The world has had a rich vein of thinkers whose insights remain so relevant today.
Professor of African Languages at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College Pascal Kishindo, in the article The Ebb and Flow of Language, for instance, noted that nothing in the world is static.
“Everything in the universe is in a state of flux.”
Kishindo’s observation, of course, replicates that of many other theorists such as the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, and the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, who poetically observed that “time and the world are ever in flight”.
Governance theories, therefore, like everything else in the universe join this general flux.
Writing in more recent times, Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama reasoned that in this Twitter era, what is most striking is that “the hopes and aspirations of an entire nation are no longer invested in one individual”.
He further reasoned that when seeking freedom, Africans, this time around, speak for themselves through the media and online social networks, in public spaces and civic forums.
Thus, in this dot.com generation, it is the elected representatives who are listening what the governed want.
And it is plain to almost everyone that what Africans have always wanted is a desire that has been burning since the ‘Scramble for Africa’ was formalised at the Berlin Conference in 1884 and erupted into the struggle for liberation from colonialism over half a century ago: Freedom.
Although the word freedom feels like a nebulous concept, at least, there is an agreement that, as a practical reality, freedom encompasses not only having access to social amenities such as clean water and sanity conditions, education, accommodation, health care, gainful employment and the rule of law that safeguards all other fundamental rights, but also having a say in the way one’s country is governed; the way one’s country’s natural resources are used and the way one’s country’s future is shaped.
This era’s demand for democracy and accountability borders on such perception of freedom.
Hence, it is difficult nowadays for leaders who fashion their headship on old models and frameworks of governance to last a mile or avoid political protests.
Perhaps following examples would precisely explain how sticking to aged hymns of leadership corrodes the authority and the very sense of legitimacy of old-school leaders.
The recent uprisings in North Africa, again, were sparked by educated, agile and tech-savvy youths led by a 27-year-old unemployed Tunisian university graduate Mohamed Bouazizi—fuelled by a desire for freedom.
The sclerotic leaders, then, bereft of up-to-date conflict resolution and governance theories, had no time to attentively listen to the demands of the majority, but resultantly saw their ponds of absolute power being drained.
In 2007, the late Bingu wa Mutharika appeared in The New York Times, among many other publications, because, as president, he fought hunger in Malawi. From paltry 1.2 million tonnes of maize harvested in 2005, Mutharika’s Farm Input Subsidy Programme increased the yield to 2.7 million tonnes in 2006 and to 3.4 million in 2007. Subsistence farmers who had never harvested enough to last them till the next season sang praises for Mutharika.
But Michelangelo stated: “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”
So, Mutharika, with a 2009 landslide re-election victory, thought he had infallible wisdom and, in a horrifying replay of the Odysseus-Sirens or Bwampini-Amphalasa adventure, he stuffed his ears with wax so that he could not hear what he thought was the average-minded voice of the governed.
Accordingly, despite widespread opposition from the majority Malawians who viewed the introduction of the new flag as unnecessary waste of taxpayers’ money and nothing more than window dressing, Mutharika went ahead with the move.
That marked the beginning of his astounding about-turn of popularity.
It is true, as the saying goes, that leaders who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.
But despite all these cases of leaders who tumbled because they closed their eyes to changes in philosophies of governance, sadly, President Joyce Banda is freely treading the same path.
Banda has gone to extraordinary lengths to be seen as the beau ideal of indomitable leadership with results that have not mostly been in Malawi’s best interest.
The President vastly appears to fall short of authentic commitment to deliver Malawi from the recurring socioeconomic evil, which she has continually and shamelessly disassociated herself from.
The University of Jeonju in South Korea, for instance, recently bestowed an honorary doctorate on Banda. However, because it is not an academically or professionally earned paper, it can only be framed and hung on any wall of one’s choice, but not necessarily ‘worn on one’s forehead’, much less ‘attached to one’s name’.
‘Wear the honour’
Thousands have been honoured this way, but never ‘wear the honour’, the way Banda, her predecessor Mutharika and Bakili Muluzi as well as a few other Malawians have done.
It is never necessary, therefore, in this soaring inflation economy that has pushed Malawians’ cost of living through the roof as evidenced by the fuel prices increase on February 9, for Banda’s administration to be contemplating the President’s portrait change—just to attach an honorary Dr to her name—yet majority through the media, online social networks, public spaces and civic forums declare such a move as a waste of taxpayers’ money.
On January 17, some citizens led by the Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) demonstrated against the Banda-led government on poor economic leadership and presented a 7-point petition to be addressed by the establishment.
Yet again, the Banda-led government has not shown commitment to respond to the citizens, but only giving the impression that it is working on the issues raised in the petition, hence trampling on the consumers’ freedom of having a say in the way their country is governed.
Everyone, however, wants understanding, and there is no better way of expressing this quality than through sensitive listening.
And in this Twitter era Malawi, where the youth below 24 make 54 percent of the population, Banda will find leadership undemanding not by sculpting her governance on riskier old theories—by creating a deity out of herself or defending her average governance on podiums, but by listening to Dramani Mahama’s voice of reason: lead while listening attentively to the governed needs.