What is Dr. Bakili Muluzi's real legacy?

It is hard to know what Dr Bakili Muluzi’s real legacy will be – the man who successfully led Malawi through the immediate post- dictatorship era and masterfully instilled a culture of democracy in the country, or a man who through selfish interests suffocated and killed the once mighty United Democratic Front party.

During the referendum period of 1992, Malawi was a very dangerous place to be for politicians. To most people, the Malawi Congress Party was the only party they had known. Very few people would dare openly challenge the state president of the time, Dr Kamuzu Banda. The Catholic Bishops, who had just challenged the president, were threatened with death by some overzealous party officials. Chakufwa Chihana had just been imprisoned for treason.

It was against this background that Muluzi and his friends announced the formation of the UDF pressure group. This pressure group would eventually mushroom into the formidable UDF party. The dangers of being in opposition during this period cannot be overstated. If the government of the day had won the 1992 referendum, Muluzi and his friends would have been imprisoned or even killed. Yet none of these dangers distracted Muluzi. He successfully led the opposition through the referendum and eventually became the country’s first state president of the multi-party era.

Muluzi

As a first president with so much goodwill, there were many temptations for him to take Malawi back to some form of totalitarian. If he wanted he could have convinced people to ban the Malawi Congress Party – the only substantive opposition party at the time. Muluzi resisted and stayed on course. Even when the misguided 3rd term amendment failed, Muluzi peacefully stepped down from power. In no small measure, we are a vibrant democracy today because of the good choices Muluzi made in those first few years.

This is a remarkable story of a Malawian hero. But if you do not see Dr Bakili Muluzi’s name next to that of the famed Nelson Mandela, it is because this is not Muluzi’s whole story. The achievements of the democrat Muluzi have always been eclipsed by the shortfalls of Muluzi the self-centered politician.

When Muluzi left power, he made sure he chose somebody whom he could still control. Unfortunately he picked a wrong person and the whole plan failed through. So he went for plan B – he would run against his own chosen successor. That too didn’t work out well. Plan C was, even by Muluzi’s own standards, quite shocking. At the risk of dividing the party he co-founded, he funded a convention and had his son elected as chairman and 2014 presidential candidate. Not even Hollywood could have made up that story!

If the UDF had any chances of winning the 2014 elections, today those chances are hovering somewhere around zero. The UDF is now led by a man who has been part of this present government, having held an important portfolio in this government and yet accomplishing nothing by the time of his leaving. Such a person is now seeking to be president in 2014. One can almost picture a textbook campaign against the UDF based on this glaring fact.

Joyce Banda is many things; stupid is not one of them. Joyce Banda’s task of campaigning against the UDF in 2014 has just been made easier. It will be very surprising if Joyce and other aspirants’ 2014 campaign against Atupele will not be centered on this unfortunate fact.

It is hard to believe how one family can pursue their self-interest with no sensitivity whatsoever to millions of Malawians who identify themselves as UDF supporters. When Atupele Muluzi was elected president of the UDF, a lot of UDF supporters called on him to resign from his ministerial post. This was a fair proposition. It would be difficult for the UDF to distinguish itself from the ruling party while its own leader is the minister in the same government. Atupele refused to resign. He had goals he wanted to accomplish in this government. Surprisingly, a few days ago when some PP members ridiculed him at a rally, Atupele left the government immediately. Apparently, all those other goals he had in mind were now forgotten.

And so when it was in the party’s interest for him to leave government and concentrate on building and distinguishing the UDF, he refused. Yet, when his ego and character were attacked, he left immediately. In many ways this sums up the real legacy of the Muluzi family – ‘pursuit of self-interest with no regard to national interests’.

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