Rome is burning

I’ve learnt that those who want the truth don’t need much convincing while those preferring lies will ignore the truth no matter how meticulously presented,” Thuli Madonsela, former Ombudsman, Republic of South Africa.

The opening quote from the former South African Ombudsman has been exciting rabid thoughts in my mind as I watched Malawi burn this week, particularly the target of those now routine but destructive violent demonstrations.

And, indeed, you must be made of far much tough stuff to be Jane Ansah, the chairperson of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) whom the protesters want out of office—accusing her of messing up the electoral process that re-elected President Peter Mutharika.

But no matter how big the size of the protests, or the impact on the economy, Ansah has been steadfast in her rejection of the calls to leave office. She has described the attempts to oust her from office, before the courts conclude an election referral case in which the opposition challenging the results her electoral body released, “as mob justice”.

So, it has been hell no, “I won’t go” from Ansah and the protests have come back again, and again? In her defence, no court of law has found Ansah guilty of any crime, and in her own words, her conscience is clear.

But wait a minute, why can’t Ansah, for the sake of peace, just go? True to Madonsela’s motto, if she is saying the truth, those who believe in truth and justice will still believe her if she is telling the truth and those who just want to molest her public image will continue to do so, for whatever reason.

This is a polarised nation we’ve on our hands since the election results, but regardless of our divisions and how we feel about what Ansah did, or did not do, the fact is that we are in this mess together.

For one, the economy has taken enough battering. And ours, even in the best of times, is a very fragile economy.

So its baffling to watch Ansah’s thought process. Currently, the country is literally, burning. But just how long is Ansah willing to go before she blinks?

It’s all puzzling because Ansah is a Supreme Court judge and her tenure at MEC was anyway supposed to come to an end at some point, so what would she lose, apart from face, by resigning now rather than leaving office later?

And needless to add, Ansah hails from a Judiciary with a proud record of impartiality—where judges recuse themselves from court cases all the time, so why, amid all these allegations of bias, the court case withstanding, is Ansah not seeing the wisdom of resigning now?

What is the point of holding on to office if her conscience is crystal clear, when for all intents and purposes, we all know her job is no longer tenable and that because it’s a job held on trust, even if she won the electoral case, she would never, again, be allowed to run another election in this country?

So, what is the point of holding on to such point? Isn’t it so obvious, that by clinging to the case, Ansah is not doing her reputation any favour?

But then, Madonsela was right, some people would be so blind even if you showed them the truth because they are partisan or biased, so the question is: In whose interest is Ansah clinging to a public job, a large section of the public wants her to relinquish?

Nero, Rome is burning

Ostensibly, in absence of Ansah not seeing the goodness of her withdrawal from the scene, you expect her boss, who happens to be the President, to act. But Mutharika is more preoccupied with winning the election case to realise that he still is President and should act like one.

And it is not just in failing to fire Ansah that you see a President failing to act to diffuse the tension that has engulfed the country, but up to now, Mutharika remains acting ‘business as usual’—in this case which means the President still barricading himself at State House and commenting nothing about the chaos in the streets. It also means the President, who previously threatened to meet fire with fire, not engaging directly the opposition to ensure the chaos is stopped through dialogue. Business as usual means, the ruling party still thinking that a time of unprecedented unity between village and urban population for change, it can suppress dissent by sending party thugs to the streets to harass protesters.

Times have changed, the ground has shifted, but those entrusted to govern us can’t comprehend what is going on in the country. They, like Nero when Rome burnt, are indifferent to what is going on. They are out of touch with reality. They will let the country burn.

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