Updated: Jan 21, 2020
There were times Malawian airwaves seemed to not have enough of Patricia ‘Akweni’ Kaliati. Barely two years ago, Akweni was quite notable as the government’s Gender Minister and Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Director of Women’s Affairs, lauded for a disposition that caressed carefree – usually empty but untiring – utterances perceived to scare away the ruling Party’s foes. But at the dusk of her active political career with the DPP arose another mouth just as loud, just as foul, and just as female, in the name of Grizelda Jeffrey. In spite of her show of unwavering loyalty to Peter Mutharika and the ruling party, Jeffrey wa Jeffrey (a popular call sign) will face a fight that does not even closely match that which Akweni had to fight in the endless defense of her masters. If 2019 is going to prove an easy ride for Mr. Mutharika, Jeffrey wa Jeffrey’s howl has to be loud enough to jolt the shifting forces powerful enough to swing the electorate toward younger and callous leadership.
The difference this time makes to Jeffrey wa Jeffrey’s current political challenge, as not just the DPP’s gaudiest mouth but also the Party’s General Secretary, is that the calls for younger leadership is one that is not going away any time soon.
Mr. Mutharika is old. And he belongs to an age in Malawi where birthdates have unsurprisingly been determined by approximations more than educated precision. If we go by the official information we find in a number of places, his birth year of 1940 puts the man’s age at some astounding 78 years today, which assures him to celebrate his 79th only just two months into the next term should Malawians hand him the baton to rule another five years. Again, if Jeffrey wa Jeffrey succeeds to lead the DPP into government next year, Mr. Mutharika will be (we think) more of an unlikely formidable and, particularly, feeble eighty-four-year-old at the end of his second term. Of course, the exigencies of governance, according to Goodall Gondwe, another proven antique spectre filling the space at the Finance and Planning Ministry, require that ruling is left in the hands of the elders rather than the inexperienced youth.
The DPP is in such a bad place vis-à-vis the earsplitting calls for Mr. Mutharika’s road to a relatively early pension life after tasting single-term rule, which is being worsened by intra-party voices that see a clear choice for the Presidency in the younger, and so far, seemingly disciplined bureaucrat in the name of Saulos Chilima, Malawi’s Vice President. Some of these voices may seem to carry little weight for Mr. Chilima’s persuasion to the leadership of Bingu’s Party to the polls in May 2019, such as the ostensibly God-given comedy-inclined stunts of Boni Kalindo, Malawi’s musician and comedian who somehow carried the little confidence that enough voters had in him into our Parliament. But Mr. Kalindo is loud, really loud. And the alternative message he offers to voters in Mulanje District, where Mr. Mutharika would naturally face minimal problems, being one of his strongest bases, may be swaying enough for those who have consciously felt the suffering out of dwindling livelihoods during the current regime.
Yet, the news that has reverberated across the nation and beyond is the weighty support that Callista Mutharika, old Bingu’s widow and obviously Peter Mutharika’s sister-in-law, is publicly giving to Mr. Chilima. In Ms. Jeffrey’s parlance, Mrs. Mutharika’s fyofyonyo! fyofyonyo! about her brother-in-law’s unsuitability must not be heeded, as it only carries ill-willed noise that can best be intended for covering up her boss’ great achievements in the past four years. But Mrs. Mutharika’s stance sends shockwaves to the devout followership of the DPP, and reasonable shock to the regular Malawian voters who must now suspect there is more to her courage than meets the eye. It is a shake-up that the DPP cannot ignore, and one they must tread on with extreme caution if they can avert any probable scandals, should some of the Party’s easily excited hooligans want to take matters in their own hands directly at Mrs. Mutharika or the very sober and non-reactive Mr. Chilima.
This website, in our lament of Malawi’s tendency to follow the serenity of the elders over the physical and mental agility of younger leadership, published our 2017 Independence Day article (click here for the article) on this very topic and demonstrated the starting point of the Mutharika brothers, an average of 73 years of age on entry into duty, as having been the highest so far. And yet, according to Mr. Gondwe, Mr. Mutharika can – again – be entrusted with the lives of 17 million Malawians only by virtue of Mr. Mutharika’s younger age relative to his. And, although in the memory of many Malawians, the image of Hastings Kamuzu Banda is frequently one of a really old man, Kamuzu Banda’s age on entry on duty as Prime Minister in 1964 was (approximately) 58. In other words, Kamuzu Banda entered on duty twenty years younger than we will usher Mr. Mutharika into office, should we be persuaded by Ms. Jeffrey’s loudness to do so next May.
Malawi should perceive the growing movement towards younger leadership as an opportunity to try something new, something we have almost never really tried before beyond Bakili Muluzi’s first election at 51 years old. Although Mr. Muluzi’s rule did not amount to much even at such a tender age, we must not shy away from going for younger. A soothing realization about youthful leadership for us remains that we have never really courted with it insofar as leadership in the highest government office is concerned. At the same time, we must not be confused that only Mr. Chilima is most suitable to take the mantle from Mr. Mutharika for his current term’s role as Veep – for the truth is that, while he has shown strong bureaucratic stature, Mr. Chilima’s political stamina is untested and may itself possibly prove to be detrimental and regrettable. Neither should we think the favor rests in the young Mr. Muluzi, for many known reasons questioning his integrity.
Regardless, whether it is Mr. Chilima or Mr. Muluzi that would eventually make it to Kamuzu Palace, or any other with the right combination of attributes (our readers may recall our article on Ms. Juliana Lunguzi in April 2017), new and younger leadership must not be feared. Younger leaders must be tried and nurtured to govern appropriately for Malawi’s future, as a potentially effective way of managing the complex challenges facing an already very young nation. The murmurs of Mr. Gondwe and many DPP cronies, under Jeffrey wa Jeffrey’s dangerous stewardship, are themselves mostly made by people of quite some age. Their urge to support Mr. Mutharika is scarcely in the spirit to safeguard the interest of the country before the luxuries demanded by an old man, and the protection of those closest to him that lavish in wealth at the detriment of the poor, again, many of whom make up Malawi’s young population.
For want to sound included on the list of staunch advocates for youthful political leadership in Malawi, we beseech fellow Malawians to get louder and braver than Jeffrey wa Jeffrey in calling for an age reconfiguration to our leadership. We must move beyond youth-responsive leadership towards leadership made up of youths themselves. It is our only chance!