Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Is President Peter Mutharika a Lame-Duck President?

There must be something terribly wrong with President Peter Mutharika, a man who does not exude confidence in the manner he stands up, walks, makes speeches, or responds to public issues.
His knack for making decisions very late seems to be a symptom of impaired judgement; or, rather, his late decision-making impairs his judgement. It is not clear which is which because the man does not make himself clear.
Two incidents attest to this.
Recently, when Mutharika was opening the Tobacco Auction Flours, it took him a whopping one minutes, 40 seconds to 'remember' the words "msika" [market]. The President meant to say, in vernacular Chichewa, that "Ndi mau amenewa, ndatsekulira msika wa fodya" [with these words, I officially declare the Auction Flours open".
Well, somehow, the President seemed unable to catch up with the words 'msika' and could not gather his thoughts to remember what he wanted to say.
Well, the cheer ladies interrupted him and when he resumed speaking, he went straight into his speech [written in English] before coming back to his senses on Chichewa. Well, a sign of a man with wangering thoughts perhaps.
On April 12 2016, the President showed, yet again, that he was a man out of touch with current affairs by declaring a state of disaster a tad too late.
Organisations, including the Civil Society Agricultural Network, had been on his neck as early as November last year, asking him to declare Malawi a food insecure nation because maize production levels [maize is the staple food] had fallen by 30 percent.
But, shielded by the neck-high walls of New State House in Lilongwe, the President could not 'see; the reality, and dilly-dallied in making the long-awaited statement.
Only for him to declare last week, when the truth that he had nowhere to hide availed itself in front of his face again, that Malawi was short on food [meaning, maize].
And it did not read very well when the President was forced to say thus:


12 April 2016
My Fellow Malawians

As you are aware, the 2015/2016 season has been greatly affected by strong El Nino conditions, resulting in erratic rains across most parts of the country.
Reports from the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services indicate that cumulative rainfall performance from October, 2015 to end March, 2016 has been below average in most parts of the Southern and Central Regions of the country.

Average to above average rainfall amounts were only received in the Northern Region of the country. The season has been characterized by late onset of planting rains, between three (3) to four (4) weeks for the Southern Region and 2 to 3 weeks for the Central Region.
After the late onset of the rains, most areas, especially in the Southern Region, were receiving sporadic rains, interspaced with prolonged dry spells resulting in the drying, scorching and permanent wilting of crops.

These prolonged dry spells have resulted into severe crop failure, particularly in the Southern Region and parts of the Central Region. The situation is slightly better in the north although some areas there have also been affected by the dry spells.

My fellow Malawians,
as you may all recall, the 2014/2015 growing season was one of the worst seasons in the country. The country experienced the worst floods in living memory which were followed by prolonged dry spells in a lot of districts. This resulted in a sharp decline in maize production rendering 2.8 million people in 25 districts food insecure.
While government, with support from development partners and other stakeholders, has been responding to the 2.8 million food insecure people, the country has experienced yet another severe prolonged dry spells during the 2015/2016 growing season due to the strong El NiƱo.

Most of the affected districts are the same districts that were affected by the 2015 floods
later on by the prolonged dry spells. The second round Agricultural Production Estimates Survey which the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development undertook between mid-February and March this year, estimates maize production for the season at 2,431,313 metric tons (mt), representing 12.4 percent decline in production as compared to the 2014/2015 final round estimate of 2,776,277 mt.

The major contributing factor to the decline is the unfavourable weather conditions for crop development resulting from dry spells the country experienced during the season, particularly in the Southern and Central Regions of the country. The country’s maize requirement for human consumption, seed, stock feed, and industrial use is currently estimated at 3,205,135mt.

This being the case, it is projected that the country will face a maize deficit of about 1,072,461mt.

My Fellow Malawians,
I would like to indicate that the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development will ascertain the actual deficit after the third round production estimates in June, 2016, whose results will form a basis to compute a comprehensive national food balance sheet. However, basing on the weather pattern and the fact that the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services has projected early cessation of the rainfall season, the Ministry is convinced that the projected maize production will not change significantly.

With the increased maize deficit, it is expected that an increased number of people will be food insecure and will require humanitarian relief assistance for the whole 2016/17 consumption year. The actual number of food insecure people will be determined by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee in due course when the annual vulnerability assessment is undertaken.

However, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has estimated that due to the partial or complete loss of crops through El Nino induced dry spells, the affected population will require about 790,000mt of relief food.

Considering the magnitude of the projected maize production deficit, and the resultant food insecurity that the country will face, there is need to re-stock the Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR) with about 250,000mt as buffer stock during the season.
On the other hand, the Ministry’s projections show that ADMARC will require a total of 250,000mt of maize to sell to the general public and effectively stabilize maize prices in the 2016/2017 season.

Taking into account the above requirements, that is, re-stocking the SGR, restocking ADMARC, and providing adequate relief food for the season, the Ministry projects a total maize requirement of 1,290,000mt to avert a food crisis in the season.

In the circumstances, it is very clear that we have food shortage in the country which will affect a considerable number of our fellow citizens.

Accordingly, and in accordance with powers conferred upon me by Section 32(1) of the Disaster Preparedness and Relief Act, I declare a State of National disaster effective from today, 12th April, 2016.

I fully appreciate all the previous assistance Malawi has been receiving when affected by disasters, including support for the on-going humanitarian response programme.
However, I appeal for humanitarian relief assistance from the International donor community, the relevant United Nations agencies, Non-Governmental Organizations, the private sector as well as all fellow citizens of goodwill,so that, together, we can contribute in alleviating suffering on the part of people who have been affected by the food shortage. Donations in cash or in-kind should be sent to the Secretary to the Vice President and Commissioner for Disaster Management Affairs, Private Bag 336, Lilongwe 3.
Indeed on our part as Government we will make sure that all affected people are taken care off.

Government will cash its drought insurance to start off the relief process.
Secondly, Government will use its remaining part of food items to distribute to the affected people.

I would like to assure all our partners that Government will see to it, that all the relief assistance received is channeled to the affected people in the affected districts.

My fellow Malawians, I thank you for your attention. May the Almighty God Bless you all and our country.

Well, there is nothing wrong when a president makes a statement like this. Just that, it came a tad too late!

The Vincent Wandale menace

As if these times are not bad enough for the President, People's Land Organisation leader, Vincent Wandale, has been tearing into the President's flesh with calls for secession.
At first, Wandale declared that the people of Mulanje and Thyolo -- the President's strongholds, would grab land from estate owners if they did not make back-dated payments for taxes.
"These people took our land for free," Wandale told Zachimalawi on Tuesday. "And we want, not the land, but the money they owe us back."
By the way, who made Wandale Malawi's tax-collector when the Malawi Revenue Authority has been doing a commendable job-- squeezing minority tax payers dry while ignoring the majority.
The surprising thing is that the President has kept conspicuously quiet on the issue, instead of whipping Wandale.
Maybe the President is a student of the 48 Laws of Power and wants to put Baltasar Gracian's words that "There is no revenge like oblivion. It is the entombment of the unworthy in the dust of their own nothingness" to good use.
But such treatment of Wandale is exposing the President to ridicule, putting him in the position of a leader out of ideas, and out of sorts.
Statements are not enough.
Statements from the Government spokesperson are not enough. I mean statements like the one below:

For Immediate Release


Government has noted with interest the observations made in the Daily Times of Tuesday, 12th March 2016 by Mr Rafiq Hajat calling on Government to act decisively and swiftly on the so-called declaration of an independent state in Thyolo and Mulanje by a man called Wandale purportedly on behalf of a group called The People's Land Organisation. Mr Hajat's observations were the subject of an editorial comment in the same paper where the editors urged Government to resolve the issue of landlessness in Thyolo and Mulanje once and for all.

What both Mr Hajat and the editors of the Daily Times agree on is that Mr Wandale is a misguided and irrational individual who is seeking cheap popularity by taking the futile, bizarre, illegal and unconstitutional step of declaring Thyolo and Mulanje as an independent state. Government applauds both Mr Hajat and the Editors of the Daily Times for making this correct and important observation about Mr Wandale. Indeed, Mr Hajat correctly observes that Mr Wandale's declaration of an independent state within the Republic of Malawi is treasonous. However, while not restricting itself in future action, the present position of Government is to leave Mr Wandale alone. This is so because of the extent of the futility and the degree of irrationality of Mr Wandale's declaration. In fact, if Government prosecuted Mr Wandale for treason, the prosecution will be the significant action; not the declaration of independence. It would seem that this is what Mr Wandale hopes Government would do, so that he achieves fame, martyrdom and popularity. Government will not, for the time being, oblige Mr Wandale's wishes.

Leaving aside Mr Wandale's bizarre, irrational and illegal behaviour, Government would like to agree with both Mr Hajat and the editors of the Daily Times that the issue of landlessness in Thyolo and Mulanje is a grave matter and requires timely attention and resolution. Government, however, disagrees with Mr Hajat and the editors of the Daily Times in their assertion that Government is doing nothing about the matter. Seemingly unbeknown to Mr Hajat and the editors of the Daily Times, but certainly known to the traditional leaders of Mulanje and Thyolo, the other civic leaders of both Mulanje and Thyolo, as well as all leaders and members of the People's Land Organisation, Government is fully engaged in this matter and is committed to finding a durable solution to the problem.

To this end President Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika has personally met various stakeholders involved in finding a solution to this matter. At times the President has sent his Ministers and other officials to engage other stakeholders in the matter. These discussions are progressing well. Government is confident that the issue of idle land in tea estates in Mulanje and Thyolo will soon be resolves to the satisfaction of all those concerned. As a matter of fact, in the Daily Times article in which Mr Hajat appears, one of the civic leaders in this matter, Hon Bon Kalindo, expressly acknowledges the involvement of the President in this issue, and his confidence that a solution will be found.

This is obviously a weighty and delicate matter. It requires the attainment of a proper balance between our fundamental national interests, the law, and people's legitimate expectations. In resolving this matter, therefore, Government will not be acting in response to Mr Wandale’s bizarre and futile declaration of Independence. Government will be acting with a view to finding the best outcome for all our people and for our nation. President Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika, by reason of his eminent legal background, his experience in similar disputes, and his calm temperament, is best suited for this task.


14THAPRIL, 2016.

Statements like these are not enough. Take action on Wandale.
And all of us will realise that we are equal before the law.
Otherwise, the impression created is that when people from the Northern Region call for the introduction of a Federal System of Government, they are separatists. When Wandale, from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party stronghold of Mulanje, makes similar-sounding stataments, it is normal.
Maybe it is the President who is weak!
What else can Malawians say when Wandale has declared that Thyolo and Mulanje have finally made the big break from Malawi? It points to weak leadership!

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