Vindictiveness directed at the opposition parties has its nemesis when tables are turned – not to mention the adverse effect of the resultant strife on economic development.” Dunduzu Kaluli Chisiza

In his futuristic 1961 book “Realities of African Independence”, Dunduzu Kaluli Chisiza envisioned some of the problems that newly independent African States would face. He mentioned four specific problems: 1) political, 2) leadership, 3) social and 4) economic. The book was entirely set out to discuss problems that independent African countries would have to deal with. I think it is a shame that this book is not a recommended reading in schools and colleges, even more so that the book is currently out of print.

I am saying this because Chisiza’s fears of independent African countries have come to pass, certainly for Malawi. It is through reading this book that one appreciates political and leadership problems faced today, in Malawi and elsewhere on the continent. To make my point, I will concentrate on political and leadership problems that Chisiza identified, in part because I think these two problems are key to socio-political and economic problems that have trapped so many African countries in poverty.

By political problems Chisiza did not mean wars or other forms of insurgency. He meant personalised politics that stifle national development, politics that promote narrow personal interests at the expense of wider national interests. Chisiza argued that at the centre of the political problems was the relationship between government and opposition parties. He noticed that this was “indicated by such symptoms as intolerance on the part of governing parties, a tendency towards ‘strong-man’ governments, indulgence in smear campaigns and political instability.”

Anyone who pays attention to Malawi politics would agree that after 53 years of independence Malawi is still mired in the political mess that Chisiza feared. Party politics is prioritised over governance – it is always a contest between opposition and the incumbency while the rest of the country spectates. The caveat here is that those in the opposition often have no better option either; it is just that it is not they with the public purse at that given time – Malawi is stuck in this political vicious circle.

Within the independent African states, Chisiza feared what he called leadership of “rewarding friends and punishing foes” at the expense of greater public good. He noted:

“It is deplorable for leaders to promote faithful party members into positions for which they have not necessary skill or ability, above the heads of those who posses it. This leads not only to inefficiency but to downright corruption.”

Most of the problems facing Malawi today emanate from party politics Chisiza warned about. Corruption and politics of patronage are a deadly combination because those involved in malpractice, such as corruption do so with impunity – corruption cases like cashgate has taught Malawians this lesson. Politics attract not patriots and people ready to serve their nation but opportunists looking to get closer to power for personal gains.

National events are politicised so the ruling party can benefit from public resources being thrown around for a national event. On its 53rd independence Malawi government decided to celebrate the anniversary under the theme “thanking God for a season of plenty.” The theme clearly points to the relatively good harvest in the last harvesting season and the ruling party shamelessly makes sure that it takes at least some credit for it, when in fact Malawians should be question whether the issue of food security should remain the defining political issue, 53 years after independence.

There is no space for policy issues; it is always about politics, not governance and not Malawi as a nation but political party. Political party colours are more prominent during national events than the national flag. This is a defining shame of Malawi’s democratic era.

Academic studies with findings unacceptable to the incumbency is met with brutal rejection, indignation and intimidation from the government and ruling party zealots; civil society organisations that dare question the status quo are vilified by the government in equal measure. Every political party in power has its useful youth wing whose duty is not national service but to intimidate opposition and silence critical voices.

Unfortunately, you cannot do away with these problems through the ballot – the solution is not choosing one party or individual over the other. This is because, as Chisiza observed the cause of these problems is the friction between the incumbency and the opposition – elections only means the two opposites swapping sides and the motivation of being in power remains the same: exploiting the public purse. They hold it so dearly that anyone who dare point out flaws in the governance system is seen as a threat.

The political and leadership problems that Chisiza so ably identified have turned Malawi into a corruption heaven where folks prefer to advance narrow self interests than promoting broader national interests; a country where those in the positions of power and their cronies loot from the public coffers with impunity.