We on the streets will not be surprised to hear that President Peter Mutharika does not read local newspapers, watch TV or listen to radios. Yes, it is possible. If we press our refresher button and look back, one fascinating statement that would send you into laughter is the disclosure by some presidents that they hardly read local papers, listen to radio or watch local TV.
Eish! Imagine a leader who has no interest in the role that the media—proudly called the fourth-estate or the watchdog—play in the society? I know someone is already asking which leaders are these. We are not surprised, Achair once said: “A Malawi sachedwa kuiwala.” We easily forget.
Usually, we on the streets, when taking a position on a particular topic in public debate, we narrow our thinking, but broaden our imagination. It is expected. We are the voters who vote-in and out leaders who fail to meet us in our corridors.
Yes, we are the true Malawians, those who starve due to lack of basic services because someone we entrusted with the responsibility of our purse chose to enrich himself or herself and the cult.
We have slept on long queues for fuel, scramble for yellow maize from Kenya, queue for sugar, maize at Admarc, water at kiosks and long nights at a maize mill waiting for power to restore. The list is long and these enjoy free publicity in the press. But still, some leaders chose to live ignorantly.
It is these issues and culture that make us wonder if indeed someone above there really cares about our welfare. As plebeians, we are affected by few things, but our broadened imaginations give us teeth when in the voting booth, especially if we realise our leader is living in denial and pretending all is fine.
Think of this—President Mutharika told Parliament in May this year while opening the 2018/2019 budget session that he has evidence that his government is winning the corruption fight. Few months later, his deputy walked out of the Capital Hill corridors and contradicts his boss in public by saying there is rot in government. And just last week, the executive director of the graft-busting body declared that all public institutions, particularly those that provide services to the citizenry are rotten.
Based on this, if we on the streets, allege that our president still lives abroad, would you say we have lost the manners instilled in us along the rivers while undergoing initiation ceremonies? We can never agree.
We feel that despite the few highs, the president has failed us, but does not want to admit. You cannot live on one end and disagree with everyone.
Interestingly, the current president is not the first to leave his people in one county and live in another. Many others see only their success and brand concerns raised by watchdogs are politically motivated. It is a mistake.
However, this is usually attributed to baby-sitters and incompetent advisors around the president. The late Bingu Wa Mutharika; for instance, hardly trusted the press, but his boys. He even cared less about the existence of the press.
For weeks, newspapers, radios and televisions spent precious space writing about the scarcity of sugar and long queues in shops hoping the number one citizen would listen and act, but zilch greeted us.
Experts argue that a good leader should go beyond the formal system to understand better the environment that surrounds his or her tenure.
On that day, Bingu’s outing was greeted by cold blood at one supermarket along Chilambula Road in Lilongwe. He stopped his motorcade in disbelief. Hundreds of people were on a queue to buy sugar. This was the day Bingu made his second return to Malawi and maybe learnt a lesson on the importance of looking beyond your team.
Mutharika needs to ‘return’ home now, listen to the voices in the media and concerns raised by both civil society organisations and opposition political parties and spell a practical strategy to address the concerns. And on that return trip, he will need a different approach to addressing his people. He needs to learn to speak to convince with a tone characterised by empathy and pain.
That is what can preserve the likely-to-be lost votes and attract new ones; otherwise, the landslide victory slogan being preached by the party will begin and end at role-playing games.