Lilongwe Mapuyu South legislator Esther Kathumba contested in the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) primaries. She lost but, unsatisfied with the way they were carried out, ran as an independent during the Tripartite Elections and won. She is now back in MCP and EDWIN NYIRONGO asked her to explain more about her story and other election issues. Excerpts:
You won the parliamentary seat as an independent. Were you supported by any party?
I stood as an independent and no party supported me.
But you were in a party before you decided to contest as an independent.
Yes, I was in the MCP and we were three competing. The party did not support any candidate until we went to primaries. Then another person won. I do not know whether he got support from the party or not. I was not happy with the way the primaries were conduced that is why I stood as an independent and won.
Why were you not happy with the way primaries were conducted?
No! I was not. There are many things that need to change. For example, we need to have secret ballots during primaries. The current system that is being used has a lot of tricks and challenges. This is the reason someone can lose during primaries but win during real elections. But I can now happily announce that I am back in MCP.
Why do you think donors should be helping women in the elections?
It is true that we need assistance from donors for campaign. Men have a lot of resources which they can use to beat women. Some women who decide to contest as Members of Parliament [MPs] or councillors are simple people whose husbands do not have resources to support them. That is where donors should come in. you should know that there are brilliant women out there who can contribute positively in Parliament, but they do not have a chance because of poverty.
But you cannot plan to cook food when you rely on other people’s flour. Why would you contest while relying on other people’s money?
Sometimes it is a situation that prompts this. You see, here is a male legislator who is doing badly development wise. Should he continue cheating people because he has money? Should the woman who has bright development plans fail to take over because of money? This is unfair.
But donor money has conditions. For example, they brought money not for handouts but capacity building. Can you control their money?
I enquired about donors supporting women. I was told that they provide money based on the proposals non-governmental organisations [NGOs] write them. So if the NGOs tell them about the need to fund women, I am sure they can do that.
What was wrong with the money that was earmarked for the 50:50 campaign?
We hear in the radios that they had received a lot of money to support women campaigns. But what they [women] got were peanuts. You cannot go and campaign with three rolls of cloth because it is nothing. They pay a lot of money for hotels and give women little money. This is the reason some of us decided to support ourselves.
Analysts say that men dominate over women politically because you [women] are not united. What do you say to this?
Let me be honest here. Sometimes as women, we don’t love one another. We do not support each other. I admire men because they sometimes support one another. There is need to remind them on the need to support one another.
When are you going to present to Parliament a bill that will give quota to women legislators?
We need to lobby so that even men should support us. We will also ask donors to support us.
Sometimes women may desire to support one another but they belong to different parties. Is this not a stumbling block?
This is indeed tough. I remember the time we were electing chairlady of Parliamentary Women Caucus, Democratic Progressive Women [DPP] ladies were many and it was easier to have the chair from them. So it is not easy to agree on some things if we belong to different parties.
You were frustrated during primaries but still won the elections. What message do you have to women who face similar treatment? They should not give up. I am supposed to be their role model because I tried twice [to be an MP] and failed. I have made it to Parliament. They can make it. All they need to do is start now, find out what went wrong in the past and then find the proper strategy to take. Experience is a good teacher as such; they should start now campaigning and not wait for 2023. Sometimes it is difficult to compete against fellow women, but you can discuss among yourselves and support the one seen as stronger.