Two prominent people in as many days have shown remarkable courage in telling Malawi President Joyce Banda some hard truths right in her face.
Someone told me that sometimes, the mettle of good leadership is seen during face-to-face challenges or even confrontations.
And President Banda’s reaction to two such incidents tells us a lot about the strength or lack thereof of her leadership abilities.
First to start was Traditional Authority (T/A) Bvumbwe of Thyolo who, confident of his powers as chief, on Sunday condemned Mrs. Banda’s People’s Party (PP) for distributing party T-shirts at a funeral.
In no uncertain terms, he told the President that under no circumstances should such disrespect for the dead and the community at large be repeated in his area.
As the youthful chief made the tough statement during the funeral service for the late High Court judge Joseph Manyungwa, the President was in attendance and was reportedly seen nodding as if in agreement. It seems that those nods were only playing to the camera.
By Tuesday, PP officials led by Brown Mpinganjira decided that the chief’s words were offensive to the President and somehow felt that some traditional leaders should apologise to the Head of State on Bvumbwe’s behalf.
The Mpinganjira-led group then organised a news conference at government expense to ferry the chiefs to Blantyre where they issued the apology that evening.
Once again, our custodians of culture and traditions have been taken for suckers, paraded like cartoons to defend the indefensible and disparage a young chief for standing up to power with the truth and doing the job bequeathed to him.
By Wednesday morning, Chief Bvumbwe had disappeared on the back of violent threats against him. I don’t want to speculate on who is responsible for the threats or Bvumbwe’s evaporation from his kingdom.
However, coming after the PP -facilitated news conference, I have no apology to make for adding two and two and getting the sense that somehow the ruling party, which has chalked a remarkable trend of intolerance, enters the equation that is the Bvumbwe incident.
It should be a great shame and an abominable development to our values and norms for a chief to run away from his kingdom, leaving his subjects in disarray as political elements wantonly go after the outspoken young leader to silence him.
No wonder the institution of the traditional leader has lost so much value! But whoever is responsible for unleashing the ‘human dogs’ on the chief should call off his or her hounds and let Bvumbwe return to his throne.
That brings me to Voice Mhone, the board chairperson of the Council for Non-Governmental Organisations (Congoma) who, during Labour Day celebrations on Wednesday, told off the President that her policies have not worked.
That the reforms have plunged more Malawians into reverse graduation, sliding into lower poverty bands as the value of money erodes their purchasing power and the cost of living flies higher than their real incomes.
Instead of noting the issues that Mhone had raised for consideration, the President went personal with the man. I am even told she ordered the civil society leader back to the podium to provide solutions to the problems he had just diagnosed.
But Mhone turned the tables on Mrs. Banda, reminding her that he and others already sent a document to her a few weeks earlier which contained the proposed solutions.
In other words, our President—ever on the road—had not read the document!
Apparently, the President says the economy is improving simply because her experts have told her so, not necessarily because she has seen the improvements herself unless, of course, she considers possible improvements to her personal wealth as a measure of the positive impact of her policies otherwise, in the dusty streets of Mbayani in Blantyre, Mchesi in Lilongwe, Zolozolo in Mzuzu and the rural areas, things are getting worse.
It is also interesting that the all-knowing experts—at least in the eyes of Mrs. Banda—are the same characters who have publicly admitted that they made certain costly mistakes in their eagerness to please the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other Western capitals on the reforms.
In other words, these folks at the Reserve Bank of Malawi, the Ministry of Finance as well as the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development are not always right.
In fact, they have a habit of coiling from telling a President the truth, especially when the information is negative.
The point is that the PP administration must learn to get ideas from outside its comfort zone because no one has a monopoly of wisdom, especially when it comes to economics.
The President must accept criticism and advice with grace, stoicism and an open mind. As they say, there is nothing like a stupid idea, even when it comes from a certified idiot.
By trying to attack or embarrass her critics in public, the President is choosing pettiness over substance in dealing with serious national issues. That is not leadership. It is kindergarten behaviour that should go nowhere near State House because it is destructive to the country.