At the fall of one-party politics in Malawi, multiparty democracy took over. Since then, three presidents Bakili Muluzi, Bingu wa Mutharika and now Joyce Banda have ruled this country in successive manner.
But they all have something in common. And that is, they all seem to have noticed something in certain politicians, who have thus served as Cabinet ministers in all three administrations.
People such as Dr. Ken Lipenga, Uladi Mussa, Dr. Cassim Chilumpha and Henry Phoya have now come to be associated more with the word minister than anything else.
One wonders what it is about them that set them apart: What secrets do they hold considering that politics is a complex sector where some survive and others fall and melt away in the political heat?
Tradition has it that when a president appoints a Cabinet, there comes a time when it is reshuffled, but while others are dropped out, some are just moved to other ministries.
According to the King’s College of New York City, politics is a mixture of the high and the low.
“Politics is the realm in which we attempt to make real some of our highest aspirations: our desire for political freedom, our longing for justice, our hope for peace and security. At the same time, politics is laced with individuals and groups seeking their selfish interests at the expense of others.”
Now, in pursuit of either self-interests or public interests, one has to have ways of surviving this highly competitive domain. One of the greatest political thinkers, Nicollo Machiavelli, explained how politicians survive, saying they do it through fair or foul means.
Because of his thinking, Machiavelli is regarded as the father of dictatorship. However, even the proponents of democracy have also been found to embrace his thinking.
What others say
Back home, we also have political thinkers such as Dr. Blessings Chinsinga. He explains how the surviving politicians manage to find themselves in Cabinet positions under different ruling parties. Chinsinga argues that the moving of politicians from one party to another could be a sign of their lack of principles.
“These are the people who do not clearly state what they believe in, and that is not good because people do not know their conviction. And that is not necessary,” he says.
He adds that if the politicians honestly served their leader or political party, they would not easily be taken up by the new ruling parties.
“What these people do is to sit on the fence where they are strategically positioned. When the new presidents come in, immediately they are taken on board as Cabinet ministers. They become that president’s praise singers,” Chinsinga says.
He does not believe that such politicians serve different presidents merely because of loyalty and professionalism.
“The proof is in their dumping of the leader when things start going wrong. They even dump their parties and join that whose leader is the incumbent ruler of the country. It is there where they end up being appointed ministers,” he says.
Dr. Chinsinga’s arguments suggest that such politicians are cunning and opportunists.
Politician Gift Mwamondwe, who once served in the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s Cabinet and is now out of both Parliament and Cabinet, says long-serving ministers do not hold any secret.
“They are just on the receiving end of the presidential appointments. The ministers do not choose to be ministers, it is a prerogative of the president to choose them as ministers,” he says.
Mwamondwe says Malawi’s democracy is a hybrid of the US and UK system, saying in the UK, it is the government that chooses ministers while in the US, government does not.
“In our country, we have politicians serving both as MPs and ministers. This has defeated the meaning of real democracy. This is also why when Mutharika died, we saw MPs moving to People’s Party (PP) of President Joyce Banda so that they could be appointed Cabinet ministers,” he adds.
The former deputy minister does not believe that it is professionalism that keeps the surviving ministers in their positions.
“During the Kamuzu Banda regime, did we not have professional ministers? What happened to them? Did they stay as permanent ministers?” queried Mwamondwe.
From the horse’s mouth
Uladi Mussa is one of the politicians who have served as a minister under all the three post-Kamuzu Banda administrations. Currently, he is Minister of Home Affairs. He started as Deputy Minister of Agriculture between 1997 and 1999, and then Deputy Minister of Local Government between 1999 and 2000. Later, he took on the position of Minister without Portfolio in the Office of President and Cabinet between 2001 and 2003; Minister of Natural Resources between 2003 and 2004, Minister of Home Affairs between 2004 and 2005, Minister of Agriculture between 2005 and 2006.
“I got fired on October 26, 2006,” he says.
The moment Mutharika, who fired him, died, President Banda appointed him Minister of Home Affairs on April 26 2012.
He says he has survived in Cabinet because he is still a member of Parliament.
“That’s the greatest way of survival. Then one has to relate well with the people. As for me, I think it is because of what people say that I have a natural talent as a public speaker. That I am asset and not a liability to the president,” says Mussa.
“I think this is what made Muluzi, Bingu and currently President Banda to appoint me. I aim at being an asset to government so that I add something instead of taking from it,” says Mussa.
He adds that most surviving ministers are also approachable and hard-working.
“You must be honest, not somebody who backbites,” he says.
Another surviving minister is Dr. Ken Lipenga—a politician, journalist and writer. He is the current Minister of Finance. His political journey as a Cabinet minister started in 1997 when he served as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Later, he served as Minister of Education, Sports and Culture, Minister of Presidential Affairs, Minister of Tourism, Minister of Labour, Deputy Minister of Finance, Minister of Industry and Trade, Minister of Economic Planning and Development (EP&D), and now Minister of Finance.
“I think serving as Minister of Labour prepared me to be a Minister of Industry, which also prepared me to be a Minister of Economic Planning and Development. That ministry also prepared me to be the Minister of Finance,” he says.
Lipenga says he is dedicated and committed to the people, which any leader tends to notice in him.
“They notice that I am interested to offer the best I can for this country. Serving different individuals gave me experience,” he says.
“A minister cannot bash the president publicly, but in private, we do. I used to do that under the leadership of Bakili Muluzi, especially during the third term bid,” Lipenga says.
“The secret is that you must respect your boss, but not to the extent of failing to tell them the truth. But also remember that the more senior you are, the more risks you should take. I thank the Malawian people for the opportunity. I am very grateful,” he concluded.
It seems there is no clear cut answer to this puzzle, but one thing is for sure, loyalty is the name of the game—it just depends where your loyalty lies.