Machiavellian leadership is the last thing Malawi needs today
Unreliable, shady, fly-by-night, deceitful, dishonest, disreputable, corrupt, crooked, dishonourable, dubious, duplicitous, questionable, dodgy, irresponsible, shifty, slippery, treacherous.
Let’s add more: undependable, unprincipled, unreliable, unscrupulous, untrustworthy, cowboy, iffy, slimy, traitorous, underhand, unfaithful, unprofessional, double-dealing, two-faced, not to be relied upon, guileful, tricky, insincere, sneaky, not dependable, not to be depended on, fair-weather, false, two-timing, devious, fickle, untrusty, untrue, unsafe, conniving.
A few more adjectives won’t hurt: Janus-faced, fink, disloyal, faithless, underhanded, furtive, not trustworthy, delusive, cunning, slick, artful, crafty, sly, beguiling, wily, dicey, cagey, shrewd, foxy, deceptive, scheming, cute, knavish, designing, cagy, deviant, dangerous, evasive, subtle, unethical, immoral, and fraudulent.
All these unsavoury adjectives – either singularly or collectively – describe Machiavellian behaviour often associated with mercenary leaders.
Who was the original Machiavelli?
Niccolo Machiavelli, an Italian philosopher and writer, was born on 3 May 1469. He was later to become one of the fathers of modern political theory.
At around 29, he entered politics in his native Florence. As Defence Secretary, he executed policies that strengthened Florence politically. Soon enough, he was assigned diplomatic missions through which he met luminaries like Louis XII of France, Pope Julius II, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, and perhaps most importantly, a prince of the Papal States named Cesare Borgia.
Machiavelli’s famous and influential political treatise The Prince (1532) was inspired by this shrewd and cunning Borgia character. Machiavelli’s political adventure soured in 1512 after falling out of favour with the powerful Medici family.
He was accused of conspiracy, imprisoned, tortured and temporarily banished. To regain political influence and the Medici family’s good favour, Machiavelli penned The Prince – his most well-known work.
Though released in book form posthumously in 1532, it was first published as a pamphlet in 1513. In it, Machiavelli outlined his vision of an ideal leader: an amoral, calculating tyrant for whom the end justifies the means.
The book was a disaster.
It failed to win the Medici family’s favour and alienated him from the Florentine people, who were suspicious of him. He died in 1527, embittered and an outcast among the Florentine society to which he had devoted his life.
Despite Machiavelli’s name connoting the practice of diabolical political expediency as illustrated in The Prince, he was far from the character depicted in the book. His other writings attest to this. This notwithstanding, the term “Machiavellian” describes actions or leadership styles in pursuit of personal gain without regard for right or wrong.
Moving from Italy to Malawi, Kamuzu Palace – Lilongwe to be specific, on 5 November 2020, President Lazarus Chakwera addressed Malawians on various issues.
In a ‘state of anguish’ and ‘vexation’, Chakwera delivered a moving “Sermon of the Rubble”.
He had apparently surveyed the landscape and now knew the rubble heat maps like the palm of his hand. Like a monk invoking a powerful Gregorian chant, he eloquently recited the whos, whys and hows to exorcise the rubble.
“A good example is what is happening at the National Oil Company of Malawi (NOCMA). After I suspended and replaced the board, the new board met and began to assess allegations of abuse of office by some of the executives there. Upon finding that there were indeed irregularities, the board moved swiftly to suspend the Chief Executive Officer to pave the way for investigations. I would like to commend the board of NOCMA for being so diligent,” President Chakwera stated.
“Notwithstanding, Malawians across the country have raised a loud outcry over the board’s decision to appoint the Deputy CEO as the Acting CEO because the person in question is a known operative of the Democratic Progressive Party. This outcry is not without merit, and since NOCMA in its entirety belongs to you, the Malawian people, I support your right to express concern over its running,” he continued.
“For this reason, as your servant, I have directed the Secretary to the President and Cabinet (SPC), who chairs the board of NOCMA, to address this anomaly within two weeks, and I am confident that this will be done,” the President decreed.
This was on 5 November 2020.