What initially appeared to be an April Fools’ Day prank turned out true yesterday as firebrand human rights activist Timothy Mtambo joined frontline politics through a political movement, in the process discarding his rights activism hat.
But while Mtambo’s fellow human rights activists have welcomed his move to frontline politics as an exercise of his constitutional rights, two Cabinet ministers Nicholas Dausi (Homeland Security) and Mark Botomani (Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology) described the decision as a vindication that Mtambo was a politician who hid in the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) mask.
During a news conference announcing his decision in Lilongwe yesterday, Mtambo—who led a series of protests that at times turned ugly to push for Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah and her fellow commissioners to resign for allegedly mismanaging the May 21 2019 presidential election—instantly endorsed the electoral alliance between Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM Party.
He said his movement, Citizens for Transformation (CFT)-People Power Movement, will assist MCP and UTM Party and their alliance partners to unseat President Peter Mutharika and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the fresh presidential election tentatively set for July 2 2020.
Said Mtambo: “Malawi is at a crossroads. The upcoming fresh presidential election is a watershed moment in the history of this country. It will either make or break us.
“I have had time to reflect on what has happened in Malawi since we adopted the democratic Constitution [in 1994]. I have concluded that our beloved country is in a serious crisis, a crisis perpetrated by accidental and transactional leaders.
“They have presided over this mess that our country finds itself in and do not represent the aspirations of our people…”
Prior to his arrest alongside other human rights defenders Gift Trapence and McDonald Sembereka, Mtambo, who was recently accused of aligning his political interests to MCP, vowed his leadership will continue organising demonstrations in the country until Ansah and her team resign.
Dausi, who is also DPP publicity secretary, argued that the former HRDC chairperson’s decision was not surprising.
He said: “He should not mention his movement as such, but it should be a political party. It is good he has come out clearly as a politician. His gesture is coming as a ‘thank you’ from MCP which will give him the Office of the Second Vice-President.”
HRDC vice-chairperson Trapence said HRDC is an institution and would meet at a right time to react to the development.
But Youth and Society (YAS) executive director Charles Kajoloweka, who is not a HRDC executive member but an activist on human rights, observed that Mtambo’s departure from HRDC to form a political organisation is a bold decision that would expand his space beyond civil society.
Activist Makhumbo Munthali said while Mtambo’s timing to leave HRDC could be questionable, his political interests could not be advanced while working in the civil society; hence, considers the move as not surprising. He defended his decision, saying that the civil society space does not require one to take sides. Mtambo and HRDC made a name with their militant approach to fighting for people’s rights. President Peter Mutharika and his governing DPP cadres often branded the grouping political, arguing that it was bent to fault government while treating the opposition with kid gloves.