Why are we hearing more apologies for what happened in the late
hours following the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika, and not on what
happened on 11th December 2010?
The attempt to subvert the Malawi constitution and prevent
Madam Joyce Banda from becoming president after the death of President
Mutharika was a frightening prospect alright, but it is the thin end of the
wedge. The process that led to that moment started with her expulsion from the
party on 11th
December, 2010. As no one needs to be reminded, the
expulsion’s most important intent was to keep the Malawi presidency as far away
from Madam Joyce Banda as possible, and clear the path for Professor Peter
Mutharika. Only, nobody in the hitherto mighty Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) deigned to ask the petty,
inconvenient question as to what would happen if, God forbid, the Ngwazi
Professor Bingu wa Mutharika were to become incapacitated before 2014.
Having accomplished the expulsion and cleared the way for
the younger Mutharika, the last thing on the minds of the DPP vanguard was
President Mutharika failing to make it to 2014. In the event of the unthinkable
having happened, isn’t it strange to imagine that the DPP would simply sit
quietly and let the very personification of their bitterness, ridicule and
contempt, covet the very office they had done everything possible to prevent
her from assuming?
In case this sounds like an argument in support of what has
been called a de facto coup plot, it is not. Rather it is an argument about how
the logic of events from the ousting of Mrs Banda from the DPP to make it easy
for Peter Mutharika to become the next president of Malawi makes it implausible
to imagine that the DPP would have handled Bingu’s death differently. Not only
does the expectation not make sense, it also fails to put the finger on the
nerve of the problem.
Blaming the DPP for having plotted to subvert the
constitution in those surreal hours and prevent Amayi from taking over is putting
the emphasis on the effect, and not on the root cause. What the DPP should really
be blamed for is the original sin of what they did to Madam Joyce Banda in
2010. Had it been that Amayi had remained vice president of the DPP all this
time, and the DPP attempted to prevent her from taking over after Bingu’s
death, then we would have a basis for questioning the attempt to make Peter
Mutharika, rather than Joyce Banda, the country’s next president. People seem to
forget the events of 11th
December 2010, the genesis of the problem
that came to define the last years of the departed president’s rule.
In the same vein, people are also forgetting that despite
Bingu’s change of mind in the middle of 2010, he went into the 2009 election
campaign convinced that Amayi had the capability, experience, and
qualifications to be vice president. With it, the implication that should
anything happen to him, she could ably take over and become the next president.
He had even made her foreign affairs minister years prior. We know he later
changed his mind, after the fact, but as the Chichewa saying goes, Kalulu anamva mawu oyamba
, achiwiri anakana
. And the constitution
seems to agree with that.
Therein lies an important lesson for Malawian political
parties and their supporters. Even when ordinary Malawians started wondering if
everything was alright with the erstwhile ruling party, there was very little
internal dissent. If anything, there were always party supporters willing and
ready to defend the DPP’s slide into autocracy. The earliest telltale signs
were the manner in which the decree for the re-institution of the quota system
was handled, weeks after Bingu’s 2009 re-election. There was an air of deaf
finality to it. The president had made up his mind, and he was not going to
entertain differing opinions.
Then came the change of the flag. The DPP and its supporters
went to the extent of fabricating a survey and parading it as evidence that
there was widespread support for the idea of changing the flag. Chiefs were
made to stand in front of rolling cameras and had mics thrust to their mouths
to speak in support of the flag change. The DPP knew very well that there was
very little support for the decision, but it seemed Bingu had made his
decision, and he was not going to change his mind, damned what the people
And when the president decided that Mrs. Joyce Banda and Mr.
Khumbo Kachali were going to be expelled from the party, it was with the same
air of deaf finality to any voices that may have held a different opinion.
The die was cast, and it was downhill for the
president and the DPP after that, leading to July 20th
, onward to
the PAC call for Bingu’s resignation in March 2012.
The most tragic aspect of all this was how people who knew
better chose not to speak out. In the words of the late American civil rights
leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., what people remember in the end are “not the
words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” This is not to
exonerate enemies and instead crucify friends. It is to exhort people to take
courage and speak out when the stakes demand it.
Much of the disgust with the MPs who started jumping the DPP
ship hours after the announcement of Bingu’s death has centred around the
blatant absence of moral principles. But moral principles operate in the
context of the larger moral economy. There is indeed a glaring moral lapse in
the behaviour of most politicians, but as long as the Malawian political
economy continues to favour appeasement and patronage, politicians will always
panic when faced with the imminent demise of their career. It would be a
different matter if politicians could lose a seat today and tomorrow find
themselves teaching in a university, or running a lucrative column in a
newspaper, advising corporations in a think tank, or farming a fertile piece of
The so-called “Midnight Six” were up to great mischief on
the night of April 5th
, 2012, but it all originated from December 11th
2010, the day the DPP announced the axing of Mrs. Joyce Banda from the party. If
Malawians need to hear any apologies, they should be on what happened on 11th
December, 2010. Such apologies should be made with the full understanding and
acknowledgement of what that move did to the party and to the country, for
which the DPP is paying a price today.