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 thought.
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 land.
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.