There was hope when news about the United Democratic Front (UDF) convention went public. To the optimistic, the convention would provide a platform for dialogue for the warring camps in the party. But alas!
Just recall what the partyâ€™s president Friday Jumbe said weeks ago when he trashed the idea of the convention, slated for October 30.
â€œIt is a funny convention. We will not participate and legalise an illegal gathering. We do not want to appear as people without strategies in politics,â€ he said.
Jumbe, who also leads one faction of UDF, Malawiâ€™s former ruling party, went further: â€œLet them proceed with the convention and tell the world that they do not know me and my colleagues and see if they will succeed. We do not want to disclose what we shall do. There are better injunctions than the normal injunctions.â€
Of course, the partyâ€™s secretary general Kennedy Makwangwala spoke with utmost resolve last week that the convention, no matter what, will go on.
National organising secretary Lillian Patel even challenged Jumbe and his group to assist in funding it. She also called on them to come to the indaba if they were interested in resolving the long-standing differences that have rocked the party.
Any hope in the convention?
Now, against this background, is there hope that the convention will, somehow, help to resuscitate UDF?
â€œNo, it wonâ€™t,â€ says Dr Mustapha Hussein, Chancellor College political science lecturer.
He adds that if one camp stays away, the convention will not be significant â€œbecause a convention is a forum where you expect conflicts to be resolvedâ€.
Arguably, UDFâ€™s varying or diverse points of view are not necessarily about a convention. The convention is just a playing ground. These varying point of views are only an expression, something symbolic of the tense ideological rift subjecting the party into paralysis.
In fact, reading from their arguments, it would not be an understatement to conclude these two camps cannot easily be reconciled.
There must be something deeper at work in UDF. Something that is making officials in the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party not just to disagree on almost every topic, but also to frustrate every attempt at unifying.
What could be wrong in UDF?
Genesis of trouble
UDF has always been centred on one man, former president Bakili Muluzi. He has been its heartâ€”the sole financier behind every decision the party has been taking, good and bad.
Unfortunately, most of the decisions he has been making have been tragic to the party. They have been decisions motivated not by the general good of the party; rather, his continued grip on power.
Examples are enormous.
After failing to run for a third term, Muluzi rejected all the party heavyweights and handpicked Bingu wa Mutharika whom, it was suspected he wanted to control.
And when Mutharika showed he did not want this to happen, Muluzi turned sour. The two got caught in a political rivalry that saw Mutharika forming his own partyâ€”Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and UDF was relegated to the opposition benches.
Additionally, after UDFâ€”purged by the formation of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)â€”got into the whims of opposing benches, Muluzi unrepentant moves of still wanting to be in power did not waver.
Instead of grooming a new leader, he got stuck in legal flimsies of wanting to come back to power through a writing of the law. When the Electoral Commission (EC) barred him, he married UDF to Malawi Congress Party (MCP). UDF, for the first time in history, went into a general election without a candidate.
The gods appeared to smile with news that Muluzi had retired. As a result, he made Jumbe the interim leader. UDF, analysts noted, started to rebuild itself.
However, the chaos UDF is caught in today can be traced to the beginning in the ambitions of Atupele Muluzi to run for the partyâ€™s presidency.
Atupele began to hold mass rallies across the country; had cards that read â€˜ATUPELE MULUZI 2014 BOMAâ€™.
His popularity created both admirers and critics. The critics argued that it was his father behind the sonâ€™s rise to stardom. They advanced it was Muluziâ€™s quest to run this country again through his son.
Although Muluzi and Atupele have relentlessly refuted this, but the hype of the accusations is just too big.
Jumbe has not hidden his accusations towards Muluzi as a man behind the rifts in the party. Commenting on the convention, especially on the question of funding, Jumbe took Muluzi head-on calling him â€˜an invisible handâ€™ frustrating peace efforts in the party.
â€œIt is not a secret that Bakili Muluzi is the invisible hand that is purportedly funding the convention. What is his interest? Time has come for this invisible hand to be exposed. UDF does not have money, does not have a car, not even a bicycle. They do not even own a computer printer and they talk of K35 million (about $116 666) for the convention?
â€œThey talk of well-wishers. Which well-wishers? If they are well-wishers worth their salt, I should have known them. I am very senior in this party,â€ he said.
Without admitting or denying the allegations, UDF spokesperson Ken Ndanga said it was not known whether Muluzi was funding the convention because the party approached many well-wishers for help.
Future of UDF
Facts to substantiate Jumbeâ€™s allegations are sketchy. So, too, are Ndangaâ€™s.
However, judged from history of how Muluzi has used different means to extend his grip on power, directly or indirectly, it is quite tempting to completely dispel Muluziâ€™s hand in UDF troubles.
Of course, it may not be Muluzi in everything chaotic about UDF; however, despite having retired from active politics, he is still quite central to the party, a man who still commands a lot of respect and admiration from millions.
Definitely, the future of UDF still hinges on Muluzi. He, arguably, still holds a key to the doors of UDFâ€™s peace and prosperity.Â