By now we now know that there will not be any amicable divorce between President Peter Mutharika and his younger deputy, Saulos Chilima. Any illusions we had that for the first-time our country will move on from the drama of vice-presidents falling out with their deputies, we all now know that is not happening.
We’ll still have to wait for a time a President and their deputy will campaign together and retire together, without ending up as bitter political enemies.
But, somehow, this time it is different. Owing to what others may consider weakness on the part of Mutharika, but what is genuinely a mark of good statesmanship and devotion to democratic ideals, is that the Vice-President has not been jailed, faced a humiliating chastening from the powers that be as his predecessors. At least, that is not the case as of now.
Instead, Chilima, whether due to his political acumen or exploiting a weakness of Mutharika’s leadership style, is now fighting, for now through surrogates, for the very seat Mutharika occupies. It’s a first in our country for a President to be so openly challenged by some members of his own party.
Up until now, all the leadership challenges we have seen in ruling parties have been about those to be annointed as heirs to retiring presidents. For that reason, alone, this is a welcome change.
It shows our democracy is maturing. And for all the faults of democracy, it’s the best system of governance tried. If our country is failing to develop, it has nothing to do with democracy; it has anything to do with how unlucky and foolish we have been in the selection of those to lead us.
To a large extent, out of the five presidents we have had, one really struggles to pick one who is a visionary and transformative leader. Maybe Kamuzu Banda; perhaps, Bingu wa Mutharika in his inspiring first-term. Other than that, our democracy has been let down by the quality of leaders who have served us. And the incumbent is no exception.
To quote the press statement by the pro-Chilima: “The people that are prodding Mutharika and cheering him on as a good leader are simply unfair to Malawians; to the DPP, but above all, they are being unfair to Mutharika himself.”
But those questioning Mutharika’s flawed leadership must also be questioned? When did they realise that this Presidency is flawed? Why did they remain silent all along? What is the motive of them criticising him now?
In the end, we know those calling for Mutharika’s departure are not, through dynamics of politics, one and the same thing, but all have political interests that now align to have Mutharika unseated. The fact that they can now call out the callous corruption in Mutharika’s government doesn’t mean they are anti-corruption crusaders or any angels themselves.
Indeed, so hypocritical are some of the Chilima surrogates and careless that at their press conference they can front both heroic figures such as Joseph Chidanti-Malunga, the formidable chairperson of joint parliamentary committees that investigated Maizegate, but also some very shoddy characters. To buttress this point, one DPP official present at the famous press briefing not so long ago used his very same connections to the very ruling party to defeat cause of justice. A story is told of how ACB investigators armed with a warrant of arrest were turned down at his home when he just picked a phone and called some senior official at the bureau.
Both Callista Mutharika and Patricia Kaliati, now champions for transformative leadership, have once enjoyed being poster girls for executive arrogance.
But nobody can dismiss their message even when you dismiss the messenger. But neither should the hunger for change by Malawians blind us. We are dealing with politicians and we must always tamper their expectations.
What is happening in DPP is not a revolution, it is not a power-grab, it is democracy at play. And there is no side with angels, as my boss and CEO of Nation Publications Limited, reminded us this past week.
While it might help the country to end the debacle of a detached, low energy and seemingly visionless leadership, and possibly usher in a more energetic leadership, from what we have seen, and the surrogates employed, we have no reason to think that simply changing Mutharika will change the fortunes of Malawians. What if the new leader simply ushers in a new crop of thieves, to put it more aptly, just gives old thieves another day in the bank.