After 26 years in the wilderness, Malawi’s oldest political party is bouncing back to power under the leadership of a former pastor. Just who is LAZARUS CHAKWERA, the man leading the resurrection and now presumptive Malawi president, and how did we get here? GOLDEN MATONGA writes.
Following Tuesday’s presidential election, Tonse Alliance’s torch bearer Lazarus Chakwera is going to be Malawi’s sixth president after a resounding victory over his closest contestant, incumbent Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Peter Mutharika.
A former charismatic Christian pastor, Chakwera’s rise to politics is a fairytale not shared by many.
In 2013, Chakwera resigned as leader of the Malawi Assemblies of God to contest for the presidency of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). A party that helped liberate Malawi but is ensnared by a checkered history of a 31-year one-party dictatorship that started in 1963. MCP’s rule ended in 1994 as winds of change blew across the country and most parts of Africa.
At the time Chakwera vied for MCP leadership the party had lost every election since 1994 and support even in some parts of its Central Region stronghold.
The then party leader, John Tembo, was still widely seen as the remaining face of the one-party regime and heir apparent to the party’s first leader in post-colonial Malawi, Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
After party members at the convention opposed JZU, as Tembo is fondly called, from seeking re-election, Chakwera faced a horde of contenders who included former Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo, Tembo’s henchmen Beston Majoni and another MCP long-time member Joseph Njobvuyalema. Others were Felix Jumbe, Jodder Kanjere, Chris Daza, Watson Makala Ngozo, Lyton Dzombe and Eston Kakhome.
But Chakwera resoundingly beat them all. For the first-time, MCP was to be led by a rank outsider—someone who had not been among the people that initially surrounded Kamuzu and his successors.
“The writing was on the wall that the party needed to be recharged and re-energised and a very suitable candidate had availed himself for the task. However, I recall that as JZU came to his senses, he still had some henchmen that looked upon themselves as heirs apparent and would not tolerate anyone outside the old circle of MCP leaders,” recalls Alekeni Menyani, a former lawmaker and one of the early backers of Chakwera in the party.
Propelled by an underground movement within the party, calling itself MCP Renaissance and chaired by the current party secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka, the campaign for fresh blood in the party eventually triumphed.
“He is a game-changer, he comes with no excessive baggage,” political scientist Blessing Chinsinga described Chakwera in 2014.
But getting the State Presidency then proved a bit elusive.
Both Chakwera and Cashgate-plagued Joyce Banda’s administration lost the elections to DPP’s Mutharika on the shoulders of his elder brother—Bingu wa Mutharika who died of a cardiac arrest in 2012.
rushed to courts to seek redress of what they saw as electoral injustice, citing widespread irregularities. fraudulent and together they
For months, supporters of the opposition regularly stormed the streets with organised and spontaneous protests until the High Court—sitting as a Constitutional Court (ConCourt)—on February 3, nullified the 2019 presidential election and called for a fresh one.
Meanwhile, during that protracted court battle, Chakwera bonded with Chilima and the two announced an alliance where Chilima agreed to become Chakwera’s running mate. The fruit of that marriage is now the return to power of the country’s oldest political establishment, alongside its younger partner.
Rising on a tide of high expectations, the new government faces a lot of challenges, says Nandin Patel, an eminent Malawian political analyst.
“The country has been in election mood since 2018. So virtually, for two years, there is no real governance,” she says.
Chakwera, 65, was born in Malembo, Lilongwe where he attended primary school. He studied at Mtendere Secondary School before making it to Chancellor College where he attained a bachelor of arts degree. He also holds a BA (Hons) in Theology from South Africa’s University of the North.
He further obtained a Master’s in Theology from the University of South Africa (Unisa) and a PhD from Trinity International University in the United States of America.
He married his wife Monica, his college sweetheart, in 1977 and they have four children—Nick, Violet, Tapiwa and Marlyn.
“My great grandparents were also evangelists, so I guess it’s in the blood,” explains Nick, the first-born who followed his father in Christian ministry.
“He is a very generous man. I have seen him give and give some more to everyone. I have been deeply impacted by that,” adds the younger Chakwera