Monday, June 27, 2011

Trust Me, Bingu

Friday, June 24, 2011:President Bingu wa Mutharika did not only speak, he dug deep into his heart, and pured his all in that emotional Friday address.
In deed, Muharika might have dug too deep into his supposedly mighty heart it was no surprise he nearly choked on his own words.
His was an attempt at restoring citizenry confidence in his administration; as he put it, the confidence and trust he enjoyed in the morning of his administration.
This trust propelled him on during an era when Malawian opposition parties took turns in taking deep dives into the pool of self-abandon and experimented at people welfare- neglect- yes, when the Malawi Congress Party, United Democratic Front, and others, tested the sweet fruits of power abuse, and lost the confidence of Malawians at that.
It was a time then, between 2004 and 2009, when civil society organisations could ride on the parachute of their anger, and experiment with partisan politics meddling. They called it a 'nationa- interest' campaign, and, in so many ways, they were justified in criticising opposition politicians and adopting the vigil route of self-expression to drive the point home: Malawians wanted the nationa budget first, impeachment of Mutharika came last in their minds.
Somehow, the national budgets passed, and only because Mutharika rode on the national sympathy horse.
People thought Mutharika would be good with more MPs, and gave him the votes, and the people, on May 20, 2009.
First mistake.
Because Mutharika went straight to 'waist', when he had never been known to be 'bad' or 'worse'.
His personality induced a feeling of national surprise.
Today, riding at the back of more numbers in Parliament, Mutharika has become the bad-boy people never wanted at the dawn of multiparty democracy in 1994. A year earlier, in June 1993, the people had said 'no, to the one party regime and dictatorship.
Some of these people- the voters of 1994- are long dead in a country where life expectancy for the majority is projected at less than 40 years. Some are alive, and feeling helpless because May 2014, the month and year Malawians next have eletions, is so far away.
Far away because the pain of fuel shortages, foreign exchange crisis, a man-made constitutional crisis borne out of the enactment of freedom-anathemic laws, and a national femine of trust, transparency, and confidence in national leadership are more burdensome than high hopes may ever carry.
Just in a nick of time, Mutharika has spearheaded a battle against intellectual discourse, human freedoms, and, if the truth be told, the systematic murder of the hope that carries the Malawian people forward in times of adversity and gloom.
When the world gets dark and the only place with a little light, faint light that glimmers in an enormous hole of darkness, is the human heart. The Malawian's heart.
All these issues are no laughing matter, and the Malawian people are very afraid to see the man they so trusted go solo in this game of national politics, a game whose playing cards are people's souls, national security, economic emancipation and social change.
So far, the human soul is weak, economic emancipation long-coming, the concept of national security has been turned upside-down because the people that were mearnt to be protected have become the enemies- enemies of a mighty state.
What happens when a President trumples upon citizens' rights, including the right to hold peaceful demonstrations? What is it when a 'whole' President, weighting over 69 kgs, wants his own people- some of hem weighting 20 kgs- to pay collateral before staging 'peaceful' demonstrations?
It is called 'National Security' turned against its 'benefactors'.
So many things are heading towards unanticipated places and destinations.
But, that Friday afternoon, Mutharika managed to over-look all these issues to speak from his heart.
When he speaks like that, people know that he has been touched by something. The only problem is that Mutharika seems to think that his pain is 'national', and overrides all other national pains.
That is the problem.
That is why, one may summise, he offers olive trees while offending others even more.
He did likewise when he announced the re-opening of Chancellor College and The Polytechnic- constituent colleges of the University of Malawi closed after Inspector General of Police, Peter Mukhito, summoned Associate Lecturer Dr. Blessings Chinsinga over an example he gave within the class-compounds of Chancellor College in Zomba.
He asked lecturers to return to class while attacking staff welfare and union leaders.
And he left crucial issues unresolved. Those four lecturers who were fired by the University of Malawi Council remained fired. Mukhito remained unapologetic. Mutharika remained offensive and dictatorial.
And the issue, because the real issues- including the Commission of Enquiry Mutharika established to come up with the definition of academic freedom, and reasons for the current lecturers and Council stand off- remains unresolved.
All this shows, sadly, that Mutharika does not want Malawian University students to go back to school. He wants to blame lecturers for the University's continued closure when he had deliberately left issues unresolved.
Because Mutharika has no biological children studying with the University of Malawi, because he feels he is more important that he can stop the university calendar at any time, and because he doesn't real care for the ordinary Malawian parent who has a ward at one of the closed constituent colleges, he smiles every night before he goes to sleep.
And smiles every morning before he takes free breakfast.
He smiles at how powerful he has become.
Even if Mutharika had biological children of school-going age, they would not be at the University of Malawi; if anything, the United States of America and United Kingdom would be the 'best' destinations.
That is why he smiles, and doesn't see sense in resigning for having failed Malawians.
As one Billy Banda, who executely directs Malawi Human Rights Watch, put it, "Mutharika should resign".
But that, too, does not ring in his mind.
He is so development-minded that he wants human freedoms, which he, in his egoistic thinking, feels are impeding on national social-economic development scraped from Constitutional provisions. He forgets that these are the spirit of the Constitution; that these are in the spirit of the Constitution.
What rang in his mind, that Friday afternoon, was the beating of his pains, and not the echoes of the collective pains of Malawians as fuel dries up in the vehicles that move the nation, forex gets more scarce than gold, mand human freedoms disappear at the whim of political appeasement.
His pains, as it were, are three: fuel shortage, forex shortage, and devaluing the national currency, the Kwacha.
He said fuel shortages have become a problem because private individuals and companies run the tanks that gives wheels to the nation. Otherwise, he enthused, fuel shortages are not a 'problem' because they are "normal". They are "normal" because even the United States of America, oil-producing Nigeria, and oil-dependent Britain also suffer from fuel shortages.
Because Petroleum Importers Limited is constituted by private individuals and companies, these folks are not interested in keeping fuel in reservours as that is costly and leaves money waiting at the fuel pump station, he said. That is why a 'normal' fuel shortage has become a crisis.
Malawi, he then promised, will solve this problem by establishing the National Oil Company of Malawi.
And, as if to show how one-minded and stubborn he is, Mutharika said the establishment of the new entity was a progressive step at defying the International Monetary Fund, which has long-advocated for private hands' ownership of such facilities, ownership Mutharika feels is catastrophic in the long run.
When there is no fuel, do people blame the petroleum importers? No.
That is his logic.
After all, petroleum importers are not voted in, during internationally-observed elections, by the public. If anything, their money 'votes' them into this sort of strategic business.
Secondly, the economist-statesman tackled the issue of forex shortage. He blamed it on the IMF again, saying because the institution advised government to stop banking forex with the Reserve Bank of Malawi- and, instead, leave the money in Authorised Dealer Banks' coffers- government followed such advice and is now in trouble.
In trouble bacause the hard-earned forex has gone into private hands, and there is no forex on which government can plan. Social services suffer in such cases, Mutharika said.
That is why forex shortages have become a problem as opposed to the norm they were supposed to be.
Only that Mutharika fell short of describing how he planned to defy the IMF on this.
But, naturally, this issue (forex shortage) led the president to the issue of devaluing the Kwacha.
Because government took heed to IMF proposal to bank with the 'commercial' bankers, and because, somehow, the bankers sold the forex to private individuals and businesses, the same were now colluding with the IMF to force government to devaluate the Kwacha so they could make quick bucks.
"These business people bought the forex when the Kwacha was trading at (Kwacha) 142 to one United States Dollar. Now they are colluding with the IMF and want us to peg the Kwacha at (Kwacha)182 so that they may realise more profit. If we do that, they will buy the U.S. Dollars again, and collide with the IMF to force us to devalue the national currency again. I can't devalue the Kwacha without assurances on what we will do with poor Malawians likely to suffer from that decision," said Mutharika.
So, Mutharika cares for the poor people only when they are likely to be affected by inflationally measures, and not when their future lies in limbo because he *(Mutharika) does not see sense in re-opening the university corridors for the sons and daughters of resource-constrained Malawians?
Mutharika stumped this plastic concern with the suppression of his own tears, his apparent chocking and falling over his own abstract voice.
If a voice develops legs so physical they trap the president's voice, why can't all these national concerns form a physical web to touch the president's eyelid, and wake him up from his deep slumber?
The nation weeps, he smiles.
He diginifies his secret, silent smiles with unpopular bills.
And pretends, all the while, to be in the shoes of the ordinary Malawian.
Shoes now occupied by fuel shortages, forex crisis and the muzzling of intellectual discourse.
Without shoes, and with as tough a road as present Malawi, will the ordinary citizen make it to 2014 bare-footed, bare-chested, bare-hearted, and stripped of hope?

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