There was a conflict of principle in Malawi Congress Party (MCP) some time in September 1962. Chakufwa Chihana—yes the Chihana we know—then a staunch MCP diehard, accused Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda of being too romantic in the demand for ‘Independence Now’.
In his radical musings, he challenged Banda to abandon the ‘contact and dialogue’ principle and proceed with mass demonstrations to instantly get rid of colonialists.
Ignored, Chihana, then a famous trade unionist, organised strikes that, though they had a pretext of better working conditions, had a deeper cause of challenging the legitimacy of the colonial state.
Baffled, Dr Banda and senior MCP officials interpreted Chihana’s gesture as serious lack of loyalty, obedience and discipline. MCP did not end up firing Chihana. The party also developed an anthem of control called MCP’s four cornerstones of loyalty, obedience, unity and discipline.
It was an ideology that defined the extent to which every Malawian could flex his/her muscles. Anyone who went beyond it faced drastic consequences. You know the examples, and I can’t count them.
Frankly, prior to independence and the beginning of democratic waves in 1991, the four-cornerstone ideology, I opine, served the party and the nation well. Being a period of nation building—as it is if you read different histories of nations—you need everybody to subscribe to a common, dominant ideology.
But now that nation building is over, and the country is more than a decade into the democratic dispensation, does it make sense for MCP to still be guided by an old ideology?
Read the vision of the party as enshrined in its constitution: “MCP won the freedom and independence of Malawi. As such, the party will promote development and safeguard democracy [mark democracy] and the dignity of Malawians irrespective of origin, religion or colour [mark origin]. The party will ensure that every man and woman has the opportunity to contribute to development without discrimination.”
Now that is the vision of the MCP. Interestingly, the constitution spells out clearly how [the ideology it will use] that vision will be realised.
‘Unity, Loyalty, Obedience and Discipline, the Four Cornerstones upon which the party is built, shall be maintained in order to realise this vision,” it reads.
Now. Now. Now. How can a party realise a vision of ‘safeguarding democracy’ when it is built on an ideology that doesn’t support diverse views—the lifeblood of democracy? I think statistics, not my views, can better answer that.
Just look at how MCP, the party that wants to ‘promote development and safeguard democracy and the dignity of Malawians irrespective of origin’, has been faring on parliamentary seats since 1994.
It scooped 51 MPs in the Centre against 5 in the South and zero in the North during 1994 elections. In 1999, it managed 54 in the centre against 4 and 8 in the North and South, respectively.
In 2004, the party got 59 in the Central Region, against 1 in the North and none in the South. Hell broke loose in 2009 when MCP sank to 24 MPs in the Centre and got none both in the North and South.
Even the voting pattern doesn’t speak well of MCP—a party that wants to ‘promote development and safeguard democracy [mark democracy] and the dignity of Malawians irrespective of origin’.
We used to be fooled that nobody can stifle MCP from its Central Region base. Well, the foolishness of such saying was evident during 2009 elections. Bingu wa Mutharika’s DPP grabbed a chunk of MPs in the region and magical presidential votes in MCP’s traditional districts of Ntchisi, Kasungu and Dedza.
These figures speak volumes of a party that is not just failing to expand to other regions, but also failing to maintain its traditional base, the Central Region. Yet, against such apparent symbols of steady wane, MCP, bereft of hindsight, continues to be driven by the same old ideology of firing everybody who presents an alternative view.
In 2011, Chris Daza—the duly elected secretary general—presented himself, within the dictates of their laws, as the alternative leadership to the party. Just like Chihana in 1962, he was fired.
Even when the courts reinstated him, the man is still being treated as an alien, and just this week, 30 people in Mzuzu have been fired for supporting him. What is the problem?
I won’t mince a word. The four cornerstones in MCP are still strong and rife symbolised, by the continued presence of John Tembo in the leadership mantle. Minus his presence, I am convinced, MCP will get its glory. But with him hanging on, the party will continue firing potential leaders until it becomes another Aford.