It’s dangerous to let rivals shape opinion, Mr. President
I believe that as a person, President Peter Mutharika is a good man. I also believe he has chalked some notable achievements during his four years in office.
For example, I am convinced he has earned bragging rights for stabilising the economy in the wake of Cashgate and on the back of the plunder’s resultant withdrawal of budgetary support in 2013.
That direct budget support freeze had sharply cut donors’ contributions to the Consolidated Fund or Account Number One from 10.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to 2.8 percent, according to the African Development Bank, representing a 27 percent drop within a five-year period.
That—coupled with natural calamities such as floods, droughts and pests that devoured crops—made macroeconomic stabilisation a tall order given how significant agricultural output is to Malawi’s economy.
Yet, inflation is at one of its lowest points in years; interest rates are the lowest in decades, the exchange rate has never been more resilient in a floating regime.
Granted, GDP growth—at less than four percent over the past five years—remains too tepid to change people’s living standards.
There is also something to be said about the community college programme that in my view is Mutharika’s signature achievement that could secure him a lasting legacy.
His obsession with infrastructure development (although certainly not construction of stadiums for private football teams) is changing the face of the country in the transport sector, health and education, among other areas.
So, yes, if you ask me, Mutharika has something to show for the five years he has presided over this country as its chief executive officer. But the man’s good deeds are overshadowed by his lack of aggression towards fighting corruption, inaction and/or delayed reaction to fluid situations.
On corruption, the fact that the President’s name has come up in some serious corruption and fraud related allegations has not helped to burnish his troubled graft-coddling image.
Going into the 2019 Tripartite Elections, this image is Mutharika’s single biggest weakness that has provided folders and folders of campaign narratives against him. Then there is this persona of a violence hugging leader within his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) that is further soiling his already troubled image.
The President has watched with bemusement as his party’s Regional Governor for the South Charles Mchacha has verbally abused women and men alike with vitriol so abhorrent and polarising that Mchacha has become a pariah across the country. In some cases, Mchacha himself has publicly encouraged violence.
But instead of reprimanding him, the President has rewarded Mchacha with a Cabinet appointment as Deputy Minister for Homeland Security. How can a man who perpetrates violence be entrusted with protecting lives and property? Can such a man really invest any thought in civil liberties?
Is it coincidence that political violence has not just become more prevalent, but also more daring since his appointment?
I mean, here is a role model of violence as the second in command of the country’s domestic security apparatus they have probably been palling around with for years. What can the police do to them? And so folks go about brazenly attacking others in broad day light. They feel embodied.
After all, the Mchacha-led DPP cadets just out-shouted and drowned out the most powerful man in the land—President Mutharika—at Parliament Building in Lilongwe during the delivery of his most important speech of the year: State of the Nation Address.
If they could do that to the Head of State without consequences or paying a price, who is some woman?
I worry that inaction is President Mutharika’s worst enemy. And when he finally acts—which is rare, at least publicly—he is so far behind every other opinion leader that he has to pant his way to the finish line where he finds his competitors such as Malawi Congress Party leader Lazarus Chakwera, UTM’s Saulos Chilima and the President’s critics sitting comfortably on a couch with remote controllers in the hands—controlling the narrative—and even looking presidential, while Mutharika looks weak.
By the time Mutharika sits down for a rest, his rivals have moved on to another topic—most probably that also hits at the President’s administration, leaving him in a defensive crouch while they plot the next political missile. And so the cycle goes on, round and round.
It was the case during the so called blood sucking saga; the script was the same on the crisis involving people living with albinism and the same has happened during the latest spate of political violence. The President’s statement came days after his rivals had set the tone.
For a President leading the country, it is dangerous to be led when it comes to shaping opinion of the day.