LET’s tackle a couple of issues this week.
First, nowadays it’s not strange to hear a District Commissioner or a police spokesman saying they couldn’t authorise this gathering or the other because "the security situation in the country is volatile". They did that to UDF presidential aspirant Atupele Muluzi and they lost a police unit in the process and they used the same against Vice President Joyce Banda who kept her peace and stayed home.
But, c'mon, good people, where is the volatility of the situation if not in somebody's paranoid imagination? If somebody dropped on Malawi from the extra-terrestrial world they would be forgiven if they thought they were somewhere in Bamako where Captain Amadou Sonogo and his renegade army have just toppled the government of Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure. You see, there are groups of hungry and angry-looking armed police officers positioned on street corners in their newly-acquired anti-riot combat gear. Occasionally you see the new blue anti-riot vehicle with mean-looking armed officers perched perilously on top of it.
Why all the fuss? If they were 10-year-old kids one would forgive them for one would think they were trying out their new gear and showing off the new toy daddy bought for them in China. But these are serious old men with the serious business of keeping internal security. But you don’t keep peace by scaring the wits out of the people you want to keep protect.
On Martyr's Day Goodall Gondwe let slip that the Big Kahuna was busy dealing with some serious piece of intelligence to the effect that some naughty bishops and the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) were organising a coup. One would have thought a good drink had made good ol' Goodall's mind wander a bit. But, no, the old man was serious for a day after the Energy Minister made the scary revelation; President Mutharika himself confirmed that indeed government was dealing with some coup plot.
Now, everybody knows these old men were excited for nothing. You never know with old people, like those in my village. Sometimes scary stories for them can make for cheap aphrodisiac!
But here we are in a virtual state of emergency; police are everywhere scaring young kids who were born with the notion that a man in combat gear is only seen in Hollywood movies. If police were reacting like this in real emergencies we couldn’t be having university kids bludgeoned to death on campuses with no trace of the sadistic killers. Indeed, Malawians of Asians origin couldn’t be killed in the safety of their homes by broad daylight heists if police were doing the job they were employed to do.
But here is a government creating straw men and is pulling all the stops beating the life out of such straw men! C'mon, good people, asking the President to resign is not equal to organising a coup. Nothing has changed since the all-inclusive PAC conference made the call for the President to resign, so when will our DCs or the police certify that the volatility of the situation is gone?
Or is this one way of stopping the opposition from holding rallies? Coming to think of it, stopping the opposition from holding rallies has a boomerang effect. Area 24 is an example of how not to prevent a meeting from taking place. I don’t think any police unit would’ve been attacked were Atupele Muluzi allowed to go ahead with his rally. There simply was no reason for anybody to run riot.
Other than that by stopping Muluzi from addressing the rally the police have actually made people hunger for his message. Apart from inconveniencing him with a night in a mosquito-infested cell at Lumbadzi, this was actually a rite of passage for the young politician. It is human nature to believe that if someone is being stopped from doing something then it means someone is jumpy somewhere. Actually the police have done the job for Atupele. In fact, Atupele's message was more louder in his not delivering it than if he had actually delivered it. Next time the young man holds a meeting in Area 24 I bet the crowd will be three times the one the police teargassed.
By the way, did you hear how mellow our otherwise combative President was at the opening of this year's tobacco sales in Lilongwe the other day? Listening to him one wouldn’t believe he was the same one who accused tobacco buyers of being neo-colonialists and sent a few of them packing. This year Bingu was actually almost apologetic to the buyers, almost accusing growers of over-reacting when sales are bad.
Perhaps the President has realised that always playing hardball does not pay dividends. But the growers have the right to feel cheated. Bingu inculcated a false of hope in their psyche that once the President shouts at the buyers prices on the floor will improve. And where is the government-sponsored buyer that was formed as a control for exploitative prices? Indeed where are the Chinese who promised to buy our leaf? Just like last year, tobacco growers this year will be poorer than before the markets opened.
Be that as it may, may be Bingu must try this mellow approach in other national issues as well. Calling critics drunks or tiankhwezule tating'onoting'ono (little witches) may not always help. A measured approach to issues sometimes helps.
Which brings me to my last issue...
Whoever thought the so-called Zero Deficit Budget was an experiment Malawians are ill-prepared for had their fears confirmed last week when Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Mutharika begged the IMF not to desert us. Prof. Mutharika was candid in saying that Malawi can’t do without aid.
But perhaps what should exercise the good minister's mind is why we have come this far to become almost a pariah state with everyone deserting us. It was not too long ago when we qualified for debt relief and posted tantalising growth rates equalling those of the oil-rich Gulf state of Qatar.
But we bungled all that goodwill. A messy succession plan, at the centre of which is Peter himself, led to combative politics that scuttled all the achievements we posted. The list of erstwhile good friends whose confidence we have squandered is long. Great Britain, who baby-sat us for close to half a century, has left town, we are also not in good books with Germany and we are about to lose a cool $350m from the US. To cap it all, the IMF was in town last week to examine our trustworthiness and the prognosis was not promising.
Since Prof. Mutharika has publicly confessed we can’t do without aid. perhaps he is the one to bell the cat, as it were. He needs a quite but frank talk with his big brother to convince him that not all is well with the country. A change in politics and policies is all that is needed to turn the tide.
Otherwise Malawi is bleeding and it risks dying of anaemia.