TALKING POINTS (Lyson Sibande)- I have written this article mainly because of two reasons: first, because I said it in my analysis of Joyce Banda’s press statement last week that I will share the real reason why the former president lost Elections and why her loss is guaranteed if she dares to contest again in her life time. I emphasized however, that Banda is a tactician and that her loss was not really a matter of tactical oversights. Second, people that differed with me on tactics of Banda asserted that she is not a tactician because if she were one, then she could not have suffered the embarrassing May 20 2014 defeat which was the first of the kind since democracy 21 years ago.
Now, this is how I am going to argue my case: I will start by arguing against two popularly espoused assertions about the loss of Banda. The first one is that Banda lost the Elections because of the Cash-gate fraud, while the second one is that she lost because she failed to deliver real change when she was president. After that, I will share the real reason why Banda lost.
Let me start with the infamous Cash-gate. The truth is that cash-gate only contributed inconsequentially to the loss. Banda could still have won the Elections even with the corruption scandal of her government, just like Peter Mutharika won the Elections with a treason case and his brother’s economic and political crises on his head. I know that proponents of the cash-gate assertion are already frowning at me with disgust, but the truth is that Malawi has never had a more corrupt seating president than Bakili Muluzi.
The UDF government was marred with serious corruption at all levels of government and the private sector. The regime was well known for easy money. The UDF corruption was so rampant that donors withdrew aid. As a matter of recorded facts, Muluzi went to the extent of corrupting Members of Parliament with money, and yet He is the only president who never lost an Election. Even with rampant corruption, Muluzi and his UDF won Elections two times after the 1994 Elections, which Muluzi still won with the tag of a thief hanging on him.
If corruption was a reason enough to vote out government, then Bakili Muluzi and his UDF would have been the first government to lose Elections over corruption. In fact, if Malawians really cared about protecting tax-payers money when voting, then they could not even have voted for Muluzi in 1994 because he was even then, labelled a thief. But not only did Muluzi and UDF rule for two terms, he also nearly secured a third term and successfully made Bingu President of another UDF government.
It is very clear that Malawians voted for Bingu in 2004 fully aware that his UDF was a corrupt government. The evidence is that when Bingu resigned from UDF in early 2005 within one year of his presidency, Malawians gave him huge support because they needed change, yet they had just supported UDF at the polls a few months earlier. You will understand this irony later.
Therefore, Malawians have repeatedly voted for a clearly corrupt government before and Banda was not an exceptional case of an allegedly corrupt leader. After all, she was already at the helm of fighting the corruption, whether out of mere campaign tactic or not, that ought to have earned him some sympathy vote.
How about her failure to deliver? Was this truly the reason Banda lost Elections? Let me take you back to President Muluzi and his successor Bingu wa Mutharika. Muluzi did his part, but he did not deliver enough. Actually, the 10 years of Muluzi and UDF are referred to as the ‘wasted decade.’ Yet even after wasting 10 years of Malawians, Muluzi still pushed UDF into government by the mandate of Malawians in 2004.
And in contrast, Bingu delivered great economic and political results. He received international recognition and local admiration. Yet even after delivering notable overall success, Malawians battered Mutharika’s regime without mercy. Bingu made the mistake of thinking that Malawians needed to be grateful to him for the development and prosperity he had brought home. He constantly reminded Malawians during his rallies between 2010 and 2012 that when he became president they were literally dying of starvation and HIV/AIDs. He reminded them of several of his achievements, but Malawians took it to the streets and burned the nation down in July 2011 and remained hostile to him. And when he died abruptly, they celebrated his death, while his achievements still stood.
WHAT AM I TRYING TO SAY?
If Banda failed to deliver, then he is like Bakili Muluzi who failed to deliver. But if Muluzi still won all Elections even as a failure then Banda could have won too. On the other hand, I think, given that Banda had less than 24 months to change a Nation that had no forex, no fuel, acute drug shortages, no aid, distorted diplomatic relations and high levels of political instability, it is fair to accept that she did change the Nation. Yes, she delivered.
I know very well that Banda did not apply any strong leadership skills, brilliant policies or use exceptional intelligence to turn things around – she does not possess such gifts. Banda only made very simple compromises to bring change. After all, that was a matter of politics. Sometimes, all that a politician must do is compromise calculatedly, which was unfortunately Bingu’s political weakness. Bingu did not know how to compromise, especially when exactly to compromise. He was a great strategist, but a very poor tactician.
Therefore, in this case, just like Bingu whose government was rejected by Malawians even after presiding over great economic growth and development, Banda too was rejected, even after turning things around in less than 24 months. The only difference, which I am going to emphasis later, is that despite messing up, Bingu could have won the 2014 Elections if he stayed alive and faced Banda and Chakwera at the polls as a presidential candidate. The reason he could have won, is the very reason Muluzi kept winning, and of course the very reason Peter Mutharika and DPP won again at the 2014 polls despite their ugly political baggage.
Now, I hope you have followed me very well. What I have argued here is that corruption and failure to deliver have never forced a president out of government through elections in the entire history of Elections in Malawi. So why did Banda lose government through Elections?
The 2014 Elections were a clear repetition of the 1994 Elections and of course all the Elections Malawians have had. In 1994, each of the main three contestants got majority votes from their regions. Muluzi came first from the majority South, and Chakufwa Chihana came third from the minority North. These were paradoxically shocking results because even Dr Kamuzu Banda the villain of dictatorship came second and did beat Chihana the hero of Democracy.
Chihana realised very quickly after his shocking loss that he will never become President through Elections because he had the disadvantage of a minority stronghold. That is why he never contested again until he died. In 1999 he teamed up his AFORD with Gwanda Chakwamba and MCP, and in 2004, he sunk even lower and married his party to UDF into an alliance where he was not even made running mate or anything, despite bringing in his Party and regional votes. He was a political expendable together with his Northern stronghold.
After Chihana, President Banda was another strong presidential candidate with a political stronghold in the North. You might choose to differ, but the Peoples Party was strong in the North than any other region. With the North as her stronghold, Banda trailed third in the Elections, just like Chihana before her, because the North comes third in populous regions after the South, and the Centre, in that order. And Peter Mutharika came first, with a stronghold from the most populous South, and Lazarus Chakwera just like Kamuzu Banda, Gwanda, and Tembo before him, came second with majority votes from the centre, the second populous region.
This is the reality of politics and Elections in Malawi. And that is the real truth why Banda lost. In a democracy, the majority vote rules. It took the United States more than two hundred years to vote for a President from the minority race of black people, and Barak Obama is not even really black. Malawi has a very long way to go.