End of an agenda? Muckracker on Atupele Muluzi

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” – Albert Einstein 

I am saying this for the nth time…I am not sure what curse afflicts politicians of all shapes and sizes; they all seem to have one lesson they do not learn – learning from other people’s mistakes.

Once upon a time there was Aford, a party that controlled a whole region. Aford, with its czar Chakufwa Chihana, was the king-maker in Malawi. Any of the two major parties – the UDF, in the South, and the MCP, in the Centre – could not do anything without the blessing of Aford.

Indeed Chihana oscillated from UDF to MCP and to UDF again and…

Atupele Muluzi and Peter Mutharika

Atupele Muluzi and  President Peter Mutharika

Then Chihana grew too big for his own shoes. The shoes burst on him and that was the beginning of the end of the dream, the end of the ‘once-upon-a-mighty-party’.

It was a pity that Aford, that ruled the North some 20 years ago, could hardly find willing candidates to stand on its ticket in the North, of all regions, in the just-ended elections. In the end, Enoch Chihana – son of the party’s patriarch – managed to barely hold on to his dad’s Rumphi Central seat.

But that was the only seat the party that midwifed multiparty politics in Malawi is bringing to Lilongwe. What a shame!

Ordinarily one would have thought others would easily learn from Aford’s from riches-to-rags tragi-comedy.

But hell, no! Another political dynasty wants to take the same highway to hell.

I interviewed Austin Atupele Muluzi when he was a fresh-faced 26-year-old wannabe MP when he was taking baby-steps to follow dad’s footsteps. That time Atcheya, the self-styled Political Engineer, had shipped Thengo Maloya to Taiwan to clear all cobwebs on his son’s route to Parliament via the Machinga North East seat.

It so happened that the time I was ushered in his office at the Trade Investment Bank in Dalamare House in Blantyre a young woman also bundled herself in.

The young lady, a baby-boy strapped to her back, happened to come from Atupele’s constituency. Her story was familiar: she wanted fees for her boy’s school.

“Where is his dad?” the young Muluzi asked.

That deflated the young lady. I was too embarrassed to follow the rest of the conversation but what I got was here was a young man ready to right the wrong politics his dad had invented.

You see, that time President Bakili Muluzi had just invented the ‘Father Christmas’ kind of politics in which the politician was the off-shoot of the Department of Disaster Preparedness, Relief and Rehabilitation. Anything from funerals to school fees, you just have to knock on the politician’s door and you get your solace.

But here was the young Muluzi teaching this hapless young lady that she was not Virgin Mary whom the father of her son, Jesus, was invisible. Muluzi schooled the young lady that whoever set her in the family way must be responsible for the welfare of his off-spring while, he – Muluzi – should look after the welfare of the entire constituency by way of making good laws in Parliament.

The young lady left Delamare House visibly disappointed.

Fast-forward 2012, I was to meet AA again, this time on the eve of the launch of his seminal ‘Agenda for Change’. My friend Idriss and I were taxed by you-know-who to give the young politician some pep-talk as he was about to launch his bid for State House.

For three hours Atupele was receptive to our ideas, even when we told him, albeit in not as many words, that 2014 was probably too soon for him. Of course David Cameron entered Number 10 Downing Streets as a fresh-faced 43-year-old while Barack Obama lodged in the White House at 46. Indeed Matteo Renzi occupied Palazzo Chigi in Rome at the tender age of 39.

But, as they say, age ain’t nothing but a number; there are other fundamentals to look for apart from age, chief among them experience. AA was a two-term MP then. Apart from that he had nothing else to show by way of leadership experience.

Be that as it may, after he unveiled his ‘Agenda for Change’, nature availed itself to his favour. After those ‘three mad days of April’ catapulted Joyce Banda to State House, AA was given a chance to gain government experience as a government minister.

But he flunked his chances when he could not stand a few tongue-lashings from some PP aficionados. But I think that was just an excuse. AA planned to leave government at some point to make it easy for him to bid for State House.

But did he really think he would win the elections? Trends around the world are in favour of youthful leaders, of course, but age is not the end in itself. Experience is key. Prime Minister Renzi in Italy has been a well-known fiery-tongued Mayor of Rome while Obama, apart from being a first-time Senator, was community organiser extra-ordinaire in Chicago. The Milliband brothers, Ed and David, and Cameron in London were not green in politics despite their age.

Yes, our laws say you can bid for the top job once you hit 35 but the law could not have included the sub-text that you needed the requisite experience to make a meaningful bid.

In the run up to the elections we knew AA was in the Top Four among the presidential wannabes but in my book he brought up the rear of the quartet (and it indeed turned out that way!) In fact I remember casually telling Lucius Banda that AA should aim at bringing 30 MPs to Parliament, only then could he seriously start scheming for 2019, he should forget 2014.

Perhaps, with hindsight, AA could have improved his chances of ever lodging in State House had he stuck with Ama. It was clear Joyce Banda would find it tough to dribble through three men baying for her blood. If AA had stuck with her perhaps she could have offered him the running mate slot.

It could have been an Eastern Region ticket, of course, but Bingu broke that regional jinx by bringing us a South-South ticket and massively won the national poll.

Looking at the figures from the 2014 polls, Peter won massively in the South. An Ama-AA ticket would have slowed him down. In fact the UDF would have improved its figures in Parliament for the PP would have left some seats for it.

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