Monday, November 9, 2009

Thoughts from a retreat

The newsroom is quite a hectic four-wall confinement. It is gruelling and daunting to perform the task of seeking the story of a man who bit the dog. Daunting because that involves dealing with sources that sometimes act funny when you are trying to get that extraordinary story.
That pressure really gets to your head. You find whole hours going down the drain and the workload remains just as much as it was when you energetically first entered the room; blank pages—which are supposed to be filled with stories—are just gazing at your face.
While you are figuring out who to call for this or that story, you are also wondering which is a good enough picture to go with the stories. Reading a story you just wrote moments before, makes you want to get some paracetamol to ease the headache. You realise that you wrote tenses that were not making sense, the syntax was not correct and that the subjects and verbs were not in concord while the spellings would upset the Queen.
All the while, you are wondering how this or that meeting will go and before you realise what is going on around you, it is way past normal working hours.
Not that there is nothing pleasant in journalism. You get to meet lots of people from the top (or something like it) to the bottom of the social strata. You get to travel quite a lot to places where you see dogs with navels. In between all this pleasure, you never cease to learn, everybody wants to teach journalists new things all the time!
When DStv service providers Multichoice Malawi sent me an invitation to join fellow journalists for a media retreat at Club Makokola, I saw no reason to fail since it gave me a break from the hustle and bustle of the newsroom.
The Blantyre team of journalists from several print and electronic media houses converged at the Chichiri Shopping Mall that Friday morning. Immediately we were aboard a Toyota Coaster, I knew it was time to forget a little about the pressures of gathering news.
The jokes were flying, especially from MBC’s Frank Kandu. One such joke implied that mobile phone networks in Mangochi switch to Chiyao.
Approaching Liwonde, one newspaper vendor came to the bus, exposing copies of the day’s newspapers. One print journalist remarked to the vendor: “Don’t waste time. Yesterday we read the paper you are selling today.”
Arriving at the Club Mak, we found the Lilongwe team already there. Camaraderie was in the air, as old colleagues reunited. More interestingly, new acquaintances were made: “So, you are Lucy Kadzongwe, the one behind the byline in the Guardian newspaper’s sports pages? Wonders shall never end. And you are Mike Chipalasa of Blantyre Newspapers Limited?”
For those of us who had shut out our brains for the retreat, a little bit of shock awaited us. Soon after lunch, there was an investigative journalism ‘discussion’ hosted by veteran journalist Al Osman, director of Capital Radio. Remember the bit about journalists being taught new things all the time? It was a wonderful two hours, racking brains on the merits and demerits of immersion to get stories.
With unbated breath, the journalists looked forward to fun and games on the beach. That did not come until dusk. A game of volleyball by the lake in the semi-darkness was an exciting affair. On one side were journalists who were dressed in white t-shirts labelled Ma Scribes while on the other were practitioners with black T-shirts marked Ma Journal. I was on the ‘blacks’ side.
Most of the volleyball rules in that game did not apply. There were some three umpires or so. The scorer (the one recording the points) was Zodiak’s Pilirani Tambala, who was clad in a white, Scribes T-shirt. It is little wonder that the whites won two sets against blacks’ one. A rat on a clay pot is difficult to kill, so they say. Of course, Blantyre Newspapers Limited’s Clifton Kawanga—the whites’ ad hoc captain—proved to be a fine player. That as it may be, his skills were buried in the sand by the blacks’ cheerleaders Joy Radio’s Lloyd Zawanda and Yvonne Sundu.
After that game and dinner, it was time for the journalists to shake the boogie on the dancefloor. Who said MBC’s Nomsa Mkandawire cannot follow the rhythm in Petersen’s Fendela Fendusi? What could stop Capital Radio’s Chikondi Juma from dancing to the Black Missionaries’ Walakwa Chani vibes? Star Radio’s Chikondi Phinda did not forget her dancing shoes at home. Of course, Multichoice’s Titania Katenga-Kaunda, TVM’s Saukira Banda and everybody else danced to the music until late in the night.
The more adventurous sneaked out deep in the night for Zithere Pano Pub. It was a Friday night and the fun mood engulfed the pub, where you are welcomed by a ‘Drink Beer, Save Water’ notice. Men and women were carousing. Daughters and sons of Malawi were lost in song and dance on the dancefloor, with others in pairs and groups chatting the night away.
Back to Club Mak, I slept like a log, too tired to think or try to reread Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. That was after a tĂȘte-a-tĂȘte with my comrade-in-arms Herbert Chandilanga.
Saturday morning was time for a cruise to Bird Island aboard the MV Sunbird. It was an invigorating experience watching mphipe, fish eagles in such large numbers, fearless fishermen in canoes lost in that paradise of water and the beach in the distance.
The height of the cruise was the famous childhood song. At one point, it was Capital Radio’s Ulemu Teputepu taking centre stage:
Walowa m’bwalo ndani/Koma Ule/Ule dula dula dula chiuno/Amake Ule/Eeeeh! Dula chiuno
As I figure out when the last full stop will come, I remember where I started from: I went to that retreat to forget the pressure of newsgathering. Then, when I realised that I wasn’t fully off-duty, my mind was all the while engaged in how I would narrate this story. Yarning this tale was a daunting and gruelling task.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Moments with Mpasu

It was a little after ten when the four of us arrived at the Chichiri Prison to see Sam Mpasu, one of my most revered Malawian writers. When he wrote Nobody’s Friend, Mpasu was arrested by Dr Banda’s agents. His time in prison led to Prisoner 3/75 of Dr Banda, a grueling recount of his time in the inhuman cells of the one party regime.
This time,Mpasu is in jail for the Fieldyork scandal when he was Minister of Education.The four of us, fellow journalist Jack McBrams, lawyer Noel Misanjo,performance poet and media researcher Chisomo Mdalla aka Nyamalikiti Nthiwatiwa were ushered to the visitors’ bay, after going through a rigorous search at the gates. All cellphones were also kept away.
You could be wondering why we had to visit Mpasu. What other way could we seek the blessing of someone close to us in the writing art? How else could we have the first step of the Writers Block? This is a writers' group that is being formed.
The visitors’ bay is a confined area, with some five benches. This is separated from the cells by a gauzed-wire gate. This is the wire that separates the free world from the mind-numbing life of prison.
On arrival, a prisoner spots and Jack and he rushes to call Mpasu. A warder, Mr Chipofya, tells us to wait for Mpasu on the benches. The benches are donated by several churches. One was donated by the Anglican Church, another by the Bible Believers and one other by the Living Waters Church. We sat on the Bible Believers bench.
The Living Waters bench is quite rickety, and Nyamalikiti jokes about it: “This bench is really Pentecostal, look how it shakes!”We laughed, before Noel chips in: “I think the Catholics will donate a sofa set.” This was met by more chuckling laughter.As we joke, to lighten the mood, Mpasu appears at the gate, clad in a white pair of trousers, black pair of shoes and a short sleeved casual shirt. His hair is trimmed.
We all stand, and walk towards the bench where we are supposed to see him.“No! Not all of you at once. One person will see him at a time.
Fifteen minutes for each of you,” says Chipofya.Jack goes first, as we go back to the Bible Believers bench. They talk for several minutes before Mpasu goes back towards the cells. He comes back with a set of books which Jack has been supplying to him. More minutes, and we are beckoned to go and meet him.
He shakes each of our hands in a jovial mood. Jack does the introductions, and tells Mpasu we are all working to develop our writing art. Mpasu asks what genres we are into. We are into poetry,short stories, journalism and what not.
He is elated: “I am really glad that you young men took time off a Saturday morning to come and see me. Kaya ku Malawi kuli bwanji?” [How is Malawi?]
We ask: “Nanga kuno si ku Malawi?” [Isn't this Malawi?]
Ayi, kuno n’ku Nyasaland,” he replies, inviting laughter. [No this is Nyasaland]
We talk for close to one hour, for Mpasu convinced the warders that each of us had been given 15 minutes, which added up to one hour. It wasn’t a straight line: he talked of the boredom in prison, the prayers there, world economics, Aids, writing and, of course, politics in parables. A warder is listening intently to our conversation.
We give Mpasu another consignment of books, which the warder checks for some letters or notes on prison break plans. Pointing to a lady with a basket full of food containers at one of the benches, the warder says: “Mr Mpasu, your food will get cold.”
Mpasu looks at the warder, then says: “There is breakfast, lunch and supper in there, how can you say the food will get cold? Put it straight that time for chatting with these young men is over.”
Pointing at a man who peeps through one of the doors near the entrance, Mpasu says: “That is the Officer in Charge. He is a good man.”
Our chat thus comes to an end, and Mpasu walks towards the cells and we head for the gates to go back to Malawi, as Mpasu would have it. We collect the phones and walk out of the gates.
Nowadays, I can’t leave without my camera and recorder. Knowing I couldn’t be allowed to take any photos in the prison, I had left the camera and recorder in the car. On getting out, just at the gates, an idea is born in my mind.
“Guys let’s get a picture of ourselves. This is not a moment to miss,” I said and my friends agreed.
I rush into the car, took the camera and started getting a film of my colleagues. Then, I put the camera into a mode that would allow us get still photos. Nearby, some young men are waiting to go into the prison to visit friends or relatives.
“Can you please take a picture of us?” I tell one of the young men,but before he gets the camera, a warder spots us.
“You are taking photos here!” he shouts and calls us back into the prison.Noel and I walk back into the prison, detained as it were. Nyamalikiti and Jack remain outside, in case Noel’s legal reasoning will not satisfy the Officer-in-Charge that we took the photos not out of malice and we may need other lawyers. The rest, as they say, is history.
All I can say, at the end I agreed with Mpasu: “The Officer in Charge is a good man.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

David Livingstone: the other side

by Kondwani Kamiyala

That Dr David Livingstone was a great man goes without saying. How else can a man have his name in monuments in so many countries in Africa, America and Europe?

Livingstone’s life is well-documented, in books, journals and he provides fodder for the historian seeking to piece up history.

To the Malawian, Livingstone occupies a great space. Apparently, Malawi history records that the evangelist and medical doctor brought to Malawi commerce, modern medicine, Christianity and civilisation.

We forsake the fact that there were iron smelters in the land before Livingstone set in, hence the name Malawi. The name is derived from the flames of fire rising from their furnances.

Obviously, the iron smelters were selling their wares, either in exchanging of food or cowrie shells.

There was fair trade before Livingstone. History teaches us of the barter trade before the arrival of Livingstone. That the natives healed the sick, however crude the means, before he set foot on the land is also clear in illustrations in history books.

That Livingstone discovered the lake is also quite surprising because we are told that he asked the people what the big body of water was called, and the natives replied: "Nyasa." In Yao, nyasa is lake and Livingstone was claimed to have discovered Lake Nyasa, which is also referred to in some texts as Lake Niyesse, a corruption of what the locals called nyenyezi—a star. Livingstone was no stranger to the bright stars sparkling on the lake that he eventually referred to as the Lake of Stars.

It goes beyond doubt that Livingstone played a great part in the termination of slavery that was rampant in Africa at the time of his expeditions, which began with his setting out to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil between 1840 and 1841 until his death at Chitambo in Zambia in 1873. Credit must be given to Livingstone for introducing education and a religion that has seen the good people better and the bad people good.

The glow, sadly, has to depart from the saints at times. There is an aspect of Livingstone that is often obscured by his bright side. It is given that he is one of the forerunners for African countries, including Malawi.

It must be noted that at the time Livingstone came to Africa, it was referred to as the Dark Continent. This is so because much of Africa was not yet ‘discovered’ and this led to many gaps on the world map. Others saw Africa as a land of brutal and savage barbarians, an inferior race.

As Joseph Conrad notes in his novel The Heart of Darkness, there were many blank spaces on the earth, the biggest—most blank—so to speak was Africa. In the work, Africa is portrayed as a dark place, alien to civilisation. This is the work that led later African authors like Chinua Achebe to come up with works like Things Fall Apart, which sought to clear the notion that there was no civilisation in Africa before the Europeans set in.

George Seaver notes in David Livingstone: His Life and Letters, that on coming to Africa, Livingstone believed in European supremacy over Africans. In a letter on his Zambezi expedition, seaver quotes Livingstone as having written: "We come among them (the Africans) as members of a superior race and as servants of a Government that desires to elevate the more degraded portions of the human family. We are adherents of a benign holy religion and may by consistent conduct and wise patient efforts become the harbingers of peace to a hitherto distracted and down-trodden race."

Seaver continues to observe that Livingstone believed Christianity and commerce would produce civilisation in Africa.

In Narrative of the Expedition to the Zambesi and its Tributaries, Livingstone wrote: "We don’t believe in the incapacity of the African, either in mind or heart.... The Africans have wonderfully borne up under unnatural conditions, that would have proved fatal to most races."

When he dicovered Lake Shirwa (Lake Chilwa) and Lake Nyasa (Lake Malawi) in 1859, the slave trade was at its peak. African slaves were being shipped from the African inland and in Malawi, the popular slave house at Linga in Nkhota Kota was a point of conduit for the slave trade. Therefore, the ‘discovery’ of Lake Malawi helped in conquering the slave traders.

There is a thin line separating Livingstone’s fight against slavery and the expansion of his own economic thirsts. At the time, the British were buying cotton from America. This infuriated Livingstone, who believed white emigration and capital investment overseas were instruments in the creation of an international human brotherhood.

He felt the British were wrong to continue purchasing cotton which was grown by slaves in America. He thought, and rightly so, that that contributed to continued slavery. In his view, Malawi cotton, which was to be grown all the way from the Shire-Zambezi confluence to the lake, would fetch 400 percent of that grown in cotton.

"For giving increasing prices for slave-grown sugar and cotton. We are great supporters of slavery," Livingstone wrote.

Malawi first produced cotton at a commercial scale in 1904, when 26 tons were produced. Ten years later, the produce grew six fold. Livingstone believed cotton would be Nyasaland’s main cash crop, but it was consequently overtaken by tea and tobacco. It can be noted that cotton was foremost on Livingstone’s mind since he was born and bred in Blantyre, Lanarkshire where cotton was a raw material for most of the industries. As a matter of fact, Livingstone himself had worked for the Blantyre Cotton Mills as a piecer and spinner for 13 years from 1823 before he entered Anderson’s College, Glasgow University to study medicine and theology.

Livingstone’s commercial interests in Nyasaland were evident with the setting up of the Livinsgtonia Central Africa Company, which late became the African Lakes Company and finally the African Lakes Corporation. It is here that the other side of Livingstone becomes evident, as a forerunner of British imperialism in Malawi.

In After Livingstone, Fred Moir recounts how he accompanied Livingstone in his expeditions on the Shire and Lake Nyasa. Fred and his brother John became founding fathers of the Mandala Limited of the African Lakes Corporation.

Moir wrote that the purposes for the expeditions included: to discover the best method of utilising the river and lake to establish regular mail and goods transport services and to make friends with the natives.

Events after Livingstone’s 1873 death, show the growth of the European interest in Nyasaland’s wealth. The coming of Mandala as the largest trading houses in the country bears witness to that.

Of particular note, here are the decsendants of Livingstone who were influential in the running of Mandala as a corporate intetity. One was Alexander Bruce, who married Livingstone’s daughter Agness. Al Bruce as he was called was in-charge of the Likulezi Estate at the height of the land alienation in Nyasaland, where native Africans were forced to work for no pay under the Thangata System.

The other was William Jarvis Livingstone, who was a grandson of the explorer. Historian Landeg White in Magomero: Portrait of a Village notes that Livingstone was a great cotton planter, who developed a new cotton variety called the Nyasaland Upland, which fetched more than the first grade of American Upland. He helped realise the explorer’s dream to sell to Britain cotton that was not grown by the slaves. Little is mentioned, however, that he used the Thangata to cultivate the 169,000 acres of land that he managed.

W. J. Livingstone is also known as Listonia to the natives during the uprising against colonialism that was led by John Chilembwe in 1915. It is this Livingstone who burned down churches and schools which Chilembwe built. It is this Livingstone that Chilembwe’s forces beheaded.

It must also be noted that Chilembwe and his forces broke into the Mandala manager’s house where they stole guns to use in their struggle. It is clear that Chilembwe’s political struggle was partly against the capitalist system that was set by the colonialists.

While David Livingstone’s descendants were on the forefront of a brutal colonial force that began with Nyasaland becoming a British Protecorate in 1891, it is worth noting that Livingstone played a role in bringing about African nationalism in the land.

The coming of the Church of Scotland, Dutch Reformed Church, Free Church of Scotland and other missions like the Universities Mission to Central Africa at the close of the 19th Century saw the establishment of schools, apart from the churches they built, from where many native Nyasas got education. These Africans were aware of Livingstone’s belief that ‘the stupid prejudice against colour’.

The native Nyasas, who became teachers, evangelists, proto-nationalists, rose to fight for the freedom of their country in later years, long after Chilembwe’s death. Some of the notable names that went through the education system include Kamuzu Banda, who led Nyasaland to independence in 1964, Clements Kadalie, Daniel Malikebu and others.

Like every coin, Livingstone’s life had two sides. On one side, he was a great conqueror of slavery, one who introduced education, religion, modern medicine and commerce. Yet, on the flip side, he is a forerunner of British imperialism in Africa. These two sides cannot outweigh each other, because they make the historic figure whole.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Dan the sax maestro

After watching the Malawi Army brass band during parades in Lilongwe, little boys used to go back home and form their own ‘bands’. It is easy to imagine the little boys, with drums made from tins, ‘police caps’ from cartons and empty Chibuku packets making up for boots, walking about the streets of their township and doing renditions of such popular songs as Ku Chichiri Sindidzapita.
No one could imagine that one of those little boys, playing songs just for the fun of it, was making the first steps in a long journey to music. No one could ever imagine that the little boy who was so much given to playing a ‘trumpet’ made from a pawpaw stalk would grow into one of the greatest saxophone players to come out of the Malawi soil.
Dan Sibale looks back at those early years with a tinge of nostalgia on his forehead: "We used to have fun watching the Army band and we formed our own band and mimicked the music they played. I played no other instruments than the trumpet made from a pawpaw stalk."
From that child play, Dan evolved into a choir singer who used to enjoy watching American gospel kingpin Ron Kenoly’s saxophone antics. That admiration grew more when a friend who was based in America brought him a saxophone.
"I joined a choir in 1989. I started playing keyboards in 1991. All this time, I enjoyed watching Kenoly play the sax and I used to think that one day I will play that instrument. In 1998 I started playing the flute and in 2001 a friend who was in the USA sent me a sax. I took it to (music tutor Wyndham) Chechamba who taught me bits and pieces of the instruments. I didn’t have much trouble since I already knew how to read music," says Dan, who got a Grade 3 Royal Schools of Music Certificate in Piano in 1998.
Today, the 33-year-old is in an excellent class of his own, having mastered an instrument not many Malawian musicians can play: the saxophone. Apart from Sidney Banda who plays the sax in America little is known of other Malawians who play the instrument. You can’t expect less from a musician who spends seven hours every day blowing to master his art even to higher heights.
I first saw Dan play the sax with Manyasa, the tightly-knitted band that used to back Wambali Mkandawire. It was one biting cold June night in 2002 at the French Cultural Centre but we were warmed up by the music. Coincidentally, that also happens to be Dan’s most exciting show.
"It was a great show for me. It was the first time Wambali was performing in Malawi backed by an all-Malawian outfit. I take music as communication. You can’t hear the language in the lyrics but why do you think people tap their feet and nod their heads when good music plays?" wonders Dan, an avid fan of Kaya Mahlangu, a sax player who performs with the South African jazz maestro Hugh Masekela.
His presence at Manyasa was not by chance. He was referred there by one of the great producers to happen to Malawi: the late Chuma Soko. In 2001, after practicing how to play the sax for three months, Dan first performed with the LAC, an outfit formed by the Soko brothers Lameck, Amos and Chuma. The following year, Chuma introduced Dan to Wambali, the musician he believes taught him to be organised in music and work hard at whatever you are doing.
Of late, Dan’s place on the Malawi music scene has been felt by those who follow the musical exploits of Lucius Banda. Dan has brought a new lease of life to Lucius’ music. With Dan’s sax, the music is taking a more Afro-centric turn, the kind of music that goes across the Malawi borders. That, for Dan is the direction Malawi music must take.
"Malawi music is not there yet. Malawian musicians must know why they exist. We have to grow in everything we do. We must learn to fuse our local music from the villages and other foreign genres so that our music crosses our borders. We should not be satisfied with satisfying the Malawian audience only. Music is universal and we must not confine ourselves to the motherland," affirms Dan, who has also performed in Zimbabwe, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
For him, the worst that can happen to Malawian music is to be where it is at the moment in the next five years. "We should not be stuck. Musicians should take every opportunity to learn new things. They must have an open mind. They must learn and rehearse because the world out there is looking for nothing less than excellence," says Dan, a second born in a family of seven.
He admires the music exploits of Eric Paliani, the Malawian who has produced for South African great stars like Masekela and Zamajobe and features as a guitarist in the South African movie Catch a Fire. He also respects youthful musician Tiwonge Hango and Lucius.
Being where he is, one would think it is time to relax and enjoy the fruits of his sweat, somehow. But not for Dan, this is just the beginning. He plans to release his debut album, Phunziro, this year.
"I am working on my first album. I formed the Malingaka House, an outfit that will back me in the album on a Malingaka/Mega Studio label," Dan affirms, looking over my shoulder, as he caresses his lush beard.
His eyes, for sure, are transfixed on the horizon I can’t see; the same distant horizon he fixed his eyes on when he was playing with other kids in the Lilongwe neighbourhood. If he evolved from a pawpaw trumpeter to a great sax maestro, it is hard to imagine where he will be next, before he reaches that horizon.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Letter to The Patriarch

Dear The Patriarch,
It is not in my habit to pen patriarchs. But this once, I thought I should write one missive for you, The Patriarch. I have been compelled to, looking at recent events in Africa and I hope you will not misconstrue my writing for insolence.
I know you have ever been an autocratic authority in your life. You have ever tasted how sweet a thing power is. You know how good it feels to put your best foot forward and hundreds others want to wipe the specks of dust that you gathered with that single step. You know how good it feels to preside over a country. You have been there, at the palace and you sure know all the trappings that come with it.
If you were not the one in power, you were somewhere close to the top echelons of power, you were the power itself, even when there was somebody else in the main bedroom of the palace.
I know you, The Patriarch, already know the story of Kenya. It is not about Jomo Kenyatta but Mwai Kibaki that I write. You remember, he had 51.3 percent of the vote there. His opposition contender, Raila Odinga, had 48.7 percent of the vote. No, I can’t write about the violence that ensued at the heels of those polls. I can’t go into the details to count the people that died in that violence. I am sure you heard that 120 people died in the violence.
It is difficult to talk of the effects of that violence, because losing even one soul in election violence is disastrous enough. I am sure that you are aware that in Malawi, when President Bingu wa Mutharika was elected on the then ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) ticket in 2004, opposition supporters cried foul over the results of the polls, which they felt were rigged. They went on a rampage, looting shops, blocking roads and engaging in street battles with the police.
In all that violence, in all that fighting for power, Malawi lost souls, but one that is remembered so much is that of little Epiphania Bonjesi, whose blood was shed by a bullet. Here was a little girl who did not really care whether it was Mutharika at the helm, or MCP leader John Tembo or Mgwirizano Coalition’s Gwanda Chakuamba. Epiphania was shot dead by police in the violence.
But I digress.
I was saying it is not the number of deaths in election violence that matters. Such deaths are unnecessary. Primarily, you, The Patriarch, will remember that many people were killed as they went to a foiled rally by Odinga at Uhuru Park soon after the election results were announced. You sure remember how Odinga accused Kibaki of ‘doctoring’ the vote. You haven’t forgotten how business came to a standstill and how a curfew was imposed as a result of the violence.
You, The Patriarch, are to judge whether those deaths, the violence, were necessary. I don’t think so, because after that loss of life, time and property, Odinga and Kibaki were shaking hands in a power-sharing deal, bolstered by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.
You also know of the Zimbabwe elections. In the first round of the polls neither Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe nor his nemesis Morgan Tsvangirai got the 50 percent needed for victory. That led to a run-off between the two, which consequently saw Tsvangirai pulling out and Mugabe making history by contesting against himself. We cannot talk about the 200 people who were reportedly killed in election violence. Neither can we talk about the 5,000 people abducted and 200,000 forced from their homes in the run-up to the polls.
Tsvangirai reasoned that it was a given fact that Mugabe, who claims only God can remove him from power, would not accept the election results if he failed. But the greatest surprise came when Mugabe and Tsvangirai signed a power-sharing deal initiated by former South African president Thabo Mbeki.
The Patriarch will also remember the Ghana elections, where the opposition leader John Atta Mills, against all odds succeeded John Kufuor as president. After two previous attempts to the presidency, Mills defeated the former ruling New Patriotic Party candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo. It is clear that for Mills it was the last key on his ring that opened the door to the state house, and he was lucky that the occupant was ready to walk out freely. Some African leaders would cling to power, even when they lose elections.
Now, you, The Patriarch, may be wondering why one would bring out these electoral issues. You will reckon that presidential hopefuls will soon be presenting their nomination papers to the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec). These parallels were meant to help draw contrasts and lessons that African politics is driven by some greedy force, a force that has often times left the majority of the people suffering.
We can also learn something from the marriages of the winners and losers in elections. These are marriages of convenience that are meant to hoodwink the populace. It happened in Malawi, soon after the 2004 elections Gwanda Chakuamba went into government, much to the disappointment of his supporters since at the time the smoke from the guns in the electoral violence had not yet settled. It may happen again.
Given the chance, you, The Partriarch, can be like UDF national chairman Bakili Muluzi who has been nominated by his party. This is Muluzi’s ploy for a comeback. The courts are yet to determine whether Muluzi who served as president for two consecutive terms from 1994 is eligible to stand.
That as it may be, Muluzi has unleashed his campaign, promising voters a better life. One thing that remains clear is that Muluzi is promising people things he should have done during his 10-year rule. It is not clear what new thing he has in his political basket for the Malawian on the street apart from rhetoric and an insatiable desire to bring down Mutharika.
Maybe he is banking his hopes on his belief that Malawians ‘easily forget’.
And Muluzi, a citizen of this country, has challenged Mutharika to a debate on the economy. Why he would love that debate beats the imagination. He has parliamentarians who must debate against Mutharika’s economic policy in Parliament. Since Muluzi is just a mere citizen at the moment, being granted a chance to debate with the President would mean all the 13 million Malawians should also be given the chance to debate with the president on the economy.
It is clear that Muluzi remains the same old talker. One with so many promises up his sleeve, promises he hardly fulfills. The Patriarch remembers, hopefully, the bit about shoes for one and all.
On the other hand, you can also be like President Mutharika, who keeps Malawians guessing on his political ideologies. He has not explained how he has managed to rule the country for the past five years when he ditched the party that got him to power, yet he has already started pointing fingers at the opposition UDF and MCP, accusing them of plots to rig.
During Mutharika’s reign, we have seen abuse of state resources like cars to political functions, a member of his cabinet has been involved in violence and the president has kept mum on the issue. Questions have been raised how democratic is his party. You will note that since his party, which bears the term democratic in its name, has a questionable ‘democratic’ character since all of its National Governing Council members are appointed and not elected as should be the case in any democratic entity. If it is a question of democracy in the party, then it is for the chosen few, those in the top echelons of the party.
You, The Patriarch, can be like Tembo who is on record as having said that he and the MCP have changed. He did not clearly define what has changed in him and the party, so Malawians are left to speculate. The once mighty party is known for its brutal 31-year dictatorship.
But such change must translate. It is a fact that the MCP cannot take us back to the days of the party cards, crocodiles, staged accidents, Mikuyu, exile and nyakula but Malawians would love to see the MCP really go by the tenets of democracy. If the party has really changed, why is it victimising speaker of the National Assembly Louis Chimango simply because it sees him as having put spanners in their pursuit to have him act on Section 65, the Constitutional provision that goes against MPs crossing the floor.
If at all the MCP has changed, it is clear that it has shifted from being the party that wanted the people of Malawi to have food in their homes, sleep in houses that do not leak when it rains and have clothes to cover their bodies to a party that puts political fights first. That came from Tembo’s own mouth when he said: "Section 65 number 1; Budget number 2."
Had it been 1999, this list should have included Chakuamba but apparently the man has lost a bit of the vigour he had. How else can you explain a political leader who, in this day and age, makes tribalistic tantrums? Chakuamba is alleged to have said all Alhomwes should be beaten up, a thing which led to his being sent to the cooler for a couple of days. His arrest got a cold reception, as the nation continued to do business as usual.
May be he owes Malawians an explanation why he back-tracked on his decision to become an evangelist. In the run-up to the 2004 polls, he said he would quit politics and become an evangelist if he lost.
I have been long-winded, The Patriarch, but I hope you will bear with me. I also know that those that are preparing to stand for presidency must know that by becoming the president, they are entering into a social contract with the people of Malawi. Such a contract, bound by the Republican Constitution, is only terminated and extended by the Malawian people with their vote.
Yours truly.