Jack Mapanje’s poem On his Royal Blindness Chief Kwangala is a piece that easily mesmerises. It is a poem that satirises the folly of leaders who bask in the illusion that they are the best thing ever to happen on earth and without them; the whole world would come crashing and crushing to hopeless pulp. And such leaders always have a predilection for vain things.
In a loose borrowing of foreign folklore, Chief Kwangala can be likened to that silly emperor who had a curious love for splendid dressing such that he forgot to attend to the needs of his people as long as he looked fancy and took parades to show off his attire.
News about this idiotic emperor’s insatiable love for fancy gear spread all over and reached some two scoundrels who devised a plan to dupe the emperor. Cunning as scoundrels are always known to be, the two succeeded in convincing the inept emperor that they could weave for him new clothes whose fabric could only be seen by wise and worthy people. Fools couldn’t see anything.
In no time, the crooked duo started demanding gold and silk from the emperor’s palace in order to start weaving the emperor’s new suit. When time passed, the king sent one of his ministers to check on progress of the emperor’s new suit. When he arrived at the weaving shop, the minister could not see anything. But when he remembered that only fools could not see the fabric of the suit, and for fear of being seen unwise and unworthy, the minister returned to the emperor and waxed lyrical about the news suit.
When the emperor’s new suit was ready the emperor and his minister all went to see it. But they could not see anything. But, just like the minister who earlier went to check progress of the suit, the emperor and all his attendants were afraid to be seen as fools, unworthy and unwise so they all clapped and spoke highly of the emperor ’s new suit with an invisible fabric to the ordinary eye. Then the two scoundrels pretended to be dressing the emperor ready for him to parade the new suit.
Despite not seeing any cloth only for his undergarment— but since the emperor and his ministers were afraid to lose their status—they went on with the parade. People who were in the streets noticed that the emperor was walking about naked but because they too were afraid of being labelled fools, unworthy and unwise, they cheered at the emperor in praise of the new suit. But there was one small child who cared little about the folly of being worthy and wise when you are not. Look, the emperor is naked, the boy shouted. It was then that the emperor, his ministers and the cheering crowd realised that they had been duped.
Coming home, you and I can agree that President Peter Mutharika is becoming a vain leader like that inept emperor. At the press briefing in Lilongwe when he returned from the United Nations General Assembly, Peter worked so hard to veil his mistakes in anger. Instead of accepting that taking a whole village of aunts, uncles, sisters and nephews on an expensive trip to the US was wayward and careless for a President who leads a nation that is wallowing in dire poverty, Peter went on a threatening and boasting mode.
According to Peter—whose fury that day even shook the television set I was watching— he came to Malawi a wealthy man who could afford a lavish life without our miserable kwacha. But to somebody who has been around, Peter’s claims are laughable because when he was minister during his brother, Bingu’s term, Peter was among the people who dubiously bought Malawi Housing Corporation houses at a cost of matches. Moreover, didn’t we even sponsor his wedding months after he got to State House?
Peter is richer now than when he was upon his return from the USA thanks to the life of freebies our presidents live. Just before May last year, would Peter have managed to fly his whole village to the US?
In his tone, Peter wants to sound like he is doing us a favour by being President. In case you have forgotten, it was Peter who, despite his age that is nearing senility, went the length and breadth of the country pleading that we elevate him to the office of the President. I fact, 66 percent did not see him as a worthy president but thanks to our funny electoral system, Peter sneaked to State House.
With him at the helm, life for an ordinary Malawian hasn’t changed for the better. It is much more terrible now. If he believes we are an ungrateful lot, the President is free to find something better to do.
As per his speech, Peter thinks having a currency that is on a dangerous nosedive, hospitals that are not running, a disgruntled civil service, an ever upward spiralling cost of living and an arrogant party in government are achievements that we must all stoop to praise and thank him for.
And Peter, just like that ham-fisted emperor, is not being told the truth by his cabal. But that is expected because Peter has elevated some dim-witted greedy zealots to positions that demand more wires in the head. You will easily notice by how they speak like panga-wielding cadets yet they are presidential advisers.
Since he just can’t accept that he has taken the country to a precipice and that his minions are not telling him the truth that he needs to wake up from his trance we will continue calling him Peter: The new Kwangala.