I expected to meet with a bossy, flamboyant and all-knowing young marketer. But that is not the Saulos Chilima I spent a morning with last Tuesday in Blantyre. He was receptive and affable—in fact, even in the smack of irritating questions, he, like a northern star, remained curious and serene. No fists on the table! His responses were sharp and brief on matters (such as land issues) he knew he wasn’t good at; but on the economy and general administration—I guess this is his zone- he was almost a professor: confident, inspiring, thorough and fresh. To be honest, I was inspired. I am yet, of course, to meet with People’s Party (PP) Sosten Gwengwe.
But I guess he is such a composed, intelligent and coherent young accountant. Friends like Innocent Helema who have been close to him, talk of a gentle Sosten—an average guy you would not quiver to slap his back and say: ‘hey men, let’s go for a drink’. Surely, if ever I will meet this guy, I will, like I did with Saulos, come out inspired.
Not that I am someone who easily gets inspired. No. But Saulos and Sosten are candles of our generation—young men who have earned (please underline ‘earn’) their space in the summit. Both have an inspiring academic journey: four year stint with University of Malawi, then flapping their wings across oceans to drink more from the well of learning.
The mark of the two’s grandeur does not, of course, begin with degrees they have accumulated over the years. Rather, how they have used the wisdom between the lines of their degrees.
Saulos has crawled ladders of leadership to the summit of leading one of Malawi’s major telecommunications company, Airtel. Sosten has built a Gwengwe Foundation in Dedza which runs schools that have improved access to quality and competitive education in the country.
As a politician, especially while in Malawi Congress Party (MCP) as spokesperson for finance in Parliament, Sosten was an instant force to reckon with as shown by his constructive input during budget analysis. These are no mean achievements for such youthful sons of the land. Their choice as running-mates in their respective political parties, then, was not a favour from appointing officers. The two earned it.
That is why I am not afraid to christen the two as candles of our generation. Their light embodies hope to the youths—in fact, giving to that old ‘everything is possible’ philosophy.
However, it is one thing to be a candle and it is another to shine bright and make an impact. Unfortunately, it will take time for Saulos and Sosten’s candles to shine bright and achieve the desired goal of using their proven intelligence and make an impact in Malawi. Their candles are burning in the midday sun—the political sun defined by their respective political parties. The dysfunctional politics of their respective parties churns out bright lights of political misgivings and too bright that light is for the candlelight of the two to illuminate. That is why they are candles burning in the sun—light without impact.
There is one big reason I am saying this. Sosten and Saulos are running mates in political parties that are not institutions, rather, personal properties of presidents. And it all stems from the challenge of party financing in the country. Money is power and, in our political parties, the one who has it or the one who woos those
with money, is the one who calls every shot. Joyce Banda is PP’s financier, as such, she is the landlord: nothing without her blessing can take place in the party. Not only because she has money but also, because she is the Head of State, she has access to where money is and she can, again, woo those with money everywhere. Without her, and I can challenge here without contradiction, there is no PP. This is nothing different with Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Peter Mutharika is the kitchen of finances. Just like Joyce Banda, he has the money and he can woo people with money. To mean, nothing can take root in DPP without Peter’s blessings. Now if you take such an environment where one person calls all the shot2 in the party and add the tumultuous history of vice-presidency in Malawi, the sum you get is complete dim for Sosten and Saulos. The two will work at the mercy of their bosses. In fact, we have already started noticing trends that attest to this. At least, Saulos, so far, has been impressive in maintaining his composure in tense and tempting political rallies where the Patricia Kaliatis, the Heatherwick Ntabas, the Jean Kalilanis, the Nicholas Dausis are cursing, lying and spitting complete garbage. He always sticks to articulating issues in their manifesto. But how far can he go? He has a big job not just to obey his boss but also to look out for these lying and cursing ‘heavyweights’ from spoiling his relation with the boss.
Sosten, we can all testify, has already fallen from grace. In fact, we saw how he lost a good track during the first Zodiak debate and took to attacking others. We saw how he was, like a pawn on a chessboard, told not to take part in the second debate. And we have seen how, over the weeks, he has been in the news being condemned, even by church organisations, for being relentless in attacking others. Not good Sosten, not good at all!
Like I said before, Sosten and Saulos are candles of our generation. However, they are running mates in political parties that do not operate like institutions. As such, it will be difficult for them to find space to maximise their proven worth. That is why and I swear, unless, PP and DPP move from being possessions of Joyce Banda and Peter Mutharika respectively, we will not see the best that made Sosten and Saulos to earn their place in the summit. They will remain our candles, but burning in the scorching midday sun—lifeless.