Those that were born towards the end of the 20th century and in fact those born in the 21st century era will hardly grasp the content of this piece. However, they should know their past in order to appreciate their present and future.
The dawn of multiparty airwaves in Malawi in 1992/3 changed not only the political terrain but also religious landscape. I could recall while I was at Mzimba Secondary School that people had to sleep on queues with a sole reason to oust tambala wakuda (black cock) in a highly contested atmosphere (it was a black cock vs. a lamp). The choice was not all that complex and sophisticated as the electorates were tired of black cock.
Before the real general elections of 1994, campaigners did their best in showcasing and wooing people through their manifestos. Among the various parties (AFORD, MCP, UDF….) that contested at that time, one orator played smart cards up to the end. Needless to say that he cunningly used his home electorates as scaffolds because in politics (no need of emphasis here) is said to be a game of numbers. This orator was no other than Atcheya.
Atcheya could use political rhetoric and rubrics (I don’t want to say locusts, mice and lizards here) such as alliterations, hyperboles, paradoxes and riddles to make people lose their consciousness. He could sometimes convince people by hollow promises like:
Nonsenu ndidzakugulirani nsapato (I will buy shoes for all of you)
Ndidzamanga mlatho pakati pa Nkhatabay ndi Likoma (I will construct a bridge on Lake Malawi from Nkhatabay to Likoma)
Ndidzaphwetsa Nyanja ya Malawi (I will empty waters from Lake Malawi)
As a matter of political routinization, gifted women in their soprano tone could not control their habit of ululation—“lyo!lyo!lyo! boma ilo! Atcheya omwewo kuli wawawaaaaaaah!” This could give Atcheya political vigor to say—“Atcheya amenewo, kuchitekete, ku mtunda wosati masewera…” Atcheya could also distribute K50 notes which at times ended into violence. The 1999-2000 erratic famine was historic but was not felt much because Atcheya could bring tracks of maize at a political rally for people to receive. No sooner did the rallies end than the tracks disappeared into the thin air.
Those were days when I personally could not miss listening to Atcheya during rallies covered by state controlled machinery, MBC. How I wish Zodiak Radio and TV were there to cover the events live. No need to emphasize the role played by Soldier Lucius Banda in spicing at least all the events in yellow regalia with his songbird in masculine vocalization- ‘Kumpoto, yellow! Pakati, yellow! Kumwera, yellow! yellow! yellow!’
When Atcheya was constitutionally moved out of office in 2004, the political barometer changed the whole scene (I am not interested to narrate this episode). From that time to date, it needed and it still needs a philosopher to grasp what is said at a political podium (both opposition and government) or else the listener misses the whole agenda.
Atcheya’s son, I suppose, has not taken the father’s mantle. He is busy with ‘ung’ono-ung’ono trade mark’ as an agenda for change. Let’s hope this change is his father’s habit of saying ‘zinthu zatani? Zatotanije?- zasintha!!!!’ It’s my hope that one day the son will mimic the father’s political alphabet.
How I wish old rhetoric of Atcheya come back in 2018 and 2019 when political gurus put their knitty gritty things together as they scramble for Plot Number 1 within the parabola of tripartite elections. Bring back Atcheya (not the real Atcheya but his campaign gimmicks) and make Malawi, Malawi again!!
- Writer: Rev Colby Kumwenda is a Doctoral student at Yonsei University, South Korea. He studies Theology and Economics. His email address is [email protected]