In Malawi our democracy appears underdeveloped. We have a large number of party’s big and small. But they have no differences in their political philosophy: all are conservatives who just represent different factions of the ruling class, who allow their friends to steal from our national coffers. Chakwera does not have a long enough track record to know 100%, but he is as obsessed with car privileges as his predecessor John Tembo. That makes us fear the worst.
If we compare with South Africa, which attained democracy in the same year we did, we are very far behind. Especially in democratic content: the difference in policies that the electorate can choose from.
In South Africa the ANC still holds a big majority thanks to its standing as the party that introduced democracy after Apartheid. Their majority is rapidly slinking though because of the corruption of President Zuma. After Mandela, who did a great job, and Mbeki, who was of lesser caliber, Zuma appears to be a run-of-the-mill African chief stealing from National coffers. But contrary to many African countries and certainly Malawi, Zuma has to deal with opposition with content: an opposition that offers real alternatives from different political philosophies.
First there is the Democratic Alliance. They are a typical middle class liberal party. At first they represented mostly white South Africans, but with a black front runner they now are making increasingly inroads into the growing black middle class. They offer a typical liberal agenda, which will benefit the economy at large, and specifically the middle class and the business world.
Secondly there is the younger Economic Freedom Fighters, an offshoot of ANC under firebrand Julius Malema. They offer a strong style, with their red boiler suits in Parliament, their loud slogans in Parliament, and their vocal opposition against Zuma’s corruption. They are regularly removed from Parliament for unruly conduct, which they do display. Their political agenda is very different from the ANC. They base their ideas on the Freedom Charter, which was adopted by the ANC in 1955. At that time the ties between the ANC and the Communist Party were very strong. This is clearly reflected in the agenda of the Freedom Charter, which was, officially, still the manifesto of the ANC when they got to power in 1994. The ANC has made a U-turn, mostly under Mbeki, who was remarkably pro-business, while he had been a prominent member of the Communist Party for many years. Then Zuma went pro corruption, and South Africa’s trouble multiplied. The trouble with the EFF is that their strongman leader is himself as corrupt as hell. So he cannot be expected to hold onto his policies if he ever gets into power. The EFF with their strong populist strain, appeal mostly to the generation of youth from the school boycott, who lack sufficient education to see through the populist talk and outfits.
Why do we in Malawi not have such choices? On the one hand, communism usually represents wage workers and urban unemployed and we have few of them. Also communism is strongly out of fashion since the Soviet Union was disbanded in 1989. But a less extreme left wing party representing the poor should make a good chance. In Malawi the poor are mostly rural, and farmers are difficult to organize, and mostly conservative. But Mao Ze-Dong managed in China to organize farmers and institute a successful revolution. A social democrat version of Maoism?
On the other hand we can expect a small liberal party to get a number of representatives in Parliament: they would represent the interests of the business community, mostly urban. But in a number of urban districts a party with a clear liberal manifesto and a strong anti-corruption element could do well. Both in Local elections and in National ones. They could provide a counter weight in Parliament for the conservative ruling class that is currently bickering between DPP and MCP (with a little noise thrown in from a dying PP). They could provide real alternatives for the government policies, that now are contradicted by Chakwera.
But Chakwera lacks sufficient political thinking power to come up with real alternatives the way John K Black has been consistently doing for years.