In the many activities as we head closer to the elections, the practice by our political leaders is to promise the voter what they will deliver in terms of development – which is fine. But in these elections in May, I urge fellow voters to also understand that the personality of our presidential hopefuls matters a lot.
And in this area, President Peter Mutharika leads with a wide margin, I dare say. In December 2017, I listened to the President’s interview with Zodiak Broadcasting Station’s managing director Gospel Kazako. As has been throughout the five years, Mutharika came into the interview on the back of a barrage of attacks and insults from opposition and CSOs, most of such attacks rather unfair and almost criminal.
Kazako asked the President his take on the attacks levelled against him, to which Mutharika surprisingly said: “I don’t take the attacks personally. Yes name calling is not right; but I think we argue because we all want to see Malawi develop but that we differ on how we want to do it.” Considering the unfairness of some of the attacks levelled against him, it is hard to believe that he meant what he said.
This was a stunning response from a president who goes down in the our history books as probably the most attacked and insulted in Malawi’s democracy. But Mutharika said it that way because that is what he is. He takes no issues. He does not yield to provocation that easily. This is sacrificial but in leadership of a country, this personality is critical to keep the country peaceful and progressive.
Let’s be honest. Mutharika has come out as a really tolerant man, and truly a democrat. He rarely takes issues personally. It seems he is well aware that in his position, he will lead people of all kinds and that however unfair some are to him, he is still their leader. He summed this up well in his address at a function of the Anglican church in Mangochi in December last year when he said he people can hate him but he loves them all. His self-controlled, good-natured personality has ensured that Malawi doesn’t become aflame with tension and bad mood agitated by an aggressive and temperamental president.
Malawi remains a calm society today, despite all the vilification the President is going through, despite all the lies and provocations targeted at him. Some will mistake his tolerant, humble, quiet and prayerful attitude as a weakness. I say such a view a mistake because it is. For in reality, Mutharika comes through as a man behind whose softness in public is his firmness, grit and civilized roughness. He is a very-well balanced man. President Mutharika is a man of mental muscle.
He knows that in his position, it is easy to give in to rash decisions that would leave the country injured for long. What he does is to give it a lot of thought and calculation on how he should act. It takes a lot of mental strength to brave the attacks as he has done. It takes a lot of mental strength to lead the country under the circumstances he has done. It takes a strong mind to bring on to the recovery path an economy that was so broken when he came to power in 2014. It takes a strong mind to ensure the economic recovery happens amidst the worst floods in history and a drought that leaves 8 million people in need of food aid. It takes a strong mind to implement infrastructure development in four years to a scale no other President has done in Malawi since 1994. It takes a strong-willed personality to take the country to a level where it earn multiple global recognitions that this country has earned in the past five years.
Admittedly, Mutharika is a human being first before becoming a president. And that comes with own fallibilities and lapses. But he has shown superiority on his other side. President Mutharika has shown he is a cultured man, humane, accommodating and strong-minded. He seems he is just keen on the job of leading this country to a better place, however the difficulties, whoever tries pull him down.
To achieve this, he balances lessons from his deep but untold political experience with fine personality qualities. I am certain that in May 2024 when President Mutharika retires, we will look back and be delighted that we gave a chance to a man whose calmness would quieten the storms that threaten to destroy our land.