I have lived in the city of Lilongwe for close to three
years now, and I have no idea who the MP of my area is. I do not even know the
name of my constituency. Whoever is the MP here has never been to this area to
talk to us the constituents in the three years I have lived here. If they have,
I never heard about it. Now in addition to voting for an MP and a state
president on 20th May, I will also have to vote for a councillor. I have
no idea what the name of my ward is. Worse still, I do not know a single
candidate who is running for councillor in this ward.
This afternoon I passed by poster on a tree just outside the
main entrance to the African Bible College campus. The poster had a name of a
candidate asking to be voted for as councillor. The poster named the candidate’s
party, and that was all. I have never heard of this person before, and the
poster did not saying else. I do not even know if the place where I saw the
poster is in my ward or not; it is some two kilometres away from my house.
I probably have myself to blame for having no knowledge of the
names of my ward and my constituency, and who is running for councillor and MP.
But it is also the case that the candidates running in my ward and constituency
are doing little to inform voters like me. There are two or three names with
vibrant campaigns for councillor in Lilongwe city wards, but with no knowledge
of how wards and constituencies are drawn in the city, I have no idea if these
people will be on my ballot paper or not.
|Kamuzu Palace: Intellect and character needed for Malawi's leadership|
In contrast, I know a lot more about candidates running in
other parts of the country. Some of them I know because they are running in my
ancestral home, others because they have a very vibrant, creative campaign strategy
on social media, on radio and in the newspapers. Some are even my friends. In this
campaign season, my eyes and ears are trained on which party and which
candidate, at all the three voting levels, demonstrates the most comprehensive
understanding of what lies at the roots of the problems this country is facing.
Some weeks ago Frederick Ndala, editor of the The Malawi News
, showed the candidates
what it means to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of Malawi’s
problems. In an opinion piece titled “Who will get my vote?” (Sunday Times
2014), Ndala called upon candidates to “address real national issues with
practical solutions.” Ndala’s exhortation hinged on why it was not enough for
candidates to repeat what everyone knows already; insecurity, food crises, bad
economy, unemployment, poor education. Rather, candidates need to suggest
practical solutions to these problems, argued Ndala.
In this campaign season, I am going a step deeper. I am
looking for an outstanding analysis of what exactly has caused the problems, why
they have become entrenched, and what strategies have not been tried before.
Anything short of this is not going to be good enough.
There is something about politics that turns perfectly good,
well-meaning, honest, reasonable, intelligent people into “unfathomable fools,”
to quote a candidly spoken and oft-repeated description from Professor Thandika
Mkandawire a few years ago. And this happens not in Malawian politics only, it
happens everywhere. Too many wonderful people have been transformed into paragons
of mediocrity it has become clear there is something fatally wrong with the
system. A candidate who fails to grasp this fundamental aspect and to articulate
how to change it has no business running.
In their pastoral letter read out in all their churches a
few Sundays ago, the CCAP’s Nkhoma Synod expressed grave concern “with the
secrecy in the way matters of national interest are dealt with.” For me this is
of paramount significance. Thanks to unsung whistle-blowers, we have been made aware
of top secret, underhand deals that go on in the confines of State House meant
to profit the president and their inner circle, at great detriment to the
Shrewd business people and agents, both local and
international, know this too well. They expend unmentionable amounts of largesse
to curry favour with the president. This is the reason why declaring one’s
assets has become as unthinkable as drawing water from a rock. A presidential
candidate who wishes this country well will need to demonstrate a critical
understanding of this problem and have a clear plan for how address it.
We cannot afford to continue having presidents who are
bought by the highest bidder. We have barons in this country whose sole aim is
to continue multiplying their wealth and tightening their economic stranglehold
on the country. I am looking for a candidate who can deal with this vice in a
decisive manner. This country needs more whistle-blowers, with full legal
The crux of this problem, wrapped in presidential power and
privilege is impunity, singled out in the Nkhoma Synod pastoral letter as well
as in the Catholic Bishops’ earlier pastoral letter in December 2013. In his Sunday Times
column of 23rd
March Levi Kabwato says it this impunity that propelled cashgate. He writes,
and this is worth reproducing in full: “The rogues who unashamedly participated
in robbing our national vault did so with the full knowledge that they would
not get caught. In the unlikely event of being caught, they had the confidence
that nothing would happen to them because, somehow, they are untouchable.”
Disregard for ‘inconvenient’ laws starts with the presidency
and becomes the norm for everyone else. Rule of law has become a tool to be
unleashed on opposition parties and on powerless citizens while the ruling
party and powerful elites are exempt from it. While there is no single solution
that can heal Malawi and chart a new path to a new and better future, restoring
rule of law and ending impunity has to be top of the agenda of any candidate
who wants my vote.
Without a sophisticated understanding of the depths of
impunity and lawlessness the country has sunk into, it does not matter which
party or which candidate wins the 20th
May election. There will be a
zero chance of giving Malawians new hope for a better country. I am looking for
a candidate that can analyse the root causes of this problem, why it became
entrenched, and what solutions have not been tried before.
Reforming the civil service was a huge topic in the first
running-mates debate in Lilongwe. The running-mates demonstrated varying
degrees of understanding of what ails the civil service and how to reform it.
But without knowledge of what reforms have been tried before, and why they
failed, we are doomed to more experiments that will not lead to any meaningful
Performance appraisals have been on the agenda for as long
as the civil service has existed, but they have never been implemented. I will
vote for candidate who will go beyond the rhetoric and demonstrate a profound
commitment to reforming the civil service in ways that have not been attempted
There have been numerous studies on how to restructure
salary scales in the civil service, and they have all ended up on shelves, baking
in the infamous Lilongwe dust. The results have been there for all to see;
severe demoralisation whose worst effects have manifested themselves in what
has become a “cashgate mindset” in the entire public and even private sector. The
education system has been made to bear the most visible of these effects.
And it is in education where the effort to rebuild Malawi
must begin. Education has featured very little in the political discourse thus
far. In this campaign season I am looking for a party that can astutely analyse
causes of the current problems facing the education system. The candidates and
their teams need to lay out long-term, well thought-out, feasible and practical
plans to revive Malawi’s education system as the bedrock for future
|Why should I vote you?|
We have now had a generation of disgruntled, disempowered
and disappointed teachers who have so much bottled-up anger. A country whose
teachers feel hopeless and helpless cannot inspire the young generation. That
country will be doomed to perpetual mediocrity.
In the final analysis, no one president or running-mate can
turn Malawi around single-handedly. What I am looking for in this campaign
season is a candidate who has thought long and hard about Malawi’s complex
problems, and has a plan for how to inspire Malawians to become active citizens
in understanding our conditions and offering solutions.
This will be a candidate able to provide what Edge
Kanyongolo, in his Nation on Sunday
March, 2014) calls “straight answers to straight
questions on specific issues.” Kanyongolo poses six questions to which he wants "clear, unambiguous answers." These range from cost of living versus minimum wage, the Labour Tenants Bill, homosexuality and abortion, the National Land Policy, accounting for past human rights abuses, to implementing Section 65.
But over and above the in-depth understanding of Malawi’s problems that I am looking for and the "straight answers" Edge Kanyongolo is asking for, Ephraim Nyondo makes a compelling case to scrutinise the “character” of the people who are asking for our votes (Nation on Sunday, 30th March). Nyondo argues that “the country's direction is not being driven by how conversant and articulate our leaders are on issues affecting Malawians, but rather, on the character of the person holding the presidency.” He suggests that it is character that is more important, defined through “integrity, temperament, patriotism, dedication and values . . .”
While agreeing with Nyondo, I suggest that we need a leader who has both an in-depth understanding of the issues, as well as character capable of bringing about the kind of change previous leaders have failed to bring. I am looking for a candidate able to inspire Malawians towards self-empowerment initiatives and taking responsibility for our destiny. That calls for both intellect and character.
Note: A shorter version
of this article appeared in The Malawi News of Saturday, 22nd March,
2014, under a different title. It has been updated and revised to reflect on-going
discussions on what to look for in a president.