Updated: Jan 20
Malawians remain on the fence insofar as politics is concerned. The craving to challenge the status quo is almost inexistent, and the vote – our ultimate mouthpiece – is slowly losing its luster in decisively placing us on the path to progress. I cannot exhaust all critical issues by this article alone but I try to tease out some aspects that I hope would bring some light. If what follows fuels enough passion for change, I will have achieved my patriotic duty.
Let me begin with a rather over-debated issue, youths in politics. Two years ago, I shared on this website that the youth are probably most under-resourced in Malawi, having not benefited from opportunities to prepare them for leadership. Yet they make up at least 60% of Malawians and are poised to grow as this year’s census is likely to show. The sheer size of the youth population – a huge voting chunk – in Malawi means politics and its decisions can no longer be ignored. It is strategic for any political party to pave way and build up a political base. Just a month ago, the State House invited some, only for the President to carouse and pleasure their gluttonous and thirsty sides. Malawians may never really know what the objective of the event was, nor the outcome of the meeting. Gauging by the flaunts on social media, a lot of alcohol and money were involved.
Linked to this is the question of electing a youthful leader. In 2014, the key parties fielded younger people either as running mates or the faces of the party, a.k.a., ung’ono-ung’ono. Beyond attracting the youth vote, it was painting the rosy picture of how favorable to youths the parties were or would be once in power. Like other parts of Africa where this tide is growing including in the presidency, Malawi is only being initiated into a healthy debate around it now. A conversation, as attested by practitioners in rural communities, that is not engaging enough rural youths. This perpetuates the voting by rural youths on ethnicity or tribal lines, creating a phenomenon that political parties have taken full advantage of. Nonetheless, it is not surprising how the youth have such hunger to lead. I do not intend to list personalities in this piece, but it is hitting the core leadership in more ways than one as we head to 2019.
Even though we are seeing a shift in attitudes and behavior, in intraparty politics, I maintain that the youthful leaders vying for positions have a long way to go to woo the rural electorate that is predominantly exposed to the whims of the elders.
The perceptions around women as candidates is a growing disappointment in the lead to the 2019 elections. The resurrection of the 50:50 Campaign has re-sparked an old discussion on how the 2014 elections were rather harsh towards women, where, unlike 2009, the high turnover of both male and female contesters was penalized by about 86% of incumbent women MPs not returning to Parliament. In a 2017 perception study by UN Women and Malawi’s gender Ministry reveals that, undergirding the existing gender inequalities, there are major governance weaknesses and the lack of deliberate strategies by government and political parties to promote the participation of women in politics and elected bodies. This is not what the country preaches as its commitments.
As a result, in 2014, only 16.7% were elected as MPs and 12.25% were elected to local government councils. These figures imply that Malawian women are the least well-represented in local government, as compared to the SADC average of 24 per cent (2014 Gender Links). The challenges for those managing the 50:50 campaign and others advocating for women in politics have not changed in 2014 and the election years before. The issue is what they will do differently this time.
Clearly, as we go into the 2019 polls, the key to transforming the landscape for women remains with the political parties to effectively accommodate gender quotas in the party constitutions first and allowing women and the youth to contest in the party conventions. I would argue that the just-ended MCP Convention has been quite telling by the look of women casualties in key positions. Coupled with other social norms, at the community level, the women factor will also dominate the 2019 elections. Women, themselves, may be called upon to fight for the space to contest, as this area remains highly patriarchal.
To sum up, I also hold the view as others before that marginalization of the youth and women in Malawi’s politics must be a major election issue for the voters themselves. I believe there are two steps to start changing this narrative. Our young men and women must take up strategic political leadership positions while our leaders create an enabling environment for women and the youth. We should not allow room for political apathy in 2019.
In addition to the issues above, the perception of corruption must also be cleared, which has frequently proven its endemic systemic proliferation. Of significant importance, we are let down by the justice system that has become lackadaisical in ending the impunity of those involved in corruption. On how this is linked to 2019, my assertion is that it has everything to do with the choices we have. We clearly have many questionable characters that must account for the corruption embedded in our system. Sadly, there is a sense of maintaining the same who have inadvertently let others plunder resources by not fixing the system or have themselves benefitted from the plundered resources.
The conversation on corruption needs to be seriously had. We need this to be a major issue in the 2019 elections, and I hope the electorate will demand an end to corruption from those that want to represent them in 2019. Unfortunately, I am not hearing enough about it in the communities. I say let us elevate the debate on corruption so that we elect leaders that have the best intentions for this nation.
As we approach 2019, it is imperative that those holding the power disseminate information the way the media, church and others do. They must position themselves, with facts that will shape opinions to help the population to make informed decisions. The role of the media is instrumental now more than ever, so that perceptions are shaped in the right direction. I advocate for provision of data and real case studies to help influence these perceptions in the hope of transforming our thinking and narrative. I get the sense that while others are lamenting about the state of Malawi and the lack of concrete plans for the nation’s future, what is frightening is perhaps the fact that people lack information to make informed decisions. What results is the maintenance of the status quo.
Malawi’s narrative in 2019 can be transformed if we have issue-based conversations that do not end on social media and other elitist platforms. I am not pessimistic, rather patriotic enough to contribute towards the right national conversation. Unless our politics engages the electorate in the truth about corruption, the political vacuum for women and youths, the devastation of climate change on rural agriculture, or Malawi’s population explosion, for example, no good will be destined for Malawians by 2030, 2060 and or at any other time!
The decision we make in 2019 must not be based o
n ethnicity, camaraderie or lies, but should be an attempt to mobilize all Malawians to make the right choices to fix the problems we have. The signals are present and there is no need to sugarcoat the mess we are in. If the warnings are shared and issued irresponsibly, without credible data or sources, then people voting will make the same mistakes again in 2019. The question which remains for me is what we will do to maintain Malawi as a land of peace, free from hunger, disease and envy as our national anthem pleads.