Former President Joyce Banda has been a busy bee lately. She has been zigzagging around the countryside reminding Malawians how sweet she once was and that she is still presidential material. She is asking the people to vote for her again in the forthcoming elections slated for May 21 for another round of ‘development’, and she appears to be fired up.
Like the other presidential candidates, she is also throwing her own litany of promises starting from increased electricity megawatts to non-renewable driving licenses, among others.
Giving it to her, she has been good at some instances, attracting curious crowds here and there and catching media attention. In fact, some sections of the media have even started believing her story.
They have started to mention her name and candidature in glowing terms; they say she still has some political fight left in her and that she will put up a formidable fight at the ballot on May 21, and even win the election.
Her story has particularly been boosted by recent reports linking her to coalition talks with the UTM’s Saulos Chilima. We may not know what may come out of such talks (if at all they are happening), but what is certain is that the media – both mainstream and social – has helped to prop up JB’s name to the fore of local politics.
However, as much as she may be enjoying some media mention, the reality is that Joyce Banda still belongs to a group of politicians whose time is irreversible, however hard we may try to perfume a pig.
If the former President had only been a calculating politician who had done the right things and done them right, she would still be president by now and going into her second term. But we are here talking about Joyce Banda the former President because she failed to take her opportunities well. She failed to take her chances when she had the platform to do it, and it is foolhardy to imagine that she can do that now when the political imperatives are even harder for her. For Joyce Banda, opportunity only knocks once.
Here is a person (a woman for that matter) who was favored by the Constitution of this Republic to become Head of State. Joyce Banda became President when the Mutharika brand was at its lowest ebb; when it had turned into a poisoned chalice following the expelling of British Ambassador, Cochrane-Dyet, by the DPP administration under the late Bingu wa Mutharika.
Malawi was constantly at the receiving end of negative international publicity; there were riots everywhere and fuel was scarce underlined by long queues at filling stations. The coming of JB, a woman and only the second female president in Africa, on the scene was supposed to a breath of fresh air to many Malawians, and their hopes were high.
Everyone was willing to give her a chance; to understand and work with her. The way she messed up that opportunity was, however, legendary.
Joyce Banda thought the goodwill that stakeholders, including bilateral and multilateral partners, showed towards her was a blank cheque to do as she pleased. As soon as she ascended to the throne, she immediately surrounded herself with an inner clique comprised largely family members to act as advisors, personal accountants and deal-makers. She took her tenancy at State House as time for ‘kutakata’ and presided over perhaps the worst public malfeasance in the history of multiparty politics in this country, popularly christened as CASHGATE, which involved civil servants conniving with private companies to siphon public funds.
As a person, the former President may be a good woman, but as others have pointed out, she has a history of surrounding herself and being betrayed by those closest to her. In short, Joyce Banda has always been a victim of bad advice. Her two years as President was famous for some of the most questionable decisions in our time such as the selling of a Presidential jet in order to buy maize (which we later learned had been given out to offset a military loan).
She created a department in the Office of the President responsible for the purchase of soya beans; a scheme, which was mired in corruption controversy and inside dealing. On top of this, she came up with sloppy concepts such as the Mudzi Transformation Fund, and a cow a family that also later only turned out to be money siphoning pipelines for those close to her.
When she lost the tripartite elections in 2014 to Peter Mutharika (she came third), Joyce Banda immediately fled the country and went into self-imposed exile in the United States of America (USA), apparently for fear of an arrest, and she did not return until four years later, defying calls to come back to provide leadership to her party when it needed her most.
This was an acute failure of leadership because a leader does not run away in time of a crisis. A good leader should be around to provide leadership to steer the ship through rough waters. Joyce Banda did the opposite and she nearly lost the party when Uladi Mussa took advantage of her absence to stage some kind of a coup d’état aimed at snatching the presidency from her.
Like in the words of one journalist Kelvin Sulugwe, Joyce Banda knows that she cannot win this election. As much as she will be able to amass some rural votes, she knows she is around this time perhaps only as a deal maker but nothing beyond that.
JB can choose to take a go and be on the ballot but she must be prepared for an embarrassing defeat and disappointment. The best option for her should be to hang back and look at politics from the outside; she must be prepared to be advisor to the current crop of politicians and earn an accolade of statesman (or is it stateswoman).
We only have a few days before presentation of nomination papers to MEC by all presidential candidates, and this is the right time for JB to make a quick decision to draw back. Malawians will not be fooled this time around with blank presentations that only come during election season. JB had an opportunity but never took it when she could.
Joyce Banda is a spent force and must seriously consider throwing in the towel before any heartbreak on May 21.
*Views expressed in the above article are those of the author and not Malawi Voice.