It was around 10.28am yesterday when Tonse Alliance torchbearer in the June 23 fresh presidential election, Lazarus Chakwera, took his oath as the country’s sixth President with a promise of a new dawn and unified nation.
To a deafening applause from a sea of Malawi National Flag flying and ecstatic audience at the Malawi Square within Umodzi Park in Lilongwe which also hosts Bingu International Convention Centre and The President’s Hotel, the new President said “it is an honour” for him to serve in that capacity.
He said: “To stand before you as your President today is an honour. It’s an honour that fills me with unspeakable joy and immense gratitude.
“It’s an honour forged in the furnace of your desire and demand for change. It’s an honour crafted by your hand when you braved the winter chill to cast your vote. It’s an honour that has reignited the dream of our nation’s founders for a new Malawi.”
In a marked departure from his predecessors, Chakwera, in his maiden speech as President, confirmed his pledge to elevate and value the Office of the Vice-President as he repeatedly mentioned his deputy Saulos Chilima in their role ahead to steer the nation.
Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Chifundo Kachale on Saturday night declared Chakwera—president of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) who teamed up with Chilima’s UTM Party and seven others—duly-elected as the sixth President. He amassed 58.7 percent of the vote in the country’s first election determined using 50-percent-plus-one vote as “majority”.
Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda—who could otherwise have missed the occasion if the move by immediate past president Peter Mutharika administration’s to send him “on leave pending retirement” in December 2021 materialised—was present and appeared in high spirits.
However, the Chief Justice had to have Chilima retake the oath of office as Vice-President as the initial exercise was done without the Bible. Nyirenda gently acknowledged the omission.
When it was time for Chakwera to take oath of office, Nyirenda threw in a lighter moment, saying: “Once bitten twice shy. This time I have the Bible with me…”
Ironically, in 2014 Nyirenda’s predecessor Anastazia Msosa also asked the then President-elect Peter Mutharika to retake his oath of office because the Bible was not used at the first instance.
But while Chakwera and Chilima were the toast of the day, the loudest cheers were reserved for Kachale, a judge of the High Court of Malawi, who on June 7 2020 took the leadership of the electoral body and is now celebrated for organising an election widely recognised as credible against all odds. There was a deafening applause after the director of ceremonies Mzondi Mvula acknowledged his presence during salutations.
When Chakwera took to the podium to make his acceptance speech, with an air of anticipation among his supporters, he appealed for national unity.
He vowed to be President for all, including those who did not vote for his team as well as those filled with “fear and grief” because of his presidency.
Said Chakwera: “I want you to remember one thing: This new Malawi is a home for you too and as long as I am its President, it will be a home in which you too will prosper. I only ask you for one thing in return: To give Dr. Chilima and I a chance to earn your trust and make this win a win for all of us.”
MCP, led by the country’s founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda, was voted out of power in the first post-independence multiparty general elections in May 1994. MCP under Kamuzu, operating in a one-party State, had the record of terror, but Chakwera acknowledged that dark past and the struggle that Malawians fought to earn democracy.
He, however, said gains of the struggle for democracy seem to have been eroded over the years by poverty and stagnation.
Said the President: “The dream that binds us together is for us to enjoy shared prosperity, not just freedom. For of what use is freedom from oppression if you are a slave to starvation? Or, freedom from colonialism if you are a slave to tribalism?
“Of what use is freedom from tyranny if you are a slave to poverty? No! The dream was for all of us, together, to be the ones who enjoy the riches of Malawi’s soil; to be the ones who make the products of her industries; to be the ones who harvest the bounties of her fields; to be the ones who are served by her taxes; and to be the ones who raise the skylines of her cities.”
During the campaign, Chakwera—a former Malawi Assemblies of God president who quit the pulpit to join active politics in 2013— promised servant leadership.
Yesterday he said servant leadership will restore the new generation’s faith in “the possibility of having a government that serves, not a government that rules; a government that inspires, not a government that infuriates; a government that listens, not a government that shouts; a government that fights for you, not against you”.
As the ceremony drew towards the end, supporters of the alliance poured to the streets to celebrate once more on the same streets where for months they had turned to protest the May 2019 presidential election until the courts ordered a fresh election, agreeing with Chakwera and Chilima that the vote was marred by widespread irregularities, especially in the results management system.
Conspicuously missing from the ceremony were Mutharika, but his absence may not have come as a surprise to many a Malawian as since the dawn of plural politics through a 1993 national referendum it was only in 2004 when an outgoing president handed over the mantle to his successor. The 2004 arrangement could arguably be attributed to the fact that Bakili Muluzi and Bingu wa Mutharika were from the same party.
Reacting to Chakwera’s acceptance speech, Joseph Chunga, a political science lecturer at University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, said the new President generally struck the right chords towards national unity.
He said: “He acknowledged the need to build a nation that is currently divided. He underlined that what Malawians need is change that translates in improvement of their lives.”
Henry Chingaipe, another prominent political and governance analyst, said the speech was “a good start and inspires hope”.
“It recognises that the authority to govern comes from the people. A great acknowledgement of stewardship and leadership over rulership.
“It’s a pledge for responsive and accountable governance and pledges inclusive governance and building national unity,” he said.
Chakwera will be inaugurated as President “tentatively” on July 6, the country’s Independence Day, at Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe, according to MCP spokesperson the Reverend Maurice Munthali.
Chilima will be serving a second term as Vice-President. In 2014, he partnered Mutharika who plucked him from the private sector where he worked as the first Malawian managing director of multinational Airtel Malawi plc before falling out midway and formed his UTM Party.