In aviation’s early days, aircraft required a pilot’s constant attention and tinkering to fly safely. As flight distances increased and planes became more complex, questions started being asked vis-à-vis a pilot’s ability to sustain concentration on long flights.
“What will become of us,” brooded passengers, “if a pilot is too exhausted?”
This was resolved in 1912. By an American named Lawrence Sperry.
Lawrence, son of prolific inventor Elmer Sperry, was an aviation enthusiast from a tender age. By the age of 19 he was already experimenting to fix this.
His come-to-Jesus moment chanced when he connected his father’s gyroscopic heading indicator to hydraulically-operated elevators and a rudder. His father’s invention used gyroscopes connected with a compass to enable a moving vehicle maintain course.
Lawrence made a lighter model of the device, adapted and installed it in an aircraft. After successful trials, he took the innovation to an aircraft exhibition in Paris in 1914.
56 aircraft participated, showcasing a wide range of innovations. Lawrence had installed his innovation on a Curtiss C-2 single-engine airplane with a seaplane fuselage.
On 18 June 1914, accompanied by Emil Cachin, a French mechanic, he flew the plane to a spectacle of anxious thousands.
Once lined up on the first route and the aircraft flying straight and level, both crew members raised their hands. Goal: to demonstrate that the aircraft could fly without human touch.
Next, Cachin left his seat and climbed onto one of the wings, moving a couple of metres away from the fuselage, while Lawrence put his hands on his head.
Cachin then moved further down the wing in a suicidal act of forcing the aircraft to lose balance.
The gadget intervened. The plane regained balance on its own and proceeded with no issues.
As if this were not enough, in the next fly over both crew members left the cockpit and each climbed on to a wing to wave to the now thoroughly astounded multitude.
Lawrence won the competition, the 50,000 francs’ prize and international acclaim and lo and behold: the autopilot was born.
Fast forward to 2019 in the country then called Nyasaland, filled with concern are not necessarily fliers, but each and every Malawian.
The issue is that Malawi, unlike planes which are capable of cruising on autopilot, is highly prone to all sorts of shocks.
Our democracy is a big joke. Our economy fails to prove the fact that we have never been led by a president who did not go past Standard 8.
Education standards are now at irredeemable level. Hospitals and related infrastructure are in states of disrepair.
What was our shared Vision 2020 has not been delivered by successive leaders. In fact, many of our people, infrastructure and environment are now worse off than they were in the early nineties.
To add salt to injury, Peter Mutharika – the disputed winner of May 2019 elections – believes Malawi can not only run on autopilot, but while on autopilot can develop to Germany’s level whilst corruption is thriving and incompetence is toasted to.
Hence, some Malawians are asking:
“With a president who believes Malawi can develop on full autopilot, what will become of us?”
Others are going deeper:
“Why, in the first place, is Mutharika clinging to a job he can’t perform?”
Look here Blues’ Orators, this isn’t the first time Peter Mutharika has unwisely believed that if he buries his head long enough in sand, our woes will gradually whittle away.
Under his late brother’s government, he held several positions: Minister of Justice (June 2009 to August 2010) then as Minister for Education, Science and Technology (August 2010 to August 2011) before winding up as Minister of Foreign Affairs (August 2011 to 2012).
He was the Education Minister in February 2011 when the then Police Inspector General Peter Mukhito, on the morning of 12 February 2011, defiled the sanctity of the classroom and as a result, university lecturers – fearing the unknown – refused to teach until academic freedom was re-guaranteed.
The outcome was a long drawn “Academic Freedom Saga” impasse. University students stayed idle for so long that some started families. With the minister’s head deep in sand, it was months and months before the university re-opened.
Bingu eventually shunted him to the relatively uncontentious Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ostensibly, to restore the soured relations with the United Kingdom after ill-advisedly expelling the British High Commissioner Mr Fergus Cochrane-Dyet in April 2011 when he was quoted in a leaked cable as saying President Bingu wa Mutharika does not tolerate criticism.
While indeed the disastrous decision may have been Bingu’s, it wasn’t a secret that Peter Mutharika was the only person who could have pumped sense into his brother.
Sadly, while the saga unfolded he was at it again. Head and this time, neck-deep in sand.
Taking advantage, a self-serving tribal cabal masquerading as ‘elders’ prevailed on Bingu to declare the envoy a persona non grata.
Now, to emphasize the strategic importance of good relations with the UK, Peter Mutharika was then re-assigned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to try and salvage the relationship, to no avail.
Relations only normalised when former president Joyce Banda took over.
Practice, as they say, makes perfect. Today in August 2019, it is no wonder that apropos the current crises, Peter Mutharika’s lack of decisive leadership action is – once again – on full display.
This time, it’s not only his head and neck in sand but even his upper torso. Peter Mutharika is stubbornly behaving like a man under the delusion that in troubled times like these, flying on autopilot is what is best for Malawi.
No one could be more wrong.
In times like these, Malawi requires a hands on president. Peter Mutharika’s continuing head, neck and torso deep in sand style and fashion is eliciting envy only from ostriches, the proverbial inventors of the game.
What a disgrace!