Malawians are all flat out waiting for Presidential and Parliamentary elections on May 19.
All agree they will not be a walk through for the government of President Bingu wa Mutharika but hopes are that he would sail through the ordeal.
The elections will be fought mainly on HIV/AIDS, the need to increase women’s representation in the country’s Parliament and the economy-how to give it a kiss of life. An underlying factor would be stemming the corruption tide which remains endemic to the extent that it has a story tagged to it.
It relates to the Customs officer who was asked whether he accepts brides. His reply was swift- as a rule I don’t but I can be persuaded to accept. The opposition understandably is shouting itself hoarse to show off the government that it is not all that laundry clean. The charge is not new. It’s like singing an old tune with revised verses.
The opposition has simply dusted up the 2007 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) by Transparency International which had reported that “corruption in Malawi is worst than before.”
The report, though some two years gone, had been a passion flag for the opposition even in past local elections but it had failed to make any impact.
Understandably, government functionaries are backing the official line of constant denial without details and dismissing the fall out of the report as “hogwash”.
“We doubt the credibility of the TIs ratings because they cannot tell us that corruption is worse now than in the past regime. We can’t swallow that,” was the pompous reply from a saville row suited government minister the other day.
But the political stench remains in 2009 and it’s still strong and contagious. The government needed to be worried over the alleged corruption attire as President Wa Mutharika had come to power in 2004 on the anti-graft saddle.
In his inauguration address then, he had boasted, “Malawi is now an oven for corrupt men and women.”
In a bid to show off his case, the government had put on trial several opposition politicians which looked like a roll call. They had included former President Bakili Muluzi, former Blantyre Mayor John Chikakwiya, former Bus Company Chief Humphrey Mvula, former Finance Minister Friday Jumbe and former Education Minister, Yusufu Mwawa.
Only Chikakwuya and Mwawa have so far been convicted and as if to balance the unequal number, the government threw to the crocodile, one of its own Minister to ward off being criticized, the opposition has charged. It was as if it was a token sacrifice to human gods.
In the Southern Africa setting, it is not easy to shed off a corruption allegation. The reason is getting economic back-ups are not as easy as passing the hat round. Mainly with the very meticulous Swedish and other Nord financiers who would go through development requests with microscopic lens.
Though the opposition is put to the wall, it is simply responsible for its own current state of play. The strongest opposition party, the Malawi Congress party brought independence in 1964 under strongman Hastings Banda. It is now a shell within itself with little clout.
The other parties are fragmented and keep floating like buoys in calm waters. For ordinary Malawians, any expected improvement of their status remains an idler’s dream. The economy is too battered to be remedied by series of panel beatings in the world’s fifth poorest country.
The country has a high HIV/AIDS infection rate which keeps throttling the health systems and social safety nets. Life expectancy is 45 years. Female between 15 and 24 years are six times more likely to be HIV positive than men.
Between 300,000 and 500,000 children have lost at least one parent to AIDS.
The election too would have to do something about women. Voters in past elections had demanded an increase on the current five percent of managers being women.
A new government should improve the figure, they agreed. The agricultural sector needs to be pruned to make it exceptionally attractive. As it now stands 70 percent of full time farmers are women, 87 percent of agricultural labour is performed by women and women produce 75 percent of the nation’s food supply.
The battle lines are drawn and pitched between the former President Bakilu Muluzi’s United Democratic and current President Bingu wa Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). So far the edge-over is on the DPP side which has managed to get rid of what one key supporter called “the spotless within”.
But whether the DPP and particularly President wa Mutharika would be able to hold the party together up to May would be a trying time indeed. Despite the drumming of the opposition about the corruption angle, Muluzi forces have not made much significant inroads into the government stronghold to suffocate its chances of being returned to power.
What one could foresee is the government coming back on a reduced Parliamentary majority but still able to get things done.
Malawi is still in the grip of generation politics, the sort of receipt which one could simply say: one size fits all. It’s the youth seeker which would put policies in Malawi in the balance and upset the applecart in such a way that politicians of all stripes would be apt to ask: Brethren what shall we do now.
But all is far from lost. And in the end, it may turn out that a man is known by the company he avoids.
By Rod Mac-Johnson