Christmas / Year end Reflection: Dogs, Drones, Bananas and a Republic

The last time I posted a blog piece was in April. To be exact, it was on April 16, 2018.

Since then in our Malawi, a country still happily living in early man’s days, not much has changed.

Dogs vs Drones

In the Christmas holidays rush, travelers in the United Kingdom were inconvenienced by alleged drone sightings at London Gatwick Airport.

An estimated 140,000 passengers faced up to three days of disruption when about 1,000 flights were affected during 36 hours of chaos when drones were sighted near the runway.

Now, what the British – Malawi’s former colonial masters can do – Malawians can also do.

On Monday December 16, a flight take-off was aborted at Chileka International Airport. But check the irony: while Gatwick’s woes were a result of drones, our Chileka near-mishap was caused by dogs.

Yes, agalu or ntchewe in the vernaculars.

Suggestive of a country truly and thoroughly gone to the dogs, dogs invaded the airport runway forcing a Malawian Airlines Boeing 737-700 aircraft to abort a take-off after the pilot sighted the hounds on the final lap.

To prove we could – IF we really wanted – do much better than the Brits, our canine interruption was short-lived; much shorter that the drone-induced mess which lasted days.

The plane delay wasted only 45 minutes of the passengers’ precious time as emergency services chased the stray dogs which had trespassed into the runway through a broken fence.

The challenge was nothing high-tech or complicated; it was just a good old broken fence that someone believed would cause no harm and hence was not in a hurry to repair.

So, while our colonial masters have embraced drones – albeit at their own risk; we are stuck with man’s best friend, the dog.

That Ladies and Gentlemen is life, Malawi style.

Celebrating mediocrity

How do such things happen, one may wonder.

Such occurences are the norm in our beloved Malawi because while the world around us is moving in leaps forward, we are happily snoozing and in fact wherever and whenever we can, regressing to the comforts or discomfitures of early man, depending on where you stand.

For example, who among those of us who have been around for while knew that in Malawi, in the year 2018 AD, an announcement that the Christmas holiday season would be free of blackouts would be a cause for national celebration?

But it was.

ESCOM was duly congratulated for offering this ‘Christmas Gift’ to load-shedding weary Malawians.

Someone wryly noted that the jubilation which welcomed ESCOM’s announcement was in fact greater that the jubilation for the root and real causes of this December festive season: i.e. Christmas and other such commemorations.

We are in this boat together

Anyway, let’s get back to basics. 2019 presents yet another crossroads for us. In five months or so, we will have another shot at deciding

  • whether the mediocrity I have contextualized above is good enough and is the best we can do for ourselves and generations to come

OR

  • whether we deserve and should do better for ourselves and generations to come.

Before I proceed, let me make one point clear. It is a fact that Malawi will not change for the better without our individual and collective efforts.

This is unquestionable.

All of us must individually and collectively pull and play a part. We must row the boat called Malawi forward. Standing still is not an option. Going backwards is suicidal because the rest of the world is moving forward and with the world operating as one global village, standing still or regressing is suicide.

What is NOT true is that the leadership at the top, the lack thereof or the quality of such leadership, does not matter.

This is false.

Leadership – at the top and in all roles be they parliamentary, public and private sectors – matters.

Without good and visionary leadership, we could all work and slave as hard as humanly possible BUT fail to move Malawi forward because at a certain point, our individual and collective efforts are pooled into one pot.

Once they are pooled, decisions made or not made, and actions taken or not taken by those entrusted to safeguard and manage that “pot” are instrumental in moving us forward or taking us backwards.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me simplify this.

Your humble contribution, the effort made by company X, Y or Z and my exertions result in profit or some sort of payment. That profit or payment is taxed. Those taxes – in developed countries and in these countries we see developing while we are regressing – are prudently utilized for the greater and common good.

When these pooled resources are put to the most ideal use without anyone shamelessly stealing, and when you and I – at the individual level – are also putting the little we make to good use and valuing the scarce resource called “time” the way we value cash, is when a country moves forward.

One without the other will not result in development.

Public resources must be effectively deployed and private means must be used in a manner that can sustain us on a rainy day.

IF we fail to sustain ourselves as individuals, we become a burden on the common pot and hence – like those we accuse of mismanaging public funds – a liability to Malawi.

This is fine if some calamity has befallen us BUT not when we are able bodied or when we can afford an Android but are suffering from lopsided priorities!

So what does this mean?

First, we now have people coming forward as contenders for the Malawi presidency.

The incumbent Prof Peter Mutharika will run. Dr Chakwera, current Leader of Opposition will also run. Dr Saulos Chilima is in the mix. Atupele Muluzi, Joyce Banda, Prof Chisi, Dr Chilumpha and many others are all eyeing the number one job in Malawi.

Surrounding these people are various Malawians from all walks of life holding positions in the respective political machineries propping them.

This is where I see the first missed opportunity. Let me ask you reading this reflection a question:

Did you contest for a position in any of these parties elective Conventions?

Yes? Good and congratulations especially if you lost!

No? Why? Let me guess your answer:

It is because all our political parties are bad and unattractive!

Right?

Before I address those who have answered “NO”, let me explain my congratulations to those who contested and lost.

If you contested and lost I hold you in higher esteem than your noisy-but-sitting-phwii neighbor because it is no use sitting on the sidelines waiting for change when one is steadfast in their refusal to be an agent of such change from within these imperfect political parties.

It is only by rolling our sleeves and getting in to take on active roles that we can slowly but surely challenge the mediocrity in these institutions and fix them from within.

So, those who did not find any party attractive enough for them, are there any options? Yes.

We need new leaders with a different mindset in Parliament and in Assemblies. If you are planning to contest as a party candidate or an independent, once again my hat is off to you.

In fact, I occasionally provide very good advice on specifics, if I am convinced you are serious.

This is important because without new blood joining front-line politics, we are doomed to continue regressing and it matters less how many Facebook posts or Tweets you make in support of Mutharika, Chakwera or Chilima; IF you are too chicken to contest for party roles or are too afraid of your own shadow to contest as a Councilor or MP, stop disparaging those with the guts especially when they are in a party you do not care for.

Leadership and ‘Monday coaching’ are worlds apart, hence let us learn to respect those who aspire to lead.

Leadership: Council and Parliamentary Levels

Now, having sieved out the spectators and free-loaders letting Malawi down, this last section of my New Year Reflection is dedicated to the brave men and women holding party positions – be it in imperfect political parties and to those with the nerve to run in the May 2019 elections.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The difference between you and the Facebook cheerleaders and loud mouths too chicken to run in an election is that you have chosen, in one way or another, to be optimistic.

Optimism, in the dire straits that Malawi is in, is the first step in the right direction BUT it is not enough.

Check this one by John Maxwell:

The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.

Although you have taken the first big step in the right direction, please don’t stop at being an Optimist, it is far from enough.

Malawi needs and demands much more.

One of your New Year resolutions, should you need one, should be to evolve into a Leader capable of adjusting the sails when the winds get rough.

If you get past that one, Mitt Romney – a veteran US politician who knows what it feels like to win or lose at the highest levels, offers some insights:

Leadership is about taking responsibility, not making excuses.

So, should you stumble along the way, please own up, learn from your mistakes and move on.

Leadership: Presidential Level

Last but definitely not least is some food for thought for the men and women who would be the State President of the almost ‘Banana’ Republic of Malawi in May 2019.

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Come to think of it, economically we are already a ‘Banana’ Republic because when the IMF and all such bodies’ ratings consistently show Malawi heading towards the poorest country on earth ignominy and it is only war-torn countries holding us from that shame; we cannot pretend NOT to be a basket case.

Your Excellences hear this:

Leadership, as per Colin Powell, is about solving problems. The day your followers or your people stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them.

This, Powell adds, implies that they have either lost confidence that you can help or they have concluded that you do not care.

“Either case” Colin Powell concludes “is a failure of leadership”.

My advice:

Should you be the one elected in May 2019, please spare us excuses about previous governments failures, the IMF or this or that. The job you are seeking is about solving, not complaining about Malawi’s problems.

Should some of you still believe, in this day and era, in the use of force, take a listen to Dwight D. Eisenhower.

You don’t lead by hitting people over the head. That is assault, not leadership.

I have added this one because once elevated, many African leaders quickly mutate into despots and would-be-despots. Should you ever be tempted to use force, never claim to be a Leader.

For the obvious reason that corruption and failure to walk the talk on integrity is the number one reason Malawi has gone to the dogs and we are an economic Banana Republic, I saved this powerful one for the finale.

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity,” sayeth Dwight D. Eisenhower and he is damn right too because without integrity, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, on a football field, in an army, or in an office and I will add in Malawi.

Whether you will win or lose, please walk integrity, talk integrity, eat integrity, dream integrity and shun the corrupt!

***

Belated Merry Christmas! I wish you all Happy New Year 2019!

If the over-used ‘prosperity’ will flow to the masses, then I wish you all that too. However, IF the prosperity will be exclusive to you and your hangers-on, then let it choke you.

***

I rest my case.

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Emancipate yourself from mental slavery…

Men, said Franklin D. Roosevelt, are not prisoners of fate but only prisoners of their own minds.

On my mind are musings of what could be going on in the mind of one Saulos Klaus Chilima, the man whose name is currently dividing and driving opinions in Malawi’s political circles especially within the rank and file of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the youths.

Before I muse on, allow me a detour to summarise, as best as I can, the highlights of this man’s or is it this “baby’s” life.

Forging a political future:

(c) The Nation

Cartoonists, the best of Malawi, having a field day.

“Baby” Saulos Klaus Chilima (SKC), born on February 12th 1973, is an economist and a politician currently serving as the Vice-President of Malawi.

He holds a (PhD) in Business Management (University of Bolton), Master of Arts in Economics – University of Malawi (2003-2005) and a Bachelor of Social Science degree – University of Malawi (1990-1994).

Picked from the private sector, Airtel to be specific, to partner President Peter Mutharika in the 2014 race, there is little doubt that he gave DPP call boys something – other than the seniors from Newland Homes – to associate with and proudly talk about as they went about rebranding the DPP which was at that time reeling from a disastrous past.

After getting baptism of fire from MCP’s Richard Msowoya in the first round of debates for presidential running mates, he quickly rallied to build himself as someone who could hold his own even on issues to do with the public sector.

His value-add to the DPP campaign was that – unlike MCP where presidential candidate and his running mate were mostly operating like ngumbi – trailing each other rally after rally; when Mutharika was in the south, Chilima went up north to speak in Tumbuka.

When Mutharika drove to the east, Chilima would go to the west, switching the parlance from Tumbuka to Chichewa.

More critically, while Mutharika – even then – looked every inch his age, Chilima complimented him with the buoyancy of a youth raring to go and of course, with the all-important knowledge of high tech.

In a word, it was a perfect match up. May be it was too good to last, hence the current state of affairs.

Reforms that were not to be:

Soon after DPP’s victory in 2014, President Mutharika, then seeing eye to eye with his counterpart, assigned Chilima to lead the much-touted Public Service Reforms.

arthur-peter-mutharika-receiving-the-public-reforms-document

With promise, pomp and colour the Reform Commission’s report was highly publicized

As is always the case when Malawians set out to produce documents, the product was an excellent piece of work.

However, before the blue print could be rolled out public sector-wide, noting that the Public Service Reforms Commission’s (PSRC)’ mandate would expire in June 2016; Vice-President Saulos Chilima presented two options to President Peter Mutharika.

The two choices were: either reverting the reforms to the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) or extending the commission’s mandate for another year so that it could oversee implementation.

Mutharika chose to extend the commission’s tenure for just a further six months instead of the Vice President’s one-year suggestion.

Why the abrupt change? Why reverting to OPC when the OPC has volumes upon volumes of reform proposals that never saw the light of day? … were some of the questions that were asked.

Political analyst Boniface Dulani noted that it was obvious from the onset that the reforms were destined to fail because there was no political will from the President, most politicians in the governing DPP and some top civil servants.

“Not everyone was happy with the reforms. There was a tug of war between those who wanted the reforms and the powerful. The powerful have won because they are the beneficiaries of the status quo.”

I beg to disagree with the esteemed Dulani.

The phobia was not for reforms per se. It was rather the fear that the reforms would succeed.

Had the reforms succeeded, never mind the fact that the entire country would have benefited, Chilima – the man tasked with the seemingly impossible task – would have been seen to have delivered and done something to show for the hefty perks we pay him as a Vice-President in a country where many people have held presidential, ministerial and other ‘fattening’ positions for years and years with nothing tangible to show.

Man is smart but…

Malawi-first-lady-Callista-wa-MutharikaHarry Belafonte knew a thing or two when he crooned that man is smart but the woman is smarter.

Let us face it gentlemen and admit that not only are women the fairer sex and smarter, but they are also the braver breed!

Check this: when men were just murmuring their praises for the Vice-President whenever he showed up at a disaster area or at a basketball pitch, and while a man would have disowned the leaked WhatsApp chat now christened ‘Hurricane Callista’; Mrs Callista Mutharika did exactly the opposite .

In a chondigwera, chindigwere, a dead body does not dread decaying style and fashion; she escalated her message through radio interviews, arguing the case:

  1. first, why DPP – IF at all it wants to win in 2019 – it should look to Chilima;
  2. secondly, why Malawians – if they want different results – should dare to try people with different mind-sets and
  3. finally why Malawians – if they want good governance – they should go beyond singing “…that we be free from fear…” to actually becoming courageous!

Ladies and gentlemen, lend me your ears. I want to be totally honest: I never remotely thought I would ever hold Callista in awe. Not after her defense of the arrogant incompetence that hounded and tortured us between 2009 and 2012.

Never.

However, listening to her on the Zodiac clip gone viral, my faith in humanity has somewhat been restored. Who knew that Callista could actually throw all caution and protocol to the wind and challenge the status quo?

How many of us can do half what Callista has done if our in-laws were the incompetent culprits involved? Enough respect to Madame Callista.

Enter Ngongoliwa:

In our Malawi, no circus is complete if the traditional chiefs have not butted in.  I was therefore not surprised to learn that Paramount Chief Ngongoliwa deemed it necessary to weigh in saying that he personally supports the Mutharika-Chilima pair for the 2019 elections on the basis that,

  • first, that it is a good pair because Chilima knows it was Mutharika who chose and settled for him and likewise. In other words, just stating the obvious.
  • second, that Mutharika knows he made it with support from Chilima and that “Malawi is developing and you can see that for yourself and, obviously, some people are not happy.”

Let us pause on this (second) one.

While it is quite possible that in Paramount Chief Ngongoliwa’s area there is

IMG_3148

Ngalande: DPP Cadet-In-Chief, says Callista’s views represent public sentiment

development galore, it is ‘development’ that Callista and many other Malawians need microscopes to see.

But since it is rude to accuse elders of Ngongoliwa’s status of knowingly peddling lies, it is equally possible that the development Ngongoliwa sees is so concentrated in his area that other parts of country are starving, hence the increasing clamour for Chilima to take over DPP and hopefully balance the ‘development’ nationwide, making sure – while he is at it – that the industry has energy with which to create wealth and that the youth, after graduating, have jobs or resources with which to go into self-employment.

This however is a subject for another day. Reverting to the matter at hand, Ngongoliwa complained that Chilima is not helping matters by remaining mute.

“The Vice-President should have come out by now and told Malawians that he was not party to such calls. He should have come open and told Malawians that Mutharika is his father and he supports his candidacy,” Ngongoliwa said, concluding that if Chilima came out, this matter would have been closed long time ago.

Quo vadis Chilima?

I am only guessing here, but I am willing to bet my blog on this: Ngongoliwa is being totally naïve.

IMG_3110

Malawi’s cartoonists, doing what they do best

What makes him think that Chilima will “come into the open and tell Malawians that Mutharika is his father blah, blah, blah”?

I would urge the good old Chief to think again, just as I want to encourage Chilima to think, arrive at a decision and act fast.

Timing, in momentous situations like this, is everything.

While proverbs may advocate that silence is golden, and that good things come to those who wait, they also caution us against waiting too long. Was it not our ancestors who coined the adage kayitana kavula?

While it is outright unfair to force SKC into a rushed decision, he ought to know that a week is a long time in politics.

I will leave this at that.

Callista, the Ngalandes and Winikos of this world can only do so much. When push comes to shove, it is up to SKC himself to prove that those alleging that he is a “baby” are wrong.

Before I sign off, SKC should remember that men are not prisoners of fate, they are rather prisoners of their own minds and indeed now might be the time for SKC to emancipate himself from mental slavery because none but himself can free his mind.

I rest my case.