The man who rose to the microphone to address the Malawi nation, in a highly anticipated presidential address of 18th January 2023, demonstrated in so many ways that he is not in charge of the country.
H.E. President Chakwera was addressing the nation following the conclusion of the Commission of Inquiry formed to investigate circumstances surrounding the arrest of the director of the Malawi Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB). He seemed very frustrated that even though the commission had concluded that the director of ACB had shown gross indiscipline and negligence, he (the president) did not seem to be at liberty to effect the much needed change at that bureau.
If the president – elected by citizens of the sovereign Republic of Malawi – appears to have his hands tied on such important matters, who then is in charge of the country? In fact, that the commission itself was constituted, is on its own a surprise. Why would such commissions be formed just to look into the arrest of one person? Is not Malawi a democratic country, with a strong and fair judicial system, capable of exonerating innocent citizens? At least that is what we have been told ever since the justices of the supreme court nullified the election of 2019.
These are difficulty questions. Perhaps the answers can be found by looking at the events that surrounded the formation of this surprise commission of inquiry.
In an unprecedent breach of diplomatic protocols, two embassies that had handpicked the director of the ACB publicly called on the government to investigate circumstances in which ‘their person’ was arrested. Specifically, one diplomat H.E. Sophia Willitts-King, the British High Commissioner, went so far on as to declare on Twitter that she sides with the ACB director over the justice system and government of Malawi.
Going through Sophia’s Twitter page, one would be forgiven for believing that she considers herself not as a UK High Commissioner to Malawi but something along the lines of His Majesty’s Colonial Governor to Nyasaland. She consistently issues one directive after another to the Malawi government through her Twitter page.
This is not normal. Diplomatic missions do not talk down friendly democratic host governments through the media.
In a lecture in a viral WhatsApp video, University of Pretoria Professor, Greg Mills – author of “Why States Recover: Changing Walking Societies into Winning Nations, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe” – talks about the prominence of donors in Malawi and other similar poor countries. The problem, he says, is that donors are not in the country as developmental partners but rather as “supervisory agencies; they act as deliverers of conditionalities. They are not there to talk about development but to tell the country what it should do and should not do”.
One can easily see how this culture inevitably leads to an environment in which the leadership of the poor countries cannot make important decisions for their own countries. Decision-making is then contracted to donor embassies often staffed by non-experts, with limited knowledge, who are mostly political appointees of their countries. While this system increases the power of the powerful donor nations over the donor recipients, it does nothing to help the recipient nations improve their stations in life.
Africa’s problems are to a large extent of its own making, but there is a significant part of them which is due to poor advice and conditionalities by rich nations and their institutions. One cannot forget how, just a few decades ago, African nations were devasted by bad IMF advice and conditions. No nation can develop if important decisions, with strong bearing to its future, are not made by citizens of the country.
Malawi’s real developmental partners, with genuine interest for the betterment of the nation, should be the first to help foster a culture of independent decision-making by the government and its institutions.