...Theatricals of presidents when their political power blacks out
There must be something terribly wrong with Malawian politicians for them to persistently take turns in acting outside the confines of the book of conventional politics.
Save for Malawi’s founding president, Ngwazi Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda- who conceded defeat to United Democratic Front (UDF)’s presidential candidate, Bakili Muluzi, even before the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) made the official announcement in June 1994- his successors have found it difficult to come to grips with reality, even when their opaque political curtain closes.
A good case in point is that of Muluzi and the most-immediate past president, Joyce Banda. We are not sure if former president, the late Bingu wa Mutharika- who died mid-way through his second five-year term in office on April 5, 2012- would have departed from the ‘unconventional’ script of Malawi politics had he lived beyond his constitutional terms of office.
Otherwise, the trend has been that, once elevated to the highest position in the land, the Head of State and Government ‘climbs out’ of themselves by shedding off the natural human being in them and becoming automated beings remote-controlled by the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB).
In their quest to get acquainted with their new elevated status, they associate themselves with the Who is Whos of this world, and lose touch with voters as they smash into the sky through globe-trotting.
Unsurprisingly, it always comes as a shock to them when, instead of climbing higher through the ballot paper and smashing more skies, they tumble to the ground.
Of course, that does not mean we have had a run of the worst leaders in the world. The truth is that we have had a conundrum of leaders who have been wonderful in their own ways. Some of them, like Muluzi, have been individuals of splendid wit. Some of them, like Joyce Banda, have been individuals of polished taste, courting them the comradeship of the international community. Even Bingu had his own hard sense of humour, too.
Just that, somehow, they all seemed to have a strange disdain for history’s lessons, and ended up repeating the mistakes committed by their predecessors.
Why, for example, did Muluzi depart from his splendid wit and wet sense of humour to become the go-getter who saw no sense in sticking to tenets of the Republican Constitution and fight, the high way, for an Open Term of Office and Third Term? How did he lose the courtship of development partners who came in droves to his dinner table after showing the Malawi Congress Party the Exit Door in 1994?
Why, it may be asked, did Bingu lose the plot to become the donor-chasing president Malawians ended up loathing? How did he lose control of the buttons that controlled the national economy and made it vibrant? Is it that simple to lose knowledge of economics obtained across the seas?
Why, we still wonder, did Joyce Banda abandon her courtesy and unconstitutionally nullify the May tripartite elections when her power spilled out of control? How did she become the hot-headed, over-confident leader we saw between 2013 and 2014? After starting so well by, among other things, stabilizing fuel supplies and mending relations with the United Kingdom, why did the ship run out of control?
Tried, tested hands
The truth is that these are not questions without answers.
The first answer is that, somehow, the leaders surround themselves with characters that are, for unexplained reasons, made to think in the likeness of the leader. And their thinking is mostly lopsided. If not people who think like them, the leaders surround themselves with people they like.
The result is that, this flattering world of politicians and yes bwanas join the conspiracy to shield and protect the country’s leadership from the truth. In almost all such cases, the aim of creating this impenetrable gate of protection is not to serve the public interest but, rather, their interest, often built upon the theory of political and business survival.
So it hits one as nothing strange that, in the end, a cordon of appeasers and boot-lickers vie with each other to keep the common knowledge of what is, really, the truth on the ground and in the public domain, from permeating the inner sanctum.
It is as if the political bootlickers are secretly conscious of the intrinsic inferiority of the national and political leadership and want to take advantage of that. That is why they make sure that the leader’s cooked-up popularity is continually propped up, and his chances of winning the popular vote exaggerated by those who benefit from the status quo. The aim is to create a situation where the leader will feel a sure-enough place in their polarised political sphere.
Finally, when the leader is booted out of power by the supposed simpletons, the voters, the discarded leader discovers that they were living in an artificial world. When they seek their advisors, they find that they have joined the new party in power. They also discover, to their disdain, that it is almost impossible to find any record that resembles the real situation on the ground and citizens’ real opinion of the leaders during their span in office.
Raw deal, the leader cries wolf at last. Yet the yes bwanas are not wholly to blame. The leaders themselves are to blame for their expertise in ‘discovering’ people who were so willing to get consecrated to one great purpose: Guarding the leader from the vicissitudes of the truth and ordinary life.
So, when the yes bwanas specialise in telling their boss what they (bosses) really want to hear, they are just fulfilling the tenets of their job. Who wouldn’t? These are political wannabes with the patience of a cat. They allow the leader to crank towards the truth, but seldom do they allow the leader to get to the real truth. The leaders themselves also forget that, when you are a leader, you don’t need to fear disappointing anyone.
Do you, for example, expect Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) spokesperson Nicholas Dausi (he hasn’t announced his resignation from the position of DPP spokesperson, by the way) to tell President Peter Mutharika the real truth in his capacity as Spy-in-Chief at NIB?
But, every so often, these are the important things national leaders forget when they allow themselves to ‘get out of themselves’ by stopping being the human beings we voted for due to their new-found ability of making things happen at the stroke of a pen.
It is like a foolish individual who, propped up by his own oversized pillow, believes that they have a gigantic stature beyond nature. But, if the truth be told, it is just the pillow exaggerating things.
But, may be the leaders are not to blame for exaggerating their importance. New York City (US)-born psychologist, William James, aptly observed in his essay, ‘On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings’ thus: “Now the blindness in human beings is the blindness with which we all are afflicted in regard to the feelings of creatures and people different from ourselves.
“…Each is bound to feel intensely the importance of his own duties and the significance of the situations that call these forth. But this feeling is in each of us a vital secret, for sympathy with which we vainly look to others...Hence the stupidity and injustice of our opinions, so far as they deal with the significance of alien lives. Hence the falsity of our judgements, so far as they presume to decide in an absolute way on the value of other persons’ conditions or ideals”.
A number of civil society leaders locally have warned against the tendency to treat our leaders as half-gods. For instance, Civic and Political Platform chairperson, Moses Mkandawire, told The Sunday Times in April that “our tendency to worship leaders is to blame for their arrogance. We must abandon the practice of yes bwana, yes bwana (Ture boss, true boss!)”.
Of course, former English Parliamentarian Thomas Babington Macaulay, in his analysis of political philosopher, Italian historian Niccolo Machiavelli’s thinking in the essay ‘Machiavelli’ observes that,” Every age and every nation has certain characteristic vices, which prevail almost universally, which scarcely any person scruples to avow, and which even rigid moralists but faintly censure.”
But Macaulay further observed that, “Succeeding generations change the fashion of their morals, with the fashion of their hats and their coaches; take some other kind of wickedness under their patronage, and wonder at the depravity of their ancestors. Nor is this all. Posterity, that high court of appeal which is never tired of eulogizing its own justice and discernment, acts on such occasions like a Roman dictator after a general mutiny.”
What this means is that we must change our fashion if we discover that some things have not worked in every generation. It, therefore, comes as a surprise that Malawian leaders don’t seem to learn from past mistakes and change. Instead, while immersed in their numerous fits of excitement, rages, and fits, they take the lonely journey into political oblivion.
Only to discover that, the yes bwanas’ humours were only giddy, but never long lasting!