They want to lead us. But do they have the acumen? In an attempt to understand them better, lets look at how the four major parties conducted themselves in 2013.
Today, 1 January 2014, is not just a beginning of a new year in Malawi. It is an epochal day marking the end and the beginning of Malawi’s half-century of self- rule.
Willie Chokani, Malawi’s first black minister of Labour, witnessed the beginning and understood the philosophy of the journey.
“We had to rid off colonialists because they were in Malawi not to develop Malawians but themselves and also support industries in their mother nations. We wanted to take over to help in the development of our people,” he says.
It has been a long journey. But looking at the distance covered, compared to nations we started the journey with, Malawi, development-wise, still has so far to go.
Take Mauritius for instance. A complete agricultural nation, Mauritius entered independence a poor and a ‘hopeless’ nation. Malawi was far ahead of it.
Today, Mauritius, not Malawi, is a symbol of Africa’s renewal boasting one of the world’s well-managed economies.
In fact, just last week, CNN rated Malawi as the world’s second worst economy. That came barely four months after a think-tank argued that at the ‘level of Malawi’s development, it will take 77 years to fully develop’. Even the recent 2012 Human Development Report is all glum: Malawi ranking 166 out of 177.
What has been problem?
Development experts have been forthright.
“Our post-colonial experience has been a tale of a cycle of leadership failure. Instead of having leaders, we have been purged by rulers bent on nothing but primitive accumulation,” says Wiseman Chijere Chirwa, professor of social and economic history at Chancellor College.
He is not the only one.
“Let’s examine our leaders. In a country deemed too poor, how come everybody who gets close to the ruling elite gets rich quickly? There is something acidic about leadership in Malawi that frustrates the country’s attempt to develop,” says Joseph Chunga, a political researcher with the Centre for Social Research in Zomba.
It is debatable, of course. But there appears a strong feeling that until the philosophy of those who forms government changes, the story of underdevelopment in Malawi will live forever.
Coincidentally, four months from today, Malawi will hold tripartite elections to elect leaders to lead it in the next five years. Will these elections help Malawi to enter the next half-century with hope? Or it will be a continuation of the failed past?
In an interview with The Nation, governance specialist Dr Henry Chingaipe argued that there is none among the four major parties—DPP, UDF, MCP and PP—that can boast, out rightly, to carry the day.
So, depending on how they conducted themselves in 2013, which of the four parties has shown the leadership characteristics Malawi needs to enter the next half-century with hope—not false hopes as before?
MCP: failing to take off?
Malawi Congress Party (MCP) entered 2013 stuck in internal bickering.
It was a bickering rooted from the party’s quest to rebrand into a modern and national party against John Tembo’s continued grip on power—the potent symbol of the party remaining in the hated past.
Holding an honest convention, experts argued, was the answer. When that convention was nigh, the expectation was that it will be a show of two giants: former secretary general Chris Daza and veteran John Tembo on the seat of the presidency. It never happened.
Reverend Lazarus Chakwera fell from the sky, and with delegates barring Tembo from contesting at the convention in August, the game was changed. It became everybody’s game, and Chakwera, with a landslide victory, carried the day.
The challenge Chakwera faced was not just to, quickly, consolidate the party’s fragmented base of the Central Region. The party, since the fall of Gwanda Chakuamba in 2003, could hardly reasonate with Malawians from the Southern and Northern regions.
However, five months in office, and with four months to elections, it is debatable if Chakwera is on track in regaining the lost Central Region vote and also making MCP a national party.
Analysts faulted Chakwera’s failure to incorporate fallen presidential aspirant Lovemore Munlo into the National Executive Committee (NEC) who comes from the Southern Region, at the same time, incorporating more from Central Region, as a symbol of being stuck in the ‘old’ MCP philosophies.
Not only that. Others have also argued that his continued association with John Tembo and again the exit of secretary general Chris Daza, who for long had been critical of Tembo, symbolises MCP’s failure to break from the old.
However debatable, it is fact that the national hype Chakwera enjoyed in August just winning the MCP presidency has dwindled, and it continue to do so, with some even mocking if he is still around and interested in the presidency.
But beyond that, his integrity and clean record—something many argue is the attribute Malawi needs—still resonates with thousands in the country.
DPP: From Mutharika to Mutharika
The former ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) entered 2013 with news of some leaving the party and others returning to it. In other words, they began the year with an intact popularity: neither moving forward nor backward.
However, what defined DPP in 2013 was not the question of the convention which was organised just to endorse the Bingu Wa Mutharika appointed brother, Arthur Peter Mutharika.
Rather, the character of Peter—the man behind a party which, with a rich history of reducing food shortages despite their reign of complete tyranny and terror, has the potential to return to power.
Peter, not married and again with his family story an obscure, still remains an enigma to millions. Enjoying the blessing of his brother who eliminated everybody deemed to pose opposition, Peter, majestically and without proving his leadership mettle, got hold to power long before the convention.
“He has the resources, is educated and also he has the connections,” said DPP Southern Region governor Noel Masangwi.
In a pointer of what he can do when given power, he flew on presidential planes to Mzuzu, he bulldozed Lilongwe City officials to buy houses at lower rates and also was part of those that bought Malawi Housing Corporation (MHC) houses at rates way below market value, just to mention a few.
In fact, Peter, and many other senior party officials, has spent much time in 2013 not on political podiums but in jails and court-rooms. If it was not on sedition, then it was a governor dragging them to court for defying a court order.
Arguably, at the height of DPP is another Mutharika, an internationally acclaimed law professor implicated in various corruption and abuse of office scams and, even worse, answering sedition charges in court.
UDF: From Muluzi to Muluzi
Since Bakili Muluzi’s failure to rule for life through the Third and Open term bids in 2003, he has never wanted to retire and leave United Democratic Front (UDF) to other key influential members of the party.
He handpicked Bingu to lead the party on the pretext that he will still be in control of government machinery.
When that failed, Muluzi, hopeful that he will sail through a constitutional flaw, chose himself to be UDF’s candidate in 2009 elections, and when the Electoral Commission (EC) trashed his greed, he, bypassing all others in the party, dragged the party into a bizarre coalition with MCP. It never worked.
His raging dream to get to power, or close to it, was down but not out. Even when in December 2009 he feigned retirement and ‘left’ the party in the hands of Friday Jumbe, trouble began to brew in the party as Muluzi’s son, Atupele, through his undefined Agenda for Change , started to express ambition of leading UDF.
Frustrated and dazed, most heavyweights left the party to the young Atupele. Though not qualified to contest at the 2012 convention because he was not yet 35 as required by UDF Constitution, he managed to influence delegates at the convention to change the law so that he stands and, just like Peter in DPP, gets endorsed as UDF leader. It happened.
So the rest of 2013, UDF has spent much of the time rebuilding itself. The rebuilding, arguably, looked more as a stage play written and directed by Muluzi senior, but acted by the young Muluzi and others. For sure, this represents a continuation of the senior Muluzi’s dream not to let the party far from him.
However, though still stuck in the web of Muluzi senior dreams, UDF, with Atupele, still has a youthful appeal that some feels represents the change Malawi needs.
How that will help in taking Malawi to a prosperous next half-century is a question Atupele needs to explain. So far, he has not.
PP: Entangled in scandals
After having been booted out of DPP, Joyce Banda formed People’s Party (PP) as a medium of wooing masses to support her dream of leading Malawi in 2014. It was a long term dream cut short by Mutharika’s death in 2012.
Caught between the challenges of reorganising an almost fallen economy she inherited and also strategising for 2014 elections, Banda had to prove her leadership mettle in resolving the puzzle. But the year 2013 proved to the contrary.
Her administration has been, and continues to be rocked with various waves of multi-billion plunder of public resources. So worse that the international goodwill she enjoyed has began to slip from her hand. Equally disheartening has been her tenacious domestic and foreign travels which, to many, symbolises extravagance on her leadership.
Unarguably, Banda’s government is getting into 2014 burdened by financial scams that question her capacity to lead.
So who has the acumen to lead Malawi? Malawians will decide. Othewise, all is well, after May 19, that ends well.