Two limousines, each flying a black cock flag Malawians declined 20 years ago. A convoy under ceaseless hooting in support of the newest big thing on the country’s political scene. With political parties jostling for voters ahead of next year’s tripartite elections, it was discernible how Malawi Congress Party (MCP) presidential candidate Lazarus Chakwera’s maiden rally in the South turned Blantyre Central Business District into a savannah, with people abandoning their errands to marvel at people garbed in anything symbolising the rebirth of the country’s longest serving party.
As early as 2.30pm, the resurgence of reverence and unanswered questions were unmistakable at the core of the commercial city as the MCP torchbearer made his inaugural appearance in the Southern Region, arguably the stronghold of the ruling People’s Party (PP) and its forerunners, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and United Democratic Front (UDF).
“Chakwera is our winning card,” bragged MCP spokesperson Jolly Kalelo in passing at a restaurant near Protea Hotel where Chakwera was gearing up for the day of reckoning.
Nothing describes Chakwera better than the new breath of hope, with some embracing him as the difference between the old order that ended with his predecessor John Tembo.
Augustine Magolowondo, a political analyst based at the Institute for Multiparty Democracy, supported this view on August 10 when the party elected Chakwera. Then, Magolowondo told Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS), the prized outcome of the convention which elevated Chakwera was not the rebuff of the party’s long time leader Tembo but that members had elected to uphold its constitution as a sacred document guiding the affairs in the current dispensation.
Ironically, what had began as Chakwera’s triumphant voyage at the four-star hotel transitioned into a day of small things at the ultimate venue of the political encounter—a clearing in the unkempt woods which characterise Njamba Freedom Park where parties are subjected to an acid test.
For those who believe in numbers, Chakwera, who attracted just about 5 000 people and queues of cars, must re-strategise to win the backing of the region his predecessor John Tembo last visited in the run up to 2009 presidential and parliamentary elections—along with UDF founding leader Bakili Muluzi at that.
Chakwera’s audience at the venue might have been abysmal if compared to thousands upon thousands that followed his UDF counterpart Atupele Muluzi to the same venue soon after his election last year. However, the MCP leadership seemed to find solace in the realisation that this was no import. Actually, all people who spoke before the party’s supremo tended to acknowledge the low turnout with a phrase that could be paraphrased in these few words: “Glad you came because of your heartfelt love for the party, not because we sent you a lorry as our colleagues do.” This was subtly an awakening call for other parties which thrive on ferrying supporters from far and wide.
However, the problem of mobile audience just proves how figures can lie in politics. There is hardly one answer to simple arithmetic in the game of power.
“20 years of learning”
However, Chakwera’s new sermon on Malawi politics seemed to have made good of his party’s stark failure to fill every inch of the vast venue, some sort of an acid test of the party’s worthiness in the multiparty dispensation.
Chakwera prefers calling it “20 years of learning”.
“The 20 years of democracy have been like school, tertiary education. Now, the party is sure the future will be different from our past,” he said, amid applauses from the scanty audience.
Chakwera’s newness largely rests in the calmness with which he articulates them. And his wide-ranging agenda boils down to one word: Change.
“If you play a new game by old rules, it is easy to blame the referee if you are caught offside. We want to play a new game by new rules,” he said.
And his game, he says, is to break the vicious cycle of poverty, the politics of taking six backward steps for every forward leap.
Chakwera’s speeches brim with calculated carefulness that shatter the myths that the country is cursed to be ruled by a few elites at the top. He reckons the country is blessed with the potential, intelligent people and plentiful resources to become what its citizens wish.
It is almost a cliché talking about the country’s potential; and Chakwera and those vying for positions in next year’s polls will be judged by how they close the gap between talk and action.
Action, the change emanating from clearly spelt out policies and focused implementation, can help end poverty, probably the most stubborn jinx that has been haunting Malawi for 49 years since the country’s independence in 1964 shattered colonial efforts towards a federation of Nyasaland (now Malawi) with the two Rhodesias (now Zimbabwe and Zambia).
For he says: Like MCP [under Banda’s leadership] broke the chains of the federation, let us break the shackles of poverty.
“Only MCP knows how to solve problems besetting Malawians,” Chakwera says.
It is easy for politicians to say they are best-placed to end problems affecting the people, but how exactly they are going to achieve their grand dreams is often treated as secondary to sugar-coated generalities and attacks on their contender. In this regard, Chakwera, who resigned as president of the Assemblies of God Church this year, urges MCP members to tone down on bickering or insulting their competitors. Much to the relief of those who were shocked by ruling PP’s Uladi Mussa, who is also Minister of Security, that mudslinging is part of politics, the MCP leader wants the party membership to summon their energies and concentrate on finding specific means of ending poverty.
The shift from name-calling and other offensive ways of campaigning echoes the principle of clean politics for development, which underpins Atupele Muluzi’s Agenda for Change.
Gazing at youth carrying placards glorifying his name, Chakwera said: “All MCP members, including the Youth Morale need to be productive. They should not throw away their dignity by badmouthing each other or dancing bare-breasted in party colours.”
The former clergyman urged the country to make agriculture business because Malawians cannot continue living on chakudya cha lero (hand-to-mouth) alone.
“We must not just live on today’s food, for what will we do when a food disaster strikes?” he asked.
Other highlights of the rally included plans to harness people’s views to come up with lasting solutions to poor access to clean water, decent housing and reliable energy.
By restricting himself to national issues, Chakwera did one thing differently. However, he needs to get into the specific approaches of how he envisages to achieve his broader goals to woo the majority that shunned his sermon at Njamba.