by Chatonda Jembe
Before February 8, my motivation for not voting for the Democratic Progressive Party was unbounded.
There was corruption to begin with, what with President Peter Mutharika being caught in flagrante delicto with K145 million, which was suspected to be proceeds of crime. If APM could be as careless, what mischief were his minions up to?
But then the opposition parties are not necessarily averse to corruption either. Malawi Congress Party (MCP) sowed the seed of corruption; Kamuzu Banda didn't build his multibillion empire by the sweat of his brow, as the Press Trust case demonstrated.
And as the government alleged in a press release last week, MCP vice president Sidik Mia has some explaining to do regarding funds for the construction of roads, which he allegedly stashed in some offshore accounts.
The United Democratic Front (UDF) is operating in the shadows a billion kwacha court case involving long-time leader Bakili Muluzi, father to current leader. Richard Makondi, one of the founders of the UTM Party, has numerous legal troubles — from corruption and impersonating public officers to tax evasion.
The field is not clean. Is APM the better devil?
Then I thought of all the unexplained murders under the DPP — Robert Chasowa, Issah Njauju, Buleya Lule, people with albinism. But MCP's hands are equally bloody. Some people in UTM have the ghost of Chasowa haunting them, just as UDF has Charles Waya’s.
DPP is not the worst of the pack.
Tribalism? It has become the bedrock on which all our political parties are founded and operate.
The economy? Malawi’s is still stuck in the lower rungs over poverty.
What about APM’s uninspirational leadership and his tendency to procrastinate over important decisions of national import. But Lazarus Chakwera is no better. As leader of opposition, he failed to rouse the nation and provide alternative leadership.
His responses to Mutharika’s various State of the Nation addresses can be crystallised into one word he liked to describe APM’s with: Empty. And that how Chakwera has been, empty. Some people can never forgive Chilima for waiting for four years before starting act right. And Atupele Muluzi?
Gone are the inspirational days of Agenda for Change. He is just hanging on to the coattails of a reputation that was forged by his father over a decade ago. He had time to ditch the Mutharika administration, come with a plan and strike out on his own. He chose to hang around. By the time he decided to run, other people had run away with the initiative and he’s playing catch-up. But time is not on his side.
So all things considered, I was inclined towards the DPP. That is, until Mutharika pulled the rabbit out of the hat in the unlikely shape of Everton Chimulirenji.
Now, Chimulirenji is a good bloke, if not just a lame duck. He was elected as MP for Ntcheu North East in 2009. He flew under the radar. He was district governor for Ntcheu. He barely caused a storm. He was re-elected as MP in 2014.
Somewhere in between those periods, he was elected as one three DPP deputy national organising secretaries. Outside of the DPP, he was still largely unknown. Then he became Deputy Defence Minister to Mutharika. He was still unknown. Such a good bloke!
In November 2018, Mutharika appointed him to the Ministry of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development and we should have taken notice of him then. But he failed to distinguish himself there in the manner that his predecessors Patricia Kaliati and Cecilia Chazama did.
Then on February 8, APM plucked Chimulirenji from this relative obscurity and thrust him into the unforgiving glare of public scrutiny. Questions started to fly: Who is he? How good is he?
APM had a vast pool of competent people he could have chosen from. Jean Kalilani has been efficient as minister without being spectacular. Henry Chimunthu Banda has the experience as a minister and head of the legislature.
Justice and Constitutional Minister Samuel Tembenu is youthful, yet efficient. APM also had an array of homeboys to choose from. From Kondwani Nankhumwa and Joseph Mwanamvekha to Henry Mussa and George Chaponda; he had no shortage of running mates. But APM ultimate insult was to sacrifice the greater good of the nation at the altar of tribal convenience.
Apart from satisfying requirement, running mates serve the illusory goal of inclusivity. Left to their own devices, some presidential candidates would prefer to run on their own. But some running mates add value to a presidential race.
Would Bingu wa Mutharika have won decisively in 2009 without the constituency which was beholden to Joyce Banda? Did the choice of Richard Msowoya, who was picked to harness the Northern Region, but even struggled to win in his constituency, contribute to MCP’s humbling in 2014?
In the forthcoming elections, I have made up my mind to not vote for Mutharika on account of his running mate. It was the reason I nearly didn’t vote for Bingu in 2009 over his choice of Joyce Banda, someone whose (lack of) broad-based leadership qualities were wanting, which was vindicated when she failed to guide the nation in the two years of her turbulent, accidental presidency. I only voted for Bingu because I was seduced by his achievements in his first term.
But APM has been abysmal and uninspiring and I had expected his running mate would be a redeeming factor of his lacklustre tenure. But 2014 was never to be repeated. Nothing could have demonstrated APM’s lack of love for this country than his choice of Chimulirenji.
Obviously, Bingu failed this test in 2009 when he picked Joyce Banda; Peter has taken that feat to another level in appointing a man who is best suited to being a constituency governor than a national leader.
In all fairness, Chimulirenji has been Deputy Minister of Defence and one can conclude that Mutharika knows his running-mate better than most.
Did Mutharika see in him competence which none of us can assess from afar? Did he pick because Chimulirenji he is pliant and wouldn’t mount a challenge to him or the tribal hegemony within the DPP when it wants to wrestle power after APM has bowed out?
I was prepared to give Chimulirenji the benefit of the doubt, but having attended one of his rallies and watched various video clips on social media, I’m far from being convinced he is what Malawi needs as Vice President.
At the back of my mind I always think about what if, God forbid, April 2012 comes back again; does Chimulirenji have the mettle to bail the country out of its malaise? Or will he be another Joyce Banda—inept, visionless and tactless? On the evidence of what I known about him, my optimism is at rock bottom.