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President Peter Mutharika’s headaches

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THE ascent to the highest office in the land has traditionally been thought of as the discovery of easy privileges, like growing wings and flying away from a hungry lion in a mid-night dream.

But, as President Peter Mutharika (APM)’s dithering in appointing members of his firstever20-member Cabinet after the May 2014 elections can attest, the powers of a sitting president are vast, but lack a sense of purpose when accompanied by long periods of indecision.

In other words, it is apparent that, while the decision to appoint a 20-member Cabinet originated from campaign promises that seemed easy to implement at the time, he had been reminded, once again, that talk is cheap and that a lot goes into the President’s head before reality types itself into a presidential decree.

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Unfortunately, indecision has marred APM’s three-year rule. The issue of the prolonged closure of Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi, comes to mind.

In-between, primary schoolteachers have downed tools, Judiciary support staff have shown that they can put a full stop on court activities and, in all cases, the President did not raise a finger; let alone a voice.

So, against all hopes that the President’s three years plus-months in office would remain unsullied by the excessive demands of stakeholders, he has found himself in a Catch-22situation.

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The President has, simply, been pushed left, right and centre. It must not be forgotten that, so soon after APM ascended to the presidency, talk of federalism was in the air. People have, actually, been making impossible demands.

Who can forget the time Malawi Congress Party Member of Parliament for Dedza NorthWest, Alekeni Menyani, rekindled a debate that has been going on with muted voices: Malawi should experiment with the federal government system.

Who can forget the time when Harry Mkandawire, the outspoken People’s Party legislator, raised another issue; that of nepotism in the appointment of members of the Cabinet. He faulted the President for filling his Cabinet plate with faces from one region. That is not all. The other outstanding issue has been that of women representation in decision making positions.

When APM announced his first Cabinet, there were three faces those of the then Gender Minister Patricia Kaliati, Jean Kalirani, who headed the Health and Population

Ministry, and then Youth Minister Grace Chiuma, the current Home Affairs and Internal Security Minister. Of course, APM had lived up to his pre-election pledge, President’s, 2017 which was, in fact, one of the points made in the Democratic Progressive Party Manifesto in 2014, by appointing a 20-member Cabinet.

But appointing three women was not good enough; or, put another way, representative enoughespecially because women are more than men in the Warm Heart of Africa.

As such, people such as Non- Governmental Organisations Gender Coordination Network Chairperson, Emma Kaliya, felt strongly that gone are the days when women were believed to be masters at living what those in the West call ‘the easy lot of feminine existence’.

This easy lot of feminine existence propagates the idea that women should remain women-like by being kept away from the ‘dangers’ of politics and public life.

In all fairness, Kaliya had a point. The life of a modern woman no longer resembles simple domestic bliss we assume they inhabit. Women have played a critical role in Malawi politics since time immemorial, and even supported nationalists who were fighting for our freedoms.

A good case in point is Ida, John Chilembwe’s wife. She supported Chilembwe even when she knew that the feeder-road that her husband took ended only in the highway of death.

To cut a long story short, women should be given a more prominent role in politics and Cabinet because, even when they are denied the opportunity to take part in the development of their country, it is a fact that women never will escape the impact of political decisions and government policies on their lives.

Other women, notably veteran writer, constitutional lawyer and human rights activist Vera Chirwa, have added their voice to calls for collaborative efforts in advancing the national agenda.

For example, Chirwa once asked the President to engage those who contested for the presidency in 2014. To date, the

President has not done that. Instead, he called his critics “stupid” on his tour of the Northern Region this year.

Experience has shown that, in most cases, suggestions from respected women such as Kaliya and Chirwa are not taken into consideration. In fact, we have all signs that their sentiments merely emerge as a tool of activism in the political jungles, rarely succeeding as a weapon against the absurdity of political injustice. Take, for instance, the issue of the 50:50 campaign.

While the campaign sounded good to the ear, it only became one of those fluffy concoctions of adorably sweet sensibilities because Malawians elected fewer female members of Parliament than in 2009.

Needless to say the campaign ended as a disaster of double proportions, hammered shapeless by the chauvinistic ballot.

All these developments, occurring in the President’s first three years in office, discard the notion that ascendancy to power by an aspiring presidential candidate translates into getting things done by the mere act of yawning.

So, to some extent, APM seems to have resolved that it is better to be a man of tradition by not entirely discarding what his predecessors introduced. Indeed, sometimes, it is not good to be a new player in a game whose boundaries are properly defined.

That is probably why old facesmeaning, those who served in his brother the late

Bingu’s Cabinet and other administrationshave made their way into his Cabinet. Goodall Gondwe served in Bingu’s Cabinet; so did Henry

Mussa, Jean Kalilani and Kondwani Nankhumwa (who deputised Peter as Foreign

Affairs and International Corporation Minister during Atupele Muluzi (who served in former president Joyce Banda’s Cabinet as Economic Planning and Development Minister), among others.

Unfortunately, by practicing ‘Project Continuation’ type of politics, Mutharika has baffled the nation with his characteristic and perfectly aimed irony, throwing new faces into the Cabinet mix while propagating the congenital practice of maintaining the proverbial old broom in the house.

He seems to be mastering ironies, especially when it comes to pre-election pledges. Farm Inputs Subsidy Programme has not been extended to all farmers, contrary to his party’s pronouncements.

This could mean that, three years down his five-year lane, the President might have discovered that the state presidency is not the fortune of tax-free privileges he gratefully received when he was sworn in and inaugurated after the May 20 Tripartite Elections. It is not even half as comfortable as the world reported it to be.

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