Power is an elusive phenomenon. Snap! sang in their hit song: “I’ve got the power!” But in reality it is much more complex than that.
Here in Malawi, nominally His Excellency the State President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika has the most power. But he has been described as a lame duck in more than one publication. Very early in his presidency he was tackled by his own people: he gave little bribes to journalists when he had stated he was giving them the media policy of his government. In subsequent investigations it became clear the money had been stolen from the National Aids Commission, and most of the stolen money had been stolen again by Mutharika’s own aides. Mutharika was shown in a very embarrassing way that the power was not with him, but somewhere in an elusive way in his party apparatus. You see: power is not so much something one has, it is something one exercises. But it is not always clear who is in a position to exercise it.
Power can be material: when two people oppose each other, a gun can make the difference in power, but only when the person without gun believes the gun owner is willing and capable of using it. But mostly power relies on the cooperation of the people submitted to it. The owner (capitalist) of the means of production (like land or factory) seems to have power over the workers, who can be dismissed in case they do not follow orders. But if the workers band together and strike, the balance of power tips to their advantage. Then the capitalist can try to bring in scabs, or divide and rule. If the workers believe they stand together they are invincible. But if they believe the strike is wearing down, they will lose. It is all in the mind.
The same principle applies to a coup d’état. The coup committers always first seize the media with the seat of power. They will transmit a communiqué to the effect that the power has been taken over. If the population believes it, they power will be transferred, but if no one follows their lead, they are in trouble. Then it depends who in the physical violence department (usually the army) follows who’s orders. It is all in the mind.
Fortunately in Malawi we have never had to deal with this level of violence. Arthur Peter Mutharika’s half baked coup attempt in mostly forgotten. But remember: if Mutharika had believed the army would follow his orders and not the orders of the commander Odillo, he might have tried a violent coup. And legitimacy always lies with the winner. Now this seems very far-fetched, as the Malawi army is UN trained for peace keeping, and they have a high regards for the law.
On the other hand we can try to force the authorities to keep their promises, and to respect the population. Mass demonstrations are the way to go. We have seen that these have panicked President Ngwazi II Bingu wa Mutharika to the point where he had the police murder 20 unarmed demonstrators. Subsequently he managed to bribe the PAC into submission, and follow up demonstrations were off.
We need to try again in the case we are fed up with the type of government we are subjected to. The Access To Information Bill, where different government representatives, up to his Excellency the State President, have lied several times about tabling it, is not good enough to rally the support we need for mass demonstrations. But the recent draconian hikes in school fees (of up to 15000 %!) are a good cause. We know it is notoriously difficult to organize smallholder farmers. But the secondary school fees hit the middle class, and hit the middle class hard. The middle class is much more capable of standing up for its rights than the farmers. Mass demonstrations against the draconian school fees stand a good chance of tipping the balance of power from the ruling class to the advantage of the population.