A contribution by John K Black and C Companyero
In Malawi we are kept back from development by a pervasive corruption. The President has objected to calling it endemic (in a BBC interview) so I will refrain from that term. All our Presidents have shown to start out well on fighting corruption, but sooner (J Banda, B Muluzi, AP Mutharika) or later (Dr. HK Banda, B wa Mutharika) they got entangled in it. If all follow the same pattern we can safely assume there is a system here. That means that we cannot fight corruption sufficiently by prosecuting the criminals. That needs to happen too. But we need to address the system to improve. What is this system?
In our democratic dispensation it is not possible for anyone to be elected President without strong support from at least a sizable section of the ruling class. (How this support goes in detail, I would like to find out, If anyone has insider information, I would appreciate if this info were made available, either discretely to me, or in a public post: is this financial support only? Is the finance used for rally’s, chitenjes and other gifts, cash handouts?)
This support is bought with promises of rewards after election. These rewards are in the form of opportunities for corruption. It is not possible for a President to default on these promises, this will be at least life threatening. Many of the candidates find finance from all kinds of corners which again after election needs to be repaid, either in money or in opportunities. People are appointed in positions that offer opportunities for corruption and are shielded from above in exchange for political support. The people who supported the winning candidate have put themselves also in a difficult position: they need to repay all their sponsors and usually put their own fortunes into the campaign. So they need to get a return on their investment, and do this by means of corruption.
Small corruption on the ground is perpetuated: some of the small corrupt money goes upwards in the system to people who need to be repaid for jobs and for protection against the law. This money goes up stepwise to higher and higher levels, where many many small amounts accumulate to big amounts. The person accepting the money cannot afford to prosecute: that is what he/she is getting paid for.
Anyway: before anyone gets to the point of being a Presidential candidate in a party that has a realistic chance of winning, he/she must be part of the corrupt system. There are plenty of incorruptible people in Malawi, but they cannot rise in the hierarchy of governance, politics, and even big business. They stay away from the corruption, and never get to make the big decisions.
We can see how Bingu wa Mutharika in his first term was in a position to do things differently: he had dumped the party that sponsored him into the Presidency, and with it all the political debts that were necessary to be elected. He left Muluzi with the challenges, and had his hands relatively free. So he was capable of limiting corruption, and keeping the corruption in the FiSP (Farm Input Subsidy Programme) within limits. Unfortunately he was in the same predicament as other Presidents when he ran for a second term, and right after election he turned like a leaf, and sponsored innumerable corruption.
If we look at all this in a realistic way, we see that the people inside the system are
- Selected to function in a corrupt system
- Have had to play the corrupt game, and can be blackmailed with it
- Are in no position to fight corruption, because they have debts to repay
We cannot rely on anyone in the current system to really fight corruption. That means the fight needs to come from outside the political system. As a population we have the responsibility towards our children to leave them a liveable country with good governance. We cannot sit still and let the small group steal the national wealth. We need to act. We cannot enter the system without being corrupted ourselves, we need to exercise our democratic constitutional rights, and start with vigilant activism, to narrow the room of the corrupt to keep robbing our beautiful country of its wealth. The last time we held mass demonstrations in 20 July 2011 we were met with murderous violence. When Chasowa tried to exercise his freedom of speech and the freedom of the press he was silenced in the most permanent way. This wanrs us that we are up against the most formidable opponent. The interests are huge, both from their side and from ours. Their overreactions to the unarmed demonstrators, and the peaceful little publication of Chasowa shows that they are scared. They know that the people’s power is too great for them to overcome, so they come in with huge violence at the smallest action.
We need to defend our democracy. Remember: democracy is not voting once in 5 years and then letting teh powers that be get away with corruption and even murder. Democracy is a process that demands our vigilance, our involvement. Lots of our time, energy and courage. Even in mature democracies in teh West the population is fighting for their rights, let alone in our young beautiful democracy: we need to adjust the authorities to the new times. We cannot accept our National Wealth to be stolen by a small group while the large majority suffers in poverty. We need to address the system.