The past month has seen Malawi go through a political metamorphosis following the decline ns fall of the DPP and the rise of the TONSE Alliance. Much as we have all been drawn into the excitement of a change in leadership and political dynamics with consequent hopes for a better Malawi, it is important to draw some lessons from the failures of the previous administration so that hopefully we can forge the new Malawi we aspire for as better and wiser citizens and leaders.
Following their ascendancy to power in 2014 after Joyce Banda’s loss during the elections in May that year, I expected Peter Mutharika and DPP to take steps to ensure that they last longer than one Presidential term in office. They were not short of advice either. I remember as early as 2015 being dismissed as a disgruntled mad man when I pointed out that the DPP’s electoral win in 2014 was based on a very thin sympathy vote for the demise of Bingu wa Mutharika, and that Peter Mutharika needed to take steps quickly to raise up public approval figures of his presidency. I remember admonishing Peter Mutharika not to be a puppet president. But alas a Zebra can never change its stripes, and although a snake can certainly shed its skin, it remains a snake!
In the last 5 years under the sleeping, puppet leadership of APM Malawians witnessed a wanton disregard of the law, morality and welfare of Malawians. As APM snored away, his foot soldiers in the form of errant Ministers and overzealous cadets in high government positions went on a rampage to plunder resources belonging to Malawians with reckless abandon.
So how was DPP, despite its arrogance in committing its misdemeanors lose its grip on power? There are several reasons for this but three are quite glaring.
The first and foremost factor that characterized the last regime was the failure of political and executive leadership. With Peter Mutharika, we witnessed 5 years of a Government that was on autopilot with no decisive leadership to steer it in one way or the other. If anyone was ever in doubt of this, the 5 billion cement saga establishes this fact beyond any reasonable doubt. The past week we have read reports of how some individuals used APM’s Tax privileges (TPIN) to import cement to the tune of K5 billion without, apparently according to him (if he is to be believed), his knowledge. If such massive transactions were done without his knowledge, using his personal details, it is not hard to understand how we had revelations of Ministers plundering funds meant for addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, contracts worth billions being executed and paid at highly inflated prices such as the recent one that have come to light where we have been told that items such as underwear and plates were being sold for a whooping K15,000 and K81,000 each respectively. It is only strong leadership that can ensure that rule of law is respected and that all those that break the law are held accountable. But as we had a man that was in a ‘comatose’ state throughout his term as leader, Malawi became free for all or rather free for all the TRIBE that DPP thought were deserving of the spoils from the plunder.
The second lesson that we can draw from the fall of Peter Mutharika and his DPP is the dangers of tribalism, patronage and corruption. During the Peter Mutharika administration, not only was the DPP Government characterized by weak leadership that resulted in corruption of unconscionable levels but it was also the bedrock of tribalism and patronage. The DPP created an elite tribal group. If one had to be appointed to any government positions responsible for policy making or if one had to benefit from one contract or the other they had to belong to a particular tribe or come from a particular part of the country. People who think that merit is simply a matter of surname or home district or clan are the problem to begin with as tribalism is one of the highest levels of ignorance one can have. To segregate against another simply because of which part of the country they come from defies logic and ultimately, as it did for DPP, creates resentment from the rest of the people outside the tribal group. This was especially tragic for DPP as the tribal group that was favored is not even the majority tribe thereby leaving the majority members of society resentful about the DPP leadership.
The third lesson that we should draw from the decline and fall of the DPP is that political leadership is about putting the welfare of Malawians first. Whether you are a political party or a political leader, your first loyalty should not be to your political party but to the country. The DPP administration after the demise of Bingu wa Mutharika completely lost sight of this. If Bingu had sowed the seeds of tribalism and patronage in the DPP, under his brother, Peter, those seeds had grown, matured and were bearing their healthy fruit. Peter Mutharika’s DPP was probably the most selfish administration that Malawi has ever had the misfortune of being ruled by. Its policy makers and its party members only had their interests at heart and not that of Malawi. If DPP was concerned about the welfare of Malawians it would not have tried to circumvent the will of the people during the 2019 Presidential Elections, it would not have been squandering public funds when Malawians were facing food shortages, shortage of medical supplies, hospitals and schools which are foundational needs of any society. DPP did not just plunder public resources but did so with such arrogance and disregard for the welfare of others. This is why it has since been reported that the resources plundered are to the tune of over 1 trillion Kwacha. It does not require much imagination to think of what difference this amount of money would have made to Malawians.
As the majority of Malawians continued to suffer in various sectors, they witnessed DPP members amass wealth illegally with money meant for them with no accountability whatsoever. Ultimately it is this that caused such anger in Malawians, and caused them to march on the streets in protest of them ruling them for another 5 years. They had had enough of the poor leadership, the tribalism, the corruption and the utter selfishness by a select group of people whom they had entrusted the country to. This is what led to the fall of the DPP Government.
Life must be understood backwards but must be lived forwards. It is important for us to understand our past mistakes in order that history should never repeat itself. The TONSE Alliance brings hope for Malawians, hope for a dawn of a new era characterized by a Malawi that serves all and not just a few select individuals. For that Malawi to be realized, Malawians hope that the Tonse Alliance will not repeat the same old DPP mistakes. In Dr Chakwera and Dr Chilima, Malawians have the high hopes that they will be led by a strong and decisive leadership they will steer clear of corruption, ethnic cults, tribalism and the satisfying of the interests of the few at the expense of the many.
I would urge the Tonse alliance members and leaders to learn from the mistakes that brought the decline and fall of Peter Mutharika and the DPP, and vow to avoid them, not repeat them.