Malawi Congress Party (MCP) is embroiled in internal political strife. The force fanning the fire of dissension is not relenting. Perhaps the party is elated to war against itself.
It would appear emerging from the 2014 Tripartite Elections as a major opposition political party which lost narrowly did not impress upon them a lesson to consolidate those gains. The philosophy that ‘failure is success delayed’ did not inspire the party to look ahead, to another day.
Instead, barely two years after the elections some party members and officials chose to trade barbs, among themselves. This is contrary to what people thought the party would be offering. The coming of Lazarus Chakwera to lead the old party was hailed as a turning point in the way the party conducted its political affairs.
Chakwera was going to be a game changer to Malawi’s politics where intra-party fighting is entrenched. MCP itself is not new to in-house fighting. Prior to the 2004 General Elections, the political battles were between John Tembo and the late Gwanda Chakuamba. That time, there were two parallel conventions in Lilongwe and Blantyre which elected both Tembo and Chakuamba as party presidents.
Later, the two factions held one convention at Motel Paradise in Blantyre where Tembo won the MCP mantle. That led to Chakuamba leaving the party.
Now it appears Chakwera is failing to pacify the demons that for long have haunted the party during the years of Tembo and Chakuamba. Chakwera woke up to a rude awakening in January 2016 when some members branded his leadership as ‘nepotistic and intolerant of other views.’
MCP public relations officer (PRO) Alekeni Menyani said external forces were responsible for sowing seeds of discord in the party.
He said: “We suspect that there is a third force behind this. The suspect is a party with financial muscle to destabilise us”.
So, here was Menyani, happily accepting that there were squabbles in the party but they were being orchestrated by outsiders. The shifting of blame to a third party as a cause of the fighting from the two warring factions within is interesting because internal strife in this party is not a new phenomenon.
The hypothesis that there might be external forces exerting pressure inside cannot be entirely ruled out as in politics, opponents would take advantage of such confrontations. The existence of such enemies of the party from without would not be dangerous. The danger always lies within. As Cicero says, an enemy within is more formidable than an enemy without.
The unresolved wrangles in January culminated into ugly scenes in August when some seven people were ‘arrested’ by the party for allegedly being on a mission to petrol bomb the party’s headquarters in Lilongwe. This encapsulates the deep-seated resentment some members within had for the leadership. At this time his leadership was increasingly being challenged by senior officials and veterans.
The critics upped their game and obtained court orders to push for an early convention in August of 2016, two solid years before the party’s convention. They accused Chakwera of ‘unconstitutional appointments’ in the National Executive Committee (NEC). Chakwera in January 2016 incorporated some new faces in NEC like Cornelius Mwalwanda and Eunice Makangala, both from former governing People’s Party (PP).
The unrest in the party refused to rest. Some NEC officials were at daggers drawn with the leadership. The battle lines had shifted. From some ordinary members who agitated for an early convention to the party’s NEC. Officials like Jessie Kabwila, Joseph Njobvuyalema and Felix Jumbe were accused of fermenting trouble.
In September 2016, Jumbe claimed that there were ‘plans to terminate his life’. The tension became even more pronounced when the NEC convened a meeting at the party’s headquarters. Kabwila, Jumbe and Njobvuyalema shunned the meeting, citing security reasons.
MCP moved quickly to suspend Kabwila, who was serving as publicity secretary and Njobvuyalema for allegedly ‘masterminding to attempt to take over and bomb the party headquarters’.
On his part, Gustav Kaliwo, the secretary general (SG), engaged Chakwera in a battle of words through letters. He wrote his president on September 13 2016 asking him to take some action to remedy the challenges the party was facing.
In another development, Kaliwo accused the leadership of what he called ‘the worst kept secret’ of the party to draft in Sidik Mia.
Just when we thought it was over, about two weeks ago, Kaliwo, and his deputy, Chatonda Kaunda joined a faction calling for a party convention on July 7 to 9 this year. Kaliwo told journalists in Blantyre that he is justified to call for the convention because more than half of the members from the 41 districts of the party requested him.
Resolving wrangles timely is what University of Malawi (Unima) political analyst, Mustafa Hussein says MCP needs now.
“Political wrangles if not properly managed, can weaken the party. What will happen is that factions will arise [they have already arisen], that will bring friction. In the course, some people will leave the party,” he said.
Another analyst, Emily Mkamanga told The Nation last week that bickering could ruin the party.
“It is very unfortunate that the party is still fighting with only two years remaining to the general elections. It is the oldest party and was supposed to be exemplary,” Mkamaga said.
For a party of such standing as MCP, it was supposed to put its house in order. The tussling going on does not sit well with a party viewed as a government in waiting. If MCP is failing to manage its own house, how it can run the affairs of the nation, people wonder.
Defending the Chakwera faction, Eisenhower Mkaka, the party’s second deputy SG, told The Nation that the Kaliwo faction has no constitutional backing to call for a convention. He alleges that Kaliwo might be in a ‘grand scheme’ of conspiracy against Chakwera.
Mkaka said: “This call for a convention is not new. It is a continuation of the court case where some disgruntled members were calling for an early convention. Justice Charles Mkandawire dismissed the case in February this year. These people calling for convention lost elections the party held in six political districts and now have connived with Kaliwo to push for a convention.”
As Mkaka explains, the party is torn by strife. The enemy is right within. But there is another enemy outside, watching and reading every move with gusto.
MCP, like a house on fire, has saved the enemy of the labour and the enemy revels in its effortless triumph. How long will the fire continue to rage is the question? However, as Hussein has pointed out, in dilly-dallying to put out this fire, the party has set in motion the wheels of annihilation. Sooner or later, the house that is MCP will be incinerated to cinders as in the words of Abraham Lincoln a house divided against itself cannot stand.
Let them fight since it pleases them. But Chinua Achebe cautions that when brothers are fighting, it is the stranger who reaps their harvest.