Under pressure for various failures—chief among them—inability to implement a raft of campaign promises that have turned out to be either overambitious, miscalculated or total blue murders, the Tonse administration is under siege.
The protests on the streets, now a regular event across the country, led by a comedian-cum-politician Bon Kalindo, who none could have predicted a few months ago had the appeal to pull mass crowds, are hurting the reputation of the government and confidence in it.
The economy, battered by the pandemic and subsequent global economic crisis and worsened by local circumstances such as inability to grow the economy and vicious corruption, has produced a bitter population that feels cheated and that just want to vent anger on someone.
And who is better placed to be the object of that anger than a government that promised the moon—eloquently—but has delivered so little, in so far as creating jobs, incentivising businesses to prosper, quick infrastructure projects to cheer everyone around and of course, tackling the morbid rise in the cost of living.
In the ensuing chaos, even nemesis Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)—disgraced and ejected from power on grounds of being corrupt, clueless, nepotistic, arrogant and aloof—has found a voice and moral ground to speak out. Its leader, Peter Mutharika, famous for burying heads in the sand as crisis unfolded around him for months, has offered to provide lessons in leadership 101.
In that environment, it is difficult for the ordinary man to accept any analysis save for one that concludes that President Lazarus Chakwera’s administration has been nothing but a categorical failure. And that the man and the party’s legacy is doomed as much as that of the church he once led.
But doing so, is to fell prey to simplistic instincts.
For beyond the banality of everyday individual life, beyond the odd nepotism in the Chakwera administration, corruption of those who wine and dine with him, the President’s own regular miscalculations and indecisiveness, and obvious display of inexperience in executive office, there is no denying the president means well for the country.
And there must be no denying that he is doing something remarkable and fundamental that is good for the country, its economy and its people, for the long haul.
So, amid the doom and gloom, one thing that is standing out is the undeniable crusade against corruption. So far, all praise has gone to the appointees at Anti-Corruption Bureau, Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney General—the three Young Turks who are so far doing a remarkable job.
But the buck, we say, stops at the President and it’s true that with just one presidential intervention, a sacking perhaps, the whole fight against corruption can be aborted.
And, if, ever, there was a job any president should prioritise in this country, then it’s the fight against graft. For our economy to grow, for jobs to come, industrialisation to be a reality and not just be a dream in development strategy documents, we need to stamp out corruption, and use the meagre resources—taxes and aid—prudently. We should erect infrastructure that will attract genuine investors to ensure value addition for our exports, diversify the economy to give it ample room for growth and make it less susceptible to shocks such as droughts (which will only get worse with climate change), pandemics like Covid-19 or donor flight.
But—a big but—that can only happen if we stop the wanton abuse of resources at the top—where costly huge contracts are granted to service providers without due diligence on costs and our actual needs, and at the bottom, where public servants such as police traffic officers, road traffic officers, customs officers, junior accountants, procurement officers and others—have a parasitic relationship to their job and steal relentlessly during revenue collection, budget executions and procurements.
Corruption might be a cancer and might be a culture but nothing inspires corruption more than seeing those at the top doing it and getting away it. It becomes free-for-all. A junior reporter tired of seeing his editor doing corruption and getting away with it becomes corrupt; a primary school teacher hearing news of corruption by ministers all the time sees no wrong lining his own pocket with school development funds; a doctor stealing drugs from the hospital pharmacy point out to himself that more was stolen during the procurement supervised at Ministry of Health headquarters or at the Central Medical Stores.
It is criminal thinking, but it is true.
So, say what you want to say about the Chakwera administration, and we all must, but the reality is that, on fighting corruption relentlessly, Chakwera has picked up the most important job facing the presidency and the country since the British left us. And after handcuffs started dropping on the alleged corrupt barons like confetti, including on those we once deemed untouchable, and the debarring of their companies used for years as vehicles to plunder our taxes as if it’s their grandfathers’ inheritance, and abuse our institutions as if their grandmother’s estates, doesn’t this provide a silver lining amid this moment of flux?