Honourable Folks, the prospect of voting again in the May 20 tripartite polls evokes in me both excitement and trepidation.
Excitement because the dead wood among elected leaders shall face the wrath of the short-changed voters! From the President to MPs, they all have their fate in the hands of the electorate—the ultimate stakeholders in our democracy.
I’m also excited to see a councillor in my area and a mayor in my city. I just hope between now and May I’ll get to know the candidates that matter most to me and acquire adequate information on what they stand for to help me make an informed choice. I’ll hate casting a blind vote; that’s what made elections contribute to the mediocrity of the past 50 years.
Which is why my excitement is juxtaposed with trepidation; choosing bad leaders this year means starting another 50 years in perpetuity of mediocrity. Only that it’s our children who’ll pay the ultimate price if the tripartite and subsequent elections will continue being declared a success on the “free and fair” criteria only.
There is also the need to consider whether or not the polls were preceded by adequate civic and voter education to help the electorate make informed choices and minimise the disenfranchising null-and-void vote.
That aside, the electorate ought to be clear on what issues matter most in the polls. Consensus is building on the premise that we can’t continue with “more of the same” that has made us move in a cycle of poverty for the past 50 years. To quote Barack Obama, we need the “change we can believe in.”
I’m sure self-respecting citizens look forward to the day when they can eat the fruit of their sweat as opposed to looking to government for handouts as is the case now. For that to happen, we have to change our mindset and reject the lie that government, which depends on the taxes we pay from the wealth we generate, is rich enough to feed us year after year.
Former president Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda used to encourage the people to work hard in the field. He also used to preach the pursuit of excellence for all citizens. Unless we believe in ourselves and do our best to feed ourselves, there can’t be development in a hand-out culture.
But for us to develop as a nation, we need visionary leaders to lead the process. Here is where the elected political leaders—those we will be entrusting with sovereign authority, law making and spearheading development at the grassroots in May—play a key role.
Some management gurus argue that 80 percent of success or failure is attributed to leadership. Others would probably dispute the exact rate apportioned to leadership, but there’s hardly any debate at all on the fact that mediocre leadership leads to failure, not success.
In much of the post-colonial Malawi, development has been measured in terms of isolated projects, mostly donor-funded. MPs have spent time in Parliament and women have composed songs and gyrated at political rallies, praising a president for a road, school, hospital or bridge constructed on his or her watch.
This infrastructural development—to which donors have contributed 80 percent of the funding–has often been regarded as an end in itself when it’s supposed to be a means to an end. It wasn’t until the United Nations came up with the Human Development Index (HDI) that the claim by our leaders to bringing about tremendous development fell flat on its belly.
It became clear that the world measures development more in terms of the well-being and happiness of the citizenry—the goal to which infrastructural development is the means, not an end. Sadly on HDI, we have progressed tremendously in reverse, becoming worse off by the day.
The leadership of the multiparty administrations has managed HDI with handouts with tragic results. Bakili Muluzi distributed money at political rallies as a means to alleviate people’s poverty. Bingu wa Mutharika’s added Fisp (Farm Input Subsidy Programme) to the handout culture. Joyce Banda has added the distribution of flour and a cow to Fisp and monetary gifts.
The outcome is the opposite. No food security and poverty is getting worse by the day. Government, which depended on donors for 30 percent of its national budget, at least this year looked to donors for 40 percent, a clear sign that even government itself is getting poorer and poorer.
We need leaders who can produce a bi-partisan development blueprint for the country; reform the civil service to rid it of cashgate, sluggishness, red tape and cronyism; and invest public resources wisely to create an atmosphere conducive to the generation of wealth by the citizenry.
Such leaders don’t need a gagged Cabinet to nod to anything they say or do—good or bad. They don’t need bad undemocratic laws to shield their incompetence. They don’t surround themselves with cronies, but people who can add value and criticise in good faith. Such leaders don’t need cheerleaders for MPs to waste time and resources praising them. Rather, they operate best when subjected to close scrutiny by a critical Parliament.
Such leaders aren’t afraid to work with opposition councillors at the grassroots if only because they ensure that development programmes are bi-partisan national undertakings to which all citizens must pitch in. Such leaders “are not yet born” or are they?