Chilima and Usi: Was their personal and leadership relationship okay in UTM?

Since their political marriage in 2019, there hasn’t been any evidential report indicating a fallout between UTM departed leader, Saulos Chilima and his second, Michael Usi; however, since that tragic plane crash, tongues continue to wag suggesting that the relationship between the two may not have been as rosy as it appeared in the public.

File photo: United Transformation Movement leader Saulos Chilima at Njamba Freedom Park and in the picture he is being welcomed by Michael Usi of odya zake alibe mulandu.

How, really, was the personal and leadership relationship between the two from 2019 to that fateful June 10th 2024 when the plane crashed and claimed the life of the veep and eight others?

It has not been easy to get all key stakeholders–mostly party leaders, acquaintances and family–to speak on this issue as all of them emphasised that they are still in the season of mourning.

However, Nyasatimes managed to speak to some senior members of UTM Central Executive Committee who, on condition of anonymity, have helped to paint a picture of undertones that does, to a larger extent, explain how Chilima and Usi related both at a personal and leadership level.

Our investigation are premised from several questions that have emanated since Chilima’s passing after the public saw how invisible and less involved Usi was in most UTM pressers. As a matter of fact, UTM held over four press briefings but Usi only appeared in one and, again, he never spoke leaving it to the Secretary General, Patricia Kaliati, to do the honours.

But in an interview with two UTM senior executive members, something collaborated with the voices on the ground, the personal relationship between Chilima and Usi was shrouded in cordial secrecy as these two came together in 2019, not as personal friends, but with a predominant shared vision of taking over government and fixing the country.

The first petitioner Saulos Chilima of UTM Party and his deputy Micheal Usi smiling after Supreme Court ruling dismissed Mutharika and MEC appeal bid in 2020

“At their personal level, its not easy to tell how they related though none in UTM has ever felt any difference between them. They visibly and audibly came out cordial and warm. But what we need to understand is that both of them had achieved big at their tender ages: the other a CEO of a big company and the other Country Director of a huge multi-billionaire dollar institution. They were very successful in their own right; however, they shared a burden to serve this nation. That is what brought them together also cemented their union,” he said.

He added: “But what most people in UTM Executive would never deny is that these two had a chemistry of leadership. Chilima was the coach and Usi was the driver. Chilima could set the agenda of the party and once debated and concluded, Usi was given the driving seat to ensure that the set agenda is implemented to the letter and achieved.”

The two sources also collaborated on why Chilima took Usi as his second in 2019 saying the former Country Diretor of Adra Malawi, the first Malawian to hold the office, well connected both at a local and international level.

They said through his ‘Odya Zake Alibe Mulandu’ project and, also, with his experience in community-driven theatre for development projects at Adra Malawi, Usi cultivated unlimited and undeniable access to community structures and, again, with his acting and public engagement skills, Usi embodies rare community mobilisation skills which every politician needs.

Usi spreading festive cheer at the hospital

“Through his corporate leadership job as Country Director of multi-donor funded Adra, Usi had also cultivated a goodwill of the international community because of how effectively and efficiently managed billions of funds that donors pulled in. You need money to run politics. These are qualities you would never ignore in any political organisation,” said the source.

The two sources further added, in their separate interviews, that Chilima was quite a visionary leader, coming from a strong corporate background; however, he needed a foot soldier who is internationally recognised but locally loved and connected–that person was Usi. This, they confided in us, explains their leadership blend of skills.

As a matter of detail, Nyasatimes also heard that even in most Central Executive Committee meetings of UTM Chilima could barely finish chairing the meetings.

“He was always leaving it to Usi to finalise chairing the meetings. That tells you how cordial their leadership relationship was and it also underlines Chilima’s systematic respect for the party’s leadership hierarchy,” said the source.

Nyasatimes also spoke to one lady, a member of central executive committee, who has been part of what she termed ‘special meetings which Chilima was always delegating Usi to be mobilising and consolidating the party at the grassroot level.

Usi in one of the many community mobilisation programmes sent by Hon Chilima

“I have travelled several times with Hon Usi, touring the country, where we were meeting with structures on the ground. The thing is with Hon Usi, he always emphasised that when building, you don’t build while the public is watching.

“Because of that philosophy, he convinced Hon Chilima that he will never travel with the media while consolidating grassroots because it is an invitation for detractors to destroy. So, sent by our president, we travelled several places with Hon Usi building and consolidating structures outside the public eye. In all these projects, Hon Usi was reporting directly to Hon Chilima,” said the lady.

The lady further said that with Usi, he loves handling party issues away from the media, always choosing contact and dialogue than media statements because he believes that any organisation has inherent capacity to resolve its differences without involving the media. This, the lady continued, explained why despite all the stories flying around suggesting that he is not loved in UTM, he chose to refrain from the media concentrating on reaching out.

Nyasatimes attempted to speak to Kaliati but she reportedly said she is still in the season of mourning. Even efforts to speak to UTM spokesperson Felix Njawala also proved futile as he also gave the similar reason. Our efforts, too, to contact Usi failed to materialize for the same reason.

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