The voting pattern in the just ended tripartite election has exposed how various regions and society groups assimilate and respond to campaign messages from politicians in Malawi. Of particular importance was how the northern region responded to campaign messages from the three major political parties – Malawi Congress Party (MCP), UTM and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) – particularly regarding the quota system of selecting students to the University of Malawi.
Almost all the political parties had something to say on the quota system. DPP had no clear policy pronouncement on the quota system while MCP and UTM which were agitating for the abolishment of the system.
However, in as much as MCP and UTM were singing from the same hymnbook, the message from MCP appeared mostly disjointed and incoherent. Saulos Chilima and his UTM on the other hand were more thunderous with the same message. The message from UTM was more succinct; well packaged because, apart from demonizing the quota system and christening it as satanic, the party somehow outlined what it would do as an alternatives for the system.
Looking at the fact that the quota system was and still is one of the key campaign issues in the northern region, it was the expectation of many stakeholders that UTM would make it big in the region as far as amassing votes was concerned. In fact, it was clear ahead of the polling date that Chilima and UTM were more popular and connecting with the people of the northern region than the other political parties in the country.
Some UTM officials were even heard boasting on a number of occasions that “the northern region is our base”. The reason was simple, it was Chilima who appeared to be more decisive and determined to deal and do away with an issue that continues to hold sway with the people of the northern region – the quota system.
However, as much as the UTM may have swept substantial votes in the region, it did not get as many votes as many people expected. It was actually MCP, which unexpectedly amassed a lot of votes in the region to the surprise of many people who are aware of the history of the party in this country, especially its relationship with the people of the northern region.
What many people do not know is that, contrary to the popular belief, it is MCP which introduced quota system in this country and not DPP.
DPP only upheld and sustained a system that was already there; a system authored by Hastings Kamuzu Banda and some MCP demigods of that time such as John Tembo in 1987.
On November 6, 1987, John Tembo, the then Chairman of the University Council announced the Quota System decision in his opening address at the congregation for presenting academic awards to successful university students at the Great Hall, Chancellor College.
According to Tembo, the quota system decision was arrived at “In a bid to grant equal opportunity for university students in all districts.”
Tembo, who was dictator Kamuzu Banda’s right hand man that time told a surprised audience that from 1987/88 academic year, government (MCP) had directed that admission be on the basis of “ten (10) guaranteed places for each district with the remaining places being distributed among the districts in proportion to their population density”.
This was a decision that effectively barred deserved people from acquiring university education, which also meant that lowering university education standards. The northern region, which has very small district population densities was the worst affected.
MCP should, therefore, have been the party to be crucified in the northern region in this election if only voters were more informed and well attuned to the history of this country. It was under MCP that many people from the northern region were visited with various atrocities some of which can take the whole day to document here.
Under the Kamuzu regime, so many sons of the northern region were summaraily fired from their jobs in the public and private sector for unimaginable reasons bordering on insubordination to Kamuzu; some were beaten and even killed for simply questioning decisions Kamuzu made.
Many sons and daughters of northern region were thrown in jail just for not being in good stead to neighbors who were friends of Kamuzu under the MCP system.
Sons of the northern region like Mkwapatila Mhango; Kanyama Chiume; Dunduzu Chisiza; Yatuta Chisiza; Orton Chirwa suffered immensely under Kamuzu for only showing some ‘brilliance’ in what they did and for second-guessing Kamuzu’s decisions.
Others like Dunduzu Chisiza and Orton Chirwa died mysterious deaths; under circumstances that were later revealed to be the handwork of the Special Branch, the notorious Police branch, which Kamuzu operated that time and used to carry out MCP’s dirty work such as eliminating political opponents. It was this branch, which was used to abduct Orton Chirwa from Zambia and to bring him back to Malawi where he was eventually killed in jail and also to bomb and kill Mkwapatila Mhango at his home.
It was in 1987, MCP ordered that all teachers from the northern region should be repatriated back to their homes in one of the saddest episodes in the history of this country that can best be described as sadistic. The teachers were unceremoniously hauled to the northern region without notice, and without any accommodation arrangements as long as they were repatriated to the northern region. Some were dumped at DC’s offices or even in classrooms allegedly for teaching the ‘nyau’ tradition to children when it is actually the Chewas – the tribe to which Kamuzu belonged – that are traditionally popular with the nyau practice.
MCP has always been doggy and this time it is also doggy with the notion that it has transformed. It is inconceivable how people of the northern region decided to sleep with the enemy in the just ended tripartite elections. History is, in fact, somehow beginning to repeat itself as the real MCP is beginning to show its ugly head.
The violence that the party has unleashed on Malawians in the aftermath of the polls is typical of the MCP of yester era.
People have seen how MCP leader Lazarus Chakwera – former church pastor – has ordered his supporters to beat, maim or even kill people from the southern region that are based in the central region because apparently they come from a region where their party is not so popular.
Many people are now beginning to wonder as to what could have become of this country if MCP had actually won the election. We are now witnessing how fellow Malawians are being victimized in the central region by MCP for simply supporting another party other than MCP. Is this a sneak-peak of what Malawians were going to experience under the MCP regime if they had made the mistake of voting for Chakwera and his outfit?
On the contrary, it is actually DPP, which should have been rewarded with the northern region vote because it is the only party, which has comprehensively developed the northern region more than any other political party in the history of this country.
It was under DPP that the song of Karonga Chitipa road – the song that the UDF government had sung for 10 years – actually happened. Under Peter Mutharika, the face of Mzuzu has completely been transformed with some visible infrastructural development such as dual – carriage ways and hotels; office complexes on top constructing the magnificent Mzuzu-Nkhata Bay Road.
The DPP government has also increased investment in water distribution systems in the northern region districts of Chitipa; Rumphi and Karonga, through the Northern Region Water Board, to allow access to piped water for large populations in the districts.
Apart from recording progress in the construction of Mombera University, which will be based in the northern district of Mzimba, university education has seen tremendous progress under DPP and President Peter Mutharika.
There has been an increase in bed space and intake; various constituent colleges under the university have been unbounded to allow for more autonomy and creativity so able to generate their own income through research. This approach will help neutralize the quota system because there will be more space to allow more students access university education.
UTM is a relatively new political organization and has never been in government. It is therefore not practical to judge it based on any government performance. For the DPP, it may just be a case of not adequately communicating its circumstances, particularly about what it has done for the northern region.
What is coming out clear, however, is that there has been large scale lapse of judgment on the part of the people from the northern region in this election, because MCP is a single political party in the history of this country, which has done a lot of damage to the northern region than anyone.
* Kajiso Emerson Mkandawire isa political expert and historian. He writes for Nyasa Times as a columnistFollow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :