Not once, but twice did Peter Mutharika run his campaign on a ruthless anti-corruption rhetoric that was not to be fulfilled to even the one third of Malawians who voted him into power in 2014, 2019 and 2020. As we come to learn, barely weeks after his fall, the reassuring words of his mouth were lightyears from the real intentions and works of his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) cronies, topped with his own deep involvement in looting from already thin taxpayers’ coffers.
As kingmaker, he elevated a few of his stooges in the embodiments of Norman Chisale and Peter Mukhitho to highest prominence in a complex scheme that has left many of us wondering if Cashgate offered any lessons in someday achieving a more prosperous country at all, a country where everyone would have a share of the benefits she offers from Chitipa to Nsanje. The rest of the salivating, soulless hooligans whose only job was to bathe the old man in ceaseless praise, he allowed to brandish Ana a Dad license plates on cars they could never have afforded if they ever knew how to assign loyalty, temporary heirs to and designated conduits of his loot.
After Cashgate, one would have thought many taps would be tightened and that the whistleblowing that landed Malawians to the sad reality of gross malfeasance of public money would prevent theft at the scale it happened during the DPP rule that followed Joyce Banda’s chaotic presidency. These were obviously not enough and those who witnessed the massive misappropriation of resources conveniently opted to shut their mouths for the sake of their jobs. Their complicity birthed justification for their own small scale enjoyments where they did not sow, reinforcing the complexity of theft in government. Only the kind of removal from power as the 23 June 2020 Fresh Presidential Election was intrepid enough to dismantle a convention that was rooting itself for the long haul, which from the lips of Mr. Mutharika and Griselda wa Jeffrey (his DPP Secretary General), was destined by God for 2084.
The irony for Mr. Mutharika is that his loss of the second term in June was, in main part, a result of corruption.
What is revealed today, thanks to the systematic loss of Mr. Mutharika’s presidency, is nothing less of shocking. Even more alarming has been his deep connection to the vice he promised to force out of Malawi’s grip while transforming the nation into a Singapore look-alike.
The Chakwera-Chilima government has set forth to correct Malawi’s corruption history very strongly and, indeed, tactfully. The more determinately they peel off the layers revealing entrenched corruption in the public system, the nastier the revelations of how Mr. Mutharika and his DPP were crumpling Malawi. It feels hopeful that many of the looters will be arrested. The dead will be exhumed. Ghosts will be allowed to enter the arena in the light of day.
But to make the arrests a success, Messrs. Chakwera and Chilima must endeavour to bring not just justice but closure for a nation reeling in the pangs of poverty and poor governance. They have a number of important obstacles to contend with.
Perhaps of primary importance is the recognition that the looting of government finances did not start with the DPP government of Peter Mutharika. The unraveling arrests happen to only be the result of a temporal extension of financial mismanagement that originated from Bakili Muluzi’s first day in office as President. Mr. Muluzi himself is yet to complete answering a case in which he is personally suspected to have embezzled MK1.4 billion. Indeed, the billions of Kwacha government lost under Cashgate were not the workings of Mrs. Banda – perhaps the best known Cashgater – alone, but were a cumulative contribution of Mr. Muluzi’s and Bingu wa Mutharika’s regimes.
This creates a mess for Messrs. Chakwera and Chilima, their second challenge. Some of their own wingmen and women have a history with these problematic regimes and may have known, if not contributed to, their damaging character. A few notable ones that have found a comfortable spot for themselves in the armpits of the ruling Tonse Alliance are Sidik Mia (Joyce Banda and Bingu regimes), Ken Kandodo (Bingu regime), Patricia Kaliati (Bingu regime), Noel Masangwi (Bingu regime), Rashid Gaffar (Bingu regime) and Joyce Banda herself (Muluzi’s, Bingu’s and own People’s Party regime). Their comeback into the political limelight begs much curiosity to the sharp and judgmental eye of the 21st Century Malawian whose smartphone in hand is eager to transmit any suspicion of mischief to a lively and charged social media. In their pre-Tonse days, these happen to have been the same figures that sang reverent praise for tyrants and looters, and some of them were happy pawns that were entangled in murder or even treason. Imagine putting Masangwi and Robert Chasowa in the same sentence; or Patricia Kaliati and the death of Late Bingu wa Mutharika; or Rashid Gaffar and “asafuna asiye” over some two buses.
With such involvements, it is likely the list of names of those implicated in the looting of public funds will not only get longer, but that the long arm of the law may have to extend into the very heart of the Tonse Alliance. If it is justice the Alliance seeks, then the independent institutions they tout themselves to promote should be allowed to stretch indiscriminately to where justice for Malawians will be found regardless of whose name is called out. The real test of governing a country for Messrs. Chakwera and Chilima will be in how willing they will be to turning their back on a friend (or friends) for the sake of a nation desperate to heal deep corruption wounds.
Finally, this website would like to caution the excitement spun out of the ongoing arrests. Arrests aren’t enough if they will stop at incarcerating those who have stolen, without translating the gains into development. Perhaps this is one place where Malawi needs to do well. If Messrs. Chakwera and Chilima can succeed to turn the finances saved from pilferage into homemade tarmac, concrete and good public services for the majority of Malawians, we will have restored the confidence we all ought to have in government.
Especially, our attitude against leaders will have dramatically changed from impulsive apprehension to trust.