To the Chief Secretary of Government,
In his recent address to the nation, His Excellency, president Peter Mutharika directed us, Malawian citizens, to write your office and express our pain as well as ideas on how you could possibly run our government. So, here goes.
I would like to first thank president Mutharika for this invitation. I am cringing as I write this because no citizen ever has to thank his president for simply saying what should ordinarily come standard with the job of his nature. But these are no ordinary times and our standards – for the office of the president and the nation at large – have never sunk any lower.
Sir, to find president Mutharika’s address and subsequent call for ideas refreshing, one need has to go through a painful thought process in which only your sense of patriotism is enough to make you believe, hope and look ahead. Anything less than this is nothing short of provocation from a government that, with respect, is out of its depth. All of this was evident in Mutharika’s demeanour as he addressed the nation, desperately trying to sound calm and project the image of a man in charge.
Sir, historians have contested the legend of the band that continued to play on even as it became apparent that their stage – the RMS Titanic – was sinking. Now, Malawi is no ship but orchestrations such as those witnessed from State House this past week might yet prove ominous.
“Let us admit that our country,” the president said, “has, over the past few years, experienced some challenges that have negatively affected the lives of our people, particularly the poor.”
If you are poor in Malawi – and many people are poor – your poverty predates 1964 but has been exacerbated since then, the occasion of our independence. The continuous decline of our country was aptly captured by the billboards we planted across our cities to mark our 52nd anniversary as a sovereign nation.
Sir, given your centrality to matters of national importance such as these, you would have been involved in discussions and other processes that led to those things becoming part our landscape in addition to portraying the state of our imagination. Due credit must be given to all the brains that are behind these notice boards masquerading as billboards. Everyone who was involved in this project perfectly represents each and every single Malawian, at home and abroad.
If this exercise was a national barometer on how seriously we take our independence and nationhood, the verdict would be clear for all to see. Therefore, unlike the president who thinks Malawi has suffered “some challenges” in the past, this country is one big challenge in itself. The poor the president spoke of did not wake up poor. In fact, they did not even choose to be poor. Rather, they have been pushed into poverty by successive governments that have no respect for ordinary citizens; governments that have no desire to uphold the dignity of Malawians; governments that have no shame in plundering resources meant for building Malawi; and governments that put their own party colours ahead of any national interest.
Sir, these are not challenges – they are a national epidemic!
“We are all tired of being a poor country,” the president also ventured to say in his address.
For a leader who always looks tired and uninterested, I must admit, the president appeared to know what exactly he was talking about. The trials Malawians are put through everyday by virtue of being citizens can be as overbearing as an oversized shoe. I doubt, however, that president Mutharika spoke from a position of empathy. If he had, Sir, I think the tone and approach to this speech would have been very different.
Instead, what we got was justification for the mediocrity he is currently presiding over; blame placed on past governments and a catalogue of ambitions so vaguely communicated that they are hard to believe in, let alone command hope and inspire positive action from the wretched of Malawi, the poor who are supposedly tired of being poor.
Sir, Malawi is not looking for a saviour. This country is desperately crying for sincere and empathetic leadership. Poor people do not want to be told they are poor – they know that already! They also know what will help them get out of poverty, if only they are listened to. They are also believers in change for the better. They also hope for brighter days in Malawi.
Sometimes, the best way of speaking is to listen intently to the people one claims to lead. I hope, sincerely, you will be able to deliver this message to the president.