One of the people who are supporting UDF president Atupele Muluzi’s Agenda For Change is Thoko Banda, who has worked in the diplomatic service for a long time. Political Index talks to Banda to find out what motivated him to join Atupele, and other issues.
Q: Apart from being the son of political heavyweight the late Aleke Banda, who is Thoko Banda?
Thoko Banda is just simply another Malawian who believes, passionately, that privileges of wealth and education and global exposure and other fortunes are privileges of solemn responsibility to help provide all other citizens with meaningful opportunities to live in more dignifying socioeconomic circumstances. I was born into privilege, as you well know. However, at seven I experienced the first taste of what it feels like to be persecuted. At 15 I lived the reality of being ostracised in my own country, when my father was sent to detention for standing up in principled opposition to the excesses of the politically powerful. I have been a refugee in a foreign land, with opportunities to pursue fame and fortune but instead, as soon as I graduated from university I opted to forgo law school, in favour of moving to D.C. so I could dedicate all of my time and education and energies to help free Malawi from one party dictatorship. Indeed, I returned home three months after we won our democracy in May 1994, having formally represented the UDF as its representative in “the free world.” I have learned from, and counselled, leaders of many nations and corporations, on four continents and over almost three decades. I know what it feels like to be at the bottom of society. I know what it feels like to be at the top. I am proud to be Aleke Banda’s son and to have learned statesmanship, integrity, humility and industriousness from such a great man, from such a great father. Similarly, I feel deeply humbled that my own father often expressed his pride at his being able to seek and trust my counsel. I teach leadership to young university students because I believe that the only way this world of ours will heal, the only way this country of ours will develop out of poverty, is if young people sharpen their expertise and start contributing to the discussions and to the leadership of our country, instead of playing second fiddle to those who have tried and failed (some miserably). I am simply a Malawian who believes we can do better as a nation.
Q: Why have you chosen UDF of all 46 parties registered in the country?
I have been in communication with my brother Atupele for some years now. I have come to know him well and now believe that he genuinely does want to open this country to a new political maturity, one that respects the dignity of our people instead of talking down at people as is traditional in some other major parties. I respect that Atupele is making concerted efforts to encourage an inclusive dialogue, demonstrating a willingness to listen to diverse opinions. While some are effectively trying to buy, yes, “buy” voters by dishing out maize, and others are stalling in offering possible ways forward, this young man has stepped up and offered to facilitate a serious discussion on where and how to take this country from here onwards. Naturally, we still have almost a year until the campaign season officially begins, but if the UDF will follow the clarion call of its new young leader, then clearly this will be a positive development for party politics in Malawi.
We all know the excesses, in recent memory, of the Bingu regime. I trust that if Bingu’s successor in the party is serious about “change” they too will join our agenda so we can take this country to a genuine, sustainable and viable functioning democracy. The MCP are sticking to the very old John Tembo to set their standard. Atupele Muluzi’s UDF are the only major party that is serious about engaging young Malawians and being inclusive and transparent from the beginning.
As for your question about there being 46 registered parties in this country, a country of only 14 million citizens, only possibly less than half of whom are of voting age: Pardon my candour, but, I believe this is because party politics in Malawi is too dominated by self-interest by individuals and, some would say, by ethnicity considerations. If parties were to be defined purely by broad ideology, be it political and/or economic ideology, the left-to-right political spectrum would facilitate a far smaller number of parties or, at most, a small number of coalitions united for electoral and governance prospect by shared ideology regardless of the individual heading the party and regardless of factors of ethnicity.
This too is an aspect of our political maturity (as a nation) that should be open for discussion so that we leave politics of personality behind and instead focus on the fundamental needs of the people of this country.
Q: Some people think you are scheming to be Atupele Muluzi’s running mate. What specific role are you going to play in UDF?
I would suggest that this is really a time to focus on the issues that can best halt the disintegration of our country’s economy, on matters that can best re-inspire our people to believe that things can get better, to focus on ways and means for providing quality health care, quality houses, jobs, education and the like—for the 14 million citizens of this country who are under such undignifying burdens, its beyond sad. It is a time for thinking in terms of, first, coming up with new policies that can help the people, throwing out old policies that have repeatedly failed to alleviate the poverty of the majority of Malawians. Surely you would agree that only after the policies are identified, only after the policy priorities are clearly articulated and agreed upon, only then should people be asking who should do this job and who should do that other job.
So, to answer your question more directly, no—I am not motivated by any desire to be the running mate. Instead, I am as committed as I hope every Malawian too would be committed, to consider serving the people in whatever capacities they would want me to serve if they so freely expressed. I am scheming to help Atupele Muluzi ensure that all Malawians participate in the policy-making process, via the planned June Policy Conference and via other activities. I am scheming that young Malawians, formally educated professionals as well as those who have not been able to study enough formally… all Malawians should become energised and excited and engaged in building a new political reality in Malawi, a new fresh political maturity which has thus far been obviously lacking. I want to help people like Atupele who want Malawians to take responsibility and ownership of our country and its future direction. Just as I helped, within the Constitution, end dictatorship in Malawi, I intend to help end, within the Constitution, the current incompetent government. To this end I am committed.