In April 2003, the USA invaded Iraq for the second time in about a decade. President George Bush also convinced Prime Minister Tony Blair of the British Government to go to war against President Saddam Hussein with him. Together they ousted Hussein and brought an end to his regime. But the invasion of Iraq by these two great western powers remains one of the gravest mistakes of their countries in the 21st century.
It was later discovered, for example, through the Chilcot Report that Bush and Blair went to war based on false intelligence and wrong information which had claimed that President Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Due to such wrong intelligence and information, not only were trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives of soldiers and citizens lost, but the whole world was plunged into a fierce era of the terror of ISIS Caliphate which emerged following the power vacuum created by the ousting of Hussein. The whole geopolitical landscape changed and until today the world continues to suffer terrorism, migrant crises, and similar challenges just because of two leaders that were fed with wrong information.
Presidents anywhere in the world advance domestic and foreign policies and make political decisions based on pieces and volumes of information and intelligence which they receive. The intelligence and information come from various formal and informal sources within government and outside government. When the President receives these pieces of information and intelligence, he seeks advice from his political advisors who sometimes are the same people who bring the information to him. Some advisors are official like Cabinet Ministers and those that are put on government’s payroll as advisors to the President. Others are unofficial advisors who might include foreign institutions, foreign leaders, the president’s own friends and relatives or even the first lady.
The point I am trying to make is that an adviser to the president can be anyone who has links of some sort to the president and advises him whether in official or non-official capacity. As a result, the President behaves, speaks, and acts according to the advice that his advisers feed him with on the information that is received on the President’s desk.
These advisers are an integral part of the administration because they can make or break the president and his administration. The issues of interest that advisers advise the President on may be strategic or tactical in nature whether bordering on policy or politics or otherwise. Strategic issues involve those matters that are very central to the administration and they are constituent to long term objectives of the administration. For instance, the Iraq war or in our local context, the overall approach on how the President should deal with the opposing MCP and UTM is a strategic issue and has a lot do with whether DPP will survive beyond 2019 or not. On the other hand, Tactical issues involve issues that emerge on daily basis like what the President should say in his speech at a public rally or how he should respond to questions in an interview. For example, what the President should say or not say in a “Talk to the President” interview is a tactical issue.
I hope you can appreciate that the President, or rather the administration, relies a lot on advisers on both strategic and tactical matters. Therefore, it is very important that all advisers must have sound political judgment. An advisor with good political judgment knows exactly what can work and what cannot work depending on the political context and challenges faced. Being a good advisor is not about education, age or experience, but rather the person’s strength of political instinct and level of thinking. I mean an adviser needs to have the innate gift to sniff political danger and see what an ordinary eye cannot see. He or she must also have the ability to at least use common sense.
Advisers must never take their jobs or advice lightly. They must ensure that their advice to the President is reliable and based on the most up-to-date facts, accurate information and sound analysis. Before advising the President the adviser must ask himself or herself if he or she truly understands the situation and the stakes involved. As a result, it is highly imperative for advisers to also consult other members of the party or any stakeholders to have their ideas examined and tested so that their advice is revised and refined before it is given to the President.
When I look at the DPP administration, especially how it has behaved in recent times, I am very sure that President Mutharika is surrounded by incompetent advisers who are feeding the administration and party with poor advice which have resulted in very embarrassing actions and decisions by the party and the administration. For example, some statements that the President made during the “Talk to the President” interview on Thursday evening about signatories and Inde Bank, or the decision to return the MK145 million, or the decision to give some youths subsidized beer or hold parallel rallies against UTM in Mzuzu and several other incidences show that DPP is lacking competent advisers who can make and not break the President and DPP administration.
When advisers give the President wrong advice, it is called betrayal because the President acts on the advice out of trust in the advisers. Therefore, when mistakes are made like what we have noticed recently in the DPP administration, the President must remedy betrayal by firing some of his advisers that work in official capacity or distance himself from some people that give him advice in unofficial capacity. He must then choose a new team of advisers and friends to surround him especially at this crucial moment when the 2019 Tripartite Elections were already unofficially launched. Maybe, the President should look back at 2014 Elections and figure out who he can trust to give him correct intelligence and information to advise him well.