IT is kind of surreal that Malawians seem to be in an euphoric mood after just burying their leader. Charles Namondwe, speaking on behalf of the bereaved family, might have spoken out of turn when he said some people were holding parties in the wake of the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika. Certain things - though true - are better left unsaid for the sake of the dignity of the occasion.
But if truth be told Malawi was going towards the precipice during the twilight of Bingu's rule. Everything was going haywire...no dollars in banks, no fuel in service stations, no friends from near and far...no nothing. One wonders what the last two years of President Mutharika's rule would’ve been like for Malawi and Malawians.
But nobody in their right senses can celebrate anybody's death...well, at least not publicly. As John Tembo famously said, "death is death" - it can strike anybody anytime. In fact those civil rights and religious leaders who called for his resignation not too long before his death didn’t wish Bingu dead. They simply wanted his regime to end with its misguidedly arrogant policies. They simply wanted him to step aside and take a rest and let fresh hands steer the Malawi ship out to clear waters.
But as they say God has his own ways. He decided to take Bingu from amongst us and, as DPP Secretary General Elias Wakuda Kamanga wisely said, let all Bingu's indiscretions and misdeeds be interred with him. Likewise, as President Joyce Banda also said, let us remember Bingu for the good deeds he did for his family, his country and the world.
And let me add that let us draw lessons from all the things he could’ve done better for the betterment of the future generations.
Like I said, there is palpable euphoria with the change of guard in State House. Everyone is hopeful that the coming in of Mama Joyce will answer all the inequities that befell us in the twilight of her predecessor's reign. There is goodwill out there; people want Abiti Mtila to succeed.
This goodwill will be squandered if President Banda mistakes it as a blank cheque. In whatever she does she must be mindful that Malawians want her to clean up the mess left by her late boss.
And, on that score, I must say she has started on the right keel. She has made all the right noises about normalising relations with Great Britain and the West as well as our neighbours. There is a thaw in the frozen foreign relations with the White Hall already earmarking a replacement for Fergus Cochraine-Dyet whom Bingu needlessly expelled against well-intentioned advice.
There are also positive noises from Washington with Hillary Clinton assuring Mama Joyce that the MCC she chairs is open to re-start negotiations for the suspended $350.7m energy booty.
As for the immediate neighbours, the goodwill was more than palpable in the days after Bingu's death. Michael Sata, whom we arrested back in 2007, gave us fuel using Zambian dollars, Armando Geubuza of Mozambique - whom we ignored in our dream Nsanje Port project - forgot everything and not only flew in for the funeral but also gave us food and fuel. Jacob Zuma, the big brother in the region, also forked out his gold dollars to ease our fuel woes.
All these initiatives came before we buried Bingu. But Mama Joyce's real job begun after April 23 when we escorted Bingu to rest forever in 'Mpumulo wa Bata'.
President Banda's first act was to assure the nation and the world that she is serious to do what is right. The first barometer was the choice of the team she chose to work with.
What quickly jumps to mind here is the Cabinet. But, while the Cabinet is the most public face of any government, the most crucial team for the President - any president - is the backroom staff. These are the invisible men and women who do the leg work for the President. These are unofficial advisors; they can be family members, friends, political buddies or hired strategists.
In a normal political set up these are the most powerful group because they have the personal trust of the President. While she can publicly fire a cabinet member who misbehaves these unofficial advisors are a different ball-game altogether. These can make or break any presidency.
Soon after he became President of the Republic of Malawi, Bingu invited Prof. Peter Mutharika to become his unofficial advisor. The President could’ve trusted ministers telling him all sorts of stuff but the last word remained with Peter.
President Bakili Muluzi also had trusted strategists. Humphrey Mvula never held any visible position in politics but he was a guy ministers could ignore at their own peril.
This isn’t unique to Malawi. In the US Karl Rove was described as 'Bush's brain' because he managed President George W. Bush's political strategies. Bush so trusted this guy so much that when he was suspected to be involved in a highly damaging political scandal with Vice President Dick Cheney's aide Lewis 'Scooter' Libby in the outing of a secret service agent, Valerie Plame, one of President Bush's last executive orders was to save 'Scooter' from going to jail.
So it is inevitable there are back-room folks wheeling and dealing for President Banda. These are the people who make and break the presidency.
Not that the choice of the Cabinet is insignificant, no; that is why the team Mama Joyce unveiled last Thursday has excited mixed reactions. Some people are underwhelmed at how certain names will add any value to the presidency but pragmatists understands the President needed to take care of the political side of things. Have you wondered why her government has variously been described as a 'Government of National Unity' or 'Inclusive Government'?
Whatever is the correct description of her government, President Banda has succeeded in making it easy for her re-election in 2014. Atupele Muluzi's UDF 'Change Agenda' is all but shelved while the DPP will be struggling to figure out whether it is an opposition party or not. The MCP may not have any official representation in government but John Tembo is as good as in Abiti's armpits with a son holding an important diplomatic position in London.
So it can safely be said that Joyce Banda has managed to quieten the political side of running government. But government is more than politics. How she manages the next few months will determine whether she is the Aaron who delivers Moses' children to the 'Promised Land'.