Apparently, Bingu wa Mutharika is not the learned fellow we all thought he is. An economist by training, Malawi’s once highly esteemed president has shown himself to be anything but the bright spark we tend to ascribe to holders of PhD degrees in Development Economics. It is a dubious distinction, I am told.
In any event, bright sparks are not known for taking a nation two steps forward only to take it ten steps backwards. It runs counter-current to so called development economics which are premised on sustaining growth; not reversing it.
All things considered then, it would seem that the president has not benefitted Malawi’s economic development in any way, shape or form. Instead, he has unleashed a reign of terror on the peace-loving citizens of the warm heart of Africa. Malawians who endured decades of iron fisted rule under Hastings Kamuzu Banda, have to do it all over again as they face heightened repression under Mutharika. International condemnation has come thick and fast starting with the suspension of aid by Britain.
All is not well in Malawi as fear and anxiety grip the nation amid speculation that August 17 will see yet another round of violent protests. Already 19 people have died in the last protests on July 20. Unmoved by the tragedy, an unrepentant Mutharika has vowed to “smoke out” those behind the protests. The president remains deaf to the cries of the nation and blind to the plight of his people. By all accounts, it seems the tyrant has made a pact with the devil. He has chosen to flirt with death itself.
In a season of popular uprisings which have seen the overthrow of dictatorships notably in Egypt and Tunisia, it is pertinent that Malawians should use this time to reflect on the change they want to see in their country. It is an opportune moment to take stock of the last 47 years of independence and ask why they find themselves more or less in the same place they were during Banda’s three decades in power. To replace a Kamuzu Banda with a Bingu Wa Mutharika is nothing short of a classical exercise in insanity — doing the same thing every single time and expecting different results.
For decades Malawians lived up to their stereotype as a meek and pliant people. It was a stereotype entrenched in their psyche by a culture of oppression and political isolation. It is a much different world now; a world of satellite television, Facebook and Twitter. A world where dissent is relayed in kilobytes per second at lightning speeds across the globe. A world where sentiment is digitised and protest movements are mobilised in less time than it takes to convene a town hall meeting. It is a world undergoing dramatic change; the kind of change the likes of Bingu fear and yet underestimate. The kind of change whose force the people dare not underestimate lest they be thrust back into the clutches of dictatorship. It is a world Malawians inhabit and must embrace wholeheartedly so that they can be assured of a better future.
In April this year, Africa bade goodbye to Ivorian strongman Laurent Gbagbo after he was captured from his underground hideout in the presidential palace. Shortly after his capture, Gbagbo appeared in a white vest sweating profusely and looking disoriented. He was displayed like a hunted animal in a show of humiliation that could have been avoided. It was an undignified scene. Others have fared much worse. Next door to Ivory Coast, Samuel Doe of Liberia suffered a much terrible fate in 1990 when upon his capture, he was tortured and assassinated. His corpse was then mutilated and paraded about town in a wheelbarrow. That is hardly a fitting way for a leader to bid farewell.
Mutharika need not tempt fate. History is replete with examples of the terrible demise meted against power mongers who saw the writing on the wall but chose to ignore its warnings. Malawians soon to be engulfed in the coming tsunami of the double dip recession, will no doubt restrain their pent up fury. After all, they are a people not given to a culture of violence. Without the restraint however, it is feared that the end of those bent on restraining their freedom and prosperity, could be brutal. Given all of this, we can only hope and pray that the learned fellow in the presidential palace will of necessity, redeem himself, correctly interpret the mood of the people and muster the resolve to do the right thing. The wrong thing is just too ghastly to contemplate.