Saturday, August 10, 2013

Price Reduction and Kwacha Appreciation: Is President Banda Manning Up Or Simply a Victor of Circumstances?

The presidency, whether or not for its prominence, seems to be the public office that receives greatest attention; more so negatively and less so positively. In the history of presidents, President Joyce Banda appears to have had most negative attention of all presidents to have ever ruled Malawi. This has largely been due to her supposed lack of effective compass to safely and smoothly navigate the stormy waters of Malawi politics. 

There has been a good development worth writing home about in recent days—price reduction and Kwacha appreciation. Interestingly, the negative talk about the visionlessness of President Joyce Banda happens not to die despite this good news. This, by itself, should corroborate the statement that president Banda is the underappreciated president in Malawi.

Theories have been put forward explaining the circumstances under which the reduction in prices of certain goods and the appreciation of the Kwacha against major foreign currency find themselves in. There are, however, two competing theories here; that either president Joyce Banda is up to the duties of the presidency or that she is none other than an opportunist of circumstances.

Those of the opportunist-of-circumstances view take the negative public relations position on President Banda positing that Banda and her administration are simply victors of circumstances and not necessarily manning up to the leadership challenges of the presidency.

To these critics, the reduction in prices of goods presumably following the Kwacha appreciation should not be misinterpreted as a show of president Banda’s good leadership, asserting that this is simply a natural progression of economic events in this tobacco season. Furthermore, they clarify that Malawi is an agricultural economy, or loosely a “Tobacco economy”, almost always picking up during the harvest season as dollars trek in.

While it would be absurd to quash these learned arguments completely, it would be equally absurd to take the arguments without a pinch of salt. It is true that the natural elements of Malawi’s economic reality spells it clearly that dollars trek in during harvest season of the year. However, such happening does not and cannot happen in a vacuum; that is, there is need for someone to initiate the same, and the president in this case.

Again, the tobacco dollar does not just come “boom!” and there it is, no; it needs someone to negotiate and re-negotiate the terms and conditions of its sale. The point being driven home here is that there is always someone pulling the strings from the highest echelons of power, silently but strongly.

It here thus seems fair that the attention is given to the other school of thought on the price reduction and Kwacha appreciation—the Banda-manning-up theory. This group of people is essentially made of Joyce Banda sympathizers especially Peoples Party zealots. Whatever their political affiliation, they too have a point as equally compelling as the former.

To these people, the reduction of prices on goods and the appreciation of Kwacha is a truest manifestation of the quality leadership of President Joyce Banda. They further argue that this is the case because president Banda needed to stabilize and acclimatize herself to the presidency. Again, they add that now she is fully in control has started exercising her control and practicing her leadership now that the whole government system dances to her whims.

Whether that Banda and her administration needed time to stabilize or acclimatize is true or not, the fact still remains that she is now in full control and gaining vision, so it appears, every passing day.

It is at this point that it happens to be ever more confusing as to what position one should identify with. To be able to adopt a better position one needs to analyze the present government in the light of the political, social, and economic environment it came to be with special reference to time passed, resources gained and used, and decisions made.

To this author, having analyzed the general environment at the birth of the Joyce Banda government, concludes, as painful as that may be to too far many, that the price reduction of goods and the Kwacha appreciation more likely confirms that president Banda is manning up than that she is only a victor of circumstances. But most certainly both, and the author bets his life here.   

Edu-caution: Ministry of Education and the 2013/14 teacher recruitment tragedy

Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is one ministry in Malawi that rarely is on the media spotlight for good reasons. True to that, there seems to be developing, as of now, some news of great miscalculation of priorities in the ministry—the 2013/14 teacher recruitment process. 

In its Press Release in the local press in the month of February 2013, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) through Teaching Service Commission (TSC) informed all serving and non-serving diploma and degree holders with majors in either Languages or Sciences of the existence of vacancies in the ministry.

Qualifying job applicants applied, the shortlisting was done, and now the interviews have almost started. The content of press release has scared quiet many; some discussed the fate of humanities teachers at length, and still some warned that the 2013/14 teacher recruitment process is a ‘warning shot’ of the closure of teacher-manufacturing faculties in public and private colleges and universities as no market will be readily available to absorb them. 

As a matter of clarification, two issues are of special interest in the 2013/14 TSC teacher recruitment process, namely; the sidelining of humanities teachers and the missing of names of education degree holders in the shortlist.

This year, for the first time in the history of Malawi, teachers have been trained and cannot all be employed by their trainer. It has long been believed that the education profession is the easy road to employment; but that belief should change now and really now as there are now enough qualified teachers in public secondary schools in Malawi. If in doubt about this statement, ask TSC.

All teachers who majored in humanities have their services thrown to the dog as MoEST sees nothing worthwhile in them, if not for good at least in this 2013/14 year. Recognizing the waywardness in this thinking, MoEST through TSC is said to have shortlisted some of the humanities majors who still applied despite TSC’s uncalled for ‘ban’.

Whilst one can appreciate the logic in the TSC’s language-and-sciences-only press release as being motivated by the ministry’s sciences-dominated change of the secondary school curriculum, it makes little sense, if any at all, as to the fate of the humanities education students in public higher education institutions. This becomes much of a big problem given the historical fact that those that study education in government colleges and universities enjoy open entry into the education system as teachers.

While TSC’s ‘ban’ on humanities majors is regrettable, the missing of names of education degree holders in its shortlist of candidates is greatly deplorable. It is widely bemoaned among the applying candidates that certain names of people holding degrees in education majoring in languages and sciences have their names missing.

TSC says it shortlisted all languages and sciences applicants adding that those whose names are not on the list either did not apply or their application did not reach TSC. Fine and good. Though still, one wonders as to how it is the case that most of the names missing on the list are of holders of education degree in the languages and sciences TSC is looking for.

Those that have paid close attention to the list blame TSC for doing a bad job as they say that the list is full of non-education degree holders. Given, all degree holders are arguably the same in terms of understanding of secondary school curriculum content. However, delivery of content, especially as informed by methodology, education degree holders are way better than non-education degree holders. 

Is it not common sense that it is almost impossible, if not certainly so, for an educationist to outclass a lawyer in matters to do with law. Similarly, it is doubtful that a bachelor of science majoring in Mathematics or a bachelor of arts majoring in language can outperform a bachelor of education science or a bachelor of education language respectively. They both may know the content, but delivering the content demands more than just a degree.

TSC may have had good reasons, but if it is true that indeed TSC has shortlisted non-education degree holders to the exclusion of applying education holders, then one the Malawi nation has all the right reasons to believe that the 2013/14 teacher recruitment process is a serious edu-caution. And should TSC proceed as above, there will be no doubt that MoEST’s 2013/14 teacher recruitment process is a tragedy.

The Mysterious Minister: Dr. Ken Lipenga

Traditionally, technical knowhow—whatever it is—is what qualifies people into positions. It is the thing, perhaps the only, that job recruiters look for when they advertise for jobs. This what is said here should not be a thing from Mars to active job seekers like the author. The point being driven home here is that job advertisers seek to recruit with expertise on the job advertised.

It is, however, doubtful if the above tradition is followed to the letter in political positions. The examples might be numerous to the wiser readership, both locally and internationally. Interestingly, in substantiating this claim, one local example is surely fitting and memorable. It is the story of one mysterious minister, Dr. Ken Lipenga.

It is widely reported and greatly speculated that Dr. Ken Lipenga, once a Literature lecturer at University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, holds a PhD in Literature, and Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in the same field. 

Dr. Lipenga’s qualifications being as given above, it is catchy to write home about how this elusive character manages changing governments and not positions especially in light of the transition from the late Bingu wa Mutharika to Joyce Banda.

Lipenga’s close friend confided in the author that this minister is indeed elusive. From the early days of his active politics, this minister has led and lived events—most ugly and few pleasant—and rises with every rising political tide and never suffers political bruises—personal or political—and is always rising ever more powerfully.

That aside, the interest in this writing is his ministerial position. Here is a guy with qualifications in literature and yet is perched high in the hierarchy of the Ministry of Finance. More interestingly, it is hard to believe how the Joyce Banda administration, like the late Bingu wa Mutharika government before her, finds peace in trusting him with the agonies of crunching numbers.

This author did literature, and in as far as the memory serves him right, there is no time he encountered hardcore numbers in the entire four years of study. Or, and this simply is “or”, there are number-crunching subjects as one goes up with studies in the field of Literature. If that were true, Literature lecturers would have mentioned it at some point, at least in passing. But they never did. Or they may have just forgotten to mention it? Maybe, but it is doubtful.

So, you might be asking already, “What is it that Ken Lipenga has that always has him retain his ministerial post at Finance?” if it is that he has economics or finance or any similar qualifications, then there is enough reason to question the standards of journalism in Malawi. If indeed he has other qualifications, then Malawians might just as well scorn the media fraternity for giving Malawians journalistic raw deals. 

Knowing, of course from the media and other sources, that Literature qualifications are what Lipenga has leaves one with no option but dig more about him and his darling ministerial post—Minister of Finance.

Talk has it that ministers do not necessarily need to know their field because all the technical work in their respective ministries is left to the Principal Secretaries (PS). The PSs are technical head of any ministry; they remain even if governments change because their posts are contractual and not political.

It is here that sense begins to sink in when one relates this arrangement with Lipenga-in-Ministry-of-Finance issue. That Lipenga needs not to know the workings in economics or finance to be at the ministry (though it is now believed he now has his education, experience, and knowledge leaning that field).

Even here the question still remains partly unanswered. The full answer comes in the fact that rumor has it that Lipenga is second to none in area of negotiation and diplomacy, thanks to his firm grounding in English Language and Literature.

It is said that the guy has the verb, the adverb, and the adjective that have donors running with aid. It is rumored that Lipenga drunk all the skills of interpersonal communication, multiculturism, and negotiation from the poems he analyzed, the short stories he read, the novels he interpreted, and the plays he critiqued. And this, the story goes, is what gives him an edge over all competing individuals for the top most post in the Ministry of Finance.

Yet, after all is said and written about him, Dr. Ken Lipenga remains mysterious less as a person and more as a Minister of Finance. However, the best that can be hoped to demystify him and his post is to write more about him more and more.

When Incumbency Gives Edge: The Tale of President Joyce Banda

The story here is not of giving “Edge” as meaning a name as in Professor Edge Kanyongolo—the Chancellor College law lecturer best known for his straightforwardness and cold citation of Constitution clauses—; surely not about him. But it is of “edge” as in giving advantage due to ones position. And in this case it is a story about President Joyce Banda as she gets an edge over opposition political party presidents from her incumbency.

Arguably, no president in Malawi, in as far as history can testify, has ever received heated and strongly worded criticisms from Malawians in the early days of the presidency than has the incumbent Joyce Banda. No specific explanation would be given, but it nonetheless does not hurt to posit that one overarching drive for such has been the incumbent’s gender.

That be true as it may, it would be uninteresting to be bogged down in the gender discourse. For this reason, it would do the wiser readership justice if essentials of presidency are discussed and see if Joyce Banda is ever worth the presidency.

Thanks to globalization, common knowledge and daily experience tells us that the presidency demands more than physical maturity and dictates of one’s political party choice. More importantly, the presidency is about harnessing all of a country’s resources to meaningful development agenda and living that agenda.

The lessons of past experience as guided by realistic expectations and as informed by events of world politics has led Malawians to concluding that president Joyce Banda is way wayward in forging vision and directing the business of government. To this end therefore, those in the know have stated, as the author hereinafter does, that she is nowhere near the modern definition of leadership and management.

Knowing the above, however, does not mean she is a sitting target come 2014 elections. There is a more powerful reason to opposition political parties to fear President Joyce Banda; and reason is her incumbency.

It be stated clearly from the onset that the events of world politics should inform any serious and well-meaning politician that ruling parties hardly ever lose elections. And that being the case with Joyce Banda and her People’s Party (PP) led government; it can only be advised that those that aspire to unseat her should better know the buttons to press to do that.

Rarely does a sitting government get unseated. Those holding the contrary opinion might cite the recent political events in Zambia argue attack the incumbent-hardly-loses assertion and pat their backs for an argument well-articulated. But, the author still maintains that the incumbent is ninety nine percent out of hundred most likely to win and that the Zambia case is simply one haphazard chance in million and thus offering no real insights about election outcomes.

Here, it is then categorically stated that with all the channels of communication open to her, with all the fame that goes with being president, and with all the external links and bilateral relations with neighboring and overseas countries, an incumbent president playing the by the rules of the game of politics, is always guaranteed elections victory.
With her incumbency, Joyce Banda has the state machinery at her disposal. She can maneuver every perceived or imagined obstacle on her and create sour environments for her competitors in the name of following the dictates of the constitution. 

She may be clean in dirty games presently, but who knows, she may choose to knock opposition political party presidents the Machiavellian way. This should be little surprising given the fact that politics knows no morals. Whatever it is that shall guarantee her entry into government come 2014, she shall pursue it with all her energy and resources—whether the resources are personal, party or state.

Just like President Joyce Banda, almost no opposition politician, not even the young Muluzi, has any well-articulated vision for Malawi. This fact adds weight to Joyce Banda incumbency thus making her an even outright victor now—and even more so in 2014.

Mind you, Atupele Muluzi’s talk shops do not qualify for a vision, unless he so clearly explains how a free secondary education is plausible in Malawi given the fact that we are failing to provide quality education in primary schools where the education is free.
In resting the argument, the author is tempted to comment that it is true that President Joyce Banda does not have a conceivable and practicable vision for Malawi just like Peter Mutharika, Atupele Muluzi, and JZU. She nonetheless poised to win the 2014 elections as president because her incumbency gives her an edge.

Of identity politics and its identifiable problems: The case of Mulhakho wa Alhomwe then and Chiwanja cha Ayao now

Factually, what one is stems from what one is made of. Similarly, what one is culturally is informed by the passed traditions, customs, and heritage of one’s ethnic foundations. This being the case, ardent followers of current affairs are witness to the growing instances of groups—of like mind and creed—uniting to champion causes, usually taking the face of religion and statehood. 

The tendency for like-minded people to come together has its own extensive history and wayward justifications. Those in the know in political circles would say that this tendency has its primary appearance in America’s dark political days, thanks to the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1965.

In recent history, the liberal traditions of fairness, equality, democracy, and freedom of speech has given this phenomenon a new face; now the like-mindedness takes the form of race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and citizenship.

Identity politics—the coming together of members of a specific subgroup for socio-cultural and eco-political change—seems to have found a new haven in Malawi.

It would be culturally naïve to assume that there has not been identity politics in Malawi. That be true as it may, it is of special interest to learn the great political impact identity politics has had in Malawi with the launch of Mulhakho wa Alhomwe in the late Bingu wa Mutharika administration. This period is of special interest because it is during this time that identity politics became highly organized, seriously powerful, and obviously fierce.

The fact that this phenomenon became the kingmaking lobby group in the late Mutharika days should give the current administration hard days. Seemingly clear to President Joyce Banda of the importance and seriousness of identity politics, she, at the annual uMthetho Cultural Festival for the Ngonis last year, pleaded with the Yaos—herself being a Yao—to form a Yao cultural group similar, both in form and fashion, to Llomwe’s Mulhakho wa Alhomwe.

If recent reports are anything to go by, it is clear that the Yao cultural group to be called Chiwanja cha Ayao will see the light of day soon as the group’s foundations seem to have been already laid and positions already filled, and President Joyce Banda will be hunted to be its patron. And closely studying its interim leadership, Chiwanja cha Ayao, unlike Mulhakho wa Alhomwe before it, happens to take both religious and ethnic identity ideologies to its fold. 

The inevitable fact of cultural groups is that they cause ethnic and political isolation and division especially when they take politicians to be its guardians and more so when the politician guardian is Head of State. This fact should be all the more clear if we would go back in recent history and observe the ethnic and political damage Mulhakho wa Alhomwe caused to the Malawi nation.

Some would argue that identity politics cements one roots in oneself and that one is assured of devoting one’s energy, talents, and expectations with like minds on a singular purpose. That is true and positive. Others still would argue that the formation of cultural groups simply celebrates cultural differences. That is also true and positive.
But, sadly, focusing on a single purpose has its own dark side too. It has been elsewhere argued that focusing on one purpose makes group members to be close-minded about the bigger picture. In other ways, group members tend to focus on issues from their perspective ignoring the others’ equally intelligent perspectives simply because they are not members. 

And much as acknowledgement of differences cements the spirit of tolerance, cultural groups have always tended to pursue isolationist practices. This would not be surprising given the events surrounding the cultural and political dealings of Mulhakho wa Alhomwe. It is therefore difficult to predict a different outcome coming from the Chiwanja cha Ayao.

It is at this point that it appears clear to many Malawians that the formation of cultural groups and as led by presidents has a lot more problems than profits to nationalism and pursuance of national interest. To this end, it becomes obviously Malawian if formation of such groups would be meant to re-awaken identity only and not to serve as political lobby groups as sadly was the case with Mulhakho wa Alhomwe then, and as would most likely be with the yet-to-walk-baby Chiwanja cha Ayao.

Obama: Rising Age, Rotting Image

The past decade has not only succeeded in telling the world that man-made laws are completely fallible but also has given birth to new approach to life in all its entirety. This new approach to life, especially in politics and science, has given rise to the emergence of new kings and queens who have defied all odds to become the living hope for humanity and human progress.

World over, no man or woman has ever been such a beacon of hope, vision, diplomacy, and democracy as has been the youthful United States president—Barack Obama. Politically speaking, Obama has been, is, and will be, the man of this decade.

Obama’s humble beginning has probably been less of inspiration for him, but surely, his background is a springboard of many people’s courage, faith, and determination. To this end, love in times of hurt, progress in times of problems, and courage in times of crisis has come to be rightly associated with Obama, and such is what succinctly captures Obamaism.

His campaign speeches and activities as well as his subsequent election to the White House in 2009 only gave new heights to Obamaism. And his inaugural speech on November 20 of that year amplified him to a demi-god as he touchingly articulated the essential tenets of human existence—liberty, progress, rule of law, and fair play.

 Events following his inauguration, as was the case after his emergence on the world political scene in 2004, become the benchmark for criticizing or praising world leaders. Additionally, Obama became the icon and the standard for transformative leadership, international relations, and diplomacy. Everywhere he went his speech oozed an aura of a father-figure who stops at nothing until justice is achieved, progress is realized, and freedom is guaranteed.

His being black was a blessing to many Africans who saw his blackness as a plus to their resistance against Western and European imperialism. Even though somehow absurd, his African roots was largely seen by Africans as ruling the U.S through the backdoor.
That was then, and now? Things started to change for the worse for the 44th president of the United States. Obama’s appeal and image started diminishing when it was observed that his promises were just promises good in themselves. Obama defaulted on closing the infamous Gitmo Prison and is yet to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. 

Africa’s ever-blazing hope for better trade deals and condition-free aid is fizzling. Academicians, policymakers, as well as social and political commentators in Africa have now been disillusioned. Interestingly, there is a growing awareness, belated though, that in as far as United States politics is concerned, “best interest” is the guiding principle. Therefore, it is not a matter of who goes to the White House, but what principles U.S chooses to follow.

The Middle East too, especially Palestine, has also lost all energy for a U.S brokered, mutually-beneficial peace negotiations between it and her neighbor—Israel. Middle Eastern countries have come to a painful realization that statehood and progress is not about international law and resources but it is about who you know and your readiness to go dirty where necessary in pursuant of “best interest for self”. 

Now at 52 years of age, Obama is rising in age but rotting in image. Now the man is aging, and gray hair is the evidence. He has lost his magic wand; and now he is not welcomed as warmly as has been the case. The man is no longer that visionary; and one asks: What is the meaning of vision if it means thinking in abstract terms with no laid implementation plan? 

The latest evidence of his growing rotting image is the protests by the South Africans in his recent three-country Africa tour that saw him in Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania.  Protesters in South Africa accused Obama of being nothing other than a long-hand of the West and European in the systematic cultivation and implementation of double standards in all areas of life.

The crowdmover that is Obama still has the appeal; and he moves masses as no one’s business. What has changed, however, is the type of appeal—this time it is not about positive but negative appeal. And yes, Obama is rising in age, but rotting in image.

Not that bad and yet that bad: President Joyce Banda needs serious Public Relations services

No human being is perfect; there goes the century-old cliché. That be true as it certainly is, whatever is made by or of humans is consequently not perfect. A government is made of humans. It follows therefore that no government is perfect. However, with the right dosage of treatment perfection can be made to exist in humans.

Excellent clothes hides the imperfections of physique, a good tone of cosmetics hides the imperfections of the face, a high-heeled shoes aces one’s height, all seems perfect. The story is different when it comes to the public sphere where, issues of looks have little bearing on one’s destiny. In this sphere, issues of public standing make or break destinies. In this respect, one needs an expert in communications to be able create and maintain a positive public standing. And it is here that one needs Public Relations (PR) services. 

In this modern day and age, every government, organization, and individual that ignores the power of public relations does so at its own peril. Those with the PR know-how, like this author, would agree that the miscommunications and misinformation in the Joyce Banda administration show a clear irrevocable deficiency of weapons in government’s PR armor.

Cases in point of this deficiency are evidently many and common, almost a part of this government. One such classic case was that of president Banda versus Madonna controversy. It was widely reported in the local and international press that a communiqué was released in the president’s office waging a lingual tirade to Madonna without the president’s consent. And the drama got heightened when it came to crisis-communicating the same. Gosh! That was a PR disaster.

Much more recently there has been talk of the non-formalization of labor deal between the Malawian and the South Korean governments that also showed the crazy lack of PR expertise on the part of all institutions and individuals directly connected in the deal. 

It is normal, no matter how abnormal this may sound, that at times governments around the world do disinform its citizens. There was therefore no problem in Malawi government to panic after South Korea publicly denied any formal talks about the labor. 

But eeish it was drama again! The Minister of Labor confusingly defended the deal only to be tragically contradicted by the Minister of Information. That clearly showed that the two ministries did not do their homework well and that they are far from mastering the basics of audience-targeting, messaging and crisis communication skills.
Just to put people in the loop, messaging is the practice of having one version of a situation so much so that every concerned individual is brief of the narrative to kill any confusion and make the narrative believable. Using this skill, the government would have told those tasked to speak on its behalf to comment only as communicated and refrain from making any wayward comments. Sometimes the communication does go as agreed. It is at this time that a good PR calls their crisis communications skills into action and clear the confusion. 

These basic skills happen to be nowhere to be seen in President Banda government, and she is paying for that quiet dearly. Consequently, president Banda is portrayed in the public domain as that bad; she is portrayed as having no observable control in practice, and as having no clear information management direction. And when the nasty information goes out as it always does, there happens to be literally nothing done to damage-control. Worse still, if some government agent jets in the scene for that, it is always drama and tragicomedy all over.

It is with sadness that the noted that President Joyce Banda may not as bad as she looks in the public eyes of many, especially the educated minority. But that is the case because there seems to be tactful either personal PR of the president or her government to talk sense-and-nonsense of government communication.

To this end, this author closes the foregoing by asserting that the president may not that bad after all, although she looks that bad to many Malawians. And it is exactly at this juncture that the author tells it as it is; President Joyce Banda needs serious PR services.