For someone who, at the height of the 2014 election campaign, was touted as the professional and youthful future of the Democratic Progressive Party, Vice President Saulosi Chilima must be wondering where it all went wrong and where all his political goodwill and favour has gone.
Currently, Chilima seems to be the rapidly forgotten man in the DPP. Even Malawians who once held him in high esteem are wondering what has happened to him.
Relegated to spearheading public service reforms that seem to be going nowhere, and administering a disaster preparedness program that could easily be taken care of by a junior ministry official; and totally ignored on any major government or DPP administrative process, the vice president has become very much a superfluous and redundant excellency; a political has-been before his political career even started.
At the height of the election campaign, Chilima was the epitome of the exuberance and innovation of youth, the steering power that would bring a breath of fresh air and originality to the old, dull and rather uninspiring Mutharika. Chilima had bags full of public goodwill. His successes in the private sector promised much. The election strategy for the DPP was credited to him. The thwarting of Joyce Banda’s attempts to rig the 2014 was credited to his perceptiveness and skilful manoeuvring of the electoral process and his unmatched understanding of cell phone technology courtesy of his days as Big Boss at Mobile phone giant Airtel. The nation anticipated with bated breath the refreshing and revolutionary politics that an outstandingly successful private sector player would bring to the DPP and to Malawi’s rotten governance framework.
Today, two years of promise seem to have been nothing but a mirage. The DPP has made sure that Chilima’s private success cannot be turned into any sort of political capital that can upset the balance of power and the secret succession plans unyieldingly entrenched in the heavily Lhomwe DPP. Thwarted and suppressed at every turn, the vice president must be a bewildered and demoralised man, wondering what wrong he has done to deserve this.
Observing the developments in the DPP, only a blind person would argue that current vice president Saulosi Chilima has any political future in the DPP. In the DPP Chilima has not been allowed to have any influence. While President Peter Mutharika remains automatically the president of the DPP as a party, Chilima is not also automatically vice president of the party.
The DPP has several vice presidents, but Chilima is not one of them. As a matter of fact, the vice president of the country does not have any position in the party that he represents, and is not even a member of the party’s National Governing Council. Having outlived his usefulness as a youth vote magnet for the elections, the DPP has promptly and predictably discarded Chilima, the one and only feature in the DPP epitomising the promise of reform, political credibility and genuine public goodwill. Not only that, but in ensuring that Chilima does not have any administrative portfolio of substance, the DPP hierarchy has also ensured the rapid decline of Chilima’s political capital, and blocked any possibilities of him resurrecting and rebuilding it.
In the DPP, Chilima’s private sector successes count for nothing. He is from the wrong tribe, and does not have enough proximity to the DPP power axis, a Lhomwe axis, for the baton of leadership to eventually be handed over to him. This is why we are seeing the bringing to prominence of such characters as George Chaponda, and the dubious yet potent cooperation between DPP and UDF, which probably considers Atupele Muluzi still a better option than Chilima. There is even talk of a George Chaponda – Ben Phiri presidential ticket for the DPP in 2019!
It would be foolish to think that this is pure coincidence or mere chance. The DPP here is doing what it knows best to do when it comes to matters of leadership succession. The party practiced this on Joyce Banda and it worked like charm, until of course, tragedy struck and Late Bingu died. With Joyce Banda in 2009, the motivation was to attract the women and eastern region vote. Once this was achieved, Joyce Banda was maligned, disenfranchised, and eventually accused and expelled. Of course when the hand of fate struck, many in the DPP regretted these actions, much like they would also regret repeating this mistake were lightning to strike twice.
But which way now for Chilima? If it is taken for granted that Chilima is the intelligent and smart customer we think he is, and that he is also politically perceptive, then surely he must know that what is happening to him has precedence, and that it is very much the DPP way. It would be disappointing, and even a betrayal of the faith and goodwill that many Malawians put in him for him to continue to take this kind of treatment lying down, as he seems currently to be doing.
But if he is to forge a political future, what are his options? This is the dilemma, and perhaps, I dare suggest, the reason he may be hesitant to react decisively to the shocking treatment he is being subjected to as vice president.
His options are few and far between and they are as follows:
1. He could bite his tongue, swallow the chill pill and follow the footsteps of Justin Malewezi or Cassim Chilumpha, and be the Vice President that nobody recognised, and for whom in the final analysis, the vice presidency spelled the end of their political careers.
2. He could follow the footsteps of Joyce Banda, grow a pair and boldly break rank. With Joyce Banda, it started exactly like it has started with Chilima. Joyce Banda saw the writing on the wall, understood what was happening and decided to do something about it. With a little help from the hand of fate, it eventually paid off. For Chilima, there are one or two political parties still unsure of whom their presidential candidate in 2019 will be. Would these welcome Chilima as their leader? Would it be an easy sell to Malawians for a former DPP government vice president to defect to another party and make a bid for the presidency? He could even form his own political party and run as its candidate. But is it not too late for such a move?
3. For insightful and critical minds, there is a third option. It requires a truly revolutionary mind and balls of steel. But it is the best one because it represents what Malawi really needs right now. However, this article is long enough already and I will therefore discuss this third option in the near future.
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