It must have been a proud moment for former president Bakili Muluzi. His son—Atupele—who is a Cabinet Minister in the Peter Mutharika administration—had just retained his post as president of the United Democratic Front (UDF).
This is the party the self-styled political engineer helped to establish and almost single-handedly turned into a governing party for 10 years (two terms).
In fact, under the senior Muluzi’s stewardship, UDF won three elections—in 1994, in 1999 and in 2004.
Of course, the party found itself in the bitterly cold world of the opposition doldrums when the fellow he anointed as his successor—Bingu wa Mutharika—on the dangerous assumption that he would be fickle and allow Muluzi to run the country from behind the curtains turned out to be a ruthless politician when he dumped the party that sponsored him into power and formed the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The bitterness between the senior Muluzi and the man who kicked him and his party out of the power table was on full display.
So bitter were the Muluzis that when Bingu died—some say three times in one month in April 2012—Atupele joined the ill-fated regime of Joyce Banda and her People’s Party (PP).
But the young Muluzi’s eyes were always on the big prize—he wanted the seat his father and mentor had warmed for 10 years.
But to do that he needed some sort of experience, which the naïve Mrs. Banda provided by giving him a Cabinet post.
With a Cabinet portfolio on his resume to brag about as some kind of achievement, the young Muluzi dumped Banda’s PP-led government claiming widespread and high-level corruption as the reason. As Cashgate turned out, he just might have been right.
Atupele went on to mount his presidential campaign, riding on the message of change in the shadows of his father.
He lost miserably to Peter Mutharika, coming a distant fourth in the 2014 presidential election. He was in the cold yet again and Atupele does not like the cold political weather.
He then decided to go into the changing room, put on the best make-up he could lay his hands on and painted himself as the patriot ready to partner a victorious DPP, which had a miserable minority in Parliament.
Peter Mutharika took one look at the glittering young Muluzi and made his move: he proposed, promising plenty, but only scrapped away crumbs in the form of a Cabinet post for the young Muluzi and some meaningless parastatal non-executive board positions for the rest of Atupele’s minions.
Right from the start it was a marriage made from hell that tore the UDF apart and reduced it to a crappy wallet political unit, maybe a wing, of the UDF.
Bakili Muluzi must really be proud of his son, who is following in his father’s footsteps.
But was it pride in his son’s mediocre political performance that made Muluzi wiser and asked all of us to start being civil with each other, especially our leaders. Or is he just being mellow these days?
In his energetic years, was it not Muluzi who told all of us how many tablets then estranged vice-president Justin Malewezi was taking a day? Was it not the same Muluzi who laid bare what he claimed were Brown Mpinganjira’s moral decay—even went as far as the man’s bedroom? Muluzi was the master of vituperative language on live radio and television.
That said, I really want to believe that the senior Muluzi wants everyone to practice civilised politics; that we must avoid personal attacks he was so fond of and instead concentrate on issues and how to address them.
But could someone tell Muluzi that respect is earned not shoved down people’s throats simply because the one he is lobbying respect for happens to be a leader?