Not long ago, Malawians were so optimistic that with a new administration in place, the country would take a new course toward development and progress. This path, so they believed, would lead to improved livelihoods for an estimated population of 18.6 million, which is expected to double by 2038, according to statistics.
The government of the day, under the Tonse Alliance – a grouping of nine political parties promised to precisely deal with poverty, poor quality of services in the public sector and make sure that Malawians live dignified lives. Looking back, there only appears to be high pitched political rhetoric with so little happening on the ground to qualify for transformation and servant leadership.
What is more baffling and painful is the fact that the political leadership – both in government and opposition – waste a lot of time fighting over trivialities at the expense of poor Malawians whose taxes oil the operations of the three arms of government – the Executive, the Judiciary and the National Assembly. The laissez-faire attitude in most government ministries, departments and agencies is the reason this country is still ranked amongst the world’s poorest nations. Such statistics should make us angry; they [statistics] should worry us. How come Malawi is still struggling with poverty when other countries in the region, which were worse than Malawi at independence, have graduated to middle income countries?
The bigger part of Malawi’s problems has been leadership; bad leadership. For far too long Malawians have elected leaders for the sake of changing those at the top. This line of thinking was quite evident during the 2019 general elections and the court-sanctioned presidential election of June 2021. A good part of the electorate strongly believed it was okay to replace President Peter Mutharika and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) with anything. The electorate wanted change in any form or colour. In just a year and some months the chickens have come home to roost; the leaders that promised Malawians a ‘utopia’ are offering platitudes and excuses for failing to deliver.
In 1994 too, Malawians were so keen for change and chanted “we want change”. It did not take long for the electorate to realise that the change they wanted would come with corruption, nepotism and a general and marked decline in social services. Such has been the case with political leadership in Malawi. Once the leaders assume power, they become untouchable. The executive arrogance that is portrayed by the political leadership is a clear manifestation of leadership that has no respect for tolerance and divergent views. So, given the situation what should Malawians do?
Servants not ‘big bosses’
Those that vie for public offices, enter into a social contract with Malawians – and it is automatic. During campaign servant leadership was highly recommended for a model of democracy that Malawi adopted.
Servant leadership puts the needs, growth and wellbeing of followers first. In other words, these types of leaders adopt a serve-first mindset and prioritise their organisations, employees and community above themselves. Servant leadership is in direct contrast to styles like autocratic leadership, transactional leadership and bureaucratic leadership – all of which focus on structure, hierarchy and a rigid give-take relationship.
Political leaders in Malawi must urgently reflect on its model of leadership. Malawians want servant leadership. Malawians want leadership that will take them to a level where transformation is possible. As the situation is on the ground, the leadership seems clueless on how to deal with challenges such as poverty, hunger, high population growth, disease and economic stagnation. When the grassroots complain that “pa ground sipali bwino” it means all is not well – it seriously translates into the reality that cost of living is too high.
While the leadership has repeatedly talked about mindset change, until now, it is difficult to see that reflected in the people that should have been exemplary or practice what they preach. In the same regard, we would like to encourage all Malawians to be part of the democracy we so much cherish; democracy should be participatory.
We find ourselves in this scenario, laughing at ourselves, because we leave everything to the political leadership. This must change on the basis that it is us, taxpayers, who employ those that are in government. They ought to report back to us on how they handle affairs of the state; we need to regularly carry out checks and balances on how our democracy is fairing. As they say, democracy is a government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.
A nation still hopeful
Malawi is not a hopeless case. Beginning with a call for mindset change, it is possible to bail the country out of the vicious cycle of poverty. It is imperative that those in power should deal with the problem of perennial food shortages, poor quality of services in education, health, lack of access to justice and security, among others. We rally behind a call for social justice for all – with special emphasis on the poor, the marginalized, women and children.
These groups have had their rights violated for years and no one seems to care. The system has failed them; the system must not remain problematic.
The zeal that was there when this administration was in opposition, should be used to change things for the better. If at that time it was possible to defeat what was largely seen as an entrenched and repressive regime, this time round, that enthusiasm should be turned into tools with which to deal with all sorts of misfortunes dogging this country.
One of these misfortunes is the Covid-19 pandemic, which in a short period of time has reversed both economic and human rights gains. For the first time, nations are struggling to convince people to go for the Covid-19 vaccines. Until now, a larger part of the population is hesitant to go for the vaccine.
There are issues to do with efficacy, effectiveness and safety. These could be genuine concerns; government and its stakeholders must continue to civic-educate people on the vaccine and its effectiveness.
Overall, the success of vaccination campaigns will largely be influenced by the extent to which people trust the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines, the competence and reliability of the institutions that deliver them, and the principles that guide government decisions and actions.
Going forward there will be constant need for public scrutiny in all sectors of the economy, including in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, because it is also where the money is.
Issues of corruption, theft abuse of public funds have emerged in the fight against Covid-19. From now on we will need to be guided by a culture of patriotism, a struggle for social justice, zero tolerance for corruption and a “yes we can” spirit to truly and radically transform this great nation from its present pathetic condition to desirable economic levels. It begins with positive mindset change of everyone.