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Falling sickness

And this man is now become a god, and Cassius is a wretched creature and must bend his body if Caesar carelessly but nod on him…Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world like a colossus, and we petty men walk under his huge legs and peep about to find ourselves dishonourable graves.

—William Shakespeare—

At his political peak, Khumbo Kachali, never minced words. On one occasion when he was vice president, he got so irritated by people’s incessant grumbling about his and his former boss, Joyce Banda’s love for travels. Sitimayenda pa khomo la amanu (We don’t come to your mother’s home) was the rude response Khumbo gave to Malawians.

That time, being occupant of Plot Number Two, Khumbo could say anything and knew he would get away with it. He was too powerful, too powerful even for himself such that he got inebriated and started seeing Malawians like zombies that could neither think nor feel. Not a second did the thought cross his mind that one day he would slip into oblivion as he has done now.

Khumbo’s mistake then was only that he thought aloud. The ugly truth is that every politician in power thinks the way Khumbo thought when he was in power.

Between April 2012 and May 2014, Peter Mutharika was a very humble man. He was almost amiable. One day, he jumped into a minibus unmindful of the revolting stench that comes from perspiring armpits of passengers packed like sardines. He even went an act further to buy bonya, that small breed of fish that became famous in 2012, just to make us believe he was one of us and sharing our struggles.

But things always change. Since May and after sneaking to State House, Peter has become a god that even finds his own people repulsive to be close to. He cannot even afford to be in the same plane with his own people. He prefers flying in private jets, perhaps running away from the haggard and stony faces of his miserable people. And suddenly, the same Peter who could squeeze himself in a crammed Mazda Bongo finds it inconveniencing to fly commercial.

Recently, Peter flew to New York for the United Nations General Assembly. Everything about the trip was shrouded in secrecy except that he was attending the meeting. Likely, just like last time, Mutharika took along a whole village of his sycophants just to reward them for their blind loyalty. As if that was not enough, Mutharika decided to hang around in New York after the meeting. Jacob Zuma of South Africa and Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria were on the first plane home. Zuma and Buhari are leaders of countries with fewer problems than ours. Yet, our good president chose to stay on and continue blowing our taxes with legendary abandon.

When asked what the president was doing in US, all we got was some cheeky response that he was attending to some important matters. But, an information vacuum is always filled with rumours. So, here at home, some gossipers were all over town spreading stories that Peter has gone under the weather and was being attended to. And there was even a grimmer rumour than these. In this age, Peter, all whoever is responsible, should know that it is only folly to be hiding information about a man who lives on our taxes. Much as those close to him want us to deify Peter, the truth is that Peter is only a human being who is lucky to have us pay for his bills, his expenses: we even paid for his wedding. So, this guy is answerable to us. But we are too afraid to stand up and say it.

Because we are a nation manacled in shackles of fear, politicians take advantage of that and find it funny to make a joke of us. They are too insolent towards us. Take, for instance, the arrogant tone with which Minister of Foreign Affairs Francis Kasaila responded when he was asked of the number of people that travelled with Mutharika to New York. In his skewed thinking, Kasaila believes it is the duty of journalists and not government to tell the nation who, has travelled with the president. Elsewhere, it could have been shocking how such a minister found himself in cabinet. But this is Malawi where loyalty other than acumen is rewarded.

Next or this week, Peter and his entourage will return home richer and fatter than they left. We will be told the same tired stories told with an air of nonchalance and snobbery. Then, we will eventually forget about everything.

In William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar there is a rumour that Caesar, who is about to be crowned king, is sick and that he fell thrice. The cunning Cassius—one of the conspirators—metaphorically tells his fellow conspirators that it is not Caesar who is sick( having the falling sickness) but the people of Rome because they bow to whatever Caesar says or does.

So, while our president was away, people spread some nonsensical rumours about his health. I will respond to them in this dialogue between two leading conspirators in Julius Caesar:

BRUTUS: ‘Tis very like. He hath the falling sickness

CASSIUS: No, Caesar hath it not. But you and I and honest Casca, we have the falling sickness

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