News that some senior ministers and former Mutharika’s inner circle were arraigned in Malawi answering for various charges, real and trampled on, yanked the country and the world at large. Authorities in Malawi recently arrested Professor Peter Mutharika (brother to the late former president, Bingu wa Mutharika and president of opposition party Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Patricia Kaliati (former minister of communication and civic education also government spokesperson), Goodall Gondwe (Minister of Economic Planning) and Bright Msaka (Chief Secretary) and other high profile officials in the country.
The above bigwigs were accused of, among others, plotting to overthrow the government after the death of Mutharika on 5th April 2012. It came to light that the accused officials wanted to illegally install Peter Mutharika as President after the sudden demise of his brother, contrary to the Malawi constitution that stipulates that the Vice President shall assume power shall the President die or become incapacitated to run the business of the state. Whether what the accused committed or attempted to commit amounted to treason or not still remain to be seen. Again, why did it take almost a year to bring them to book? Why were some left in office for such a long time if there aren’t elements of vendetta and dirt games?
True, many legal minds are in limbo given that the alleged person who was supposed to be overthrown had since already died. It becomes legally untenable even if we consider the fact that the person whom they wanted to stop from taking over the office of President was then suspended. In law, this creates lacunae. For, even if the constitution stipulates that the Vice President will succeed the President in such eventuality, did Banda qualify? Banda was not President, therefore, not legally subject to be overthrown in any means. For, by then, Joyce Banda was neither President, nor Mutharika alive. Again, even the person they wanted to install (Mutharika) had no locus standi. In fact, if one legally examines the offence said to have been committed or attempted to be committed, one comes to the conclusion that the said case is likely to be politically motivated, aimed at either silencing those officials or intimidating them, especially when the question why its taking such a long time is addressed. This means: Mutharika was not there, for after a person dies everything stops. Cadaver nullius in bonis. A dead body is no one’s property. If this case goes on and suspects are convicted, Mutharika will become the first President to be overthrown posthumously. So too, Banda will become the first person against whom plot was made to overthrow without actually being President. This being the case, how then can one sue people for treason that would not be committed under the said circumstance even if we question the breach of allegiance to the sovereignty and the constitution? Will the Malawi judiciary accept such humiliation that will leave it in disrepute?
Looking at the vows Banda made on 7th April 2012 when she was assuming power, that she would forgive those who wronged her so as to reconcile the nation, this recent move is going to affect national integrity, even unity so to speak. Banda emphasized forgiveness on 10 April 2012 when she was outlining her vision for Malawi. She was quoted as saying, “I made a statement for everybody to forgive each other and to demonstrate that I formed an all-inclusive Cabinet so that Malawians can see that I was serious when I [said] I will work with even those that persecuted me,” Now Malawians are asking themselves, is this the way of forgiving and working with those who persecuted Banda really? Does it mean that the good lady has easily and within a short time, forgotten her vows and promises? Former first lady Calista Mutharika has the answer. She was quoted as saying, “We are told that women leaders are better because women are empathetic, is this what we are seeing now? She (Ms Banda) goes on public podia preaching forgiveness, even quoting biblical verses, is there forgiveness here?”
Further, on the day Banda was assuming power, Xinhua quoted her as saying “I had a cabinet meeting with honorable ministers this afternoon and I want to let you all know here that the Holy Spirit descended upon us. To me this was very significant because that’s where we should begin from.” Again, is this the way the ‘holy spirit’ works? Banda also assured Malawians of running the government fairly. In her acceptance speech Banda said, “Mr. Speaker we seek to replace the society which in many ways has been brutal, exclusive and humiliating to our people.”
Those who heard Banda preaching reconciliation and forgiveness can’t believe that she’d embark on such gimmick-cum-gunk. This shows Banda in the bad light as a liar or an unreliable person, if not hypocritical. This is not good for a President who is faced with elections after lapsing her term in office. If anything, shall this go on, it tells of the hurdles head. If this is Banda’s take, it might wrongly be interpreted as her attempts to circumstantially create good ground for rigging come May 2014. For, what she’s doing does not help to nourish and nurture democracy in Malawi. What makes the charges leveled against the accused officials suspicious is the manner in which their case is dealt with. Interestingly, the government appointed two private lawyers to prosecute the case in lieu of the office of DPP. Does it mean Banda does not trust the office of DPP or is it just rent-seeking behaviour of awarding lucrative jobs to cronies and courtiers? Detractors see this as an opportunity for Banda’s cronies to rake money in through such deals. How can such vital case be prosecuted privately in the first place?
Malawi has been in economic ICU for long. Methinks Banda would use her stint in power to revamp the economy instead of pursuing personal interests by dividing the country. Again, is vengeance Banda’s way of forgiving? Who knows?