Yes, we need a conversationThe scenes of President Peter Mutharika arriving in Lilongwe this past week—in full military escort with armoured vehicles in front and behind his convoy—tells us something about the poignancy of today’s Malawi.
These are precarious times. Save for a drastic change of the situation, which one cannot bet on anyway! When the Constitutional Court resumes sitting later this month for the highly-charged election dispute case, like Mutharika, the five judges presiding on the matter, will also travel in manner fitting a war zone.
Outside the court premises, police officers will not be enough to provide security, and will retreat from any close proximity to predictably large crowds of mostly opposition party sympathisers; hence, again the Army will be called upon.
The ruling party cadres will avoid the streets and, even though, the ruling party has a stake in the election case, its top brass will do themselves a favour by steering far away from the courts. For doing otherwise—like donning any DPP regalia, driving a DPP branded vehicle—will be regarded as anything far more foolhardy than foolishness.
The period we are going through is beyond totemic, it’s toxic, too. One shudders to imagine, what will happen across this country, when the court makes a final ruling on the matter. This country—formerly Nyasaland but renamed Malawi for flames of fire—will literally, explode, regardless of how the case goes, but one can predict, especially if it goes against the opposition.
So, yes, we need a conversation that will bring peace, and unity, too.
For, we are, in this hour, a deeply divided nation. A President who is being driven around by armoured vehicles has no presence of legitimacy, but only a semblance of control. Mutharika must work to get some.
First, he must swallow a few home truths. More than half the country wants him nowhere near the Presidency, but since the President won the Presidency, anyway, according to the electoral body, he must now work day and night to unite those who voted for him, and those who didn’t.
That cannot be achieved by bombastic speech or arrogance. That cannot be achieved by declaring that his enemies will be dealt with “force by force” in the streets, dispersing party thugs or asking police to drop handcuffs on dissidents like confetti. No!
Mutharika must act like a father—see those against his rule as unruly sons, but still members of his broader Malawi family. And since his very legacy and survival of his Presidency, that court case withstanding, depends on it, he must face the reality and engage his opponents in the most sincere talk.
The basis of that talk must not be about how to share power. That can be discussed, but an all encompassing agenda: How do we move this country, the poorest in the world by some estimation forward. How do we ensure that the current chaos is a catalyst, not for a change in government (it might if the parties wish), but how does it change the way our people are governed.
Those are the talks that will ensure no election dispute again frightens the economy the way the current protests have. If Mutharika, or anybody, needed any evidence, they could themselves know worse by just checking the free flow of the Kwacha since the demonstrations started.
And the opposition have an obligation to talk even though MCP president Lazarus Chakwera rightfully thinks the current offer of the DPP is just a Trojan horse. The talks Chakwera should consent to are those that accept the legitimacy of the court petitions and opposition grievances and hope to pacify the current tensions for the sake of national good. They should also focus on election reform and accept that the election results demand a new thinking that the DPP alone, following its dismal record, cannot be trusted to implement.
But beyond power-sharing are the people, majority of whom are angry about their status quo than the elections. The opposition says the vote was rigged; hence, they are on the streets. Its majority jobless youths are really causing havoc across the country and even Mutharika minded not to tempt fate by trying his luck driving into the capital with just his usual fancy cars.
Any settlement, any dialogue and any new Malawi, must begin to put them on the cornerstone. If a settlement is made, peace is held but the young, bored, energetic and jobless youth of this country are ignored, again, that peace will be a façade, like a beautiful mountain sitting on a dangerous restful volcano, it will just be a matter of time before this country explodes in a cloud and a fire far more bigger and inextinguishable than the current election-driven protests.