I had an opportunity to talk to someone from the donor community who gave a perspective that sobered me up. This was completely the opposite from the vibes we got in the first months of JB’s reign. He summarized it as follows when I asked him reasons for donor withdrawal or delays in disbursements; “For over 5 years, as donors we tried to make Bingu make changes to a number of areas where we had concerns. We hit a blank wall and with each day he grew even more stubborn. Within weeks of JB coming into power, she said yes to everything we suggested. We should have been smart enough to know that she did not mean it. Most of us are now waiting for 2014”.
What is this uncaring conduct? Given the state of the economy, perhaps people would like to see a leader that spends more time sitting in her office, thinking, analyzing issues, receiving briefings and studying reports, strategizing on the direction of the economy. She needs time to understand what is happening in country and get a feel of the direction of her partners. People on the ground argue that JB has spent the last 5 months jumping from one meeting to the next and attending functions that are of no consequence. They give an example of a meeting that took place the day I arrived in Malawi when she had Sunday prayers with Lilongwe women and later a “drinking party” with women civil servants. They reasoned that as the next day she was welcoming the Nigerian President, surely she could have spent the Sunday with her team to strategise on the Nigerian President’s visit.
Some people argue that JB has fallen in love with peripheral activities which are of no consequence to the challenges Malawi is facing. I am sure it was not my arrival but fuel shortages were back in Malawi. Queues were back at least in Lilongwe. Discussions in pubs indicate growing discontent and lack of confidence in JB. They say, "JB has no agenda. She works up in the morning and waits for calls of which Chief to elevate, which public function to attend. Then they gave me a typical JB diary of meeting Chiefs, mediating or negotiating over wage demands etc.
Someone summarized JB as follows: “She seems clueless as to what is happening around and what it means to be a President. She is trying but failing to strike a right balance between being and not being Kamuzu; Bakili; and Bingu. She has a bit of all but failing to make the most of the best”.
My take is that JB can reverse this situation very easily because she has no credible challenger among the opposition. But she quickly needs to put her house in order. She needs to get a completely new economic and governance team that concentrates on managing the economy and not enjoying the honeymoon of the perks. She blundered by appointing a Vice President who is non-technical. She should have borrowed a leaf from Italy when Mr. “Bunga Bunga Berlusconi was replaced by Mario Monti as Prime Minister. The challenge was the economy and not the politics. JB’s team is all about politics. Time is however running out for JB. Her many admirers and sympathisers are now in doubt of her abilities and have lost confidence in her and the PP Government. They say, “The Mountain is Too High for JB”. But is it?