Jean-Philippe and I spent the whole of last week reading the Commission of Inquiry report into the death of president Bingu wa Mutharika. We chose not to drive, but to walk about to permit our minds to wander and ponder. We agreed not to take anything haram and we stuck by the decision. We decided to savour the Kawiya-Durban-Chipelembi shoreline.
“Why is this shoreline called Durban-Chipelembi?” Jean-Philippe asked as we walked towards the mouth of the Lweya River near the Chinthechi lagoon.
“Legend has it that many people who left this area for Durban-Natal in South Africa compared this shoreline to the Durban one.”
“Have you been to Durban yourself?”
“Neither have I, but from the pictures of Durban I have seen, I can agree with those who compare the two shorelines,” Jean-Philippe said.
“If I had money I would spend some days there.”
“I will be going back to France soon. When I come back I will take you down South Africa.”
When we got to the mouth of the Lweya River, we started walking up its southern bank. It was a quiet and hot afternoon. Except for the sound of the constant flow of water in the river which was punctuated by an occasional high as lake Malawi did what it has done for centuries, all was quiet.
“Does this river not harbour crocodiles?”Jean-Philippe asked.
“You want to catch one?”
“It was a warning against us getting too close to the river. Crocodiles are known to leap at their prey.”
“Thanks for the reminder.”
We then found a sand dune and sat upon it, facing Lake Malawi. Likoma and Chizumulu Islands could only be seen faintly. We stayed quiet for sometime as both of us were lost in our individual worlds.
“There are things in the report that I don’t understand, “Jean-Philipp said, disturbing my reverie into my youth days, when we used to go up and down the river in rickety canoes in search of the Sanjika fish.
“Which report?” I asked.
“The probe into circumstances surrounding your late president’s sudden death,” Jean-Philippe reminded me.
“Okey. What do you understand?”
“I understand how negligent some people who were supposed to look after him were. I also understand how the top government and political officials panicked because they knew the Malawi constitution did not give anyone of them a chance to assume presidential powers. I equally understand how double-faced some officials were.”
“So, what don’t you understand?”
“I don’t understand why the family of the late president wanted his body to be embalmed for a century when they knew that he would be buried.”
“I don’t know either. I can only guess that they wanted to outdo Kamuzu Banda whose body was embalmed for 75 years from 1997.”
“Has anybody ever seen Banda’s body since 1997?”
“I have no idea. What else don’t you understand?”
“The entire report says Mrs Joyce Banda had left the ruling party, but last year I heard that she had been fired.”
“It must have been a slip of the brain.”
Jean-Philippe smiled. I then explained to him that since independence Malawi’s presidents have wanted to keep power to themselves as life presidents or through zombie proxies. When Bakili Muluzi became president, the UDF first vice-president was by-passed and someone else became Muluzi’s vice-president. When his time to leave came, Muluzi made sure that neither the party’s vice-president nor the state vice-president replaced him so that the UDF could stay in power.
“Muluzi picked Mutharika who won the 2004 election with Cassim Chilumpha as running mate. Mutharika, too, made sure his deputy never touched or came close to anything called presidential power. After the 2009 election, Mutharika made sure that what happened to Chilumpha happened to Mrs Joyce Banda.”
“A vice-president replaces the president constitutionally; not accidentally,” Jean-Philippe said.
“Politicians forget to love and respect their deputies.”