Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Letter to The Patriarch

Dear The Patriarch,
It is not in my habit to pen patriarchs. But this once, I thought I should write one missive for you, The Patriarch. I have been compelled to, looking at recent events in Africa and I hope you will not misconstrue my writing for insolence.
I know you have ever been an autocratic authority in your life. You have ever tasted how sweet a thing power is. You know how good it feels to put your best foot forward and hundreds others want to wipe the specks of dust that you gathered with that single step. You know how good it feels to preside over a country. You have been there, at the palace and you sure know all the trappings that come with it.
If you were not the one in power, you were somewhere close to the top echelons of power, you were the power itself, even when there was somebody else in the main bedroom of the palace.
I know you, The Patriarch, already know the story of Kenya. It is not about Jomo Kenyatta but Mwai Kibaki that I write. You remember, he had 51.3 percent of the vote there. His opposition contender, Raila Odinga, had 48.7 percent of the vote. No, I can’t write about the violence that ensued at the heels of those polls. I can’t go into the details to count the people that died in that violence. I am sure you heard that 120 people died in the violence.
It is difficult to talk of the effects of that violence, because losing even one soul in election violence is disastrous enough. I am sure that you are aware that in Malawi, when President Bingu wa Mutharika was elected on the then ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) ticket in 2004, opposition supporters cried foul over the results of the polls, which they felt were rigged. They went on a rampage, looting shops, blocking roads and engaging in street battles with the police.
In all that violence, in all that fighting for power, Malawi lost souls, but one that is remembered so much is that of little Epiphania Bonjesi, whose blood was shed by a bullet. Here was a little girl who did not really care whether it was Mutharika at the helm, or MCP leader John Tembo or Mgwirizano Coalition’s Gwanda Chakuamba. Epiphania was shot dead by police in the violence.
But I digress.
I was saying it is not the number of deaths in election violence that matters. Such deaths are unnecessary. Primarily, you, The Patriarch, will remember that many people were killed as they went to a foiled rally by Odinga at Uhuru Park soon after the election results were announced. You sure remember how Odinga accused Kibaki of ‘doctoring’ the vote. You haven’t forgotten how business came to a standstill and how a curfew was imposed as a result of the violence.
You, The Patriarch, are to judge whether those deaths, the violence, were necessary. I don’t think so, because after that loss of life, time and property, Odinga and Kibaki were shaking hands in a power-sharing deal, bolstered by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.
You also know of the Zimbabwe elections. In the first round of the polls neither Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe nor his nemesis Morgan Tsvangirai got the 50 percent needed for victory. That led to a run-off between the two, which consequently saw Tsvangirai pulling out and Mugabe making history by contesting against himself. We cannot talk about the 200 people who were reportedly killed in election violence. Neither can we talk about the 5,000 people abducted and 200,000 forced from their homes in the run-up to the polls.
Tsvangirai reasoned that it was a given fact that Mugabe, who claims only God can remove him from power, would not accept the election results if he failed. But the greatest surprise came when Mugabe and Tsvangirai signed a power-sharing deal initiated by former South African president Thabo Mbeki.
The Patriarch will also remember the Ghana elections, where the opposition leader John Atta Mills, against all odds succeeded John Kufuor as president. After two previous attempts to the presidency, Mills defeated the former ruling New Patriotic Party candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo. It is clear that for Mills it was the last key on his ring that opened the door to the state house, and he was lucky that the occupant was ready to walk out freely. Some African leaders would cling to power, even when they lose elections.
Now, you, The Patriarch, may be wondering why one would bring out these electoral issues. You will reckon that presidential hopefuls will soon be presenting their nomination papers to the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec). These parallels were meant to help draw contrasts and lessons that African politics is driven by some greedy force, a force that has often times left the majority of the people suffering.
We can also learn something from the marriages of the winners and losers in elections. These are marriages of convenience that are meant to hoodwink the populace. It happened in Malawi, soon after the 2004 elections Gwanda Chakuamba went into government, much to the disappointment of his supporters since at the time the smoke from the guns in the electoral violence had not yet settled. It may happen again.
Given the chance, you, The Partriarch, can be like UDF national chairman Bakili Muluzi who has been nominated by his party. This is Muluzi’s ploy for a comeback. The courts are yet to determine whether Muluzi who served as president for two consecutive terms from 1994 is eligible to stand.
That as it may be, Muluzi has unleashed his campaign, promising voters a better life. One thing that remains clear is that Muluzi is promising people things he should have done during his 10-year rule. It is not clear what new thing he has in his political basket for the Malawian on the street apart from rhetoric and an insatiable desire to bring down Mutharika.
Maybe he is banking his hopes on his belief that Malawians ‘easily forget’.
And Muluzi, a citizen of this country, has challenged Mutharika to a debate on the economy. Why he would love that debate beats the imagination. He has parliamentarians who must debate against Mutharika’s economic policy in Parliament. Since Muluzi is just a mere citizen at the moment, being granted a chance to debate with the President would mean all the 13 million Malawians should also be given the chance to debate with the president on the economy.
It is clear that Muluzi remains the same old talker. One with so many promises up his sleeve, promises he hardly fulfills. The Patriarch remembers, hopefully, the bit about shoes for one and all.
On the other hand, you can also be like President Mutharika, who keeps Malawians guessing on his political ideologies. He has not explained how he has managed to rule the country for the past five years when he ditched the party that got him to power, yet he has already started pointing fingers at the opposition UDF and MCP, accusing them of plots to rig.
During Mutharika’s reign, we have seen abuse of state resources like cars to political functions, a member of his cabinet has been involved in violence and the president has kept mum on the issue. Questions have been raised how democratic is his party. You will note that since his party, which bears the term democratic in its name, has a questionable ‘democratic’ character since all of its National Governing Council members are appointed and not elected as should be the case in any democratic entity. If it is a question of democracy in the party, then it is for the chosen few, those in the top echelons of the party.
You, The Patriarch, can be like Tembo who is on record as having said that he and the MCP have changed. He did not clearly define what has changed in him and the party, so Malawians are left to speculate. The once mighty party is known for its brutal 31-year dictatorship.
But such change must translate. It is a fact that the MCP cannot take us back to the days of the party cards, crocodiles, staged accidents, Mikuyu, exile and nyakula but Malawians would love to see the MCP really go by the tenets of democracy. If the party has really changed, why is it victimising speaker of the National Assembly Louis Chimango simply because it sees him as having put spanners in their pursuit to have him act on Section 65, the Constitutional provision that goes against MPs crossing the floor.
If at all the MCP has changed, it is clear that it has shifted from being the party that wanted the people of Malawi to have food in their homes, sleep in houses that do not leak when it rains and have clothes to cover their bodies to a party that puts political fights first. That came from Tembo’s own mouth when he said: "Section 65 number 1; Budget number 2."
Had it been 1999, this list should have included Chakuamba but apparently the man has lost a bit of the vigour he had. How else can you explain a political leader who, in this day and age, makes tribalistic tantrums? Chakuamba is alleged to have said all Alhomwes should be beaten up, a thing which led to his being sent to the cooler for a couple of days. His arrest got a cold reception, as the nation continued to do business as usual.
May be he owes Malawians an explanation why he back-tracked on his decision to become an evangelist. In the run-up to the 2004 polls, he said he would quit politics and become an evangelist if he lost.
I have been long-winded, The Patriarch, but I hope you will bear with me. I also know that those that are preparing to stand for presidency must know that by becoming the president, they are entering into a social contract with the people of Malawi. Such a contract, bound by the Republican Constitution, is only terminated and extended by the Malawian people with their vote.
Yours truly.

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