Analysis: Joyce Banda’s Malawi Election Nullification Is Purely Personal, Not Political – Says Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jnr., Ph.D.

Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jnr., Ph.D.
Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jnr., Ph.D.

If the little that I have read, via news reports, regarding the declaration of the recent Malawian general election as “null and void” by President Joyce Banda is anything to go by, then, really, one obvious conclusion is that her earnest attempt to scrap and have the entire election rerun is about anyhting but sheer megalomania the traditional, postcolonial African way (See “President Declares Malawi Election ‘Null And Void'” 5/24/14).

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It is largely an attempt to get back at the deviously scheming younger brother of the late President Bingu wa Mutharika, who two years ago, before his passing at age 78, had illegally and unconstitutionally sought the complicity of his then-Vice-President, Joyce Banda, to have his brother, Peter, named as his successor, once the elder Mr. Mutharika’s tenure expired and he retreated into retirement.

For boldly standing up to her immediate boss by flatly refusing to comply, Mrs. Banda would be rudely and illegally thrown out of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) by the President whose younger brother was also an inner-circle member of his cabinet. Mrs. Banda would adamantly refuse to resign her post, on the perfectly constitutional grounds that as the running-mate of Malawi’s leader, she had been duly elected on the strength of her own popularity and not merely at the beck or generosity of the President.

Instead, she would found the People’s Party (PP) and continue to actively participate in Malawian national affairs. Upon the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika, his brother Peter was widely reported to have flown the mortal remains of the late leader out of the country into South Africa, in a bid to denying Mrs. Banda the constitutional right of being named Malawi’s new President. And in the lead-up to last week’s general election, Peter Mutharika, who had treason charges pending in court against him, was also President Banda’s most formidable political opponent. In practical terms, her opponent was even more powerful than the substantive leader, the first female President in Malawi’s postcolonial history and only the second of her kind on the African continent.

That Mrs. Joyce Hilda Banda – no relation to late dictator Dr. Kamuzu Banda – is in no apparent way infected with the all-too-common bug of dictatorial tendencies afflicting many a Third-World leader, is remarkably underscored by her decision not to contest for political retention if her call for a rerun of the general election should be heeded by both Malawi’s Supreme Court, on whose august bench her husband, Justice Richard Banda, once sat, and the country’s Electoral Commission. So far, both cardinal and most relevant institutions have refused to comply with the presidential edict.

The country’s Electoral Commissioner, Mr. Maxon Mbendera, staunchly backed by representatives on the ground from the European Union (EU), a significant donor to Malawi, has refused to back down. But the lingering question regards why Peter Mutharika had not been compelled to clear the treason charges pending against him before both the Supreme Court and the Electoral Commission allowed him to participate in the general election. Therein, of course, lies the riddle of the present constitutional impasse. But that Malawi is decidedly a man’s country with little room for politically and independently minded women can hardly be gainsaid.

His obviously and unquestionably formidable influence, largely attained during his brother’s 8-year rule, may well have enabled Peter Mutharika to readily, and literally get away with murder. But then, President Banda has also not helped matters by her apparently woeful inability and / or refusal to resolve a government corruption scandal involving some $30 million that has forced most of the country’s external donors to withhold their well-needed assistance. But what also makes the situation rather intriguingly complex, is the fact that President Banda’s predecessor appears to have equally fallen out of favor with his Western patrons by the eve of his death.

Which may be one major reason, why the EU donors had envisaged a new positive light on the horizon with the emergence of the second female democratically elected premier in postcolonial Africa. Now, most of her hitherto staunch supporters and admirers here in the West want Mrs. Banda out and done with. But sincerely, this writer doesn’t believe that having a cynically determined politician like Peter Mutharika, 74, establish what is likely to become a Mutharika dynastry helps the country any remarkably. Unfortunately, the apparent political intransigence on the part of some major players of Mrs. Banda’s Malawi People’s Party, such as party spokesman Kenneth Msonda, does not positively advance matters on the ground either.

For instance, in a post-election interview with Agence France Press (AFP), Mr. Msonda was quoted to have declared as follows: “We have won this election, otherwise we demand a stop to the tabulation of the results until all anomalies are corrected.” In other words, there is only one possible winner of the country’s most recent general election; and that winner, of course, is none other than the incumbent President of Malawi, Joyce Banda!

Among the litany of electoral anomalies decried by Mrs. Banda and her supporters are multiple voting, over-voting, hacking of computerized voting machines, the questionable malfunctioning of voting machines, and the arrests of vote-tampering operatives from the camp of Mr. Mutharika. Nonetheless, Mr. Mbendera, Malawi’s Electoral Commissioner, has insisted that no such remarkable technical glitches and malpractices have seriously compromised the results of the elections whose ballots are still being counted and tabulated.

So far, Mr. Mutharika, who is said to be holding onto a commanding lead over Mrs. Banda, with a third of the ballots counted, as of this writing, has reportedly pleaded with his party members and supporters not to resort to any anti-social acts that may plunge the otherwise peaceful southern African country into chaos and civil strife.

How matters ultimately get resolved is anybody’s good guess. Curiously, though, is how the leaders of a party in power could seriously and legitimately fault their political opponents for rigging the polls across the board. Interestingly, though, such anomaly is fast becoming a common occurrence on the primeval continent.

Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D. Department of English Nassau Community College of SUNY Garden City, New York Board Member, The Nassau Review


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