Some Malawians have expressed surprise at the early
criticism the new cabinet announced by President Joyce Banda on Thursday April
26th is already receiving. There are sections of Malawian society
that have not hidden their great disappointment with the individuals chosen.
The number of politicians who have been recycled from the last Mutharika
cabinet, and from previous cabinets, is astounding. Out of 21 full ministers
(minus the president and her VP), 14 ministers are making a comeback, seven of
them from the last cabinet hired by the late Mutharika in September 2012 (Ken
Lipenga, Ephrain Chiume, Peter Mwanza, Sidik Mia, John Bande, Daniel Liwimbi,
Six are from recent previous cabinets (Ritchie Muheya, Ken
Kandodo), but some of them go back to the Muluzi era before 2004 (Eunice Kazembe,
Cassim Chilumpha, Henry Phoya, Uladi Mussa). Ken Lipenga has the distinction of
being the only one surviving from Mutharika’s last cabinet, but also going back
to the Muluzi era.
The staggering number of recycled ministers is raising the
question as to what else these ministers can offer a Malawi that is envisaging
itself as a nation in reboot mode. With the exception of a handful, the
majority of them were unimpressive in their previous cabinet tenures, so what
makes President Joyce Banda think that this time around they can perform? One
possible explanation, something Amayi
may have thought of, is that of experience. But another explanation could be
something I have argued before: the president sets the limits and the
atmosphere for ministers’ effectiveness.
The president determines how vibrant
and imaginative, or how dull and insignificant the cabinet can become. To date,
none of the presidents the country has been blessed or cursed with, from Kamuzu
Banda to Bakili Muluzi to Bingu wa Mutharika, seemed to give their cabinet
ministers much leverage in terms of creativity and fresh thinking.
A recent case in point was when it became evident that the ongoing
fuel crisis was becoming the norm. The
newspaper published a story on 10th
June 2011 in which
they quoted then Minister of Energy and Mining, Hon. Grain Malunga, telling
Malawians to “get used to the fuel crisis.” A lot of people were angered by
those remarks, seeing them as government giving up on a problem that needed an
urgent solution. Some called for the minister’s resignation, or even firing. But
some observed that it would not make a difference which minister was in the
In August 2011 Mutharika dissolved his cabinet, and went for
three weeks before announcing a new cabinet. Grain Malunga did not retain his
portfolio, which instead went to Goodall Gondwe, highly regarded as having
engineered Malawi’s record-breaking economic growth rates in Mutharika’s first
Nothing improved; if anything, things got worse and showed
no signs of abating. As president, Mutharika made clear what his policies were,
and left no room for individual ministers to articulate their own visions and
strategies for how the country would solve the myriad problems Malawians were
Mutharika had set the limits on how his cabinet ministers would
perform. It was the case with Muluzi, and Kamuzu before him. Will Amayi
be the first president to break
the mould and allow cabinet ministers to showcase their intellectual prowess
and visionary acumen? Malawians will not take her word for it; they will judge
her based on her deeds.
In their last cabinet
in February this year, The
gave Madam Joyce Banda a 1 out of 10, the lowest score. The Sunday Times
explained that having
been expelled from the DPP, she was not performing any Vice Presidential
duties, and should have resigned. That is water under the bridge now.
be even more welcome from the Sunday
would be not only a cabinet assessment after the first six months in
office, but also detailed biographical profiles of each minister, as they
commence their cabinet tenure. A few of them are well known personalities, but
a great many of these ministers have never been profiled in the Malawian media,
despite serving as cabinet ministers for several years now. The nation has no
clue who they are, what their backgrounds are, what their visions for the
country are, and what they hope to accomplish.
Watipaso Mkandawire has suggested on
that the ministers “sign a ‘contract’ with Malawians.” He writes: “Ministers
should be accountable to Malawians and they should sign a pact that makes them
accountable to Malawians. They should tell us what their Ministries will
achieve (outcomes and not outputs).” He goes further to suggest that rather than
the ubiquitous familiarization tours that ministers start with, they should undergo
special training at the Malawi Institute of Management on what being a cabinet
If I can add to Wati’s call, the training they undergo
should be of high calibre and intellectual rigour, bringing them up to speed on
what it means to provide leadership in the 21st
century. They should
be required to develop well-researched papers in which they outline what in
their informed, considered opinion are the root causes of Malawi’s problems.
They should identify the strengths and greatness of Malawi as a nation, and
outline how they plan to overcome obstacles in pursuit of the “outcomes” Wati
is calling for.
Even more important,
they should act on those plans by inspiring Malawians and ensuring greater
participation in the nation’s civic life.
It has been claimed in the print media that President Joyce
Banda’s cabinet scores highly on “inclusivity” and “reconciliation”. This claim
sounds strange as there has been little to no explanation as to the kinds of
consultations that were made with the parties from whose ranks some of the
ministers have been drawn. The DPP has claimed that they were not approached on
having some of their members chosen as cabinet members.
The UDF says it knew
some of its members were going to be included in the cabinet, but no further
details have been provided. Dr. Cassim Chilumpha has actually resigned from the
UDF, and has joined the People’s Party, as has Henry Phoya, from the MCP. Uladi
Mussa has dissolved his entire party and joined in with the People’s Party as
well. People are asking what will become of Atupele Muluzi’s presidential
ambitions, having accepted a crucial cabinet position. These ministers have
been roped in as individuals, rather than as part of a broader agreement with
their respective parties.
It may be an inclusive cabinet, but can it be said to
promote reconciliation, when there has been no consultation with the party
hierarchies? When there are fears that the opposition will be weakened beyond
its current morbid state? Both inclusivity and reconciliation are virtues the
country solely needs at this juncture. But it will be the capacity of the
ministers to inspire the nation and instill a sense of pride in being Malawian,
once and for all, that this cabinet should be most closely monitored for.