Chilima is positioning himself as a Presidential candidate. And more than one among many: as a vice President he has gotten a lot of publicity. Mostly as the champion of the civil service reform, which was expertly blocked by the vested interests of the civil service, who were supported by the vested interests in DPP. The President, as usual, did nothing. Otherwise Chilima is known for starting out hyper-actively, but soon being forced into submission to the sluggish speed of our government apparatus (unless there are allowances or lucrative contracts to be had: that’s when our government officials start moving with cheetahish speed!).
But what does Chilima stand for in the area of policy choices. So far he seems to have projected himself as a “technocrat”. But what is a “technocrat”? Our civil service are supposed to be the technocrats, while the politicians are supposed to make the political decisions, based on the will of the people as expressed in elections, as well as the civil society in advocacy actions as well as demonstrations.
A politicians cannot be a technocrat: there are always decisions to be taken. If a person pretends to be technocratic, it does not mean anything in the area of neutrality or objectivity. A politician can never represent something like a “national interest”. A national interest needs to be defined, and the definition is always dependent on the political ideas of the person defining it.
The nation is not a homogenous group of people. The higher civil servants have a different interest from the lower placed ones, the bourgeoisie (or capitalists) have different interests than the neo-patrimonial politicians. The capitalists in the crony capitalist system have a different interest than the liberal ones. The development partners have a different interest from each other depending on the country or donor they represent. The smallholder farmer has a different interest than the commercial farmer. And so on, and so on.
Usually, those people trying to project a neutral or objective position are supporting a hegemonic power. Cultural hegemony is the phenomenon of a powerful group projecting their personal interests as neutral, logical, self evident, national, general, common sense and in the interest of all. A technocrat is nothing but a person pretending to represent the general interest, while there is no such thing as a general national interest; there are always choices to be made: do we want the money to go towards the smallholder farmer (fi an effective FISP) or do we want to secure the support of powerful groups (fi a corrupted FISP)? Do we want to support the bourgeoisie (fi with austerity policies, cutting down on government spending on health care and education, while strengthening the legal system)) or the population (fi with spending on health care, agricultural subsidies and education, while leaving the judicial system underfunded)?
Our newspapers represent the interests of their owners and funders (mostly advertisers and readers), which are the better off in Malawi. They cry out, week after week, against the corruption in the country. But they forget to mention what should replace the corrupt system. They seem to take for granted that you can cut out the corruption of the current neo-patrimonial system, and then end up in middle income heaven. Clearly: this is not possible. What needs to happen is a radical shift in power away from the neo-patrimonial rulers. That means some other group will take over power, and the group that does that is going to define the new cultural hegemony.
Donors represent mostly capitalist countries (US and western Europe) China is a special case: it has a hybrid system of communist government with capitalist economy, which results in different donor policies). They want a liberal capitalist democracy, that provides their economies with cheap raw materials (in the case of Malawi mostly tobacco but also tea, coffee and other agricultural products). So they want a capitalist economy with a strong judiciary and small, weak social programs. That is what they are trying to implement, see the US subsidy for splitting up ESCOM. So they want strong protection of property, including intellectual property like patents and copyrights. That way Monsanto can charge us every year for the seeds, rather than have local seed producers. That way the pharmaceutical industry can charge high, high prices for their products, fi ARTs for HIV/Aids patients. They want the IMF to be supreme in economic and financial matters, so the Malawian population pays high taxes for the loans taken by corrupt rulers, and receive bad services if any (education, health care, security). And don’t be fooled to think that it is the rich who pay taxes: the rich can bribe the MRA (which is consequently underperforming) but the small tobacco farmer is taxed highly high, while he is also victim of all kinds of corruption at the Auction, transport and what have you.
Now a “technocrat” may fight corruption. But is it is replaced with a liberal capitalist system, the masses are still in big trouble. So the masses may have good reason to not vote for Chilima, but prefer the current corrupt neo-patrimonial predators over the “technocratic” capitalist predators.