Our grumpy old president

Was someone criticizing him?
You’re uncomfortable. No, make that very uncomfortable. 

The source of your discomfiture is your wife. She's sitting in the sofa across from you but she's sitting in such a way that the visitor, who’s sitting in the chair next to yours, can’t help noticing a hint of your family’s treasure chest.

Throwing a surreptitious side-ways glance at your visitor to check whether he’s paying more attention to the TV than to your wife’s uncrossed legs and her nether regions, you try to draw her attention with a look. Having at last managed, you silently mouth: “Takhala bwino.”

To give her a chance to sit properly, you engage your visitor in a conversation. He’s fanatical in his adoration of Manchester United so you don't pass up the opportunity to tauntingly remind him how Suarez, Liverpool’s new talisman, tormented his team when it last visited Anfield. Inevitably he boasts of the 19th title that has enabled his team to take over the mantle as England’s most successful team. As the conversation rages on, you check on your wife again and heave a silent sigh of relief when you see that the goods are no longer in the display window.

Language is funny. One phrase can have different meanings and results depending on when, where and how it’s delivered. Take ‘takhala bwino’, for example.  Earlier in the day when you silently uttered it in the living room with a visitor present, your wife promptly pulled her skirt and clamped her legs together. But now in the privacy of your bedroom, when you huskily and breathlessly tell her ‘Takhala bwino”, your partner doesn’t pull her skirt down to cover up, let alone cross her legs. No, no way! The skirt and whatever is beneath it are promptly yanked off!

Incidentally, a few weeks ago the sensual iteration of ‘kukhala bwino’ became a lot more hazardous in Kenya due to an acute shortage of condoms.  Instead of abstaining until the supply situation improved, some amorous, men resorted to recycling condoms by washing them. Who would've ever imagined that laundry would one day involve condoms (http://nationalpress.org/blogs/aids/recycling-condoms-desperate-measures-amid-shortage-in-kenya/)? Future stats will probably show a spike in HIV infection rates during the condom drought.  

I've no doubt the intimate meaning of ‘kukhala bwino’ is one our president is probably very familiar with. Just the other day he and his wife celebrated one year of marital bliss. And we all know what oils bliss in a marriage, yes? In any case, rumors are doing the rounds that anxious aunties won’t have to visit State House to find out whether the services of a hyena are required because ‘kukhala bwino’ in the First Bedroom seems to have yielded results.

No, the president has no problems with the bedroom version of ‘kukhala bwino’. None  at all. It’s yet another meaning of the phrase that trips him big time. He’s got no clue how to khala bwino, how to properly interact, with his own people. One day he’s calling Northerners arrogant ungratefuls for their anti-quota system stance (even as he doles out plum parastatal and civil service posts only to members of his ethnic group),  the next he’s calling all Malawian drunks because they couldn’t understand the reason our flag had to be urgently changed. 

Our president brooks no criticism and doesn’t tolerate complaints. Dare criticize and in his eyes you’ll be nothing but an unemployable fool. Dare slight his performance on governance and he’ll take to the podium to rant that you're a nkhwezule, an insignificant being. If you happen to be an ambassador, better not let the president get wind of what you privately report to your bosses  about him lest your country gets labeled a stupid donor that listens to an equally stupid opposition.

Ironically, our grumpy old man in State House whines that he’s the most insulted Malawian president ever. Yet the truth is that he's rewriting the thesaurus on presidential insults. How to Insult Your Own People may be hitting the shelves not too long from now.

Is the president's grumpiness a result of his incompetence to run the country? Indeed, some pundits have argued that the president has lost his way because his eyes are primarily focused on how to play his cards so that someone he favors succeeds him in 2014. Yes, it’s possible that haunted as he is by indiscretions that he doesn’t want uncovered by an unfriendly regime, he can hardly focus on the problems that bedevil the country. Nightmarish visions of a Malawian prison cell can indeed knock a president off his stride.

But other pundits have hypothesized that Bingu has left his policy making machine naked after getting rid of people like Goodall Gondwe and surrounding himself with incompetent groveling sycophants like Vuwa Kaunda and Nicholas Dausi.

Either of the the two scenarios, or even a combination of both could very well be true. But I can't get rid of this lingering suspicion that things went relatively well in Bingu’s first term because the opposition was the one actually running the country. I believe the opposition wasn’t just providing checks and balances but actually formulating the policies that earned him lots of kudos. Didn’t his back get sole from getting patted for improving the Malawi's food security? 

You know who first mooted the idea of farm input subsidies, no?  Unfortunately for him and Malawi, if there is a lesson the last election taught MCP, it's that a cunning opponent can earn re-election on the back of your advice and policies.  So it has since decided to close of its advice stream. 

Starved of his muse, Bingu is empty of ideas and is floundering. As a result his minders have to butterfly from one fire to another. That isn't surprising considering his list of 'achievements' in his second term. He implemented a quota system based university selection then followed that up by changing the flag. He legalized searches without warrants and established local courts. Because of him a minister can now wake up and ban a newspaper without batting an eyelid.
Every now and then, just to keep his critics in line, he had them charged with treason and had security guards arrested for criticizing his decision to fire the Vice President from his party. He chocked local government elections and ensured that demonstrations don't take place.

He didn't stop there. He institutionalized public celebrations of his birthday as well as his wedding anniversary. Please don't forget that he turned Mulhako wa Alhomwe into a political force and  elevated his tribesmen into influential positions in government and parastatals. He forced the government to pay his wife obscenely high perks for a charitable position that she uses to castigate Joyce Banda, the First Political Enemy. He built a 60 room mansion and a mini Taj Mahal at his farm and somehow acquired wealth way beyond his means. He also hired a treasury secretary (from his ethic group, of course) with remuneration higher than his (in theory). He appropriated land and denied neighboring villagers the use of their ancestral burial grounds but  then made some of the same land available for a new university for which land had already been allocated in Lilongwe.

If Malawi's future seems a little more cloudy, blame it the closure of universities. And if the state seems a little more plundered, it's because of  the sale of  Malawi Housing Corporation houses to his cronies at giveaway prices.

That isn't all. He has deported the British envoy and provoked low tobacco prices by his abrasive style of leadership. Many businesses are stumbling because he's nurtured Mulli Brothers into an all conquering behemoth. He has also turned the government into a street beggar. Well, the begging isn't obvious. It’s coated in several layers of sugar:  increase in passport fees and vehicle licenses; changing license plates; and improving safety on our roads through the deployment of traffic policemen under whose ravenous gaze it’s miraculous for a motorist to be innocent. 

This list is by no means exhaustive. 

Meanwhile the country is facing a domino of problems: unpaid civil service salaries; lack of forex; dry fuel pumps; power blackouts; an inland port that’s quickly turning into a glorified pond; and myriad abandoned road infrastructure projects.

Would that the president was one who would accept alternative views, one who would realize that he doesn’t own exclusive rights to intelligence, one who would recognize that despite his mega ego he was in fact shortchanged in the wisdom department; it would be obvious to him that things needed to change now, and how to change them.  But his grumpiness and ego make the situation decidedly more complicated.  

No, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the president spews vitriol at every opportunity. It’s a front against his cluelessness.

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