It has been said that in Malawi political parties lack ideology. That stifles both debate and governance. In my view, they do have ideology, but the ideology of all is the same: conservatism.
Many conservatives dislike the whole concept of ideology: they view society as an organic body that cannot be explained with the (necessarily simplified) model of an ideology. This results in the view that big changes in society will upset the fragile equilibrium, and should therefore be avoided. This leads to the desire to conserve what is there, which is the essence of conservatism.
Conservatism is marked by respect for hierarchy. When the newspapers do not submit to the president’s hierarchy he calls on them to stop “negative reporting” or even yells: “This nonsense has to stop!”. When civil society organizations did not submit to Bingu’s hierarchy he became very angry and banged his fist on the table, and started yelling at them. When the population did not submit to Bingu’s hierarchy he had 20 unarmed demonstrators murdered. The current administration is sabotaging the ATI bill, which would improve accountability, and thus undermine their personal authority.
Conservatism seeks to conserve what is there (hence the name conservatism). We see that, in spite of the slogans “business unusual” and “civil service reform” and the emergency of the situation, Arthur Peter Mutharika refuses to change the government’s way of doing business. We keep sliding closer and closer to the abyss, but inertia remains.
Conservatism seeks respect for tradition, which is exemplified in the reverence of Malawian culture, the respect for chiefs without reviewing their efficacy. It is shown in a paternalistic approach to the population (Bingu even calling the population his “children”!). The MCP’s Chakwera repeatedly called for a return to Dr Banda’s ways (without explaining how this can work in the very different international environment).
Of course, keeping everything the same, which is the core of conservative ideology, is in the interest of those people who are privileged now: the ruling class. And they are the ones who are keeping all political parties on the one line of conservatism. This is pure selfishness. It has lead to the economic and social disaster we are currently involved in. We need a way out, and conserving everything the way it is is only going to keep us going on the same course: towards wholesale disaster. We need change, we need different ideologies, and we need them quick. Action is called for.