There is something peculiar about the way Malawians conduct themselves. I am talking of how things go by contraries with politics and attitude towards life.
It seems that we take so many things for granted. Take, for instance, the fact that, despite the Kamuzu Barrage at Liwonde in Machinga being one of the country’s monumental structures—and despite reports that the barrage could be past its life span—nobody knows whether it is past its life span because there are no such records!
Then, there is the question of members of Parliament crossing the floor in Parliament. Ever since Malawians got acquainted with the term ‘crossing the flour’, they have embraced the term with the faith of a baby in its mother’s milk. It is as if there is a law called crossing the flour in this country.
But any lawyer worth their salt will tell you that nowhere does the Republican Constitution have a provision on ‘crossing the floor’. Any lawyer worth their salt will tell you that the ‘animal’ called ‘crossing the flour’ falls under what they term ‘Marginal Law’. In other words, ‘Marginal Laws’ are words scribbled on the margins of the Constitution to act as guidelines, but these words, by themselves, are not law.
I am giving these examples just to illustrate that we take so many things for granted in this country. This, in part, can be blamed on our disdain for research and documentation.
How many people, for example, have published books covering their areas of expertise in this country? Why is it that, often, it is foreign firms that conduct national audits in this country? To cut a long story short, these things happen because we take ourselves for granted. And it is because we take ourselves for granted that we have come to take other equally-important things for granted. That is why we believe things at face value.
Consequently, prostituting politicians will always tell us that they hop from one political grouping to another in order to foster development in their areas, and we shall always believe them. The opposition will always claim to represent our wishes when it comes to rebuffing loan authorisation bills but keep mum when they connive with ruling parties to silently hike their take-home packages.
Indeed, our presidents will always tell us that they have developed the country beyond recognition and we will always believe them.
No wonder, the political independence that the nationalists laboured over for years, and launched full of the high dosage of excitement, has foundered on the way to the promised land, although the wreck called Malawi continues to float, thanks to the foreign aid that mocks our claims of independence.
The truth is that the talk of independence was a hastily written story created with no thought beyond that of being at par with African states that attained independence around the same time with us. This was the sweet and sacred side of the change but, like all human stories, it had its droll and thorny side.
This year, 51 years after independence, the anxieties of reality have succeeded the aura of excitement. In fact, the plunder of public resources dubbed Cashgate has just made the situation worse. Manifestations of greed are all over the place, despite warnings against the risks of greed, especially that perpetuated by leaders.
Italian poet Dante Alighieri [1265 – 1321], for example, observed that “…greed ignores man himself and seeks other things, but charity ignores all other things and seeks God and man, and consequently man’s good”.
“But”, to quote Jean Jacques Rousseau [1712 – 1778], author of books such as ‘Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1755) and ‘The Social Contract’ (1762), “in truth, what else was to be expected? Every community without laws and without rulers, every union formed and maintained by nothing better than chance, must inevitably fall into quarrels and dissensions at the fist change that comes about.”
Maybe we can blame this state of affairs on the governance systems adopted by our leaders. Emmanuel Kant [1724 – 1804], in the book ‘Perpetual Peace’ [written in 1795 when he was 71 years old] observes that there are some three notable maxims that leaders who are bound to fall follow, namely: Fac et excusa (Fist do and then excuse); Si fecisti nega (Deny whatever you have committed); Divide et impera (divide and govern).
According to Kant, leaders who adopt the Fac et Excusa concept “seize every favourable opportunity of usurping a right over their own state, or a neighbouring state. After the action, its justification may be made with greater ease and elegance…”
The Si fecisti nega type, however, deny whatever they have committed. “For instance, if you have reduced your people to despair, and thus to rebellion, do not confess it was through your fault. Place all (blame) to the account of the stubbornness of your subjects. If you have taken possession of a neighbouring state, maintain that the fault lies in the nature of man, who, if he is not anticipating, will certainly seize upon the fortunes of another.”
But it is the Divide et impera type that is funny. “If there exists among a people certain privileged chiefs who have conferred upon you sovereign power (primus inter pares), set them at variance with each other, embroil them with the people. Favour the latter and promise them more liberty, and all will soon depend on thy will. Or if your views extend to foreign states, excite discord among them; and, under pretense of always assisting the weaker, you will soon subject them all, one after the other.”
The question is: What leaders have we imposed on ourselves? Maybe it is high time we reinvented the wheel and set the terms on what type of ruling and opposition leaders we want. It is not too late to start all over again after 51 years.