It was a rare spectacle during the opening of the 15th National Agriculture Fair in Blantyre yesterday when President Peter Mutharika and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) officials visibly toned down on their recent fierce verbal tirade against political opponents.
The President and Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Joseph Mwanamvekha stuck to their prepared official speeches. The President delivered his address in a mix of Chichewa and English with brief dancing and ululation interludes of DPP women and youth cadets.
On the other hand, firebrand DPP regional governor (South) Charles Mchacha—who in recent months has been critical of the opposition, especially the newly formed United Transformation Movement (UTM) of Vice-President Saulos Chilima and other former DPP national governing council (NGC) members—was mellow.
Barely days after describing Chilima’s outfit as a ‘satanic group’ and rallied people in Mulanje West Constituency against patronising the UTM rally held on Sunday in the area, Mchacha toned down and heaped praises on the Vice-President.
He described Chilima—who quit DPP in June and declared he will challenge his boss, Mutharika, on the presidential ballot in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections—as “a good person” whom Mutharika picked as his running mate in the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections to help run government.
But Mchacha had no kind words for Chilima’s cronies, describing some of them as criminals misleading the Vice-President.
He said: “Ife a DPP timamukonda Chilima, koma anthu omwe amuzungulira ndi akuba, akupha ndipo ndiamene akumusokoneza [We in DPP love the Vice-President Chilima, but he is surrounded with thieves, killers who are misleading him]”
In the past, the President and DPP officials have taken advantage of such official engagements to digress and attack their political rivals, civil society leaders and the independent media.
Reacting to yesterday’s developments, political analysts commended the move as a step towards clean politics and curbing political violence ahead of the elections.
University of Malawi’s Chancellor College political analyst Ernest Thindwa said: “I think Chilima is setting the pace. I think the Chilima factor has been key in promoting issue-based politics. This is good in as far ending political violence is concerned because if party leaders tell their followers that they will not tolerate violence the culture of political violence can stop.”
On her part, Mzuzu-based political commentator and Nation on Sunday columnist Emily Mkamanga said she hoped the trend will continue.
She said: “That is very good, the mudslinging politics doesn’t pay. I think they are trying to copy from other parties who are following clean politics and are attracting a large following. It is a good thing and it is not too late, but we will wait for them to hold their own political rallies and see if they will stick to this script.”
In his address, Mutharika said government is focused on the Shire Valley Transformation Programme which he touted as the biggest irrigation project in southern Africa covering about 43 000 hectares.
He also said government would open an agriculture cooperative bank to help farmers access funds to help move Malawi from subsistence to commercial farming.
Mwanamvekha said the agriculture fair provides a platform for farmers to interact and share ideas, access markets and improve on value addition.