Let the chaos begin
There is a strong sense of déjà vu in the country.
It feels like the country has returned to the period at the end of Banda regime in the early 1990s when almost every publication wrote critical articles about the then president and dictator Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
A number of newspapers—about 20 by 1993—were born and thrived out of selling critical news. They tirelessly wrote about ills of a falling lion. And as they did that, Hetherwick Ntaba, then Malawi Congress Party (MCP) spokesperson, worked tirelessly to defend the president. He was nicknamed "talking computer" for defending the first Ngwazi even on BBC with a rare dexterity, making critics appear senseless.
It was a season of chaos. A season where Malawians were suddenly free to express themselves and attack their government after 30 years of suppression.
That season seems to be here once more.
Look at the stories in the media; be it in print, electronic. Observe the political chats on Facebook, Twitter or in minibuses. They are voices from different mouths, but they are all about President Mutharika’s poor and dictatorial leadership style.
Speaking on a similar platform, and using the same crafty words he used to defend dictator Kamuzu Banda, Ntaba, is at it again, tenaciously defending every word uttered or published against the second Ngwazi.
Certainly, the country is going through a "Bingu Bashing" period.
People cannot stop complaining and publishing about fuel and forex shortages, delayed salaries, the closed colleges, relentless electric power failures, dry taps, unemployment, the president’s derogatory remarks, abuses of office, telling off of the donors and the civil society, high profile corruption cases, signs of government running out of cash and so on.
People from every coin of thought are speaking and no one is listening to the other. It is a season of political chaos.
And the problem with such seasons is that common sense and reason is easily lost to anger and emotions. The President’s State of the Nation Address is a good example of how the season of chaos distorts the reason in the minds of the nation.
Mutharika gave a two-hour, 8 839-worded speech last week in Parliament, and the response and reaction to it has been outrageous.
If you only listen to MBC and the majority MPs in the house, the impression you have is that it was a powerful speech that reflects how far the DPP-led government has developed this country.
And if you side with John Tembo and other opposition members, then it was an empty speech. But how do other independent voices look at it?
"It was not so bad as some are saying," says Joseph Chunga, a political science lecturer at Chancellor College.
He argues that the speech contained certain government projects which government is making strides upon that may appear unrealistic to the mind of the present, yet have great potential to change the future of the country. The Green Belt Initiative, the Shire Zambezi Waterway, the University Programme are some of the examples.
Given such hopeful examples, why is it that the speech has been received with a strong sense of scorn and reviles by many?
"The problem with the speech is that it was misplaced in terms of time dimension. It was not supposed to be delivered at the time," says Chunga.
Chunga further argues that oblivious to these challenges, the President wants to go ahead running business as usual.
"He is giving a dimension of a better future without considering the fact that such a future is unattainable if we do not deal with the challenges of the present," says Chunga.
Almost every criticism against the speech questioned the President’s failure to touch on issues that the country cannot stop asking questions about.
"The speech avoids all the challenges that the country is facing. In other words, the speech fails to negotiate two worlds: the challenges of the ‘now’ on one side; and the achievements of the past and the prospects of the future on the other.
And that is not new in development discourse. The present is always cautiously selfish about its own challenges and survival; the present is always uncomfortable with projects that belong to the future.
But Franklin Roosevelt, the former US president who rescued American from the yoke of economic depression, knew how to solve the conflict between the ‘present’ and the ‘future’. He carefully built dams of the future by creating employment to the present. He could see the future without despising the present.
Perhaps that is where President Mutharika’s speech has failed to show serious commitments to what he dreams of Malawi’s future.
"It was a speech about past achievements and not where the country is going," says Professor Ephraim Chirwa, spokesperson of Economics Association of Malawi (Ecama).
Chirwa underlined that much as there are a number of economic challenges in the country, job creation remains paramount.
"The speech should have been addressing how government will come up with policies that should aim at creating jobs in the country. When such things are not being advanced, it is definite that people will question such a State of the Nation Address," he says.
How do you attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in a country where fuel and electricity is a relentless crisis? How do you build five new universities when others are closed due to financial problems and the fight for academic freedom? How do you say that Malawi relations with other countries are improving when diplomats are being deported and some being called ‘stupid?’
Those are the questions that Mutharika’s government needs to consider. It is not, says Chunga, that the President nor government can solve all the crises the country is going through with a stroke of a word.
"But I think Malawians want an element of care, a sign that government is concerned about the challenges Malawians are facing in their daily lives. That is what this government is not doing," says Chunga.