I know Joyce Banda didn’t expect any honeymoon when an accident of fate prematurely catapulted her to the presidency. She burst on the scene when Malawi was nearly sliding off the cliff so much so that she couldn’t - indeed shouldn’t - have the luxury of waiting a hundred days for her first job report card.
And the President acknowledged as much when she re-told her first encounter with the US Under Secretary of State (Political Affairs) Wendy Sherman in Lilongwe just weeks before she became Malawi's accidental president. President Banda told of an eerie and tense atmosphere that engulfed Malawi then that convinced the two women: "Malawians were ready for change."
So Malawians wanted Abiti to hit the ground running, as it were. And luckily for Malawians she doesn’t seem to disappoint so far. Crucial relations, needlessly soured by her needlessly abrasive predecessor, are on the mend. For example, we are back on talking terms with our neighbours; London is sending an envoy to replace the one we needlessly expelled that mad day; we just might get our frozen energy dollars from Washington; and the all-important IMF programme is back on track again.
Save for a few disgruntled folks weighed down by the nihilistic 'sour grapes' feeling, most Malawians appreciate that given the circumstance the woman is trying her best. I mean, Malawi was almost broke and the experimental Zero-Deficit Budget was unravelling. If it wasn’t why would those desperate conmen try to bluff the world with illegal loans to prove that the dangerous experiment was working after all?
One seriously wonders where Malawi would have been should nature not intervene when it did on that April day.
But Malawians were perilously hovering dangerously near the precipice that they may not settle for half measures. Now that they have reclaimed back their country they may not be very willing to replace one dictator with another this soon. Much as there is palpable goodwill for the Banda administration to succeed, Malawians have not forgotten that President Bingu wa Mutharika arrived on the scene as a harbinger of hope. They never called him 'the latter-day Moses' for nothing. He was surely the embodiment of Malawians' hopes and aspirations.
But Bingu mistook such ringing endorsement for meekness. He started believing that by giving him overwhelming mandate to rule Malawians were sub-letting their brains to him. He started behaving like the be-all end-all of things Malawian. Nobody mattered any more. It was the question of 'Me, Myself and I' for the ageing economist. No wonder very soon there was a serious disconnect between the President and his people. Were anybody who died soon after voting on May 19, 2004 to come back to life they would not believe it was the same Malawians who on July 20, 2010 thronged the streets to protest against the same Bingu they sang to the skies not too long back.
So it is easy for Mama Joyce to lose the goodwill of the people if she too drops the ball, as it were. Malawians can easily identify with her for she suffered with them when a select privileged few were enjoying the dwindling fruits of this country. When the powers-that-were were busy running skewed propaganda campaigns against citizens' right to freely express their displeasure through peaceful demonstrations, the then Vice-President Banda urged her boss to allow Malawians their constitutional right. Had it not been for the slip she suffered the night before I am sure Mrs. Banda would have been with the people in the streets on July 20.
Now that she is in State House Malawians must constantly hold her feet to the fire lest she keeps the eye off the ball like her predecessor.
Which is why we must nip any cancerous attributes in the bud before they becomes malignant. Little things can become big if left unchecked.
For example, we know that there are some people that made their careers by supporting any party that happens to be in power. They are the ones that made us believe Hastings Kamuzu Banda was immortal, that he would never die nor leave the stage. But soon after his protégé Bakili Muluzi led a triumphant pro-multiparty campaign in town in 1993 these same people abandoned the old man for the new lords.
Similarly when the Muluzi aura unravelled after he gambled with Bingu in 2004 the same folks shamelessly turned turn-coats. And to prove that shame has no place in their psyche these charlatans abandoned him even before Bingu's body could turn cold!
These are the people that turn good presidencies bad. Because they have made careers out of lying to leaders they try their best to literally light fires on water to convince leaders they are still relevant. They create insecurities and fears in presidents which only them can extinguish. That way they have leaders tightly under their arm-pits.
If truth be told, the presidency seems powerful from the outside but it is lonely up there. The people who are unfortunate enough to occupy that lonely office can no longer run their lives by themselves. They have to contend with all sorts of lies and half-truths from pseudo-advisors. When the President is firmly in control these characters go all out as griots singing his or her praises. But once he or she is out of power they are the first to abandon the hapless leaders.
Were you surprised therefore that even one Cornelius Mwalwanda could go on a limb to try to convince us that Bingu was a fake economist? I have huge respect for Dr. Mwalwanda but on this particular moment he behaved no better than professional griots like Patricia Kaliati. I genuinely felt for Peter Mutharika as he leapt to the defence of his late brother. Surely if jolly-good Cornelius thought Bingu wasn’t what people like himself wanted us believe he was, why could he not say it when the old man was still alive and resign his government post to seal his point? He could have been a hero, at least to the Muckraker.
Joyce Banda has to guard against people who tell her what she wants to hear for these are the same characters that undid otherwise fine presidencies of her three predecessors. Kamuzu was fine until we allowed him to think he could rule forever. Bakili, too, was great until we sold him the third term dummy. Bingu was also the perfect leader until we made him believe the 'Mose wa Lero' nonsense was for real.
Abiti must be told that Malawians are tired of leaders that come on the scene with so much promise only to end up with more of the same.