Time to put down the fires

teachers.jpgIf this were in the animal kingdom, we would perhaps be talking of a heat period – no need for elaborating. Malawi seems to be going through a heat period of some sort. As I am writing this, news from the University of Malawi suggests that Clerical, Technical and Secretarial (CTS) staff of the institution have threatened to down their tools if government does not implement a 40 percent pay increase.

This news is coming a day after minibus drivers and conductors in Lilongwe aborted their attempts to emulate their colleagues from Blantyre and other areas in the Southern Region in staging their own demonstration against the enforcement of some traffic regulations. That was after Blantyre woke up to a city of no minibuses on Friday. It meant transport problems but a cleaner and less noisy city except where things took an ugly turn.

Before that we had civil servants, teachers under the Teachers Unions of Malawi and lecturers from Chancellor College all in the news for grievances of their own. Did I also hear of potential trouble from support staff in the judiciary? You see now why I am saying this is a heat period – everyone looking for an opportunity to cause some trouble whether the issues behind the agitation are legitimate or not.

So why is almost everyone crying out for some reason or another? Is it some tragic coincidence or there is more to it? I would like to think it is the latter. There is building frustration and anxiety among many Malawians and every opportunity is being seized to let this energy of hopelessness out. And barring some dramatic intervention, we have not heard the last voice of dissent or dissatisfaction.

It must be disturbing for any leader to keep hearing about threats and ultimatums from various sections of the citizenry. Instead of focusing on normal administrative and management issues one’s attention is diverted to firefighting. As the embers of one fire are ebbing away here, another fire is being stoked elsewhere. It is not the best situation for any leader to be in and I don’t think President Peter Mutharika is enjoying this.

He cannot enjoy hearing that police units are being razed and ransacked. He cannot enjoy seeing images of school pupils taking to the streets and singing songs uncomplimentary to him and his leadership. He cannot enjoy his leadership and management acumen being questioned by people who have never led anyone else but themselves. And yet I feel he could have done something to avoid this embarrassment.

If only this government were proactive some of this unnecessary mayhem would have been avoided. I am not sure what intelligence the leadership gets but some of these problems would have been foreseen and forestalled before any damage was done. And I am not just referring to the physical damage to property as was witnessed in Blantyre last Friday. As I discussed in a previous entry there are always losses to the economy whenever people down their tools and still get paid for doing so.

If government was getting the right intelligence or using the intelligence that it gets diligently it was going to prevent some of these stalemates that have seen public school teachers and Chancellor College lecturers go on strike. But this government is so predictable. The only response to any potential or real problem is to parade some sell-outs of traditional, civil society and religious leaders on national television. I am not sure if any studies have been carried out to determine the impact of this hackneyed tactic.

It does not take rocket science to realise that this overdose of misinformation is not effective. It did not help to stop any of the strikes that have been planned in recent months, weeks and days just as it failed to stop the all-inclusive stakeholder conference which the Public Affairs Committee convened in Blantyre earlier this month from taking place. If you try a strategy several times and you don’t succeed every time common sense dictates that you change.

From the days of the late Bingu wa Mutharika, DPP has been associated with arrogance and the inability to accept that there are problems. It is this arrogance that makes the people react the way they do sometimes. I am not in any way condoning the senseless torching of police units in Blantyre but parents that are known for incessant fights should not cry foul if their children end up as bandits. This government does not seem to know the language of compromise and it should not be surprised if its people behave unreasonably at times.

The DPP is not the first government to believe in unleashing propaganda on its people and it will not be the last. What is lacking in this government is the smartness and sophistication to use propaganda effectively. Instead of coming up with propaganda that brings the public on its side it churns out stuff that insults the intelligence of even the most gullible of its citizens and an insulted public can and does react irrationally most of the times.

How much more money should this country lose before government comes to its senses and discovers that there is wisdom in humility? How much more property should be damaged and lost before government reviews and changes the way it responds to public criticism? How many more people should be injured before those in power accept that arrogance is too costly for its own standing in society?

I look forward to the day when those in power will realise that in public affairs it is not enough to believe that you are right. You don’t only have to be really right, you have to be seen to be right. That requires a bit more tact than has been in evidence so far.

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