Who would’ve known that Lazarus Chakwera has a middle name and the middle name is Mr. Unpredictable?
But, perhaps, its early days and we must give it a few days before affirming the validity of the middle name, but there are a few political watchers, busybodies and loud loudmouths who could’ve predicted the sixth President recent trick up his sleeve, namely the reinstatement of the popular head of the military, Vincent Nundwe to helm.
The People’s General, as most have christened the returning Malawi Defense Force Commander, had played a sterling role in the country’s recent historic but turbulent history. Sort of larger than life role but truly, for all intents and purposes, one that is heroic.
When the tide started turning against the now vanquished DPP administration, and presidential elections results were rejected by the opposition in that chilly May 2019, Nundwe ensured the military played no partisan role in the long winter of discontent that followed.
When the police, by their own admission, to quote then Inspector General Rodney Jose, were overwhelmed by the mass protests that followed- protests agitating for Mutharika’s ouster and then maligned Malawi Electoral Commission chairperson, Jane Ansah, the military was deployed to the streets to beef up security.
If DPP sympathisers had hoped the boots on the ground would quell the smoldering fire, they would soon be disappointed as the military, unlike the unpopular trigger-happy police, resisted any temptation to use force against the unarmed civilians.
And much to the chagrin of DPP sympathisers and strategists, the protests kept growing and the military kept employing a watchful eye, albeit without firing a single bullet, yet ably restraining the protesters and police from any bloody confrontations.
The effect of the protests is that the courts were forced to be working on their toes and expedite the landmark election case or risk a full blown revolution.
The same military provided security to court premises and judges, who, inevitably, from the laid out evidence, nullified a second-rate election marred with massive irregularities and presided by an Electoral Commission that did little to hide bias
Mutharika, who dismissed the judgment as a judicial coup, snapped: firing the military chief alongside his deputy, as if the judicial coup was a military coup.
Fast forward to September, the new Commander-in-Chief has used the same executive powers to settle a score, most likely, with his vanquished nemesis by reinstating the popular General.
But that doesn’t mean this is all there is to the story. The thing is, this is a break with tradition. Actually, there is no precedence for the President’s actions.
But ordinarily, a General once out of the barracks doesn’t return. Again, as popular as Nundwe is, he was already nearing retirement age and, inadvertently, Chakwera’s detractors would once again pounce on the fact that the President is recalling old guard from retirement at the expense of the young and restless.
In politics, perception is everything, and although this column has previously defended the recall of some retired public servant, the good man from Malembo must be weary of creating a lasting impression that he cannot trust the youth.
But what must worry many a progressive patriot about the whole episode is the message the reinstatement of Nundwe sends a chilling message that the new occupant of plot number one didn’t care much about how Peter Namathanga has handled himself in office.
Indeed, Namathanga, whose face is less known and will never share the level of adoration enjoyed by Nundwe, went on, to DPP’s chagrin, oversee the military’s sterling role in management of the elections that elected Chakwera: securing the ballots and ensuring smooth transfer of power.
Actually, when Mutharika was still rumbling about the elections lacking credibility, and other inaudible and senseless refrains about Justice Chifundo Kachale’s seemingly flawless elections, Namathanga once it was clear the reverend from Malembo was leading in the polls, deployed military personnel to the incoming Commander-in-Chief.
But to address the great injustice done to the popular Nundwe, the commander-in-chief might have created another injustice by treating the equally heroic Namathanga with contempt, like pawn in a game of political chess. Now instead of one General, we have two Generals victimised by bloody politics.