Mutharika’s HARDtalk Interview: The Devil is in the Detail

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Malawi president, Peter Mutharika recently appeared on BBC’s HARDtalk programme, hosted by Zainab Badawi. His appearance was in line with what has become a trend for African leaders – granting interviews to Western media and not the local media. Controlled press briefings is the closest the local media get to interview a state president – this is certainly the case in Malawi.

It shows the contempt that African leaders have towards the local media. Anthropologist, Francis Nyamnjoh has noticed that from early to mid 1990s most African countries have liberalised media laws only in theory but in practice journalists on the continent are still seen as troublemakers to be monitored and policed.

One thing that became immediately apparent in the HARDtalk interview is that Badawi had more facts about Malawi than Mutharika. For every question asked about Malawi’s poor economic growth, infinite poverty, massive corruption and poor governance, the Malawi president turned to Cashgate – a term used to refer to a systematic looting of state resources by civil servants, politicians and business persons.

Of course blaming everything on Cashgate is more convenient for President Mutharika because Cashgate happened on the watch of his political rival, the former State President, Joyce Banda.

Yet, Mutharika had no answers why all the country’s economic and governance problems should be attributed to Cashgate when Joyce Banda was in power for only two of the country’s 51 years of independence. This question points to one of the biggest problems with Malawi, as a country.

Those in the leadership positions are never honest with the diagnosis of the country’s problems. Wrong diagnosis means wrong prescription; wrong prescription means the problem will not go away. It is akin to wrapping a boil with a bandage – you can only hide it but it will not heal. The solution is to burst the boil and treat it.

Like a boil, Malawi is at a point where we need to open up to uncomfortable realities. The deliberate misdiagnosis of the country’s problems is convenient because majority of the country’s politicians leaders are either interested in covering their corrupt past; that of their peers or are merely interested in denting CVs of their political rivals. Short term, narrow and selfish interests are prioritised in place of bigger, long-term national interests.

It is all about political blame game, and at the moment Joyce Banda is unfairly taking all the flak. Of course Cashgate happened on her watch and she must account for it.

Yet, there are also unaccounted for millions of Malawi Kwachas that went missing under Presidents Bingu wa Mutharika, Peter’s older brother, and Bakili Muluzi. The latter still has a court case, answering charges of corruption for allegedly diverting government money into a personal account.

Peter Mutharika and his government wont mention Bingu and Muluzi because UDF (Mulizi’s party) and DPP (Mutharika’s party) are now in a convenient political collation of some sort.

This is something Peter Mutharika could not admit to Badawi because in the typical Malawi politics, Peter Mutharika thought Badawi was out to get him, personally, when the truth is Badawi was looking at Malawi and Peter Mutharika happened to be the unfortunate president answering her questions. I doubt very much that Badawi has any interest in Malawi’s internal politics.

Sadly, this is also the reality on the ground. Everything is personalized. Over the years, majority of unsuspecting Malawians have been indoctrinated to think and see everything through tinted political party colours, at the expense of broader national interests. Those who dare stand for national interests and question the status quo are seen as jealous, opposition elements or sponsored by westerners to “destabilise” the country.

Mutharika approached the interview with this pitiful mindset. At times it was embarrassing to watch. We can do better! But not until Malawi leaders start looking at things as they, not how they want them to be. If not, Malawi will not be able to shake-off the painful “poorest country in world” tag.

Its presidents will continue moving around the Western world with begging bowl; its presidents will continue giving unprepared interviews to the likes of BBC in hope of attracting donor sympathy for grants and donations.

Let us #DemandaBetterMalawi

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