Friday, April 15, 2016
Malawi’s Leaders Should Pick a Leaf From Kunda Group
Around the beginning of the sixteenth century, something of historical importance took part in Central Africa.
According to Derek Wilson, in the book ‘A History of South and Central Africa, “considerable political turmoil” in a certain part of Central Africa took root as the “population increased and bands of warriors led by chiefs roamed the country seeking new places to settle”.
One such group, the Kunda group, invaded Songye Empire [do not mind, this empire is no longer there. It died with the winds of old], overthrew the Kongolo Dynasty [the Kongolo Dynasty had established itself as a most influential dynasty at this point in time] and established a new dynasty, “BEING CAREFUL TO TAKE OVER THE RITUAL AND POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS OF THE OLD DYNASTY”.
Well, my interest has been drawn to the way the Kunda group made sure that they inherit some of the rituals and political institutions established by the Kongolo Dynasty.
This is the beginning of the sixteenth century, by the way.
To begin with, I am not suggesting that we must adopt everything we chance upon in life. No. But, at least, there are always some things we can redeem from the pile of discarded material and, for the Kunda group, such things included rituals and political institutions.
This aspect – of realising that not all things we find along the way are bad— is what has been lacking in post-independence Malawi. Maybe we can overlook first post-independence president, Ngwazi Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda [as he used to be known, then] and his 31-year rule under the banner of the Malawi Congress Party. After all, he ruled without interruptions and changes at the top for 31 years.
Our interest, should, instead, be on post-1994 heads of state and government, starting from Bakili Muluzi himself, whose rule spanned 10 years— from 1994 to 2004— Bingu wa Mutharika [2004 to April 5 2012], Joyce Banda [April 7 2012 to May 30, 2014]. Out of the many things these leaders did, contradicting the Kunda group principle, I will pick out one issue or example.
Leadership came as a surprise to Bakili Muluzi, who had served as Malawi Congress Party secretary general in the 1980s.
Riding on the wings of excitement, Muluzi was clearly on a mission to wipe Kamuzu’s name from history. As part of the scheme, he went about dismantling the legacy Kamuzu had worked so hard to build of 31 years of hard work.
His first step was to change the names to some of the monumental infrastructures associated with Kamuzu. Just in the nick of time, Kamuzu International Airport became Lilongwe International Airport, Kamuzu Highway became Masauko-Chipembere Highway, Kamuzu Stadium was to be called Chichiri Stadium.
It was as if then name Kamuzu brought a sense of nausea to Muluzi’s digestive system.
Bingu wa Mutharika
Bingu wa Mutharika was not a stranger to Malawi politics. Just that he had built a reputation as a poor loser.
In 1999, for example, he stood as presidential candidate for the United Party and lost with ‘flying colours’. He amassed the least votes in the elections and went into hibernation. No, he did not go into hibernation; he disbanded his political party and joined forces with the United Democratic Front.
Well, when Muluzi wanted a third term but the likes of former Speaker of the National Assembly, Sam Mpasu, stood in his way, he fronted the rank-outsider Mutharika, campaigned for him, and Mutharika became Malawi’s second democratic leader in 2004.
Taking the cue from Muluzi, he abandoned the Starter Pack Programme – a Muluzi initiative through which farmers were given 5 kilogrammes of farm inputs. Just in the nick of time, Starter Pack became the Fertilizer Subsidy Programme. He also reversed some of Muluzi’s decisions on names of infrastructure.
Chichiri Stadium became Kamuzu Stadium. Lilongwe International Airport became Kamuzu International Airport. There was a new leader in town.
When Bingu wa Mutharika won the 2009 elections with a landslide, nobody— not least his Vice-President, Joyce Banda— expected him to die.
But the inevitable happened on April 5 2012 and Joyce Banda— who had been ostracized— became Malawi’s ‘accidental president. The Constitution of Malawi stipulates that, if a leader dies with less than two years of office remaining, the Vice-President takes over. Malawi was set to go to the polls in May 2014 when Bingu died in April 2012. There was no need for elections.
Banda went flat out avenging. She introduced the Economic Recovery Plan in place of Bingu’s hesitancy. Bingu had been at loggerheads with the International Monetary Fund, which wanted his government to stop managing the Malawi Kwacha and devalue it.
Bingu was adamant.
And the International Monetary Fund suspended its Extended Credit Facility Programme in Malawi. Malawi was in a loud crisis.
When Banda inherited the cloak of power, she bowed down to International Monetary Fund and devalued the Malawi Kwacha by a whopping 49 percent. She went a step further, and introduced a programme through which the government was constructing houses for under-privileged people.
Well, Malawians rejected Banda during the May 2014 elections. Defeated, she flew outside Malawi, from where she is yet to return.
President Peter Mutharika
In her absence, new ‘boy’ Peter Mutharika has replaced Banda’s house construction programme with ‘Malata Subsidy’ Programme.
In her absence, Mutharika has abandoned the Economic Recovery Plan.
If not for political convenience, it is because the Kunda group principle does not work in Malawi!