The Anti-Corruption Bureau’s (ACB) arrest on Wednesday of George Chaponda—the former Agriculture Minister and some say still powerful vice-president (Southern Region) of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)—must have sent the party of President Peter Mutharika into disarray.
Even the President’s agenda—whatever it is or what is left of it—is being distracted by the drama that is Chaponda, who is also Mulanje South West Member of Parliament (MP).
The Ivy League trained lawyer turned politician—alongside two businesspersons Rashid Tayub of Transglobe Produce Export Limited and Grace Mijiga Mhango, who also chairs the Grain Traders and Processors Association of Malawi—were on Wednesday arrested in connection with alleged corrupt practices during the procurement of maize at the height of a food shortage crisis that gripped the country last year.
But as DPP and Mutharika watch the Chaponda horror movie in slow motion, the leading opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) is consolidating its political base and expanding its electoral map with a series of high profile recruits and endorsements.
Just last weekend, MCP president Lazarus Chakwera breezed through the Lower Shire to welcome Sidik Mia, a political giant in the sub-region who, for decades, has been a political godfather in the Sena Belt for the United Democratic Front (UDF), People’s Party (PP) and even DPP itself.
Not only does Mia have the political muscle in the Lower Shire to provide swing votes in a tight election, some say the rancher has the financial muscle that could be the difference between a well-oiled political machine and a rusty one.
DPP may smear him as having bought his way into MCP for whatever end game their strategic geniuses may have conjured up, but the fact is that Mia’s joining the main opposition party achieves three things apart from winning over a political giant.
First, it projects MCP as a party with national appeal; the fact that the party can also tap into the nostalgic romance that grouping had with the sub-region when their beloved Gwanda ‘Mbuya’ Chakwamba was MCP leader, does not hurt either. Second, the Mia narrative gives MCP more momentum than any other party around, including DPP as the campaign season inches closer.
Whether MCP can ride this momentum long enough to make a difference in the next general election is a different subject all together. But in politics momentum can never be underestimated.
Third, the high profile Mia joining MCP perpetuates the storyline that the old party is so well rebranded that it is the party of choice now.
Already, several politicians with national name recognition appear to be flocking to MCP while few, if any, prominent leaders are gravitating towards DPP—the party in power that should otherwise be the one attracting the best political talents around. With this favourable political environment for MCP, the Chaponda drama is the icing on the cake for them—a political gift that keeps on giving to the largest opposition block.
The Chaponda folder gives MCP and Chakwera devastating talking points against Mutharika and his DPP as the opposition party goes about parading new catches across the country.
Chaponda remains innocent until proven guilty, but in the court of public opinion, he may be looked at as the poster child of everything that is wrong with the ruling party.
Innocent or guilty, Chaponda—fairly or unfairly—is being portrayed as the microcosm of the leadership rot that the DPP has bestowed on the country and its resultant under-development.
I mean, the anger of ordinary people who gathered at ACB offices in Blantyre on Wednesday and outside Blantyre Police Station in the commercial capital on Thursday points to a wider problem for the DPP that goes beyond the allegations against Chaponda—the whole party, and its leadership, has been smeared.
When it comes to the President’s agenda, it goes without saying that it is in peril. Mutharika is preparing to show-case development projects executed under his administration nationwide, including the latest water supply system for Chitipa in the Northern Region.
That should have been a political seller, but the ongoing Chaponda drama will surely overshadow it.
With so much noise around the Chaponda issue, DPP and the administration will find it hard to be heard and get their message through.
Meanwhile, opposition’s bashing of what they may characterise as DPP-linked corruption will be in vogue—it is a sexy storyline.
It is also a good subject in pubs, at weddings and—yes—at funerals.