Updated: Jan 21
It’s safe now to say the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has more contenders to fear beyond the threat the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) posed in the running for the fast-approaching general elections. Since Masintha happened a week ago, the need to pull the straps and brace for the rather unkind reality of incumbents no longer easily pulling through elections became more apparent for Peter Mutharika’s party. With little stimulus to call for it, even Nicholas Dausi changed a notch in a post-Masintha radio interview where he alleges Saulos Chilima and the Movement have not only called the DPP thieves but also “a Pumbwa.” It must be noted that when Mr. Dausi courts the mother tongue in dislike for opposition, it is a clear signal of great drama to unfold. Furthermore, even the MCP must realize that the Mia card is no longer the formidable strategy it once was and should be pondering long and hard on a new and more aggressive strategy to win.
But Mr. Chilima must be careful in his bid to “transform” Malawi. At Njamba, a rather overzealous speaker poetically indulged in songs of praise for the United Transformation Movement (UTM) leader, thankful for the salvation the befalls Malawians today. It is in both the tone which his supporters mention his name as well as the regalia that they clad themselves in that one begins to sense the extent to which Malawians easily idolize a single individual. Even while Mr. Chilima has expressly conveyed his interest to see a democratic process in the election of a candidate for the UTM and the establishment of comprehensive political structures, his passive admission of having his face patched on the t-shirts, blouses and zitenje his followers are proudly parading and dancing in feels like an admission of what a symbol he would enjoy becoming. And while transformation is the one major aspiration all of us, regardless of whom we have tagged behind, have anticipated since the ouster of Kamuzu Banda in the early 1990s, this website seems to cautiously note the political trap that may be leading the young presidential candidate towards.
The quick disclaimer that may very well be the line advanced by the youthful movement behind him themselves is likely to invoke our glorious cultures and traditions as the foundations of this norm. One needs to go into no trouble questioning the historical justification, as it is easy to note how all of Malawi’s leaders seem to have the unquestioned entitlement to enjoying a larger-than-life dose of adoration and reverence by the people, from Mbumba za Kamuzu, to Amayi a Bingu, to Young Democrats. Mr. Chilima, however, still has the sole opportunity now to coin his own branding for these stooges or court better reason to in it all.
One must realize the changes that multipartyism brought to the role of party followers in energizing rally morale, to which, for the thirty years of Kamuzu’s rule, was an obligation that had to be conformed regardless of the existence of other forms of superior beings they worshipped or not. The informal employment of party zealots became a behavioral shift crafted in the time of Bakili Muluzi and perfected by his successors, which significantly changed the platform on which politics was going to be run from then on. In part, it would define entry barriers into politics, as these political structures grew in size and complexity, making it difficult for political entrants with meagre mobilization talents and finances to survive electoral campaigns. In Mr. Chilima’s case, money does not appear to be an impediment if one must gauge the investments already made in the branding of the UTM. But as stated above, it may be the very factor that may make his possible running indistinguishable from the rest insofar as the traits of his enjoying being idolized is concerned.
According to this website, the risks that Mr. Chilima faces have historically affected all other major political parties, which have relied on the face, charisma and stamina of one individual. Taking the Mutharika name as an example, the maintenance of party ruffians comes not only at a financial cost to the DPP. On the one hand, it creates the dependency of this segment of party personnel on the individual leader in maintaining the status quo, which is a major assurance for keeping open the taps of frequent flows of cash as political rallies that Malawi seems to run non-stop from one general election to the next continue. On the other hand, it fuels the endless praise for party figures for the sake of keeping them warm and comfortable while everyone else and their grandfather are able to live off party resources.
Before we are back to this as the norm the UTM claims it would rather like to see abolished, Mr. Chilima has the sole opportunity to put a stop to the painting of his godly image on Malawi’s politics. At the same time, it is imperative to keep in mind the role of other central characters in the open challenge to the Mutharika regime. For instance, it took the gut of Callista Mutharika to turn around mindsets that dared not call Mr. Mutharika out for his limitations that are amplified by his advanced age. Yet, the narrative that continues to make the rounds make Mr. Chilima’s proverbs famous while slowly pushing Mrs. Mutharika’s courage into oblivion. Callista Mutharika’s face may never make it to any piece of cloth the UTM will print for its political functions.
Even more, heavyweights such as the once DPP cream of Noel Masangwi, Patricia “Akweni” Kaliati and others certainly have more to lose by dumping political parties that were once synonymous with their names. These characters have made sacrifices larger than any Mr. Chilima, already a stranger to the DPP since his first
day on the 2014 campaign trail, will ever have to make and are making the UTM a believable enterprise as such operatives create the believable impression that the DPP may really be faulty machinery.
Mr. Chilima is the only one who has the power, and hopefully reason, to put a halt to the nonsense that his cadres are blubbering on political podiums. Like Joyce Banda once had the opportunity to change the country, his opportunity is in present and his following may be real. If he will convince Malawians that no single soul is responsible for change in Malawi, he must first challenge the people with whom he shares the UTM stage with. He must demonstrate that his is a different agenda from DPP’s and MCP’s. He must show us there can be change beyond the changing of faces.
His first test lies in whether he heeds to what this article contains and any other voices of wisdom that may blow his way.