Matemba’s Big Shoes, Malawi’s Loud Mouth


Last week wasn’t easy for Reyneck Matemba, our country’s chief graft buster.


It didn’t matter to whom he truly answers. Whether he owes his allegiance to the lords of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) or to the Malawian people who pay him, his week was the epitome of “caught between a rock and a hard place”. Siding with the DPP, who many implicitly suspect is behind the MK300 million bribe to some or all the five Constitutional Court (ConCourt) Judges currently in the course of drafting the ruling of the May 2019 Elections case, will confirm the brokenness of accountability systems in the country. It won’t rid our streets of the angry masses filing their machetes. An alliance with the people is, ceteris paribus, no assurance of bona fide vindication of an already suspicious electorate.


By many measures, and even in the face of a 72-hour ultimatum, this website believes he’s not done such a terrible job since 28 November 2019, the date he claims the matter was brought to his attention via an officer of the Judiciary. This is the date that happens to have shocked everyone out of their wits when we realized how the scandal, which only blew a few days before the presser on 14 January 2020, had been more than a month in the brew. Regardless, his main success, in light of the demonstrations and all the negative karma he’s received from mainstream and social media, is his effort to prevent the public from hastily playing ‘judge’.


Understandably, uncovering the enigmatic corruption case last week took us by storm, and it’s unsurprising that it has precipitated the public appetite to know the culprits as much as we would like to know who the victims of this almost treasonous act are. As a result, it’s easy for us, common folk, to dismiss Mr. Matemba's refusal to disclose the names of everyone who would potentially steer us around the labyrinth. Matter-of-factly, we have become increasingly interested in exposing the ‘political’ ring that we suspect, with certainty, is trying to influence the outcome of the ConCourt's ruling. As the excitement of our conviction at finding the culprits grows, the perpetrators’ cringe only escalates further.


It looks palpable that, under any such intense process, careful calculation must be considered to guarantee the security of everyone involved. While many of us are justifiably riled up by the deprivation of our electoral rights in the 21 May Presidential poll, the potential missing or incapacitation of key witnesses in this saga is likely to hurt us in the long run. When this website evaluates the actions we are taking, we seem to find ourselves wanting of a proper recourse to the best reaction for such eventuality. Even more important is our failure to resolve the question of what we would do if we were the ACB Director General ourselves.


Every slight anomaly in our political architecture today triggers a demonstration in Malawi. With an eager Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) seemingly on our side, our old and young have already taken to the streets and have handed over an ultimatum to Mr. Matemba at the gates of Capital Hill. The open social media has spewed insult, anger and fear towards Mr. Matemba on his uncommon sense vis-à-vis public opinion. Amidst all the heat blowing his way, Mr. Matemba has stood firm. While it’s anyone’s guess how long his adamance will last, we’ve been told he won’t be staying at the Bureau any longer than his current contract stipulates.


A day after our caution against a rushed reaction to the evolving case, Professor Danwood Chirwa was on Nyasatimes, pleading with the Malawian public to remain calm and with Mr. Matemba to keep all names concerned under heavy lock and key. Obviously, by the events that followed on Lilongwe’s streets a few days later, this is not the message Malawians were ready to heed to. And here’s why. Instead of seeking a remedy on a technicality, the alternative that the HDRC ultimatum offered to the failure to release the bribery scandal names was for Mr. Matemba to resign. By demanding the one thing our ears would like to hear from the ACB, we’re denying ourselves the opportunity to examine the technicalities involving such a case, which is not only sensitive, but also dangerous. For we could easily drive someone into a state of panic where their only way out could wind up creating another unsolvable mystery as the late Mr. Issa Njaunju’s. And just as in Mr. Njaunju’s case, we may never be able to solve it.


This is not to dismiss the potency of taking to the streets. It’s how we do them that distinguishes us from measured patriots.


Our demonstrations are a great vehicle to convey that we are on high alert, that we are watching. They should not be designed to take over the management of the case because HDRC has no such expertise, neither can it offer Malawians a better alternative to Mr. Matemba. Rather, it should exert pressure for more accountability, which the learned experts must interpret appropriately. The louder they get, the more they unequivocally raise temperatures on those involved, especially those that have a pocket so deep to dish out MWK300 million at once. Three things are likely to come out of this: names may eventually be revealed, or when arrests start happening, or someone will be cowered into making a fatal error. All three possibilities can happen independently or together at once. And, if Mr. Matemba is truly DPP, what he does with the public trust in his execution of duty with impartiality will be for us to judge at the right time.


We should continue with the pressure, especially if it has a chance of forcing someone to trip and incriminate themselves. At the same time, demonstrations on a case of this type should be less prescriptive while being understanding that revealing names today may help, but could also hurt us.


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