Malawi’s Banda proves to Africa no one has monopoly of good ideasBy VIVIAN E. ASEDRI | Wednesday, June 13 2012 at 10:29
Some extraordinary and historic developments from the African political perspective continue to evolve in one of the world’s poorest and also one of Africa’s smallest countries-Malawi. The unprecedented decision by Malawi’s first and Africa’s second woman President, Joyce Banda, to sell her predecessor’s jet and fleet of 60 luxury Mercedes Benz cars to raise money for the welfare of the country’s majority poor must have sent vibes of unease, shame and guilt to the male-dominated club of African presidents known for opulent lifestyles when their citizens drench in abject poverty.
Just imagine how much medicines and medical equipment can be provided to the rural hospitals and health clinics in Malawi from about $15 million sale of the Dassault Falcon 900EX jet and unspecified amount from the 60 luxury cars, including money saved in future from their maintenance and insurance; how many mothers who continue to die from avoidable childbirth complications resulting from lack of medical care are saved; how many children can be immunised against avoidable killer diseases to bring the mortality numbers of children under five years and expectant mothers to Millennium Development Goals (MDG) acceptable levels; how much rural clean and safe water can be provided from the money saved; and how that money can boost the salaries of nurses, teachers, doctors and other civil servants!
After Malawi’s former President Bingu wa Mutharika died of a heart attack at 78 in April, many people least expected a woman to become the country’s next president, given the continent’s history of family dynasty-style power transfers. Even though in 2009 when Mutharika chose Banda as his Vice President during his second and last term presidential elections, he was soon infected by the African ‘political cancer’ to instead endorse his own brother, Peter Mutharika, to succeed him come 2014. The strategy to keep the control of the national cake a family affair resulted in Mutharika expelling Banda from his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), forcing Banda to form her own party as she remained Vice President. Attempts by Peter Mutharika and family to hastily change the Constitution – another African ‘political cancer' - to bless their corrupt intentions came to naught.
It was a classic replay of attempts by Senegal’s octogenarian former president Abdoulaye Wade to change the constitution in 2011 to stay in power, to former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who abolished constitutional term limits in 2008, to Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika who abolished constitutional term limits in 2008, to Cameroon’s Paul Biya who removed term limits in 2008, to Chad’s Idriss Deby who removed constitutional term limits in 2005.
Africa also saw Gabon’s late President Omar Bongo abolish presidential term limits in 2003 to allow him die in power in 2009 after a 42-year reign, to Niger’s President Tandja Mamadou who, in 1999, abolished constitutional term limits allowing him to run for unlimited terms, to our own Uganda where removal of the constitutional two-term limit in 2005 allows President Museveni to run for office unlimited times, to Togo’s late President Gnassingbe Eyadama who scrapped constitutional term limits in 2002 that made him die in power in 2005 only to be succeeded by his son Faure Gnassingbe.
This ‘political cancer’ is so virulent that it apparently blinds the African leaders to think that they and their next of kin have a monopoly of ideas to solve their country’s mounting socio-economic and political problems, as we saw with disgraced former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who was known to be grooming his son Gamal Mubarak to succeed him, to late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi who was grooming his son Saif al-Islam to replace him, to Equatorial Guinea’s current President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mbasogo believed to be grooming his son and Minster of Agriculture, Teodorin Obiang to succeed him.
African leaders must learn from Joyce Banda’s patriotic decisions, a move that disproves proponents of longevity in power and family succession that regular constitutional change of guard at the top does yield political premiums. My conclusion from Banda’s actions is that Africa’s female politicians are probably better positioned to address the continent’s problems than their male counterparts because women are more compassionate and receptive to the sufferings of the majority poor. That is why most of the complex family decisions to feed and care for their households rest on mothers.
The male leaders appear to be obsessed with clinging to power at the cost of the majority poor who continue to slide into an abyss of misery. What is the rationale of maintaining such opulent unsustainable lifestyles for the very few and run bloated cabinets when outbreaks of cholera, malaria, TB and nodding disease syndrome continue to kill the poor?
Mr Asedri is a medical information technologist, San Diego, California, USA.Email:email@example.com
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