Updated: Jan 21
8 December is now past. The United Transformation Movement (UTM) Party has had its elective convention and selected its torchbearer. An announcement that was made in June 2018, well-cushioned by Callista Mutharika’s courage to rally a challenge for her brother-in-law’s old-age ambitions to run again for the presidency, has materialized into probably the biggest political reflection of 2018. Peter Mutharika’s second half of 2018 has been muddled with negative adjectives and a cautious awakening, seeing his own teeth blunt at every attempt to devour UTM’s maneuvers.
In the UTM Party, one of President Peter Mutharika’s newest nemeses is past its baby stages and has now grown its own teeth, sharp enough to gnaw on his possible removal from Lilongwe. The UTM not only has a national structure to steer an all-or-nothing campaign for taking control of government from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2019, but also carries young energy in its veins, with its captain Saulos Klaus Chilima on the wheel. If its current momentum is anything to go by, and the troubles in Malawi Congress Party’s (MCP) unending squabbles coming to its aid, the UTM Party has everything before it to potentially meander through to the finish line first.
A firm reality is dawning on Mr. Mutharika that as he breaks a bone in celebration of the birth of the Lord this Christmas, seldom will he cease to wonder if this is not the last time he gets to enjoy a platter at the expense of Malawi’s taxpayers.
As we wind up 2018, though, Mr. Mutharika must face his conscience, that he and his government have been largely responsible for the creation of the UTM, a collective that started out as a movement that poses an exciting revolution against the status quo for many hopeless Malawians. If the UTM is anything to beat in May 2019, the starting point should be why a party could sublime from oblivion to so much fame and likeability in such record time under Mr. Mutharika’s watch.
There’re a number of reasons that explain the evolution of our politics to our current situation. The DPP government sucks at not one thing but many. It sucks at government, wherever among its three branches its people find themselves. It sucks at delivering its promise to taxpayers by creating a bleak economic future for all citizens and a social fabric that is disintegrating into crime, violence and spending public money to punish dissent. The failure of Mr. Mutharika to rebuke his stooges like Ben Phiri brandish a pistol in plain sight is telling of what ambitions of decency and development his vision emboldens for the country. The DPP sucks at bringing development that is unaligned with nepotism and corruption, unable to acknowledge that a fair share of leading national roles are played by those whose eligibility is to have been born of the Lhomwe tribe. It sucks at promoting growth that is void of a rosy economic growth façade created by Bretton Woods institutions, which reeks of little appetite to inspire real growth and development but rather hooks us to forever debt as a nation. It even sucks at making the political past of Kamuzu Banda’s cruelty and Bakili Muluzi’s laissez-faire governance appear more hopeless than the contemporary stagnation we face at its hand.
Instead of learning from the many mistakes that Bingu wa Mutharika made while in his interrupted tenure at State House, the DPP could not resist alienating Vice President Saulos Chilima to the farthest extent possible where the only resolve would be to break free. Of course, Mr. Chilima’s fortunes will not be handed on a silver platter as they did for Joyce Banda in April 2012, but the potential repeat of a scenario of a possible government takeover by Mr. Chilima in May 2019 may have just as devastating an impact on the DPP. Minister Henry Mussa may very well fall in the same dungeon of revealing how uzwezwe reigned havoc in the running of affairs of the country.
But learning seems a distant relation of the people of Bingu’s party. In so much wonder, Malawians have witnessed Mr. Mussa lie in bed with the same party he scolded so much at the confirmation of Bingu’s death in 2012, when he swore before his gods on Zodiak Radio how he would never again let slip such carelessness rule. And resonating across the Party has been the lack of change from the old ways where its rallies’ podiums are synonymous with platforms of castigation for opposition parties and personalities. Even Mr. Mutharika fails to distance himself from the petty spittle his cronies exclaim to unfortunate ears whose hopes for a grander future fade in the perceived fights of behemoths. Mr. Mutharika seems unable to ask his friends like Kondwani Nankhumwa some tough questions on their inexplicable growing wealth for the sake of the future of the Party his brother created.
In a world where information travels more efficiently than before, Mr. Mutharika fails to see the ice-berg his own ship is now more than ever likely to hit in 2019. The worries that confound even the poor in the Lhomwe Belt who live on the doorsteps of such rich DPP brass make their way on WhatsApp and Facebook across the nation instantaneously and make for debate that easily transcends color, creed and ethnicity, especially when shared problems seem more common than distinct. The lack of fear to express oneself remains the biggest virtue democracy brought us in 1993 that will mean social media is not the only place where disgruntledness will be expressed.
Yet there’s also a good chance that the coming in of the UTM has frightened the DPP’s main opposition, the MCP, to the gutter. The UTM can now be counted among the greatest political forces the country will be talking about as it makes its way to the polls in five months’ time. For starters, the UTM has demonstrated the modern virility to challenge the status quo, including embarrassing one George Saonda in Chikhwawa earlier this month, whose only know-how for supporting a Party is to fight DPP’s scorns with a spitfire of castigation from the UTM itself. After Mr. Saonda apologized, it was soothing to many that there may be hope in believing in the possibility of the change UTM promises.
So, even for a Party whose skeletons are clearly apparent, the UTM are on track to continue soaring in winning over the hearts of those who may have always hanged on the margins of DPP and MCP. Although they have had an unproblematic convention unlike AFORD, their homework on fielding parliamentary and local government candidates must be impeccably error-free. Another of UTM’s challenges will be to learn from MCP’s carelessness in handling primary elections. They must equally take advantage of modern technology and information channels, however informal, to ensure that transparency in the upcoming elections is guaranteed in all corners of the country where a vote must not go to waste (see the first article we will publish in 2019). They must take advantage of newly-registered youngsters who have made it through the voter registration and are fed-up with the elders in power today. This means their message must be consistently distinct from the rest.
Living religiously to new principles of conducting politics will make it difficult for Mr. Mutharika to enjoy a succulent steak as we swiftly turn the chapter on 2018. His failures deserve a hard upset, one that must either take him out of Lilongwe or prune his power so much that he will have to deal with a strong opposition so some real work on transforming the country can be done.
No single political Party is better positioned to do this than the UTM at the moment. And Mr. Mutharika must reckon this if he will have a chance at the next election.