Peter Mutharika: A ‘night-watchman’ President?


What difference does today introduce with respect to yesterday?

In striving to measure the state of governance of nations such as Malawi’s current Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), this could be the question to ask first.

And in attempting to provide an entry point to the answer of such questioning, please first meet the mythical Professor Zangazada Zangazada of Zangandiwamba Village; a tall, spectacled, over-learned, mildly handsome , ambitious old man. Just married.


Prof. Zangazada is a man whose tongue is always in his mouth. He croaks instead of speaking. But when he tries to speak, we have now learnt, he spits vitriol on the poor uneducated village men and women. He calls them village men and women for he has been away from home for many years. He has been to Silicon Valley and to wherever best world cities are found. He calculates, he is the most learned man in the village.

Meet him. Ambitious as he is even for the matters of matrimony, he has overlooked his age and his ageing strength and taken himself a young wife, who was desperate for a husband after a short stay in marriage with an irresponsible, one lucky boy, who was chased from the matrimonial home and ran away abroad.

But the desperate young wife is now in trouble with Prof. Zangazada. At first she had lot of expectations in the Prof. Husband. The marriage- just one year old, is nearing breaking points because of Prof. Zangazada laissez-faire attitude towards marriage.


After the honeymoon, Prof. Zangazada has started behaving differently. During the first days of the marriage—he ferried home, all of cold drinks, chocolates, all fashions of dress in town and he poured on her young wife cash money for personal shopping and hairdressing, just to make sure she stays happier in the new marriage.

But after only one year in marriage, Prof. Zangazada looks to have suddenly changed. He no longer carries home all those chocolates. He has cut his spending on the new wife. He now even chides that now he does not need the young wife’s love for him to live on earth.

The young wife is now left asking: Will her Prof. Husband deliver on his promises in five years or he will keep promising but without anything to show?

The Professor now just make sure, he pays the house rental fees and security to protect the young’s wife live and property. Prof. Zangazada is no better than running his one-year old marriage on a night-watchman shoe strings. It is no longer interesting to be a husband.

Maybe Professor Zangazada’s is almost playing a perfect example of ‘night watchman’ state and as a consequence, a night watchman president.

And for now leave Prof. Zangazada aside, and we look at more pertinent matters, for we digressed.

The presidency is always interesting in the first weeks of office when congratulatory messages are pouring in from all over. By it does not wait for years before it becomes a burden of living.

For the sake of detail, a night watchman state is variously defined by sources. In the strictest sense, it is a form of government in political philosophy studies where the state’s only legitimate function is the protection of individuals from assault, theft, breach of contract, and fraud, and the only legitimate governmental institutions are the military, police, and courts.

In the broadest sense, it also includes various civil service and emergency-rescue departments such as the fire departments, prisons, the executive, the judiciary, and the legislatures as legitimate government functions.

The phrase Night watchman’ was coined by German socialist Ferdinand Lassalle in an 1862 speech in Berlin. He criticized the “bourgeois” liberal limited government state, comparing it to a night watchman whose sole duty was preventing theft.

The phrase quickly caught on as a description of limited government. Ludwig von Mises later opined that Lassalle tried to make limited government look ridiculous, but that it was no more ridiculous than governments that concerned themselves with “the preparation of sauerkraut, with the manufacture of trouser buttons, or with the publication of newspapers.”

Robert Nozick, a political philosopher, in Anarchy, State, and Utopia argued that a night watchman state provides a framework that allows for any political system that respects fundamental individual rights only. And in Malawi’s political system where not all fundamental human rights are respected, is it even less the status of ‘a night-watchman’.

Yes, Malawi has performed quite well over the years in security provision as well as the protection of private property. But that is not the only job of a government.

Social anarchists—those that believe in promotion of a human well-being-people even in absence of an established state, criticize the state as being founded around the protection of private property and the mode of production that surrounds it. Thus, social anarchists argue that only with the abolition of the state, whether it be the faux-compassionate welfare state or the boldly unconcerned austerity state, can truly just economic relations and prosperity for all come about.

But the social conservatives argue that the state should maintain a moral outlook and legislate against behavior commonly regarded as culturally destructive or immoral; that, indeed, the state cannot survive if its citizens do not have a certain kind of character, integrity and civic virtue, and so ignoring the state’s role in forming people’s ethical dispositions can be disastrous.

Malawi governments have been role models on enforcing morals and creating a virtuous character among its citizens. But these citizens, after they have been protected and also become moral, they desire wealth, of which the government is supposed to create conditions for its attainment.

So it can’t be an exaggeration to brand the Malawi governments, most vividly, the current one, as only playing the role of a night watchman.

Many development experts have also asked the question why Malawi is failing to turn the corner in its economy while countries, which similarly, have no gold no silver, such as Rwanda- which more, is still battling the scars of a historic horrendous genocide, have turned their corners and are on the move.

On that question, the answer has been simply given that: It is the leader. Malawi’s leaders therefore, have played the role of a night watchman than the role of progressive and developmental leaders. But this is a role that one can easily change.

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, managed to switch from the simple role of a night watchman of protecting his citizens from the resurgence of another 1994 genocide-in which in 100 mad days, an estimated 1 million people were massacred in ethnic hatred- to the role a developmental leader.

News have reached all over the world recently that President Kagame’s 15 years in office, has totally transformed his country of 11 million people. And while it is easy to throw stones at the Rwanda’s president and accuse him of being authoritarian, seeing things on the ground, you would immediately drop the stones.

Under Kagame’s nose, Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, has undergone massive transformation never seen in its history. New affluent suburbs are springing up all over its hills, and the small decrepit buildings that used to dominate the capital are giving way to massive edifices.

In Rwanda, you find a president, whom according to reports is being asked by his people to run for a third term. The prudential third term bids have failed elsewhere in African but in Rwanda it will not fail. After all the constitutional reviews have been finalised and the constitutional reforms are approved by the Parliament and national referendum held next year, it is no doubtful, Kagame will pass as Rwanda’s president come 2017 general elections.

So far, interestingly, to Africa’s democracy, during the signing of the petition asking parliament to amend the national constitution on Kagame’s Third Term, it is reported that only one person out of 3.7 million in Rwanda has spoken against it.

But this largesse of an easy third term pass, has not come with Kagame lying in bed or playing the role of only a night watchman president. A lot of determination, will, commitment, mission and goals had been staked. But you can try it in Malawi one time again, and see for yourself what will happen. You will have the answer of whether Malawi is a night watchman state with a night watchman president or not.

That the recent and current Malawi governing regimes have only afforded to provide the minimal security and protect people’s lives and their property from theft-where the whole government had only become a rescue department and without much developments to show and wealth to gain, that you have seen and proved.

But for now, you may need to answer this question: Is Peter Mutharika a night watchman president heading a night watchman state—a rescue department?

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