Regardless of what happens to President Joyce Banda in May
2014, she will go down in Malawi’s historical record as a president for whom
lightning struck twice. The first time was on Saturday 7th April
when she was suddenly and unexpectedly thrust onto the stage as the fourth
president of the Republic of Malawi. The second was on Friday 13th
September when the Malawi government’s Budget Director, Paul Mphwiyo, was shot
and seriously wounded, prising open secrets of massive plunder of government
cash that has been going on for years.
|Bitter fruits of cashgate. Photo credit: Steve Sharra|
The metaphor of lightning striking twice for Mrs Joyce Banda
is apt here because on two occasions, she has been given the “reset” button to
click and chart a new path for the nation. Historical legacies for presidents
don’t take shape for several years, so it will be a while before we know
whether Mrs Joyce Banda did click “reset” or not. But by the time we know,
there may have been a few more cashgates. And here’s why.
In the Out of Turn
column of Saturday 2nd
November, 2013, Malawi News “
Guest Writer” laid out a five-point plan for how
Malawi as a nation could move on from cashgate. The key argument from Guest
Writer was that if we handled cashgate with wisdom and care, Malawi “could be
corruption free” in the “next couple of years.” I have made optimism for
Malawi, and for the continent my life philosophy (Afrika Aphukira), but it’s not
for a simplistic feel-good factor. It takes a lot of energy, anger and yes,
pessimism, to generate optimism for this country and for this continent. But
it’s well worth the effort, in the end.
Guest Writer is a kindred spirit in sharing optimism. But
s/he has set the bar a bit low. Guest writer is basing his/her optimism that
Malawi could be corruption free on the fear of consequences if someone is
caught. Fear of a law that works and a law enforcement that is efficient is
indeed enough of a disincentive for a would-be offender. But the rich and
powerful always find a way to make the law work for them. They make the law.
They make it in such a way that they can get away with murder.
President Joyce Banda has been unequivocal in stressing that
no one will be spared, and that includes her family and children, as she told
members of the clergy recently. Personally, I want to believe her, but I also
realise what a revolutionary act that would be. Were she to allow full justice
to take its course, she would be the figurative embodiment of kadziwotche
, the insect which flies too
close to the fire and gets burned in the process. I would like to sample the
percentage of Malawians who believe the president when she says no one will be
spared. The pessimists have a solid history to draw from.
But it’s the question of root causes of why cashgate
happened that ought to exercise the toughest sinews of our muscles. Thus far
pundits have listed greed, a lack of patriotism, a faulty IFMIS, spiritual
decay, the destruction of ethics in public service, the politicisation of the
civil service, a thoughtless transition from dictatorship to democracy, and
unethical politicians looking for campaign cash, as some of the reasons that
led to cashgate.
In order to do a good job digging up the root causes, we
need to distinguish two things. What aspects of cashgate are pure personal
greed and nothing more? That’s one thing. What aspects of cashgate reveal an
inability by our political parties to raise funds to keep parties on their feet
and effectively participate in national elections? That’s another thing. Each
problem has its own unique solution.
The greed is a manifestation of both social inequalities
that have infested over decades, and a spirit of avarice in a society where
material wealth is the ultimate pursuit. The resulting inequality has bred huge
resentments among social classes. Social inequality thrives in capitalist systems
where the class divide is enormous. This is true of Malawi as it is of many
countries. The few tens of thousands of Malawians who are gainfully employed
are stuck in jobs that have no career path. Workers have no hope that things
will ever improve for them.
Those in managerial positions who discovered this truth
quickly found a way around the problem. They accumulated privileges and
benefits for themselves, and suddenly catapulted themselves into a whole new
social class. Such benefits included huge salaries, free school fees for their
children, ownership of houses in affluent suburbs, health care, and ownership
of expensive cars that become personal property after a certain loan period. For
groups who can’t accrue such benefits and perks for themselves, they watch all
this and find their ways of fighting back.
The problem of fundraising for parties indeed goes back to
the transition from dictatorship to democracy. This is a much less discussed
topic in Malawian politics. But it could very well lie at the root of why
cashgate happened, why it was not the first time, and why it will not be the
last time. It seems Malawian political parties have no financial stability
outside state coffers, a point made in a 3rd
April 2012 article
by Jimmy Kainja, and revealed in a number of studies.
Kainja observed at the time that it was “no coincidence that
in Malawi it is only a ruling party that always has resources to buy and
distribute political party materials: t-shirts, party cloth, bicycles, etc.” A
Global Integrity article of 13th
hoped that the ascendancy of Joyce Banda to the presidency
provided an opportunity for a fresh start in addressing problems of political
corruption once and for all. In its May 2012
report titled Overview of corruption and
anti-corruption in Malawi
, Transparency International cited “patronage and
clientelist networks” as feeding corruption in Malawi’s bureaucratic and
Therein lie the two lightning strikes for President Joyce
Banda. Social inequality is creating deep rifts among Malawians, a ticking time
bomb. The increasing incidents of mass violence and vandalism we are witnessing
across the country daily are but a tiny ripple in the sea of resentment resulting
from this inequality. That is made more complicated by how our political
parties have no established means of raising funds for their very survival,
rendering the entire political arena a charade and a get-rich-quick scheme.
Unless we address the fundamental causes of the deep inequality ripping
Malawian society apart, we should brace ourselves for more cashgates.
Note: A version of this article appears in the 'Guest Writer' column of The Malawi News of Saturday, 9th November, 2013.