President Mutharika Keeps a Low Public Profile
Since his address to Malawians in Botswana on 3rd April, President Mutharika has kept a low public profile and has not commented on the many problems the country is facing nor has he reacted to the heavy criticism he has received on bad governance.
Before April this year, President Mutharika would use each public function to castigate his critics -- mainly civil liberties leaders and newspapers. It didn't matter whether the criticism was constructive or otherwise. He would go petty and name drop Mwakasungula, Bamusi, etc., and would misrepresent the message of the civil society leaders as he addressed his audience.
His first public comment on the deportation of the UK envoy was made in Mzimba today in which he said he felt he had been insulted. He did not elaborate.
Relaying inaccurate information
In his address to Malawians in Botswana, he mentioned the closure of the University of Malawi campuses (Chancellor College and Polytechnic). In his speech, he said that "Blessings Chinsinga and Jessie Kabwila-Kapasula were ignoring all the good things that he is doing in Malawi ... and instead were teaching rebellion". He had earlier mentioned the road projects and the China funded university to be built at his Ndata Farm in Thyolo.
Mutharika insists that Chinsinga was teaching rebellion or revolution but Chinsinga has gone on record to say that he did not teach rebellion or whatever the president calls it. Chinsinga told a local radio station that in his public policy lecture he gave examples of riots in Egypt and Tunisia as products of action and/or inaction on public policy by the respective governments.
Its difficult to believe that Professor Chinsinga told the students to go rioting due to fuel and forex shortages being experienced in Malawi. Most students have no cars and don't require forex. They are therefore not the best group to incite to rise against shortages of fuel and forex shortages. The professor of political science would know this and anyone with simple analytical skills would know this.
Kabwila-Kapasula is a union leader for the lecturers and by just banding her to Chinsinga's "teaching rebellion" label shows a failure to recognise and understand the role labour unions play in a democracy. What is more troubling is that this banding was coming from the president himself.
We know Mutharika's facts on this issue are incorrect. So, either the president is lying or his informants have lied to him. In any case though, you would expect him as a leader of a democratic country to assure the lecturers of academic freedom. Or at least do all that is necessary to find out exactly what was said in that public policy class before parading his ignorance to the masses and accusing lecturers of teaching rebellion. As far as we know, he has done no such thing. Instead, he has instructed the University Council through its chairperson Dr. James Seyani to punish the staff at Chancellor College.
Its now approaching 12 weeks since the academic freedom saga started. Currently, the university students have been sent home and the government machinery and the university council are fighting the lecturers in courts and outside courts (using threats and intimidation). Unfortunately for Malawi, in all his actions or inactions, the hope of Mutharika is that the lecturers will be defeated in their quest to seek assurance on academic freedom - he would later proclaim on some platform that he is only a disciplinarian like Kamuzu Banda and not a dictator as others, mostly 'insignificant people' want to label him.
However, history is not on his side when it comes to using intimidation and threats in dealing with the lecturers union.
Focus should be on the major problems
The country is facing major problems, some of them are perennial, like the level of poverty, quality of education plus functional illiteracy, ESCOM's irregular and unreliable supply of power, access to health care, etc.. Some problems are Mutharika's own making like nepotism and incompetency, lack of rule of law and accountability. Some problems are immediate and have only appeared in the past three or so years like forex and fuel shortages.
You would expect the nation to be regularly briefed on what the government is doing on such challenges the country is facing. However, what you get almost daily and at tax payers expense are briefings from Ntaba and Vuwa Kaunda duet defending everything that government does and castigating whoever has crossed the government path the previous day.
This attack on persons instead of explaining government agenda is part of the distraction strategy that the DPP government has chosen to employ to silence criticism.
On the part of President Mutharika, he has failed to communicate his government agenda with respect to these problems and has also failed to address the immediate problems the country is facing in any meaningful way.
When he talks about these issues, he is angry, wondering why Malawians are not eternally grateful for his wise and dynamic leadership considering many things he is doing for them including building roads. He seems to regard good roads (and other developments) as a privilege for Malawians and forgets its the basic duty of government to provide for such developments such as good roads.
Fuel and forex crisis
The last time he spoke on the fuel and forex crisis he 'misspoke'. He blamed the fuel problem on the congestion at Beira port, a fact that has been denied by the company running Beira port. We also knew that this was not true anyway, since every other month in the past three years the government comes up with a different reason for the fuel and forex problem.
Why is it that the president and his government cannot see the truth and tell the truth about the roots of the forex and fuel problem? Why is it that the government cannot tell the truth about many other issues? You may recall Vuwa Kaunda blamed Tete bridge on the Zambezi for fuel shortages in Malawi.
On the forex problem, President Mutharika blamed scrupulous Asian businessmen and the courts for the problem. He has not provided further explanation and this is sad coming from the president. Why can he not explain what the Asian business persons are doing to make the country suffer forex shortages for more than three years now? If the Asian business persons are doing something illegal why is the law not taking its due course? Is the president trying on simple scapegoating, similar to that which led to Kamuzu Banda expelling Asians from the rural areas and forcing them to live in Lilongwe, Blantyre, Zomba and Mzuzu?
The president is silent now on many issues but the country is not moving forward; the economy is struggling even in this tobacco buying season, the private sector is struggling with forex and fuel problems around, quality of education remains poor. Maybe he is silent because his penchants for praise songs will not work in this economic climate even with (stale) talk of food security.
Just before Mutharika left for Botswana, he made several presidential orders including those that stopped the court case against Rev. Nyondo of the CCAP, the opening of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) after a four month closure, allowing former president Bakili Muluzi to get medical help in South Africa and extending the grace period for civil servants to open bank accounts.
These orders coincided with the release of funds ($348 million) by the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which were previously withheld amid reports that the USA was concerned with Malawi's bad governance -- and these two events might be related.
When the president made the orders, he also expected praise songs on his return from Botswana. But apart from acknowledging the orders, Malawians and NGO's are more concerned with fundamental issues that lie behind many problems Malawi is facing including bad governance. This reaction might have shocked the president.
Transparency and accountability
In days past, dictator Kamuzu Banda used to say Malawi was a 'star performer' and for other reasons no-one challenged him and without any other information source most Malawians believed him, when all along Malawi has remained a very poor country.
The president and his government cannot rely on not giving objective and balanced information (using the state media) on the issues that concern the nation. Many Malawians are now better informed and know there is better and will not be satisfied by self-praise on food security only, while other areas especially on civil liberties are neglected.
Malawi is now a democracy and transparency and accountability are essential as without them this government is becoming self-serving. The president is accountable to the public that elected him and he seems not to know what it means by being accountable.
In times when the nation is facing many challenges, he has to clearly communicate his agenda, show genuine concern for the common man and be seen to implement long lasting solutions to the problems the nation is facing.
Mutharika's record though shows that he will continue on projects that give him chance to show-off and we have to be rest assured that when he will speak on many of the issues, he will be angry and will join Ntaba and Vuwa Kaunda duet in castigating all his critics, Malawians, and the bilateral donors.