Unmuted voices in Malawi elections: Tenthani’s Muckraking

“Vox populi,

vox Dei”

Alcuin to Charlemagn

That Latin quotation above is extracted from a 798 letter scholar Alcuin of York wrote Charlemagne, also known as Charles the Great – the King of the Franks.

It simply translates as, “the voice of the people (is) the voice of God.”

A couple of years ago we did an experiment on this column which was such a hit that other columnists copied it. We did not do anything out of this world. What we did was just to go to some places where ordinary folks gather like in beer halls or at funerals.

In between the imbibing or the mourning, people do enter into idle talk on issues of the day, especially politics.

Four front runners- Malawi 2014 presidential candidates: Joyce Banda, Lazarus Chakwera, Atupele Muluzi and Peter Mutharika

Four front runners- Malawi 2014 presidential candidates: Joyce Banda, Lazarus Chakwera, Atupele Muluzi and Peter Mutharika

So as we celebrate the risen Chris today, let us sit back and relax and follow the Muckraker at some drinking joint in the outskirts of the City of Blantyre.

So, incognito, I perched myself on an empty crate of the opaque stuff. As it turned out, a heated argument was on-going.

Here we go:

“You’re lying! I maintain she’s a coward to chicken out of the debates!” a young man spotting a Rooney t-shirt said matter-of-factly.

It did not take me time to figure out who the ‘coward’ was.

Amwene, Joyce Banda ndi shasha!” joined another. “She can’t waste time on debates where people will just parrot empty dreams.”

“Me, I don’t understand why she is pulling out. I mean, she has been in this game for years, she’s a good public speaker.”

“I think she’s afraid that when the issue of cashgate comes up she’ll be booed.”

“But she has a perfect line for cashgate, trust me! The fact that it broke on her watch means she is fighting corrupting and wouldn’t allow the looting to continue. Truth be told, the looting begun during the Muluzi time and was perfected by Bingu only to be killed by JB.”

A young man, spotting a mohawk hairstyle probably ‘out of bounds’ from the nearby secondary school, chirped in: “I am with my president on this one. How can you have a debate of 12 people? If they give each candidate two minutes, it will mean one question will last a whole half hour! And that’s minus the opening remarks and the moderator. This thing will be boring. By the time we reach the sixth candidate people will be dozing.”

I fought the urge to agree with the young man’s observation. How can you have a debate of 12? Malawian parties, lacking ideologies as they are, all the candidates will be saying the same things albeit using different words.

Somebody called for a round of the opaque stuff and included me. There is still love in this world, me, a stranger having a freebie here where nobody knows me?

I mumbled my gratitude.

Eti madala?” the benefactor prompted me. As they say, there is no free lunch; this guy wanted me to say something, thanks to the stuff he bought me. “Debate ya anthu anthu 12?”

I wanted to say something but the lady who was serving us changed the subject.

Koma akulu akulu, jelasi down, basi ya a Katsonga imandiwaza,” she said admiring the PPM campaign bus.

“That guy is a joker,” somebody said flippantly. “He thinks he can win the national vote? He should have been fighting to win back the seat he lost to that old lady.”

“I don’t understand politicians,” the school boy said. “One family, two presidential candidates? And Davies celebrates when PPM members defect to his Chipani cha…what does he call it again? If they can’t agree as a family how do they hope to unite the country?”

“Look, guys,” somebody who had been quite all this time, attracted our attention. “For me, I don’t have a problem with any of the candidates winning but Peter? Peter yekha ndiye bola amai abere ndithu.”

“What’s wrong with Peter?” somebody, obviously a DPP supporter, asked angrily.

“It’s too soon to have another Mutharika in State House. If God didn’t take him when he did, Bingu could have ruined this country. So do we want more of the same?”

M’mimba ndi m’chipala amwene,” somebody said. “Peter can’t be the same as Bingu.”

“By the way, guys, who’s gonna win these elections?”

“Chakwera!”

“Amayi!”

“Peter!”

“Atupele!”

I could not resist this and decided to put on my journalist cap.

“Why do you think Atupele will win?”

“There will be a lot of first time voters in these elections who are, obviously, the youth. So their choice is obvious.”

“But if you’re talking about the youth vote, then Ama will win because she has Sosten Gwengwe as running mate – a youth.”

“But why should the youth vote for No. 2 when there’s a No. 1 on the ballot? This game is for Atupele to lose.”

“Continue deluding yourself, folks, Ama will win because we have three powerful opposition leaders who will divide the anti-Joyce vote amongst themselves, leaving JB to win easily.”

“But I think Chakwera will win because, while all the other three serious candidates will share the Southern Region vote, the MCP has no real opposition in the Central Region. Of course Ntcheu is always fickle and the northern part of Kasungu may not be as conservative. But still Chakwera has the Central Region block vote to rely on.”

“But the incumbency factor will favour Ama,” somebody reasoned. “People in towns may dispute her cow and goat campaign but these things mean a lot for the villager. Joyce Banda is not stupid; she knows her game.”

  • The article was published in The Sunday Times newspaper.
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