MALAWI GOES 'GHANAIAN' IN ITS ELECTION By CAMERON DUODU
Malawi is a Commonwealth country in Central/Southern Africa. But it has chosen a West African country as its model – when it comes to elections. Well, when it comes to how its elections are conducted by its Electoral Commission.
The result is that it now has a sworn-in President (Mr Peter Mutharika) who is believed by her predecessor, the former President (Mrs Joyce Banda) to have been elected illegally.
It is the exact reversal of the position in Ghana! In our case, it was the challenger of the sworn-in President who petitioned the Supreme Court to declare that his opponent did not win the election legally. But in Malawi, it is rather the former President who was alleging fraud! How can a President under whose incumbency an election is held, allege that it had been rigged against her? Isn’t it usually an incumbent President who fraudulently uses the state apparatus to rig elections?
Mrs Joyce Banda has thus introduced a new element into African elections, namely, an incumbent President can stand helplessly by, whilst the police, the army and the public services refuse to do their duties properly and thus allow a fraudulent election to be conducted against the President to whom they have notionally pledged allegiance. Nice one there, isn’t it?
But seriously, Mrs Banda’s allegation is supported by the candidate who beat her into third place, a preacher called Lazarus Chakware. (Incidentally, those two candidates must have given Our Lord On High quite a headache! Lazarus Chakware is, as his name implies, a born-again preacher. What is not generally known is that Mrs Joyce Banda is also, herself, a strong Believer – a Faithful Disciple of our “charismatic” evangelist friend from Nigeria, T B Joshua! (Yes, he of the Black Stars non-telephone-call fame, no less!)
Now, if both T B Joshua and Lazarus Chakware were calling for support from on High – as they no doubt would have done, asking for fasting and all-night vigils to back their fervent prayers – which of them would Our Father that art in Heaven side with? The ones who shouted the loudest during prayers, or those who fasted a lot longer than others? I tell you, politicians are a difficult lot to deal with – even by the Deity. No wonder neither ”Beseecher” won!
Between them, Lazarus Chakware (27.2% of the votes cast) and Joyce Banda (20.2%) got 47.4% of the votes cast, as against 36.4% obtained by [the now] President Peter Mutharika. Which means that Mutharika has less support in the country than the two opponents alleging that his victory was obtained by fraudulent means. Is that a recipe for stable government? Ask Ghanaians!
Now, irony of ironies – guess who was a member of the Commonwealth Observer Team that went to ensure that the Malawi election was conducted in a free and fair manner? You’re right! It was Mr Pink Sheet himself, Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, Chairman of the Ghana Electoral Commission!
Ha – and what do you think he said, even as the Malawi Electoral Commission was embroiled in a legal dispute in the Malawi Superior Court of Judicature with outgoing President Joyce Banda, over the conduct of the election? (Mrs Banda, as stated earlier, had alleged that “rigging” had taken place to such an extent that she was using powers [which the courts decided she wasn’t vested with, by the Constitution!] to “annul” the election altogether).
Even as the dispute was being resolved in the courts, I heard Dr Afari-Gyan telling the BBC that apart from one or two hitches, the election had been properly conducted! Just like he told the BBC with arrogant self-assurance in Accra in December 2012, that: ”The election is finished!”
Eh? Yes oh! Yes! Who said a man can learn from his mistakes?
Well, Dr Afari-Gyan is entitled to his complacent view of events. But I do expect the Commonwealth Secretariat to
have been able to anticipate this. The Secretariat should surely be aware that Dr Afari-Gyan’s name is
synonymous with incompetence, as far as the Opposition in Ghana is concerned, and that the Opposition’s view is shared by
some members of Ghana’s Supreme Court?
I draw readers’ attention to the following extracts from the judgement given by Mr Justice Jones Dotse, on the
election petition filed by the NPP against the EC declaration that Mr John Dramani Mahama had won the
Ghanaian election of December 2012. According to Supreme Court judge Dotse, his own examination of some of
the contentious pink sheets which were identified … “has revealed that some of the Presiding Officers appeared to
be illiterates and know next to nothing. They do not only have very bad writing skills, but cannot express
themselves in simple language and even denote figures in words correctly. I will, in this context, blame the
appointing authorities of such low calibre of staff.”
Ask yourself, who were these “appointing authorities”? The Electoral Commission, headed by Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, of course!
But Mr Justice Dotse said more: “It is in this respect” (he added) “that I think the Electoral Commission Chairman, Dr. Afari Gyan cannot escape blame. My observation is that Dr. Afari Gyan appeared to have concentrated his oversight responsibility at the top notch of the election administration, thereby abdicating his supervisory role at the grass-roots or bottom, where most of the activities critical to the conduct of elections are performed.”
The learned judge continued: “So far as I am concerned, Dr. Afari Gyan has cut a very poor figure of himself, and the much-acclaimed competent election administrator both nationally and internationally has evaporated into thin air, once his portfolio has come under the close scrutiny of the Courts.” The judge concluded that bearing in mind the
experience Dr. Afari-Gyan should have gained since 1993, “I am of the considered view that he cannot entirely
escape blame for the many infractions of the Returning Officers, Presiding Officers and their assistants and to
some extent, their printers.”
Those who might have thought that Mr Justice Jones Dotse was being harsh in his criticism of Dr Afari-Gyan’s
way of running the Electoral Commission, would do well to read this report of a speech given by one of
Afari-Gyan’s own deputies, Mr Amadu Sulley. During the registration of voters for the presidential election,
Mr Sulley told a meeting he held recently with election stakeholders, including the main political parties, there were various irregularities, including failure to comply with basic operational instructions, as well as technical and logistic challenges.
Mr Sulley told his audience that the compilation of the voters’ register was fraught with operational, technical and
logistical problems. The Data Entry Clerks, he said, had a hell of a difficulty locating some districts, adding that it
would have been helpful if the software used was made in such a way that as soon as one clicked a region, all
districts in that region would be displayed. Mr Sulley said much more which I can’t reproduce here because of
space constraints. The question is: where should the buck stop, when causes are sought for lapses like those that – it is now generally agreed – were the hallmark of the work of the EC?
Be that as it may, I have to tell you a couple of stories about Malawi before I let you go. In one Malawi election many years ago, the symbol used by the Malawi Congress Party (headed by the country’s first President, Dr Kamuzu Banda)
was a cockerel (I think he copied the red cockerel used by Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s CPP in Ghana). On the day after the voting, the party newspaper, the Blantyre Times, carried a large photograph on its front page showing Dr Banda voting, with the huge caption: “DR BANDA VOTES FOR HIS OWN COCK.” (In English slang, ”cock” is often used for the word, penis! So just imagine the fun those who understood English slang had with that headline that day!)
Joke Number Two: I had the ‘privilege’ of interviewing Dr Banda once in Blantyre. I thought I was hard done by when, in reply to my question on why he had gone to Lisbon to see the notorious Portuguese Prime Minister, Dr Marcelo Caetano, brutal
oppressor of the African people of Angola, Mozambique Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. Dr Banda’s reply was: “I won’t tell you that. I won’t even tell [R A] Butler [the British Secretary of State for the Colonies] that.”
Apparently, I got off rather lightly. A BBC reporter called Douglas Brown also interviewed Dr Banda around the same time as me. This is how that interview went:
Douglas Brown: Dr Banda, have you come here to ask the Secretary of State [for] a firm date for Nyasaland’s independence?
Banda: I won’t tell you that.
Brown: When do you hope to get independence?
Banda: I won’t tell you that.
Brown: Dr Banda, when you get independence, are you as determined as ever to break away from the Central African Federation?
Banda: Need you ask me that question at this stage?
Brown: Well, this stage is as good as any other stage….If you break with the Central African Federation, how will you make out economically? After all, your country isn’t really a rich country.
Banda: Don’t ask me that, leave that to me.
Brown: In which way is your mind working?
Banda: Which way? I won’t tell you that.
Brown: Where do you hope to get economic aid from?
Banda: I won’t tell you that.
Brown: Are you going to tell me anything?
Brown: Are you going to tell me why you’ve been to Portugal?
Banda: That’s my business.
Brown: In fact you’re going to tell me nothing at all.
Banda: Nothing at all.
Brown: So it’s a singularly fruitless interview?
Banda: Well, it’s up to you.
Brown: Thank you very much.