Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Why Malawian Presidents Take Traditional Leaders to UN General Assembly

... some history
Never, in the past two years and four months since President Peter Mutharika won the May 2014 Tripartite Elections, has the President's absence from, and presence in, Malawi raised equal attention.
Not until he left Malawi for the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York, United States of America (U.S.), on September 16, 2016 and returned on October 16, 2016.
In fact, his going was a routine issue. Malawi's presidents have never missed out on the opportunity to jump on the next plane to New York whenever United Nations member states flock to the U.S.. Such a trip is a, kind of, ritual.
The only debate that rages in the media-- and this, too, has caught the imagination of Malawians in the past two years and four months-- hovers over the topic of how many people have made the trip.
For your information, no trip to the  UN General Assembly is worth it if traditional leaders-- hordes of them for comfort sometimes-- do not accompany the President. So, the media have been spending time on such trivia as how many people accompany the president-- which is a none-issue any way, since people, both those who deserve it and those who do not, have always accompanied Malawi's presidents. And, always, traditional leaders are part of the fray.
The genesis of this is former president Bakili Muluzi's regime.
Muluzi, who was elected in 1994, presided over a regime that ensured that The Senate-- a public body that would have seen traditional leaders mouthing out their views-- did not exist in the statutes.
And there had to be a way of placating the traditional leaders, one of which being the selection of a lucky few to accompany the president to New York for the useless-as-usual U.N. indaba.
It was a way of saying, 'Thank you'. Just that the 'Thank you' costs the Malawian tax payer a leg.
Other presidents, starting with Bingu wa Mutharika after Muluzi had finished his second, five-year term in 2004, continued the tradition, if not perfected it.
After Bingu left office on April 5, 2012-- after collapsing in his office at the New State House in Lilongwe-- Joyce Banda perfected that tradition.
In fact, Joyce Banda will go down in history as the only president who believed that his influence would be perpetuated by traditional leaders. Come to think of it, between April 7, 2012-- when she took over the stick of power from Bingu-- and March 2014, as Malawians prepared for the first Tripartite Elections slated for May 2014, Joyce Banda had promoted 40, 000 traditional leaders!
Well, the incumbent Peter Mutharika was next on the train of appeasement.
Last year, he came under a barrage of criticism for going to the UN indaba with a bloated entourage of 100-plus people. Of course, the government machinery said some of those who made it to New York had been sponsored by other organisations.
Whatever the case, one unofficial duty of the president of Malawi-- any president-- seems to be the appeasement of as many traditional leaders as possible.
And the UN General Assembly has always been a perfect, justifiable excuse.

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