alawi, as a nation, thrives on conspiracies, particularly on the hostility—perceived or real—between our presidents and their deputies since somewhere around 2002 or thereabouts when former president Bakili Muluzi toyed with the ill-fated third-term bid.
But for all our obsession, there was no suggestion, before Tuesday, that Vice-President Saulos Chilima’s relationship with President Peter Mutharika may have gone south on the scale former vice-president Justin Malewezi did with Muluzi after the latter picked an outsider as presidential candidate at Malewezi’s expense. Of course, there are eerie suggestions that even Chilima may have been rendered just as useless—what with the appointment of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining Minister Bright Msaka as Democratic Progressive Party’s vice-president for the Eastern Region.
Chilima may never have complained that the government has hamstrung him so much that he was surviving on Fanta as Cassim Chilumpha famously did when he was placed under house arrest by the president at the time, the late Bingu wa Mutharika.
Never has a complaint been heard from Chilima that his office has been purposely underfunded as Joyce Banda did under Bingu’s presidency, nor has he given an indication that he might throw a tantrum like Khumbo Kachali. He seems too coolheaded for that.
In fact, before Tuesday, there was nothing that remotely suggested there was an irrevocable breakdown of relationship between Mutharika and Chilima.
But the Vice-President on Tuesday released a statement that was as much about dispelling ungrounded conspiracies regarding his working relationship with Mutharika as it was about expressing the agony he is going through in discharging his duties.
The gloves may not be off yet, but Tuesday’s statement indicated the waiting won’t be much longer. Their relationship now will be under more scrutiny than before. On both sides of the divide will be a host of watchers who will analyse every gesture, sneezes, coughs, a little frown for clues about the state of the relationship in the presidency. All because, in my view, of a statement that should never have been written.
If the intention was to show that there remains a bond so unshakeable between him and Mutharika, I am afraid it only served to strengthen the case for conspiracy theorists who view the vice-presidency as a poisoned chalice and that Chilima is no exception.
If the plan was to show that Mutharika’s trust in him to carry out state functions can be counted on seven or so occasions in a year and a half, he did a clumsy job in disguising his displeasure and the mistrust his boss has in him. There was no need, if one looks at it from another angle, for Chilima to enumerate the occasions on which Mutharika has invested his trust in him, especially for something so few. Would Foreign Affairs minister George Chaponda, for instance, cite so few occasions if he were asked to enumerate the instances when Mutharika trusted him?
Words will be just words—they may say what you don’t feel or mean. What is missing in the whole saga—that given talk to a breakdown in the relationship between Mutharika and Chilima—is display of genuine warmth and trust. Words, no matter high-sounding, will not suddenly banish talk of a schism between president and deputy. It was a good effort, but not enough. n