Lens don’t lie

There are three heartbreaking pictures users of social media in this country couldn’t have missed this week. The first one, Finance, Economic Planning and Development Minister Goodall Gondwe sits in front of dignitaries at a late night event and poignantly stands out.

Attending the European Day at the residence of the European Ambassador, Gondwe, his walking stick in hand, looks miserably seated on a chair as everybody stands tossing glasses of wine or some other drink.

Standing behind Goodall, several dignitaries, among them diplomatic corps, are ministers Samuel Tembenu [Justice] and Bright Msaka [Education] and the Chief Secretary to Government Lloyd Muhara.

But this is a man—despite this apparent torture—with a ready response for those calling for young blood to take over: ‘Government’, he has told us, “is not for babies”.

Perhaps, it’s for old men well pass their retirement age like him. On Friday, Goodall, 81, presented the fifth and last budget statement of this administration, it will be naïve to think many want him to continue after 2019. And it’s nothing to do with just his age, the economy, which he famously declared was in the hands of God, has been wobbling for a long time.

Apart from carrying the fate of the country’s wobbling economy and henceforth, the well-being of the whole 17 million lot of us, Goodall’s latest budget ritual was an attempt to also save mighty Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] from jaws of electoral nightmare in 11 months’ time.

Trying as well is Goodall’s old buddy and boss. He, too, was pictured—caught by the lens in act of desperation to prolong the DPP and his own time in the corridors of power. At 77, Peter Mutharika, a former rigid academic, was a jovial Jacob Zuma, dancing and drinking beer with broke youths from the country’s universities who form the students’ wing of the ruling party.

People didn’t elect Mutharika to consume Chibuku in front of cameras or dance mbwiza, profusely, with girls the age of her granddaughters, but when faced with re-election widely predicted to be close—and more poignantly, an internal leadership challenge from a camp supporting a younger and purportedly more energetic deputy, a 77-year-old CEO of a country can be excused for inviting so many rowdy students into his opulent home.

Power is never something to easily let go. But what has Mutharika done with his initial four-year mandate? If he were an inspiring leader, would his own party countenance a leadership challenge as the case in the DPP? Answers to these questions remove any ambiguity of the times we are facing and the place of this presidency in history.

Contrast the prevailing mood in the country—the threat that Mutharika can possibly be dislodged from power in 11 month’s time—let alone be challenged so openly now in his own party—to the same period pre-2009 election, when the DPP, under Bingu wa Mutharika, was readying itself for a landslide victory.

All knew that Bingu was going to win. Because under Bingu, people saw progress, people saw a vision. Under his young brother, none of that has rang true. Instead, stagnation. Hope has ebbed away. And Peter Mutharika, at 77, has been a low-energy president who has failed to tackle corruption, provide an economic blueprint noticeable by history writers or prove a force enough personality, to bend this country to his vision, any vision.

Meanwhile, pictures of shame and sadness like the third one we saw—a group of students learning under dilapidated classroom conditions, without desks hence seated on the floor—have been the order of the day. In such moments, we have seen for the very first time, politicians, some from the president’s own tribe and backyard, challenging that the president’s time is up.

For a country long ridden by the demons of tribalism, that has been refreshing regardless of the possible selfish motivations of those within the DPP pushing for a power grab from an underwhelming president. These are interesting times, but they should not mask the tragedy of five-wasted years, the DPP—way before it started to disintegrate—unleashed on our country. Five more years, will torture Goodall, this president, but will destroy this country more.

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