Updated: Jan 15
Malawi’s troubles are an interminable list of trials and tribulations. An economy in ruins and a society that hangs on the brink of despair need the salvation of nothing but a miracle to get systems back on the trail, and to motivate the reenactment of some sense of citizenship to country. The political sphere smells of disinterest in putting the vices that grip the nation to a lasting halt, and continues to embrace excitement at short-termed enticements that have a better chance at filling private pockets than alleviating the poor. Amidst the dust are low-hanging solutions that await in the neglect of the problem solvers we elevated to the seat by a painful early morning of casting a vote in the hope for change. And, yonder, a church minister at the helm of a political party is being put through the ultimate test.
It’s no longer surreptitious that the cracks in the Malawi Congress Party are nice and fat, and making the management of the party that ushered in independence a filthy unenviable task. A natural divide between diehards and newcomers, entangled with undemocratic tendencies in the party’s leadership that have been staunchly confronted all are causing a level of discomfort Reverend Chakwera probably never experienced in his lifetime of shepherding religious flock. The journey to deliver people out of poverty to the Promised Land of economic prosperity and social progress seems to go by some strange strain of stubborn stamina. And inheriting a party from strings of veteran autocrats is prompting as much problems as his inner tyrant is hustling to let himself loose.
The responsibility that befalls Rev. Chakwera transcends the squabbles in the largest opposition party, which demands that he steers his party back on track in light of the looming general elections. His growing paranoia of his own followership is undoubtedly inspiring a hysterical celebration in the camp of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), whose single greatest fear would have been a ferocious ousting by the MCP in any general election Malawi conducts. With the turbulence at the core of the main opposition party, the DPP has some room to relax while the MCP voluntarily grants the 2019 poll a free pass to a highly disputed incumbent. For many discerning Malawians, the recent developments in the MCP guarantee the perpetuation of single party rule that it had the chance to counterbalance, considering the vacancy of ambition in the United Democratic Front (UDF) that subjects it to servitude to a party once its biggest political nemesis.
We are persuaded to believe Rev. Chakwera has a few unforced errors couched under the power he wields in the running of the new MCP. Prime of these errors is how he has presented the opportunity to dispense an authoritarian style of managing affairs in the highest administrative unit of the party, the National Executive Committee (NEC). After the leadership of Mr. John Z.U. Tembo, a man known to have courted the MCP from its infancy, the party was in desperate need of change. However, among the list of calculated moves the learned Reverend could have played, as a relatively new imposition to an established party elite, was the acquirement of more friends than enemies at the NEC level, while exploiting this vantage point to steadily expose the incompetences and irregularities therein to public judgement.
Instead, he carelessly opted to employ executive authority to hire and fire on elected positions, which are further fragmenting the position of the party both in its structures and in Parliament, and making it easy prey to public scrutiny. It is no surprise that, thanks to a messy NEC meeting on 7 September 2016, General Secretary Gustav Kaliwo, himself a man appointed outside the ballot, rightfully and directly queried the actions of the renowned Reverend on account of legitimacy and political tactic.
The rising tensions brought about by the Reverend’s human resources strategy have effortlessly bred suspicion and contempt among growing factions. One such faction has seen itself aligning with a more influential and financially apt Sidik Mia, who salivates at the thought of leading the party in the near future and will not shy away from any benefit from phenomena that seem to question Rev. Chakwera’s integrity and turf to run the MCP. The rumour of Mr. Mia’s prospects for such a move need not be taken with a grain of salt, considering the history in his past alignment with and circumstances of separation from the then ruling People’s Party. Instead, there were other rumours that bore no factual credibility and ignoring them would have aided much so as not to cut deeper any unintended wounds in the party, such as the alleged arsonist intentions on the offices at the party headquarters. Foresighted leadership would have exhibited sensitivity to the consequences of yielding to such an assertion, which unfortunately has exposed the paranoid fashion of Rev. Chakwera’s management and confirms the party’s subjection to a leadership that does not quite meet the standard.
There’s a third key error on the part of the learned Reverend. His memory has failed him on two accounts. The first of these is the selective compassion he has accorded his leaders. An assault in Chichiri, Blantyre, on Regional officials should have been attended to with some pretense of swiftness to demonstrate impartiality of the highest party office. Instead, Rev. Chakwera has dilly-dallied in holding the perpetrators of the violence to book, and has instead gone to bed with officials who are yet to answer some tough questions of conduct. In the same case, he has shown cold feet at guiding some unruly Regional Chairman. This has consequently earned him some lukewarm exhilaration in comparison to the excitement his party loyalists fondled when he first stepped into office.
The writing on the wall has never been more lucid. With three years to go, the MCP needs to overhaul its leadership. Now. The war within needs a divine hand if the divide is to be reconciled in time to forge an electable Rev. Chakwera, or some other soul, come 2019, and perhaps the calls for a premature convention ought to be heeded. The gulf in the MCP has erased the powerful rhetoric of a man once revered and adored across the nation as the unifying factor in a new era that was to rid the country of injustice, Mrs. Banda’s corruption and the nepotistic tendencies that radiated through Mr. Bingu wa Mutharika’s second term. This constitutes his second account of memory lapse.
It is becoming more convincing that the best hopes of the MCP’s success in national elections no longer lie in Rev. Chakwera’s stewardship. Neither do these hopes lie in the many names in the current configuration of the party’s elite. For real change to happen for the MCP, the party ought to raise a leader that will have to primarily unify its falling structures, restore democracy at home before he or she can preach it to the masses, and yet still have much allure left in them to run a tough campaign.
If all manner of human attempt fails to bring the MCP back to speed, perhaps the hand of the Almighty will be the salvation the good Reverend needs.