Chakwera, man of the moment: Malawi road to 2014

Dr Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera BA. BTh (Hons). MTh. D.Min. has now confirmed his interest to contest for the party presidency at the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) convention to be held from April 27th to 29th.

The person elected at this convention will lead the party in the tripartite elections next year.

As far as front-line politics is concerned, where politics is restricted to “party politics”, he is a novice.

For the record, other names going around MCP circles are Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo S.C., a Mr. Felix Jumbe, Prof Matthews Chikaonda and the ‘ever-present’ party Secretary General, Chris Daza.

At the outset, it should be stated that the chances of all these MCP hopefuls are subject to veteran J.Z.U. Tembo quitting the big stage gracefully or in disgrace.

Dr Lazarus Chakwera - bidding for MCP presidency

Dr Lazarus Chakwera – bidding for MCP presidency

Moving forward, in-depth analyses of Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo, Mr. Felix Jumbe and Chris Daza will follow once and if they come in the open.

Again, an update on Prof Matthews Chikaonda, who already graced this series on Nyasa Times in March 2012 will be re-offered for reconsideration.

But today, let us zoom on Dr. Lazarus Chakwera, the man in the news.

Bio data:

According to the CV of this new broom, he was born in Lilongwe on April 5, 1955; meaning that he will be 59 years old in May 2014.

On the educational front, he earned his Bachelor of Arts Degree (Philosophy)  from the University of Malawi in 1977; an honours degree (BTh) from the University of the North, Sovenga, South Africa in 1981; and ten years later (1991) got his masters (MTh,) from the University of South Africa.

He was awarded a doctorate (D. Min) by the Trinity International University, in Deerfield, Illinois, USA in 2000 and a professorship in 2005 at the Pan Africa Theological Seminary.

What has he done in life so far?

After a stint as a lecture in 1981 (Biblical Studies) at the University of the North (RSA), he returned home.

And from 1983 to 2000, he worked as an Instructor at the Assemblies of God School of Theology, rising to the position of Principal in 1996.

From 2002 to date he is the Co-Director and Lecturer at All Nations Theological Seminary and has written various publications.

Dr Chakwera is best known, locally and internationally, as President of the Malawi Assemblies of God, a position he has held from 1989 to date.

On top of this, he finds time to serve Malawi, Africa, and the world at large in many other capacities.

He has co-founded and is serving in many national, regional and global ecumenical organizations and has several years experience serving as chairman and board member in a number of parastatal bodies.

He chaired the Petroleum Control Commission (PCC), 2005 – 2007; and now chairs the Malawi National Council of Sports from 2007. He is also a trustee of the Media Council of Malawi from 2007 and has been a member of the Public Universities Working Committee of Malawi since 2011.

More details are on this link.

Dr Lazarus Chakwera – the family man:

He is married to Monica and together they have four grown children, three married and raising their own children.

While Dr Lazarus Chakwera comes from Malembo Village in the Traditional Authority (TA) Khongoni in Lilongwe District, his wife Monica comes from JekaVillage, TA Chikulamayembe, in Rumphi District.

So there you have it: a family uninhibited by tribe or region of origin; one spouse from the central region of Malawi, and the other from the northern region of Malawi, espousing the adage, living happily ever after.

Dr Lazarus Chakwera – the communicator:

Dr Lazarus Chakwera is a very experienced church planter and leader, trainer and educator, evangelist and pastor, missions’ professor and international conference speaker and most importantly a communicator and orator par excellence.

This explains his role in the mediation of the Budget vs. Section 65 impasse of 2004-2009 – discussed later in this write-up.

Being a good communicator is critical if he is to lead the MCP orMalawifor that matter. This is because when leading, it is not necessarily what you know, nor what you are personally capable of doing, but rather how you motivate, inspire and enthuse a whole spectrum of players – with diverse and at times conflicting interests – towards a common goal.

Would the skills above come in handy at the helm of the MCP and as the leader of the Malawi people? If the answer is yes, then the MCP faithful at the convention have their work cut out for them.

Suffice to say that he is a man with proven experience in working with people at all levels, from the grassroots to sitting on boards. Again, he is a proven net worker locally, regionally and internationally.

What can his leadership mean for MCP?

There are several ways in which the MCP would benefit from the breath of fresh air injected by a new, able, experienced and clean leader like Dr Lazarus Chakwera.

The first is obvious: this presents the MCP a rare opportunity to genuinely rebrand. The second flows from his current constituency, his being the president (nationwide) of the Assemblies of God.

Unlike many of us, he can validly claim to be known in all corners of Malawi through the works of his hands, and the works of his hands alone – and be right.

This may sound simple, but look around you and count people – even high profile – who can make such a claim without fear of contradiction. I can assure you, you will not run out of fingers.

Such people are a rare breed.

He would therefore need little or no introduction at all, from Chitipa to Nsanje, giving the MCP, in twenty years, its first real shot at winning the elections.

His leadership will also attract new members from the crowds that have been starving of party membership because all the parties have offered them nothing knew so far, all being prodigal kids of each other.

The fact is: the Peoples Party (PP) came from the womb of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP); and the DPP in turn was begotten by the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the UDF itself, if it has a home, is MCP.

Therefore, Malawians who were lost due to the fact that all the parties born of the old MCP (directly or indirectly) have offered nothing new, except coping and pasting old MCP practices, like for example the culture of praising human beings; will be looking to a new person to make the MCP one again lead the other parties in shedding off the bad habits.

To be fair, the relatively new parties have not done badly in all fronts. They have performed with distinction, as recycling machines; which explains the vicious circleMalawiis spinning in.

Fixing this will only be possible if Dr Lazarus Chakwera is given the mantle to lead the MCP. An MCP with a new man, a clean man, untainted with both pre-referendum and post-referendum politics; yet conversant enough withMalawiwill definitely get a different result this time around.

Again, the fact that he crossed regional boundaries to marry in the north, speaks volumes. On top of his central region advantage; he is better placed to be accepted in the north and hence make the MCP a force to reckon with not only in the centre, but also in the north; and via religious association, in the South too.

Now look at this from this perspective: since the Southern vote will be split mainly three ways (with the Lhomwevote likely to go to Arthur Peter Mutharika; the Eastern (Yao) vote further split between Joyce Banda and Austin Atupele Muluzi), which party will beat an MCP under Chakwera, which could potentially carry the central and northern regions and even get some votes from the divided south?

MCP has never had this advantageous position before, and only Dr Lazarus Chakwera, as of now, is offering this angle to this party.

But all this depends on what the MCP convention will decide. Is it going to settle for the old and bet on failing or is it going to elect Dr. Lazarus Chakwera and become a serious contender on the road to 2014?

We will know on the 29th.

To conclude this section, this is MCP’s chance, in twenty years, to rebrand, make a serious electoral bid and get back into government.

Dr Chakwera: is he indeed a novice?

Dr Lazarus Chakwera is not a new face in both the academia and the corporate world. Firstly, he is a lecturer at the All Nations Theological Seminary, an institution where he has been instrumental from inception.

Again, he is a member of the Public Universities Working Committee, a 17-member grouping of experts set up in July 2011 to spearhead the country’s plans to construct five new institutions of higher learning within a decade.

This is what resulted, among other things in the de-linking of Bunda College of Agriculture from the University of Malawito Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Dr. Chakwera, having served as board chairperson and member of board of trustees for a number of various organizations in the corporate world, means that the corporate world holds no mysteries for him.

Those with a good memory will recall his inclusion as a member of the Negotiation Team during the 2004-2009 Budget vs. Sec. 65 Impasse. This more than testifies the confidence that the two feuding parties had in him as an arbitrator and a problem solver.

To put it differently, finding an Achilles Heel in Dr Lazarus Chakwera’s curriculum vitae is an uphill task, more like looking for snow in the Sahara, and no doubt many of his rivals would do anything, anything, to inherit such a resume.

What could a Chakwera presidency offer to Malawi?

This discussion, though theoretical at this point, since first the MCP must elect and mandate him to lead the party is nevertheless worth its while.

From his resume, it is clear that Dr. Lazarus Chakwera is a very mature candidate, sophisticated enough to handle complex problems, educated enough to command respect at international forums and humble enough to mix with the crowd.

But all these assets are nothing if he has little or no knowledge of the problems hounding the poor Malawian woman, man and child in the village.

The Roman Catholic Bishops, when responding to accusations of getting involved in politics have always insisted thatno-one, repeat, no-one is better placed than the clergy, to witness first-hand the impact that non-transformational leaders, poor policies and bad laws have on the livelihood of the poor man, woman and child in Chitipa, Nsanje, Mchinji, Mangochi etc etc.

Therefore, Dr Lazarus Chakwera, it can be argued, is miles ahead of the so called experienced and professional politicians who only sympathize with the common man when it suits them.

But as said before, the offer made by Dr Lazarus Chakwera is subject to vetting by the MCP convention and in this regard, the MCP would do very well to rise beyond party politics for the sake of mother Malawi and indeed it very self.

Challenges:

This write-up will be mere hype if it fails to highlight some challenges that Dr Lazarus Chakwera will have to surmount, especially in the event that he passes the MCP litmus test.

The case of the “late President Mutharika of 2004 to 2009 vs. himself of 2009 till death” offers a lot of lessons in how a post-referendum leader can start well and finish badly.

The case of current president Joyce Banda is also a trove of lessons in leadership or lack thereof, and in making a difference or playing to the gallery.

In short, there are, other than dealing a death blow to poverty, five parameters which can make or break a legacy:

1) the leadership’s perception of criticism and contrary opinion;
2) Quality of advisors and hangers on;
3) Intricacies of engaging the fluid western donors, (plus the China factor);
4) Human rights as seen from the African context and as viewed by the west especially the burning issue of “minority rights”; and
5) Corruption and nepotism.

How any Malawi leader handles or mishandles these never impacts them directly, but the mishandling never fails to hit the poor hardest. How Dr Lazarus Chakwera will handle these, especially point number four, could divide or unite opinion.

The question which both prospective voters and western donors are now asking is: what, given his background, is his stance on gay rights?

We will certainly cross these bridges as and when we reach them, but nevertheless it has to be said that leading Malawi cannot be listed as one of the easiest of tasks.

And this is all the more reason why Dr. Lazarus Chakwera is ranking high amongst the rest.

Conclusion:

MCP will never get another real shot if it snubs Dr. Lazarus Chakwera offer. In fact, if the MCP loses in 2014, it may not even reach 2019.

“I believe that I represent the kind of transformational leadership that Malawi needs to stir her from the seeming vicious cycle of mediocrity, corruption, nepotism and politics of subsistence to high levels of excellence, integrity, unity and abundance for all,”  Dr. Lazarus Chakwera has said.

The bottom line is: in one sentence, he has nailed the viruses that have been, are and will continue harassing Malawi; if Malawians do not try something new, some one untainted with any of our old or recent mediocre political pasts.

As of now, there is no one on the horizon, other than Dr. Lazarus Chakwera.

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