Vice-President Saulos Chilima has parted ways with the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and is out to unpack his mission to reboot the nation.
As was the case in Lilongwe two weeks ago, his United Transformation Movement attracted a huge crowd in Blantyre on Sunday.
To Malawians yearning for change, he said it is high time the nation embraced new ways of doing politics and running government affairs which have been dented with rampant corruption and nepotism which benefit a few elites.
“We want to reset the foundations on which the national development agenda can be built upon as things have been ruined,” he said at Njamba Freedom Park, a vast venue where the allure of every party is tested and rated by the numbers in attendance.
But this was a familiar message from the Citizen No.2 who once urged the citizenry against applauding mediocrity.
In his widely broadcast speech, Chilima spoke against more rot happening on the watch of DPP, from which his movement has sprouted.
He wants Malawians, both the electorate and elected officials, to stop doing business as usual and stop fearing elected officials.
But “doing business unusual” is not a new catchphrase. It is the same message he repeatedly chanted when he was at the helm of the Public Sector Reforms Programme now headed by lawyer Seodi White who once termed him a boy.
The onus is on the Vice-President, whom the oldest Cabinet minister Goodall Gondwe perceives as “a baby” too young to run State business, to prove that he is different from his predecessors who have all found the turnaround easier said than done.
Comedian-turned-politician Michael Usi deserved all the cheers that reverberated across Njamba when he told Chilima in the face: “You are not the first to fill this park with multitudes—neither the first to promise people heaven on earth.
“Leaders have come and gone, promising people paradise only to leave hell for them.”
Political commentator Rafik Hajat, the executive director of Institute for Policy Interaction, urges Chilima to talk less and do more to distinguish his push for radical reforms once abandoned by his equally vocal predecessors.
“Chilima’s agenda isn’t new,” he says. “But for the movement to achieve optimal impact, he must prove that he is different from the rest.”
In his agenda for transformative politics, Chilima has distinguished himself from the old-timers by persistently speaking of lost decades—a raw deal caused by high-level corruption and entrenched nepotism.
He says the country has enjoyed 54 years of independence with little to show as politicians get richer.
Political scientist Ernest Thindwa reckons that the anticipated fruits of independence continue to be “a mere mileage for the majority of Malawians” as inequalities widen and the rich elites are getting richer.
“Contrary to their envisioned free, prosperous, equitable and unified society where the Malawian symbolism would reign supreme over particularistic identities, what is obtaining is a society strangled by and struggling to shake off the yoke of abject poverty,” argues the lecturer at Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi.
Now Chilima, who has been second in command of the State machinery for four years, blames the lost years on corruption, nepotism and cronyism.
For him, the country belongs to all citizens.
His speeches mirror a nationalist campaigner struggling to liberate the country from new captors and re-create a Malawi where those who work hard realise their potential long stifled by corrupt governors.
“Let us not segregate each other in terms of regions and tribes. That is why we formed this grouping—to be united while transforming the nation forward,” he said.
Corruption in Malawi is rampant.
As early as the turn of the millennium, the then Director of Public Prosecutions Fahad Asani told the press that the vice drains almost 30 percent of the national budget.
Chilima has not only promised to jail all corrupt Malawians if he wins next year’s presidential polls.
He has promised not to shield his political mentor, President Peter Mutharika, if he is proven guilty.
He has also composed a song in which he rejects corrupt leaders—and it gets loud sing-alongs from his hearers.
Ironically, the self-touted champion for financial accountability sounds reluctant to disclose sources of his political funding.
He reckons some donors may not be willing to have their names publicised for fear of reprisals from government, but this is not a new scapegoat.
It buttressed a time-honoured culture of secrecy which necessitated the passing of a new law which requires all political parties to disclose sources of their funding.
The Political Parties Act was driven by the parties themselves, says Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu.
Centre for Multiparty Democracy executive director Kizito Tenthani says the parties are familiar with demands to publicly account for their wealth, but the enforcement of the law has been slowed by government’s reluctance to appoint the registrar of political parties as required by the legislation.
To Hajat, this offers Chilima and his movement an opportunity to show their commitment towards transparency and accountability by voluntarily making known sources of UTM financing.
“If he wishes to win confidence as a transparent and credible champion, he must disclose the sources of his funding as well as his personal asset base,” he argues.
A culture of secrecy offers a fertile seedbed for corruption and kickbacks the movement denounces and associates with deepening poverty.
The World Bank ranks Malawi the third poorest country at a time Mutharika relentlessly claims to be on track in his lofty ambition to transform the country like Europe.
National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) director Ollen Mwalubunju told The Nation recently.
“Economic and social rights—such as rights to food, education, health and employment are far from being realised. Poverty, nepotism, ethnic differences and unemployment are on the increase when it comes to access to national opportunities,”
And Chilima is says the nation is stuck in “a reverse gear” as a Ndirande Township where he lived in the 1970s looked more developed than the present one.
“Even in the cities, not many can afford a mere toilet paper. Even juice is seen as a drink of a selected few. Why? The country is failing to graduate from poverty,” he says.
He wants people to overcome fear and start demanding a fair deal from elected duty-bearers for the nation to develop.
“Do not fear political leaders,” says the Vice-President: Do not leak their boots. They must not be worshipped. They are not God.”