George Chaponda—the embattled vice-president of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for the Southern Region—will be 75 on November 1 this year. I doubt it will be much of a birthday party.
With the crowd of corruption and abuse of office-related allegations hovering over his head, the sacked Agriculture Minister will have little to celebrate as his political future—and personal integrity, even ambitions—hang in the balance.
At one point, Chaponda was seen as a natural heir to the DPP dynasty, but that may have changed dramatically ever since his name started being associated with the troubled and, some say, troubling importation of maize from neibouring Zambia.
He denies the charges and has assembled a team of lawyers to clean and clear his name. He certainly has the wherewithal to fight for his political life.
He is worth around K1 billion—give or take a few tens of millions—according to his declarations to the assets office. Most of his worth is in real estate, including some overseas, as well as trading businesses.
From the declarations, he accumulated most of the wealth during his time as an international civil servant working for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and, before that, his private sector work in Zambia and the United States of America.
By Malawian standards, Chaponda—with at least $1 million dollars in assets—is a wealthy man and has been for a very long time.
But the search for the ultimate prize, the presidency, could haunt this former Justice Minister as the fangs of justice get ready for the reckoning truth—whatever that maybe.
It looks like throughout his life, Chaponda prepped himself for high political office. In the 1960s, he chose political science/history for his first degree at University of Delhi in New Delhi, India on scholarship.
Then he turned into law, obtaining an LLB with distinction from the University of Zambia in Lusaka.
From Zambia with law, he won a scholarship to the United States of America’s (USA) University of Yale, an Ivy League institution where he studied for an LLM and JSD, which is a PhD, in law.
Apart from having a sophisticated grasp of politics, the education also made Chaponda an expert in international law, international humanitarian law and refuge law giving him an opportunity to serve one of the most vulnerable people.
Spending most of his professional life at UNHCR, his last appointment was Deputy Regional Director for East and Horn of Africa and Great Lakes Region based in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.
But Chaponda also has extensive private sector experience, having, for example, worked as chief legal advisor to Meridian International in New York and chief executive officer at Zambia Tanzania Road Services Limited.
His active participation in politics can be traced back to 1963 at the age of 21 years when he was elected secretary of Mulanje Students Association.
As a student in India, he worked with Malawian political exiles in Zambia and Tanzania who were agitating for Kamuzu Banda’s ouster.
When he went into political exile in Zambia, he was engaged in covert activities with those fighting the one party regime, which later saw him joining the United Democratic Front (UDF) where he served as director of research.
In 2004, he was elected as a member of Parliament for Mulanje South West Constituency, where he still serves.
After that, with Bingu wa Mutharika ditching UDF and forming DPP where Chaponda followed him, his political profile shot through the roof, holding some of the most powerful Cabinet positions.
He served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Local Government and Rural Development; Education, Science and Technology; Justice and Constitutional Development. When Joyce Banda ascended to power after Bingu’s death and DPP found itself in the opposition, Chaponda was the face of the party in Parliament as Leader of Opposition and when DPP returned to power in 2014, he was made the powerful Leader of the House while also serving as Foreign Affairs Minister and Minister of Agriculture—his last Cabinet post that landed him in legal land mines.
George T. Chaponda has been everything—a private sector executive, a scholar, international civil servant, Cabinet Minister and one of the most influential political leaders of our time, if controversial.
But just when he was on his way to claim the ultimate prize, he either stumbled or the system tripped him up.
Will he dust himself up and charge after the disappearing crown?
Only a judge can tell now.
And that is not the best position to be for an ambitious politician—leaving your fate to others. n