“Therefore, brothers and sisters, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.”— Acts 6:3
In its 57 years of independent rule, Malawi has had six presidents and eight vice-presidents. The role of vice-president is a recent phenomenon, and understandably, Malawians both in the leadership ranks and the lower rungs of society, know precious little nor do they care to learn how to wade the problem-solving waters, when the leader and his/her vice are entangled in an unavoidable dispute.
The institution of the vice-presidency is entrenched in our Constitution; hence, it is incumbent for all Malawians to embrace the Office of the Vice-President, work with it, and to assist it, as opposed to rising up storms of fanciful discord.
For 30 years, former president Kamuzu Banda single-handedly ruled Malawi, without a vice-president. In his waning years, he agreed to take on a vice-president, but at party level. Former convict Gwanda Chakuamba took the role. However, Chakuamba left office in 1994 along with Kamuzu, as internal squabbles rocked the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). He eventually left to establish the New Republican Party. For that, some consider Chakuamba as the country’s first victim of Malawi’s abhorrence of vice-president.
The next vice-president was the soft-spoken Justin Malewezi. He was to become the second victim. He was a highly professional administrator and a good steward. Despite the open disrespect from his boss Muluzi, Malewezi soldiered on, patiently and quietly waited out for his term of office to end.
The third victim was Cassim Chilumpha. His fall out with Bingu wa Mutharika began when he was told he had constructively resigned. The climax was when he was arrested for plotting to assassinate Mutharika. Eventually, Chilumpha was never retained by Bingu when he ran for the second term of office. He picked Joyce Banda, populary known as JB.
The chemistry between Bingu and JB seemed great. Malawi women turned out in large numbers to vote for the picturesque duo as Malawi sailed down history boulevard toward having its first female president. But as soon as JB settled into her VP role and because she was a darling of the masses, she was accused of “creating parallel structures”. She was whisked away to the back burner; and Bingu began to groom his younger brother, Arthur Peter Mutharika or APM as he is fondly known, to be the next president.
But as fate would have it, on April 5 2012, Bingu suffered a massive heart attack and died. APM and his followers sought to find ways to prevent Joyce Banda from being installed president, but their efforts failed.
JB chose Khumbo Kachali as her vice-president. But their relationship did not last. Before 2014 general elections, she decided to pick current Trade Minister Sosten Gwengwe as her running mate. They both failed to win the 2014 elections against APM, who had roped in a new kid on the political scene, Saulos Chilima.
APM and Chilima’s partnership would only last five years. Allegations of corruption, nepotism and tribalism played a huge role for the fallout. Like Malewezi and Bakili before him, Chilima resigned from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, but waited out his term of office to 2020.
Vastly popular, Chilima went on to form his own political group United Transformation Movement, which later registered as UTM Party.
For 2019 elections and his second term bid, APM gambled away by partnering with little known, Everton Chimulilenji.
Opposition MCP and UTM failed to garner enough votes, but luckily after crying foul that the vote was marred with a litany of irregularities, the courts ordered a fresh presidential election.
MCP, in its quest to grab power after 30 years as backbenchers—courted Chilima and eventually formed an alliance with seven other small political parties, including JB’s People’s Party.
The ticket dubbed Tonse Alliance won the State House. In keeping his word, Chakwera has given his Vice-President a key ministry to oversee but also to spearhead the much-anticipated civil service reform process.
For now all looks rosy! But the experiences they have had to endure in the past 25 years, at the hands of the president in power, or the local people, being a vice-president in Malawi is ominous and daunting. Perhaps an Act of Parliament or a decree that clearly spelled out the role of the vice-president is required. For now, one thing that must be clearly scripted should be “you were elected as one; you must leave as one.”