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Saving Malawi from state capture

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Somehow, parallels can be drawn between recent developments in South Africa and Malawi where presidents of these respective governments have been found to be hugely compromised in their handling of state affairs.

Although these leaders or their proxies can come all out to dispute this declaration using any tool at their disposal, the fact remains: behind them are people calling the shots, leading, influencing, manipulating the conduct of government business in ways we could possibly ever imagine albeit with grave and far-reaching consequences for respective countries.

A term ‘state capture’ has been coined to refer to the usurping of power and influence by these money and power-seeking vampires who have infiltrated the system and have turned the presidents into lame ducks and paralysed state-owned enterprises and influential agencies in order to pave the way for unabated looting, corruption and plunder of state resources.

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Here goes my main argument: the replacement, in South Africa, of a competent Finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, with a little-known backbencher and an apparent puppet of President Jacob Zuma, David van Rooyen, in order to have direct control of the Treasury and state finances is akin to maintaining a corrupt minister or ministers in one’s cabinet and cronies in all institutions that matter for purposes of unlimited looting to support a party or a political dynasty in Malawi. It is all state capture but in different shape or form.

For Zuma, his meddling into the presidential succession race to have his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma succeed him, over deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, is a costly venture and he needs much rand to power his backdoor political manoeuvres. Beyond that, he is obliged to continually return the favours by allowing his new circle of financial backers to enjoy his patronage.

As for President Peter Mutharika, coupled with his political novice-ness and lack of adequate knowledge of Malawi’s political landscape—having spent many years abroad—he gave the driving wheel to other people long time ago and he is on the passenger seat enjoying the scenery outside. He is also faced with the pressure to keep alive the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and his late brother’s narrow and selfish project of promoting the Lhomwe tribe politically, socially and economically. Thus, he has found himself opening a door wider to red-eyed political and economic marauders who are now calling shots in his administration.

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In a captured state, therefore, you would find a powerful business family, the Guptas, who are close to Zuma and have major interests in uranium mining pushing hard for the nuclear deal that would have seen government spending on an unaffordable $100 billion nuclear power station programme. Similarly, you would see a Zuma appointee and supporter at South African Airways, Dudu Myeni, insisting on cutting corners in a multi-million-rand aircraft leasing deal with Airbus. When Nene decided to block these schemes, he faced the chop.

In Malawi, another seemingly captured state, corruption is ballooning and long became institutionalised. Major Cashgate cases cannot be pursued. Any attempt to free the Anti-Corruption Bureau is frustrated. The seven rotten and corrupt ministers are shielded. The media and civil society are systematically infiltrated and weakened to prevent them from actively discharging their roles. Key government institutions are suffocated through appointment of individuals who religiously do as the ‘state capturers’ want. Over and above that, you would find a minister who is at the centre of a maize scam being protected by the President despite public outcry and the court ruling that he temporarily paves the way for a Commission of Inquiry —if it was indeed instituted with the best of intentions—to do its job.

Sadly, major democratic institutions in Malawi that can offer any meaningful hope of stopping state capture on its tracks cannot step up to the plate. There will be muted voices of disapproval from some quarters on how things are done but these will not change anything. It is like complaining that your computer has been infected by viruses but doing nothing about it, instead of flushing all the malwares with the best anti-virus one can find. Hence, I echo those who say that it will take a revolution to turn things around in Malawi.

Fortunately for South Africa, it has some strong institutions that are dangerously guarding their hard-fought democracy. The office of the Public Protector, for example, with its mandate to strengthen constitutional democracy by investigating and redressing improper and prejudicial conduct, maladministration and abuse of power in state affairs, is a beacon of hope for millions and voiceless South Africans as it has managed to force Zuma to repay some of the money he benefitted from the upgrades of his Nkandla homestead and recently exposed how Zuma was planning to literally auction South Africa to a group of selfish individuals.

But in Malawi, most institutions are but in names only. That is why an Ombudsman can produce a report on Tractorgate, demand action but nobody takes the office seriously. The Executive takes pleasure in disrespecting court rulings that it finds distasteful. Worse still, Parliament no longer provides the adequate checks and balances; that is why 196 Members of Parliament or thereabout cannot summon one man from Kamuzu Palace to answer questions in person. Have we not seen how other presidents and prime ministers are grilled elsewhere?

By embracing multiparty politics and adopting democratic style of governance, we were all calling for accountability, the rule of law and supremacy of the Constitution as the key values which any Malawian ought to jealously uphold. These values constitute the sharp and mighty sword that stand ready to chop the ugly head of impunity off its stiffed neck.

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