In one of the books foundational to a religion quite prevalent in this country, a story is told of a king newly enthroned who had a delegation of his subjects visit him. The delegation had come to the new king to ask if he could treat them a little fairer than had the new king’s father. It is recorded that the new king asked for time before giving his subjects a response. In the intervening period the new king consulted those elderly folks who had been his father’s advisors and also his youthful peers. Well, to cut the story short, the new king opted to follow the advice of his youthful peers with the result that there was a rebellion in his kingdom and he ended up being king of only a paltry part of what used to be the kingdom his father reigned over. The people of the kingdom, had decided that if the new king was not going to make their burdens lighter they had no use belonging to the kingdom.
This story, to me, epitomises a very solemn promise that our Constitution makes: the people of Malawi are at the centre of the governance matrix in this country. Like the subjects of the newly enthroned king that I spoke about earlier, the people of Malawi deserve to have their governors make their loads lighter. Our governors have the duty to lighten the loads that ordinary Malawians bear – this is not a mere pious wish, it is a constitutional obligation. The corollary, of course, is that, like the subjects of the newly enthroned king, the citizens of this country should not idly sit back while our governors fail to lighten our loads. Allow me to demonstrate the constitutional foundation for the centrality of “the people” in Malawi’s governance matrix.
The preamble to our Constitution reveals that its adoption was, in part, motivated by the desire, on the part of the people of Malawi, to create a constitutional order based on the need for an open, democratic and accountable government. The preamble also speaks of the desire to guarantee the welfare and development of all peoples of Malawi as being part of the motivation for adopting the Constitution. My view remains that the statements in the preamble of our Constitution are not empty rhetoric. The statements in the preamble are a clear indication of the peoples’ will to create a government with very clearly demarcated boundaries of authority. The Constitution creates a government that must work to lighten the loads of all Malawians. We must not also forget that the Constitution was adopted in the name of the people – this is very significant, make no mistake about this.
Against the above background, we must all, individually, ask ourselves and determine if successive governments in this country have indeed worked to lighten the loads of Malawians. I fear, though, that perhaps like the juvenile and newly enthroned king I spoke about earlier, our political leaders, instead of making our loads lighter, have only worked to serve their selfish interests and ignored the people completely.
I will randomly pick some examples without attempting to go too far back into history. So, the governments that have come and gone with all the promises made during the campaigns, how much of what is promised has actually been delivered? Shouldn’t we take a deliberate audit to see if campaign promises are actually fulfilled? Relatedly, there is a trend by our political leaders, especially when addressing political rallies, to make wild promises to ululating masses without seriously intending to fulfil such promises. This is very callous conduct, if you ask me. No political leader worth his salt should make a promise to the people of Malawi without intending to fulfil the same.
Two more examples may give insights into how the people of Malawi actually feature, if at all, in the country’s governance. Firstly, Cashgate, as we have christened the scandal, is, at the one level, a manifestation of how little those entrusted with public funds actually cared about the welfare of those meant to benefit from those funds. I think, we are yet to get to the bottom of what Cashgate was all about, suffice to highlight that a select few generously enriched themselves at the expense of the people of Malawi. Many have, for good reason, speculated about how much the Cashgate loot would have gone to improve the welfare of the people of Malawi in various spheres. Secondly, this thing that we have named Maizegate. I am mindful that there are pending investigations, apparently, on this matter so I shall not seek to pronounce on anyone’s guilt or innocence. Nevertheless, at least judging by the findings of the Commission of Enquiry, the transactions surrounding the so-called Maizegate point to a frightening level of disingenuity on the part of some duty-bearers in this country. Scarier for me, is the rather tepid response by the relevant law enforcement agencies in relation to this matter.
Look, the people of Malawi matter very much and should not be taken for granted. The people, though, must also awake from their slumber and claim what the Constitution guarantees them.
* Mwiza Jo Nkhata is an associate Professor of Law, at University of Malawi.