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Suspicious silence on the Sattar saga

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“If someone says it’s raining and another person says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out the… window and find out which is true.” attributed to Jonathan Foster, a former Journalism professor at the University of Sheffield

TO break my monopoly on setting the agenda for Talking Blues monologues and to mitigate the risk of boring you to death with monotony, I often reach out to the public to ask if there is an issue that needs this column’s attention or anything that can be done to improve the column.

I have been busy doing this these past few weeks, and I am grateful for the feedback many of you generously provided. I am now armed with insightful proposals and wisdom to inform this column.

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Some readers used the opportunity to propose urgent issues that require critical Talking Blues-que incisive interrogations.

A discourse was proposed on the 900,000-plus jobs miraculously created by President Lazarus Chakwera’s administration to see which one requires nothing short of a microscope.

Another suggestion was a discussion on the rank hypocrisy demonstrated by the deployment of Chakwera’s daughter as a diplomat to the United Kingdom despite Chakwera:

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  • emphatically telling the world that: “Violet, mwana wa Lazaro” is going nowhere, and
  • Labeling his predecessor and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) nepotists for prioritising relatives’ job creation when he was angling for an opportunity to do precisely that.

Since this is not complicated, I will dispense with it right away. After getting embarrassed in the first BBC interview, it appears the President wanted the appointment cancelled.

That’s why during his return home presser, he declared that “Violet, mwana wa Lazaro sakupita ku embassy.”

However, whosoever is the de facto appointing authority and happens to care less about what the president says decided that there would be no retreat, no surrender, and Violet’s appointment was left intact.

Hence, at the recent BBC ‘cross-examination’, Chakwera had no choice but to confirm that he is a helpless captive; he is not running the show.

I will leave this at that.

Someone suggested that I unpack the State of the Nation Address (Sona). Tempting as this sounds, I am afraid that does not belong here. Talking Blues examines facts, not fiction.

What caught my eye, however, was a perceptive media watcher who suggested that the efforts of the Attorney General (AG), Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) in the Zuneth Sattar scandal do not seem, in his view, to be ‘adding up.’

He also had a not-so-kind word about the media’s passivity. In his view, the Malawi media seems to have conspired with the AG, DPP, and OPC to frustrate justice despite presidential rhetoric to the contrary.

“Reporting on progress in Sattar-related investigations is being deliberately avoided in the media,” he said.

I don’t work in government and, hence will not go there.

However, I will interrogate how the media is accidentally or deliberately giving the impression that it is not doing enough on the Sattar issue.

First, let me commend that astute reader/ watcher because, like Malcolm X cautioned, “If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

I cannot disagree that the Sattar saga – despite reportedly costing us trillions – is not getting the coverage it deserves for some unfathomable reason. It is as if unseen cash, oops, I mean hand, is diverting mainstream media practitioners’ attention from this make-or-break-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to crack corruption in Malawi to mundane news stories.

In fact, even I have noted a few disturbing trends in news and commentaries vis-à-vis Sattar and his associates’ escapades.

I have observed that discourse on the fight against corruption is often subtly favouring those making the work of Madam Martha Chizuma and the Anti-corruption Bureau (ACB) difficult.

When some official throws a spanner in an arrest or an impending one, there is no shortage of analysts spinning in praise of the spanner-thrower and how his spanner-throwing act is justified blah blah blah and indeed why the spanner-wielder’s office is better placed to “know these things” than the ACB.

I have sat through more than one TV programme where, watching/listening, one would think ACB Director- General Martha Chizuma is just a handcuff-happy rookie who knows nothing about the law.

Watching some commentators going at it, it’s as if in dire need of protection are the corrupt low-lifes and not our hard-paid taxes.

I find this problematic because, in general, our work as journalists in situations with contrary stances or views is not to take only one side’s story and amplify it, no.

As per Professor Jonathan Foster: if someone says it’s raining and another person says it’s dry, our job is not to quote them both.

We should look out the window, or better still, go outside to find out which is true.

Concerning the discord between the besieged ACB on the one hand and the combined might of the AG, ACB and OPC, all I see in the media are poorly disguised attempts to justify why Sattar and his associates must be allowed to loot again.

Some might ask, “Mapwiya Muulupale, what should we be reporting when there is no progress?”

This is precisely the astute reader’s and my point. Our duty is to find out why there is no progress, and there are several tools that can assist us.

The first tool to decipher the hypothesis that ‘someone wants to kill Sattar-related investigations’ is the triangle of mean, motive and opportunity where,

  • means is the ability of government officials to block investigations and arrests,
  • motive is the reasons officials could have to frustrate the ACB, and
  • opportunity is whether officials have the chance, resources, backing and mandate to frustrate the ACB.

A diligent journalist following this line of enquiry would unearth why it is in some people’s interests to hinder Sattar-related investigations and arrests.

The second strategy is even easier: follow the money. The third is obvious: follow the blood. That is: who is related to who?

If one followed this, they would strike gold and inform the public why no progress is happening on anything connected to Sattar and who the actors behind the lack of progress are.

Vilifying or finding fault with the ACB, in which the public has more trust in us media practitioners, is why I am less than impressed with how we have been and continue to under-report and under-investigate the Sattar case.

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