a token of appreciation for what the Ngwazi had done transforming people’s lives through the introduction of modern farming methods. By their own admission, what we quoted them as having said earlier was a lie!

Lies went on until Kamuzu lost in the referendum. He wanted to give up but cronies lied to him that he was still the most popular leader in the country and was likely to win the first multiparty presidential poll the following year. He lost miserably to Bakili Muluzi.

In case cronies did not say this to APM: I am here to say his style of leadership is no different from Kamuzu’s.  It’s no different from APM’s other three predecessors either. Ministers are hired and fired at will, creating in them a high sense of insecurity of tenure. The fear turns them into boot-lickers who tell and even defend not what they believe in but what they think will amuse the President.

Hard for the President to bank on the views of such people which probably is why the truth is learnt rather too late at the ballot.

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