Some quarters have argued that Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda is becoming so powerful that he controls President Peter Mutharika and harbours an ambition for the presidency. FATSANI GUNYA caught up with the minister.
You seem to enjoy some respect rarely accorded to a Cabinet minister. Some quarters call you a bulldozer in your approach to parliamentary, ministerial and party affairs. What do you make of these feelings?
I am not sure if I should deny it as some would. But I would easily say that I am not surprised to hear that from the media. My political career has been synonymous to such ‘bulldozing’ accusations and it is only now that I see such conclusions somehow truly reflect what I have been over the years. But I guess it is the way I do certain things because I am very impatient at times. I take decisions and I push them. I have always been result-oriented and determined to succeed; I end up pushing people to work hard. And it begins with me, as their leader.
I am always in the office here [at Capital Hill] almost every day. I sometimes leave office at 7pm. To cut it short, I am determined and yes, I push for results. I was at the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development when the then president Bingu wa Mutharika wanted vendors off the streets, and it happened. I have been at the Ministry of Education and at Justice; things happened there. In my new ministry, expect the landscape to change too. I am just a doer. I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon. I believe I represent what the leadership of this country calls for and that is to be patriotic, have some integrity and hard- working. I am convinced that the country should not have been this poor, 52 years after independence, had we all applied these development cornerstones in our daily lives. Iam therefore not amused when people resort to social media where they fabricate lies about me just to tarnish my image. It is a pity that some of those false accusations are propagated by honourable members of Parliament—like the recent one on my alleged fraud in purchasing maize from Brazil. What is wrong with us, Malawians?
Does this ‘bulldozing’ attitude spill over to the presidency? Do you control him as it is being alleged on the social media?
I don’t know. Those propagating such rumours lack a clear understanding of how the country is run. There is the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislature forming government. These arms work independent of each other, but are always coordinating. In such a set-up, there is no way someone can be dictating to the President how he should run government affairs. He alone is paramount above these three arms of government. Even in the event that the office falls vacant, there are some constitutional procedures to be followed in any democratic governance system; such that one can’t just suggest otherwise. But we can equate my situation to a mango tree. Children will always throw stones at the tree simply because there are mangoes there. I think a lot of people—fellow politicians, too—-look at me and see some potential in me and this can make them uncomfortable. The same can be said of football when the opposition player marks someone with a higher potential of scoring because his goals might mean defeat on their side. I might have already achieved certain things that others may not easily achieve in their lives. Probably that explains it.
Are you harbouring any ambitions for the presidency?
No, absolutely not. I’m not power-hungry and I harbour no such aspirations. Look, at my age. Much as there may be some ways the country can benefit from the little time left on my life, I believe playing dirty politics to gain more power is not my style. I spent a lot of my previous years in the United Nations [UN] system and that speaks highly of my exposure and, if you like it, power. When I was with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR], I learnt to work hard.
You have lived in Diaspora for decades. How did that shape your political life?
I left this country because my name, or let me say the Chaponda family, was not in good books with the founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s regime back then. Anything would have happened had we stayed put, so I had to flee. Having been away for so many years made me realise that I have a lot to unselfishly benefit this country and serving government through the various ministerial portfolios I have been assigned over the years is actually an honour. I want to give the country the best I can offer in my remaining part of life. On the other hand, it should be my way of thanking the society that produced a true son of the land that I am. Besides, my exposure in various countries in the course of my duties taught me something. There were times when we would wake up to help refugees in a camp. This changed my life. I learnt to put the interest of others first. For now, my ambition is basically to add value to this country. My focus is to ensure I help revitalise the agriculture sector through the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development as I see it is the only way to build the country’s socio-economic status. Our development must rest on the foundations of a food and nutrition-secure society. The rest automatically falls in as pieces in a jig-saw puzzle.
Do you have anything more to say?
The public must tone down and stop tarnishing the images of others using any means, including the social media. It’s probably only Malawi that has stagnated over the years, not only due to governance issues, but mainly because of the pull-them-down syndrome that emanates from the envy largely highlighted even in our national anthem as a key enemy to progress. Rwanda is now the epitome of what a united nation can achieve. The world is talking about the country as some powerhouse in various sectors now, including agriculture that forms our economic mainstay. Yet not long ago ethnic clashes that claimed nearly a million people left the country on its knees.