Talking Blues: Machiavellian leadership is the last thing Malawi needs today

Unreliable, shady, fly-by-night, deceitful, dishonest, disreputable, corrupt, crooked, dishonourable, dubious, duplicitous, questionable, dodgy, irresponsible, shifty, slippery, treacherous.

Let’s add more: undependable, unprincipled, unreliable, unscrupulous, untrustworthy, cowboy, iffy, slimy, traitorous, underhand, unfaithful, unprofessional, double-dealing, two-faced, not to be relied upon, guileful, tricky, insincere, sneaky, not dependable, not to be depended on, fair-weather, false, two-timing, devious, fickle, untrusty, untrue, unsafe, conniving.

A few more adjectives won’t hurt: Janus-faced, fink, disloyal, faithless, underhanded, furtive, not trustworthy, delusive, cunning, slick, artful, crafty, sly, beguiling, wily, dicey, cagey, shrewd, foxy, deceptive, scheming, cute, knavish, designing, cagy, deviant, dangerous, evasive, subtle, unethical, immoral, and fraudulent.

All these unsavoury adjectives – either singularly or collectively – describe Machiavellian behaviour often associated with mercenary leaders.

Who was the original Machiavelli?

Niccolo Machiavelli, an Italian philosopher and writer, was born on 3 May 1469. He was later to become one of the fathers of modern political theory.

At around 29, he entered politics in his native Florence. As Defence Secretary, he executed policies that strengthened Florence politically. Soon enough, he was assigned diplomatic missions through which he met luminaries like Louis XII of France, Pope Julius II, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, and perhaps most importantly, a prince of the Papal States named Cesare Borgia.

Machiavelli’s famous and influential political treatise The Prince (1532) was inspired by this shrewd and cunning Borgia character. Machiavelli’s political adventure soured in 1512 after falling out of favour with the powerful Medici family.

He was accused of conspiracy, imprisoned, tortured and temporarily banished. To regain political influence and the Medici family’s good favour, Machiavelli penned The Prince – his most well-known work.

Though released in book form posthumously in 1532, it was first published as a pamphlet in 1513. In it, Machiavelli outlined his vision of an ideal leader: an amoral, calculating tyrant for whom the end justifies the means.

The book was a disaster.

It failed to win the Medici family’s favour and alienated him from the Florentine people, who were suspicious of him. He died in 1527, embittered and an outcast among the Florentine society to which he had devoted his life.

Despite Machiavelli’s name connoting the practice of diabolical political expediency as illustrated in The Prince, he was far from the character depicted in the book. His other writings attest to this. This notwithstanding, the term “Machiavellian” describes actions or leadership styles in pursuit of personal gain without regard for right or wrong.

Moving from Italy to Malawi, Kamuzu Palace – Lilongwe to be specific, on 5 November 2020, President Lazarus Chakwera addressed Malawians on various issues.
In a ‘state of anguish’ and ‘vexation’, Chakwera delivered a moving “Sermon of the Rubble”.

He had apparently surveyed the landscape and now knew the rubble heat maps like the palm of his hand. Like a monk invoking a powerful Gregorian chant, he eloquently recited the whos, whys and hows to exorcise the rubble.

“A good example is what is happening at the National Oil Company of Malawi (NOCMA). After I suspended and replaced the board, the new board met and began to assess allegations of abuse of office by some of the executives there. Upon finding that there were indeed irregularities, the board moved swiftly to suspend the Chief Executive Officer to pave the way for investigations. I would like to commend the board of NOCMA for being so diligent,” President Chakwera stated.

“Notwithstanding, Malawians across the country have raised a loud outcry over the board’s decision to appoint the Deputy CEO as the Acting CEO because the person in question is a known operative of the Democratic Progressive Party. This outcry is not without merit, and since NOCMA in its entirety belongs to you, the Malawian people, I support your right to express concern over its running,” he continued.

“For this reason, as your servant, I have directed the Secretary to the President and Cabinet (SPC), who chairs the board of NOCMA, to address this anomaly within two weeks, and I am confident that this will be done,” the President decreed.

This was on 5 November 2020.

Twenty-four months later, that Deputy CEO, aka the “anomaly”, is still at NOCMA and as we speak, the new SPC, in her zeal to perpetuate the “anomaly”, is willingly and wilfully defying the Ombudsman.

Despite the Ombudsman’s determination, NOCMA Board insists that Ms Helen Buluma is going nowhere.

The Ombudsman Grace Malera has since reported NOCMA Board’s obstinance to Parliament, where the Legal Affairs Committee Chairperson Peter Dimba has committed to enforce total and unqualified compliance.

Even the Malawi Law Society (MLS) had no kind words vis-à-vis NOCMA Board’s letter dissing the Ombudsman’s determination.

“It is improper and smacks off significant impunity … Basic constitutional law, which any holder of public office should know, gives clear guidelines on what to do when you are unhappy with the Ombudsman’s decision. Section 123(2) of the Constitution authorizes review before the High Court. So, you must comply or take up a review before the High Court. Let a Board led by the number one government official lead by example.”

Now let’s connect the dots.

Malawi’s oil agency acting chief Hellen Buluma sued for contempt of court

Twenty-four months ago, in front of eighteen million witnesses, President Chakwera directed the then SPC, Mr Zangazanga Chikhosi, to fire Ms Helen Buluma.

Mr Chikhosi, now pursuing other adventures, did not act on that order.

Taking the President at his word, the eighteen million witnesses faulted him for insubordination,

“How dare he make the President look like a lame duck? Who does he think he is? Blah blah blah,” Malawians wondered and raged.

Twenty-four months after Chakwera’s “Sermon of the Rubble”, the Ombudsman clears any legal hurdles the former SPC may have used to justify his insubordination.

Yet, it appears that even the hands of Ms Coleen Zamba, Mr Chikhosi’s successor, are tied.

Look here, in addition to the Ombudsman’s determination, if the ever-growing queues at filling stations are anything to go by, evidence abounds that there is nothing exceptional in terms of competence to justify the illegal retention of a Deputy CEO who shouldn’t be in that post in the first place.

In our school days, in Math, we learned about denominators. Let us use them for once:

• In November 2020, Mr Chikhosi was the SPC. He was reporting to President Chakwera. No action was taken to fix the “anomaly”.
• In November 2022, Ms Zamba is the SPC. She reports to the same President Chakwera. She is refusing to fix the “anomaly”, even at the Ombudsman’s prompting.

As you can see, the SPCs have changed, leaving a) the President and b) the “anomaly” as the common denominators. Now, we know to whom (a) is answerable. That is us. But to whom is (b) answerable? And who is putting (b) above the law? That person is the problem and owes us a lucid explanation.

Q.E.D. Need we probe further?

From all the above, we can deduce the presence of Machiavelli and folks; let me tell you something.

IF the intertwined triad of:

1) Forex scarcity, and
2) Fuel unavailability, both of which will adversely impact
3) Fertilizer availability and distribution

weren’t threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions; I would have said, let it be.

But with the gravity of these three existential matters, a “Machiavelli” manifesting the anthology of repulsive adjectives listed in the first three paragraphs above is the last person we need.

The question is: what can you do about it?

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