One September morning in New York City, on the sidelines of the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Mr. Mutharika stood in front of a mirror in a presidential suite. The first lady probably smiled with deep pride as she watched him fasten that dotted navy-blue tie in readiness to receive an ornament that is the symbol for exceptional leadership with which he has devoutly led his country. Mr. Mutharika has been decorated for several accomplishments before, mainly in the academic circles. But this one, handed in under three years of his presidency, is one prize that seems to surpass them all. It represents Malawi’s apparent transformation and the collective success that some need to learn from, and which others can only aspire for. It is an embodiment of the results of his stout development agenda and all the 16 million Malawians he has pushed to rise early mornings so the once-impoverished southern African country is driven to some unrecognizable evolution.
“Malawi has developed beyond recognition” is a (para)phrase you only associate with a Mutharika presidency. Only the Mutharika brothers have had the incessant tendency to contrive a belief system that perceives the country’s development from an angle that common sense refuses to tag along. Yes, they do not rule – and perhaps they ought not to – by common sense, but in their world exists a Malawi of such glamour that other Malawians seem to have a really hard time locating. Once in his short history as president, the lure of the fantasy of success got ‘big brother’ thinking it was time to change the national flag.
The recent decoration of the young Mr. Mutharika with an award for exceptional leadership by the African Leadership Magazine (ALM) insults those with functioning brains and makes them numb at what really inspires the awarding of medals. Every possible indicator of development in Malawi seems to be headed the other way. It makes Gerald Mzaza Nkhata roll with laughter at the comparability of our dear Mr. Mutharika with other reckoned African leaders. The man seems to be preoccupied with supposedly shielding a bunch of party elites from the gates of jail than leading a government. This time, ALM pulled a fast one and perhaps forgot they could reserve some awards for the next time real work can be awarded, rather than just wantonly dishing out awards for the sake of filling the gaps. Ms. Catherine Samba Panza of the Central African Republic is, in our view, more deserving for having held the fort in an extremely tumultuous time in her country, and handing the mantle to a successor in a more democratically graceful process earlier in 2016.
But our Mr. Mutharika heard the sweet beckoning of a medallion, and defied all manner of reason to accept it.
It is one thing to be recognized and respected for exceptional deeds. To receive the recognition and get the world’s ridicule is another. Well, now that the ornament sits on the display, we have a few issues about which to celebrate with Mr. Mutharika. We proceed on the acclaim that the country has really moved ahead in a way that deserves this meritorious gesture, only that we will now have to reflect significant positions that signify exceptional advancement in national systems such that the sun needs to rise again on our national flag.
The following is how we describe some snippets of success that symbolize exceptional leadership to justify a medal for Malawi.
Topping our list of items is the issue of healthcare. Malawi has accomplished advancements in healthcare systems such that we should no longer be sending our public leaders receive treatment from abroad. After all, as one of the most enviable systems, our universal coverage ensures that every Malawian citizen is well insured and protected from the predatory nature of the private healthcare systems as it is in other countries. During Mr. Mutharika’s two-year rule, our hospitals have been equipped enough to not only cater to the needs of poor Malawians, but will also manage the sudden illnesses that would prevent our presidents from decaying in medical wards, as lessons from April 2012 would tell us. As our first citizen, Mr. Mutharika may lead us in retracing our lost confidence in the central hospitals and health centers so our fears are thawed from the grinning scare that greets us at the gates of these facilities whenever aches and fevers cause us running for dear life.
We also need to encourage the leadership of Mr. Mutharika to unconsciously allow that Kamuzu Palace be joined to the same grid that supplies electricity to his neighbors in Area 44 or Area 12. Thanks to his exceptional leadership, these suburbs are now dumping their generators and invertors as cash wasted because ESCOM has reformed itself and is now supplying power all day and everyday, living true to its firm motto. In social media, jokers have been forced to turn to less interesting issues. Likewise, might that Lilongwe Water Board pipe pass by Kamuzu Palace as it meanders its way to Kamuzu Baracks and Chilinde Township? These outskirt populations have long stopped wooing the poverty that condemned them to local streams to bathe and wash clothes, leaving their neighbors downstream to draw the soapy water to cook and quench their thirst. Even their children have stopped using streams as toilets now. All this gratifies leadership that spends sleepless nights so Malawians can, for once, shift gear from day-to-day survival to now relaxedly focusing on more productive spheres of their lives.
Our farms are now vibrant and our environment green, while the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) is a thing of the past as millions of vulnerable Malawians are now food secure and can more independently brace climate change effects with a sigh of relief. With exceptional leadership, agricultural labor is now profitable and the excesses from the farms can now be marketed at prices that prevent the flight of the staple from our granaries to foreign markets. ADMARC has never been more efficient in securing the interests of local Malawians who no longer queue for days as the publicly-owned company lives to its full role of social security.
In October 2016, all children in our public schools have had the unprecedented opportunity to receive an equal education to that offered in the private schools of Lilongwe and Blantyre, which children of our Cabinet Ministers’ attend. The children of the affluent in Malawi have now quit using the internet for browsing universities in Europe, Australia or America since the disappearance of staff and student strikes and demonstrations at our universities, and the convenience of a more adequate learning environment that they now provide. The odds of the under-five from Nambuma, Nthalire, Khombedza or Chapananga being assured of making it to academic accomplishment have now tipped in their favour in the two years that Malawi was blessed with Mr. Mutharika’s exceptional leadership. They now share the relief from fancying Mr. Uladi Mussa, who, in his universe, is convinced an honorary doctorate has the magical powers to turn a country around.
Transport has now transformed to an affordable means of movement for people and goods across the country. This is the result of Mr. Mutharika’s resilience in negotiating a plan that resuscitated the Beira rail line in the southern corridor, lifting the burden born by taxpayers and business people of paying truckers exorbitantly for shipping costs. And now, Malawians can evade the temptation of a gas-guzzling four-wheel drive, thanks to the smooth road network that resembles the American road systems Mr. Mutharika rode over for four decades as an immigrant professor at the Washington University in St. Louis.
The Malawi Police Service has now since forgotten the old days when officers’ solicitation of a second salary by the fortune of mischievous motorists was part of the household budget. Those teachers who once turned to private tutoring have now seen no point in offering education on the side so ends meet. Dedicated nurses are now able to tell the color of their homes since the hospitals are now staffed and equipped, and the threats to contracting disease are thwarted for the very people trained to aid the ill. And the civil servant has calmed the excitement every time the neighbor announces a new bale of second-hand jackets or shoes is about to open.
As one travels down these realms of progress, it is depression that follows the consciousness that one might have been swayed by a silly ambition for utopia. Just a façade better situated in the land of imagination than reality.
The intricacies of exceptional leadership for Malawians must be treated as serious business, and not as furniture for the display cabinet. And, a medal that is handed to the president should resonate through the nation as a symbol of collective advancement.
This time, we unfortunately are not convinced we share this success with Mr. Mutharika.