They say they are no permanent friends and enemies in politics. In generations to come, that lesson in politics, will always be buttressed by citing the history of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and United Democratic Front (UDF).
It’s a thrilling story. After DPP patriarch Bingu wa Mutharika laboured hard to snatch power from the UDF. Prior to re-joining the DPP as rank outsider, he had attempted to win the presidency on UP ticket to laughable ends. Then he humbled himself and got appointed deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank, then minister in Bakili Muluzi’s Cabinet.
Soon, he was presidential candidate after Muluzi failed in his quest to prolong his grip on power through the third-term bid.
Once in power, Bingu realised that politics is, or at least ought to be, about serving the people, and whatever you think about his legacy, the reality is that DPP founder ditched UDF because he believed—and we agree—that UDF had become an obstacle to national development.
Bingu read the national mood then—the citizenry were frustrated by the stagnation and corruption of the Muluzi era—its attendant rise in crime, political violence, declining standard of living, and perennial hunger, failing systems and institutions.
He did not want to preside over a miserable country, then described as “Another Niger” in the international communities because of the worst hunger crisis in living memory, so straight from his inauguration, he set into motion a plan to rescue the country from the demons that had been unleashed on it.
Those demons were the UDF’s leadership style, but you cannot teach old dogs new tricks, so Bingu resigned from DPP, arrested those who plundered the country during its lost decade in power—as Emmie Chanika rightly called it—and went about being the transformative nationalistic leader he was for five years before, well, the success went into his head and himself started abusing power.
In all his time of success, though, the Muluzi family never learnt the lesson why people treated Bingu as a saviour. After failing to prolong his stay in power, Muluzi senior once again demonstrated the full scale of his greed when, once again, he overlooked all the party’s leaders and forced himself to impose his son as the party’s new president
The party has never won any national election since and recent opinion polls show just one percent of Malawians would vote for it if it contested presidential elections today.
In the meantime, the family that runs UDF has never stopped prioritising its interests above those of the nation. The young, Atupele Muluzi once at the helm—which many, including this newspaperman believe makes him just a figurehead while real power remains in the old man at BCA Hills—the party has turned to political prostitution aimed at covering the back of the old man.
So Atupele’s political career has been auctioned to all sorts of suitors who can further the party’s interests but no one, perhaps, could’ve predicted that his sales folks could’ve convinced the brother of the man who once tamed this family’s ego, to be the one to rehabilitate them and give them their biggest chance to get back to power.
But Peter Mutharika is not Bingu. To be frank, the difference between the two brothers’ leadership styles—even their achievements in office—are like day and night. And the Chewa have a saying for this, m’mimba ndi m’chipala!
While the first Mutharika was visionary, who seemed affronted and energised by the poverty and under development in the country, the second one is a laidback absent character who rules the country, even during the worst of crisis, as if he is presiding over Norway—a country of vibrant systems and institutions.
He has permitted the brother avowed to fight when he ditched UDF to become pandemic at the heart of government and through his absent leadership, malaise is creeping in every sphere of public life.
That has prompted the biggest opposition any president has ever faced, prompting his strategists to ask the Muluzi family to help prop up his regime. But these are Muluzis whose charm lost its power long time ago. If you don’t believe me, the young figurehead even lost his parliamentary seat in the last elections to a hitherto unknown candidate.