Malawi's President, Bingu wa Mutharika, behaves like a transmitter: his life revolves around sending messages.
Every day, Mutharika plans, plots and sets about sending messages that confuse more than settle people's minds, expectations, hopes.
Just such a routine of action is a recipe for disaster, self-doubt, collective doubt, and more- and Malawi, the current play-ground for Mutharika, has fallen into such a trap.
A trap of uncertainty.
A trap of pessimism.
A trap of slight-footedness.
The trap is horrow in character: no confidence, no self-belief, no hope, no eagerness, no room for wishes.
Simply put: No room to maneuver.
What does it mean, when human beings are left with no room to maneuver by a fellow human being, duly elected?
Citizens never grow and, therefore, progress.
Their nation, unless they do something, gets stuck in the mud of poverty. On the development front, things simply stall.
And this, exactly, is the precarious situation Malawi finds herself in. And it is all courtesy of President Ngwazi Prof. Bingu wa Mutharika.
He has brought this nation this far; this far, now that we realise, in this ditch of national horrowness.
How did it all begin
A man came from the outskirts of Machinga, somewhere beyond the Western side of Machinga Hills. (That is, if you are coming from Liwonde Barrage, heading towards Machinga Boma, Zomba or Blantyre. Whatever you like).
There, beyond the Western side of the Machinga Hills, are places and trading centres so mouthful at their mention: Ntaja, Namwera.
And villages, too; so mouthful at the mention, one needs a full meal (and that means Nsima) to complete the naming task.
But Kapoloma is so a 'mouth-less' word to mention; no heavier on the lips.
From this land, Kapoloma; and this village, Kapoloma, one Bakili Erickson Muluzi was once born.
Which Muluzi was once the mighty Secretary General of the equally-once mighty Malawi Congress Party (MCP). Surely, in those days when the MCP equalled 'The Government', Kamuzu was 'The Government', also, and all of us- at least those who were there- where Kamuzu's property.
Here, now long gone but not forgotten, are the days when nobody was a 'he' or 'she'- almost each and everyone lost the previlege of being attached to, or in a way associated, with these pronouns- we were all 'property', Kamuzu's property!
But times came, also, when all 'property' became less-unfortunate: in which case Kamuzu- the Mighty Lion, Father-and-Founder of the Malawi Nation, 'Nkhoswe Nambala Wani'- addressed the living as 'My People'.
The 'living' meant not only the living (those who paid tax, and contributed, forcibly at that, towards MCP membership cards; but those about-to-live (those whose application for Malawian Citizenship was being processed in the womb. These, therefore, did not enjoy the status of 'citizens'- they were uteruses!), too.
That is why pregnant mothers paid money on behalf of those 'fortunate-enough' to be on the waiting list for Malawian citizenship! Parents who failed were denied the 'right' to medicine, market entrance, among others.
In other words, non party-card contributors simply existed to live- a form of 'constructive resignation'. With no access to the market, and thus no food, how does one live?
Simply put, 'rights' did not exist then; people 'earned' what they got, and the life they lived.
That is why Malawi was, in a way, and in thinking, a bit self-reliant. No hand outs. Youths worked for themselves.
At school (primary schools), they slashed grass, they cleared the sorroundings, they took care of the place.
Such was the spirit.
The leaders thought people were happy; but the people were complaining. Always looking for an escape route.
No wonder, TEBA in South Africa provided an escape route.
The migodis (mines) of Zimbabwe provided another free route to 'freedom'.
That is, if poor pay in a foreign land is freedom.
That is, if waiting until now to start registering and getting access to the TEBA money (read, benefuts) is freedom.
That is, if dying before 'testing' a penny of the benefits is freedom!
But, at least, the South African government has done something: remembering the Malawian people who laboured and toiled in those hot, air-deprived mines, building the bricks (cities) of civilization in that little, slow process of getting value out of Gaia, even Mother Earth.Some Malawians, including my grandfather Simon Chirombo, got stuck there (in South Africa)- marrying a new wife, and bearing children at the expense of those left back home.
There are those (people) who turned their backs on Malawi and never came back, and those who went, and brought the wealth back home. The faithful citizens of the Republic of Malawi.
Some were freeing political suppression; some, and even more, economic poverty.
But the repressive MCP regime played a hand in both incitances: it signed an agreement with the South African government, that is one; two, it was driving the rule of terror in this country and, therefore, forced some of the people abroad.
We know Jack Mapanje, Atati Mpakati, among others- they became prisoners of conscience.
In a way, the man from Kapoloma- Bakili Erickson Muluzi- played a role in this. As MCP General Secretary, the forced payment of money towards party cards fell under his dormain.
He also fell into the trap of praising Kamuzu so much. He was part of the chorus in the song 'Zonse Zimene M'zaKamuzu Banda'- a song that reverberated across Malawi, a song that created that situation where those in power were largely deified.
Kamuzu had the formula to develop Malawi; it was his cohorts that used suppression, in his name, to press the message of development home.
Muluzi, who has never apologised for his role in the MCP regime, knows pretty well that he contributed towards repression in Malawi, and that can be marked as 'mistake Number One', among the many other mistakes.
Enters Mistake Number Two
But Muluzi also committed Mistake Number Two- a mistake still haunting himself and Malawians today.
In choosing Mutharika, at the expense of die-hard United Democratic Front (UDF) members, he made Mistake Number Two and dug his own political grave.
Mistake Number Two has a name; this name, surprisingly, is not Mistake Number Two. It is Bingu wa Mutharika.
And the character of Bingu wa Mutharika is changing so fast; faster than the pace of development in Malawi- a member of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), African Union, and (as part of the Global Community) the United Nations.
Mutharika has, all of a sudden, changed from Bingu wa Mutharika to Ngwazi, then Professor. Yet Mutharika has not gone back top class to earn the Professorship, he has not carried out any research. In fact, he has no single student.
But he is turning things outside down, upsetting norms by becoming the World's First Professor Without Students! And by adding names that are not on his academic certificates.
No teacher at Dedza Secondary School woulod recognise Ngwazi Professor Bingu wa Mutharika. This is not the man, character, they knew then- in the 1960s or there-about.
While Mutharika is busy changing fast, Malawi remains still- a member of Sadc and Comesa and AU and UN, and other organisations.
But,still, will fault you for starting with Sadc and Comesa in talking about organisations and blocks Malawi is member to. Such people say such a decision is blind, as it forgets to mention local organisations Malawi is 'member' to.
Such jokers say, firstly, Malawi is a member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the ruling party Mutharika formed when he back-footed the UDF, that Yellow-coloured brain-child of Muluzi. Like the DPP, UDF has some blue stripes in its party colours, too.
They all rose from the mighty river called Malawi Congress Party, the multi-coloured Green, Black, and Red (replete with a black cock in the middle of that river, a cock in the depth of that river) that was Malawi's undisputed ruler from 1964 until the curtains were too old and tattered to sustain its cover anymore in 1994.
Muluzi committed Mistake Number Two (in other words, Muluzi- Malawi second President after Ngwazi Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda- committed 'Bingu wa Mutharika Two' between 2003 and 2004. Seeing that his bid for an unconstitutional Third Term bid failed miserably, and noting that the likes of Brown Mpinganjira, Justin Malewezi, Cassim Chilumpha, Sam Mpasu (who, as Speaker of the National Assembly, made sure that Muluzi's overtures hit a blank wall everytime he tried to play it unconstitutional on his terms of office) played a role in his failure to rape the constitution of the Republic of Malawi, Muluzi opted for the unchartered waters.
He hand-picked Bingu wa Mutharika for the UDF Presidency.
In so doing, he forgot the likes of Harry Thomson.
The late Davis Kapito, former Southern Region UDF Governor, joined Muluzi in mocking opponents. Other party members were called chuff (madeya).It was Malawi's saddest moment.
But no sadder than the fuel shortages currently plaguing the nation. No worse than the electricity blackouts. The donor pull-outs. The closure of the University of Malawi (read, constituent Colleges namely Chancellor College and the Polytechnic) has never gone this long, three months. And lecturers still want assurances on academic freedom despite the University Council's announcement that the two colleges reopen on July 3, 2011.
Things have never been sadder than this.
Moses Dossi-the former Sports Minister who prides himself in being the only Minister, or one of the few ministers, never to have 'ololadi' (earned worth unworthly, corruptly). That is his excuse for walking on foot when, just some seven years ago, he was being driven in a Merc.
How things change- tried to stand up against Bingu at the UDF Convention held at Comesa Hall in Blantyre (lso known as the Kwacha International Conference Centre) but came out with nothing but less-than-charitable votes.
What is 'One Vote' in a democracy?
It means no choice because, it is likely, it is the vote one cast for himself!
It is also a shame as it means that democracy was never allowed to take its cause, that, likely, people (delegates) were intimidated.
That is what happened at the UDF Convention: delegates came to rubber-stump Muluzi's choice of Mutharika. People never came to express choice,but Dossi still wanted to show that he had the will.
In the process, he legitimised an illegitimate process. Outsiders got the impression that there was choice, that delegates had the right to choose between Mutharika and Dossi.
What choice, when Muluzi bankroled the entire meeting?
When the UDF Young Democrats were so felocious they accommodated no choice in their narrow vocabularly of democracy?
When delegates' responsibility is to reinforce conformity other than manifest principles, what choice there is?
So people voted for Mutharika at the UDF Convention, and, this being Africa- where ruling parties rig elections in so many ways than one: monopoly over State-run media, intimidation of political opponents, cash-wielding ruling parties against starving opposition parties, leader owns party syndrome, fraud criteria in appointing Electoral Body officials (apart from Commissioners, who come from political parties and ae chosen by them, the Electoral Commission Chairperson is elected by the Head of State), among other means- Mutharika won the 2004 elections.
His first term was a curse, dominated by the opposition.
In a way, as people are coming to realise now, Malawi was ruled by opposition parties! That is how things were, between 2004 and 2009. By default, or not, the opposition MCP and UDF ruled Malawi, the first country to witness such a scenario.
Why UDF in opposition when its candidate, Mutharika, won the Presidential elections in 2004? Mutharika dumped the party on February 5, 2005 (two days after my Birthday) over allegations of corruption.
"The UDF has been frustrating my Zero-tolerant on Corruption drive; they want me to stop the Anti-Corruption Bureau from prosecuting its officials. No, I will continue my drive against corruption," Mutharika said.
That was surprising, coming before he announced his resignation from the UDF party.
But the next statement was more surprising: he announced that, with immediate effect from February 5, 2005 he was no longer a member of the UDF!
For the upteenth time, people learnt from Mutharika that gone were the days when people formed opposition parties outside government, with the aim of getting into government; it was now possible, his action testified, to get into government to form a political party!
Another first from the never-tiring Mutharika.
That First Term was a time of misery for him. At one time, the opposition wanted him impeached.
The opposition's leader in Parliament, John Zenus Ungapake Tembo (who happens to be my member of parliament, for Dedza South) even said the opposition would not pass the 2007/08 National Budget unless one other thing that came into the lime light- the law on crossing the flow- was envoked.
The truth is party that was a scapegoat, the opposition wanted Bingu impeached and were just using the loophole on crossing the floor to down Mutharika.
Civil Society Organisations tried their best, by, among other means, organising vigils at the New State House- then, the house of Parliament, and a place where Mutharika kept his public beds, and slept, and ate free food, bankrolled by the tax payer.
In May 2009, however- when another chance came, and people went to the polls to elect Head of State and Government and MPs- Mutharika ammassed the greatest number of votes in Malawi history, and got more MPs than he had anticipated.
Mutharika rode on this new-found popularity to show the hyena in his true-self.
He turned loose, showing his true colours.
Now, the Polytechnic and Chancellor College- which he ordered closed through the University Council- are technically closed. The Council announced their opening a couple of weeks ago, students have gone back to school (on July 3, 2011), but the lecturers say they will not teach.
The are fighting a battle, the battle of Academic Freedom.
They are on the battle ground, fighting for intellectual discourse against a man who sits on top of a hill, and believes that his every word will work wonders.
It all started when the Inspector General of Police, Peter Mukhito, summoned a Political Science lecturer at Chanco, as Chancellor College is known. Dr. Blessings Chinsinga did nothing wrong; he merely gave a classroom example on how revolutions are bred.
Egypt being torn under the spirit of people power and people-led revolution was a perfect example of the present, and so Chinsinga alluded to it. This is time, early 2011, when the Arab World rose from its deep slumber, and turned against its tee-pot dictators.
No wonder, the phenomenon has come to be called the 'Arab Awakening' by Aljazeera and others international radio stations.
The people who were revolting did nothing wrong, in the eyes of their governments (that is why some leaders relinguished their positions). But Chinsinga, in the eyes of Mukhito and Mutharika, was wrong to give a mere example.
But Chinsinga did not go onto the streets bearing a cup of dissatisfaction; he merely explained things as they were.
Chanco lecturers were incensed, and wanted an apology from Mukhito.
The apology did not come, which raised some moral questions: If Mukhito apologised, the whole Inspector General, couldn't this affect Police officers' molare?
What would be the effect on national security.
Choosing the right thing was tough.
Speaking about that unknown right thing would surely be catastrophic.
And, so, Mukhito kept quiet.
It is Mutharika who fanned the flames when, during the graduation ceremony of new police recruits in Blantyre, he announced:
"Mukhito will not apologise. I repeat, I case some of you do not listen, Mukhito will not apologise. He is one of the best Inspector Generals Malawi has ever had," said Mutharika.
And that was it.
I was at Chancellor College, outside the Main Lecturer Room, when Mutharika said this. I was there to interview Dr. Pierson Ntata, an Associate Lecturer, on one of the hottest issues at the moment.
But before the interview, I took some time out, and went to the Main Lecturer Room to see what was on the Notice Board.
In fact, I was reading a Memo written by the Vice Principal Dr. Emmanuel Fabiano. It was addresing the issue of Academic Freedom.
It said that academic freedom was guaranteed but had limits, and urged the lecturers to observe the limits.
At that moment, Dr. Jessie Kabwila-Kapasula got out of the Main Lecturer Room and passed me by.
A few weeks ago, Mutharika made a National Address, and addressed the Academic Freedom issue.
However, while extending an olive branch and asking for room for reconciliation, he still blamed Dr. Chinsinga and Kabwila-Kapasula, the head of the Chanco Lecturers' union.
He called them confusionists.
Fighting for academic freedom?
Mutharika has made many more statements in which he extends an olive branch while attacking the very people he is reaching out to. What kind of President is that?
Now, he had ordered the re-opening of Chanco and Poly- because he is Chancellor of the University of Malawi.
But the University of Malawi Council still maintains the firing of the Chancellor College Staff Union President, Jessie Kabwila-Kapasula, General Secretary Franz Amin, Associate Lecturer Garton Kamchedzera, and Associate Lecturer Dr. Blessings Chinsinga.
And the other lecturers know that it is immoral to return to class when their representatives- people who speak not their opinion, but merely reflect what the consunsus is- have been fired and are bing sustained by court injunctions is immoral.
They can, it follows, not return to class.
It is undertandable that University students are the victims in all this, especially that they have gone back to school after a three-months Mukhito Holiday.
At Chanco, the lecturers wanted Academic Freedom assurances and students agreed.
At Poly, the lecturers wanted assurances on this too, joined their Chanco colleagues in pressing for the same, and later agreed- in a vote- to go back to school. 29 said no to lecturing, 33 were of the contrary opinion.
The majority won, and the lecturers- as Polytechnic Academic Staff on Welfare Acting General Secretary Simbarashe Mungoshi and his President said- agreed to go back to the classroom 'with protests".
But another surprising factor came into play. Polytechnic students, feeling short-changed that they missed lessons for two whopping weeks, would not bulge. They wondered whether, withing two weeks, the Academic Freedom the lecturers wanted was guaranteed.
They started protesting, refusing to go back into class.
One lecturer was beaten in broad day light for simply trying to go to his office.
It was a situation pregnant with danger, and the University Council simply went for the only way out: closure of the school.
Now the students are back, the lecturers do not want to go back to class.
Who is to blame: the lecturers? Students? University of Malawi Council, which is under Mutharika, too?
The answer is non of the above.
Mutharika- who has power to tell the Unirvesity of Malawi Council to reverse its decision to fire Kabwila-Kapasula, Kamchedzera, Chinsinga, and Amin- is to blame.
He thought he was confusing the Malawi nation, but he has ended up confusing himself.
President Ngwazi Prof. Bingu wa Mutharika is a confused confusionist; he is the confused confusionist in all this.
And, at his behest, Malawian children are suffering.
He has no biological children in the university himself; he is free.
Free from all this sadness and darkness.