Cruising on the Road to 2014: Atupele Muluzi

Preamble:

“Every youth owes it to himself and to the world to make the most possible out of the stuff that is in him.” Orison Swett Marden (1850-1912).

One youth inspired by Marden is Atupele Austin Muluzi, Member of Parliament for Machinga North East, born on August 6, 1978. If several recent opinion polls are anything to go by, Atupele is on solid footing on the road to 2014.

Atupele’s bid:

Atupele’s bid for the 2014 presidential candidacy has aroused a lot of controversy, and it is providing very good entertainment to entertainment-starved Malawians in both urban and rural areas.

To his faithful followers, comprising mainly of those that have remained faithful to the United Democratic Front (UDF) through thick and thin, he is without doubt, the real deal.

Atupele Muluzi: 0n solid footing

Sceptics, on the other hand, are wary of him. And the cause of their concern is what transpired in Malawi between 2001 and 2003 – when Muluzi senior failed marginally to amend the constitution to award himself another shot at the presidency.

That is not all. President Bingu wa Mutharika was fished from the political abyss out of frustration by Muluzi senior, in the hope that he (Muluzi) would be pulling the ropes. Like many well laid schemes of mice and men, this agenda went sour. Sceptics now believe that Atupele is the manifestation of Muluzi Senior’s dream: “ third term”.

There is a neutral group which will ultimately decide Atupele’s fate in 2014. This group prefers to subscribe to Ezekiel 18:20 and not Exodus 34:7. They are and will continue measuring Atupele Muluzi strictly based on his strengths and weaknesses, in his own right.

We now join this last group, and enter the debate: reviewing the stuff Atupele is made of, what he has done and said so far, and if indeed he is capable of turning Malawi’s fortunes. While we are at it, we also have some good advice on offer – take it or leave it.

Education and Qualifications:

My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors.” – Maya Angelou.

 

While admitting that sound education is one of the prerequisites of anyone who wants to lead Malawi; from Maya Angelou’s observation, it appears that one does not necessarily need piles and piles of degrees to excel. Common sense is the answer.

 

Again, nothing in present day Malawi renders more credence to Maya Angelou’s assertion than the unrivalled mediocrity displayed by the current government. A government led and manned by a clueless bunch of professors, doctors and other such “learned” men and women.

 

This is not to imply that Atupele is inadequate education-wise, no. The young aspirant studied law at the University of Leicester where he obtained a law degree and then enrolled at College of Law in London.

 

“My major was in corporate finance. I have LLB degree in economics and law,” he said and further that he was a member of the law society in England and Wales but could not practise on return to Malawi since he neither joined the state chambers nor enrolled with the University of Malawi as per the requirements then.

Education-wise, Atupele is qualified. However, education comes with many caveats. According to Anatole France:  education is not necessarily how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know; but rather it is being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t.

 

Question is: is Atupele able to differentiate between what he knows and what does not know and therefore needs to ask/ learn /get ideas from others in running a government? If the answer is “yes”, then in him we have our man.

 

Experience:

A lot has been said about Atupele’s inexperience. Sam Mpasu at one point told Capital Radio Straight Talk Program that the young man is “unknown quantity and he has no benchmark of which Malawians can use”.

Mpasu argued that the young man has never been anything of consequence that the nation can use as a yardstick in assessing him. This was more or less echoed by Dr. Cassim Chilumpha.

In defence, the young Muluzi argued that it does not need one to have been a minister to run a country well.  This is of course true, and if he stopped here his detractors would be at a loss for further arguments. (Shelved: we will revisit this later)

Supporting Atupele’s stance, William Osler brings things into perspective when he asserts that “the value of experience is not in seeing much, but in seeing wisely”. In the case of Malawi, we have had presidents who have lived and travelled around the globe, and have assumed the presidency after amassing years and years of experience.

The results: wallowing and revelling in mediocrity, tyrannical and arrogance behaviour and a penchant for praise-seeking. They have all aimed very low. Whenever people harvested maize consistently, they would shout themselves hoarse into every ear in the vicinity, that they have developed the country “beyond recognition”. Is nsima = development?

But let a simple crisis arise. What happens? At best they take months (Chanco saga, 10 months) or worse, they ask for three years to solve things (when they have been in power for seven!)

Can anyone therefore fault Atupele for lack of experience? What experience? This, we leave open for debate.

Leadership potential:

The young Muluzi has so far demonstrated potential as a parliamentarian and chair or deputy chair of some parliamentary committees. When he stands to make a speech, he commands respect from the house where he is one of the younger ones.

To top this, he has won admiration from unexpected quarters with his mature, issue-based approach to the 2014 Campaign. No slander, to bad-mouthing, just issues. Whether the issues can stand scrutiny or the test of time, is another thing but this (slander-free campaign) in presidential campaign, is a novelty in Malawi. A good start we should say.

Raising the stakes:

Let us flip the coin, and retrieve what we shelved earlier on.  The one thing that Atupele (and his team) ought to learn and learn fast, is the folly of comparing apples to oranges and of copying and pasting.

Atupele Muluzi has demonstrated that he can come up with his own pitch. There is no doubt about this. But the “We believe we can” stuff that he peddled at parliament recently was certainly not his stuff. He sounded like a cheap pirate and a fake. “We can” is Obama’s trademark.

Secondly, even when provoked by the Mpasus of this world, he should not compare himself to people like Obama or Cameron. To any objective observer, there are more differences between Atupele and these two, than similarities. He should desist from further opening the pandora box!

Alternative to copy-and-paste:

Starting with his “New Agenda for Change” of September 29, 2011 Atupele should develop the concepts he proposed further, concretizing what it is he intends to change and how, selling strategies through which he will operationalize and translate his vision and explaining (politely) that none of his detractors have so far raised any issues or hows and wherefores.

To be specific and to illustrate this:

On “Transformation Area 1: The Economy”: Atupele said:

  1. “The benefits of macro-economic achievements have to work for all ordinary Malawians; especially poor people. This is what inclusive growth is all about”;
  2. “We need to re-think about how we can create decent paying jobs through new investments, support small businesses and entrepreneurs who are the life blood of our economy”; and
  3. “We need to create an enabling environment for Malawian businesses, large and small, so that they can make the most of the advantages of globalization and regional integration which offer remarkable opportunities by creating a profitable movement of goods and services, that broaden the chances to travel to new markets for our businesses.”

He now needs to elaborate, for the understanding of the common man, what he means by “inclusive growth,” why this has been illusive and how, under his leadership, this will be achieved.

On point number two, he was merely expressing a wish and if wishes were horses, beggars would be riding all over town. He needs to expound what polices will be changed or enhanced to encourage investment. More specifically he should tell the nation what he will do about Taxes and Taxation. Point number three, again, is more of a wish than a statement of strategy.

Charity begins at home:

This is where the crunch of matter lies.

Atupele should accept that the UDF has been and is sailing in rough waters and that he has inherited a potential “titanic”. He can save it or sink it. If he saves it, it will ferry him across and if it sinks, it will go down with him.

What should he do?

Before continuing “wowing” this and that town, making a speech here and there, he needs to unify the UDF – charity begins at home.  If he cannot bring the disgruntled parties together, reason with them and find a political win-win solution, how:

  • Does he hope to handle crises, critics and dissenting voices when he is in power? By let his supporters denigrate or harass them into acceptance? No ways!
  • Is he going to unite the many tribes and religions, the young and the old? By going about pretending all is well even when something wrong is afoot? Nada!
  • Is he going begin to deal with international diplomacy which perplexes even seasoned statesmen? He needs to show us now – starting with uniting the UDF.

Being a president requires energy, wisdom, conciliatory skills and most importantly an ability to unite people. If he can sort the UDF mess, he will have proved that he has guts. If the stand-off continues, well, we have had enough. We have suffered: budget stand-offs, Chanco standoff, Tembo-Daza stalemates, the recent Kasambara stand-off and honestly, we are now sick and tired of these.

Conclusion:

Atupele’s has many advantages in the race to 2014, hence many enemies. First, he is the first well known and well-resourced person to contest at this level at his age. Second, demographics are in his favour, and he falls in the right age group. Thirdly, whether one likes it or not, to some people his father was a hero, and these people cannot desert him.

However, if the opposition is to unseat the DPP government; a coalition is a must.  And this where the art of politicking comes in and this could be Atupele’s second litmus test (after the UDF mess).

IF he manages to forge a bankable coalition with say the Peoples’ Party (PP), a rejuvenated Malawi Congress Party (MCP) in the event that John Tembo paves way for the youth, AFORD, and even the other parties that currently have no foothold in parliament; he could go places.

There are several shapes and forms that the coalition could take, which are not the subject of this write-up. The only thing that can be said is that the earlier these alliances are forged, the better, lest people be confused if they come too late in the electoral calendar.

In conclusion, on behalf of the NyasaTimes, the editors and various columnists who have contributed to the research and on my own behalf, all the best on the road to Hon Atupele Muluzi. At all costs, avoid blunders!

 

*Wise One from the East and the A Team

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