First, let me declare that Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya is my Member of Parliament (MP) in Karonga Nyungwe Constituency.
In fact, his home village is less than 10 kilometres away from mine. At one point, before the duties of the high office of the Speaker robbed us of most of his free time, he and I would meet frequently for chats.
When we are both at home, especially during Christmas holidays, we usually bump into each other at his lodge at Ngara where I like to take my poison, my wife Maria likes to sip her tea (I have never understood how she manages to do that in the Karonga heat wave) and my children love to swim in the nearby hot spring as I did as a small boy.
But, of course, the nature of our respective jobs—I run a bunch of prominent newspaper titles that often times goes after the institution he heads the National Assembly—has meant that we both draw the line and keep a certain distance from each other.
I have not spoken or met him in at least two years. But in those two years, I can still claim that I know Msowoya—who is also the Vice President of Malawi Congress Party (MCP)—fairly well. Msowoya is a man with strong convictions and goes out of the way to defend those principles and can even be aggressive whenever he thinks those convictions are under threat. He does not flinch from speaking out to protect the ideals he feels passionate about.
He did the same with Bingu wa Mutharika in whose administration he was a deputy minister when he thought that the quota system as a policy was a bad idea. He walked away from the administration in protest after realising that he could not be associated with such a policy.
This is why I was not surprised when I learnt that he and four other top MCP lieutenants had authored a letter to MCP President Lazarus Chakwera, condemning what the five said was a violation of the party constitution and faulted the former cleric’s management style.
The five—Msowoya, second deputy president Macdonald Lombola, secretary general Gustave Kaliwo, deputy secretary general James Kaunda and treasurer general Tony Kandiero—penned Chakwera to tell him that he was flouting the MCP constitution and going against his own words.
Read the letter in part: “Mr President, it is with deep regret that we note with grave concern that you are going against your word that you delivered to the Malawian nation in the communiqué dated first December 2017; by calling for, among other things, a management committee meeting comprising directors not recognised by the party Constitution. In other words, you are persistently flouting the very fundamental principles of unity and [not] abiding by the party constitution”. They also accused Chakwera of continuing to appoint people into NEC positions without seeking ratification from the party politburo.
“We find this behaviour on your part very perturbing and utterly unacceptable. Therefore, the meeting scheduled for 13th January 2018 should be postponed to allow for further consultations as soon practicable,” added the letter in part.
Some observers, including one political commentator at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College Earnest Thindwa faulted the five for putting their grievances in writing and, according to him, leaking them.
Wondered Thindwa: “Why should they write the president and make the same available to the public when they could have simply booked an appointment or give him a call to share their grievances?
Well, I also wonder what makes Thindwa think that it was the five who leaked the letter. Anyone who had access to it could leak it. Second, is writing your superior wrong? In any organisation, there is internal communication, including written ones.
Why shouldn’t these not have sent a memorandum to their president expressing their grievances? Does that amount to publicising MCP’s internal differences? Are the critics saying that Chakwera’s decisions should not be questioned by the party’s rank and file?
In suggesting that party members should play nice with the boss, aren’t we encouraging the very autocratic styles that cripple freedom of expression and lead to dictatorial tendencies we later abhor?
That said, Msowoya and the others, even if they were right, should not give the impression that they are afraid of competition from new entrants like Sidik Mia.
As they say, there is strength in diversity and everyone who has been accepted as a member of the party should be allowed to vie for any position as long as the party constitution allows him or her to do so.
At the same time, people should not be vilified for speaking what they consider to be truth to power.