Imagine Bakili Muluzi on campaign trail in Malawi 2014

From the outset, let me state that if there is a presidency I did not appreciate as much, since we assumed political pluralism, it was Bakili Muluzi’s second tenure in office. What broke the camel’s back was his desperate attempt to attack the Constitution and bulldoze himself on us under the guise of open terms later transformed to third term. He, being one who took over from Kamuzu Banda, in my view, should not even have harbored the slightest of ambitions to directly attack constitutionalism at that early phase of our multi-party democracy. As they say though, the rest of that jazz is history.

Some people may argue that, may be, I am being too hard on the man looking at some, even worse attacks on constitutionalism and serious reversion to mediocre ways of doing politics, even inventing new ones along the way, that we have come to witness after 2004 – but that is for posterity to judge.

In his first term of office, Bakili Muluzi said some of the most important things we needed as a nation at the material time. In fact, he did not just stop at saying them, he also did quite a great deal of good things and among them, and only in my view, helped demystify the presidency. While I may have been relatively young (turned 16 in 1992) as Kamuzu waned in both power and authority, I can literally recall that the presidency, during Kamuzu’s time, was viewed as monstrous (for lack of a better word).

Bakili Muluzi
Bakili Muluzi

Bakili Muluzi changed all that and we all could, somehow, associate with the presidency. And for the record, yours truly managed a visit to Sanjika Palace in 1998 while serving as Treasurer General of the University of Malawi Students’ Union (UMSU. During this visit to the revered Sanjika Palace, Muluzi was diffusing tension that had ensued between us as students and the UNIMA Council over proposals that University fees be hiked from a meagre MK1,500 a year to a staggering MK70,000 a year. Ouch!

I also shook hands with one Bakili Muluzi at Kamuzu College of Nursing somewhere in 2000. This was on account that Bakili Muluzi had visited almost all the Colleges under UNIMA except KCN; we were up in arms and “demonstrated” only up to Nature Sanctuary when the Police Mobile Force unleashed their might on us with zimbaula, teargas and “guns”. Being what we were, small in number and largely female dominated, they did not find their job that difficult as a “force”.

I recall vividly the media battles that ensued from that fight and one sentence in one of the articles said (in part) “…armed to the teeth, police brutally quell students demonstrations at KCN”. The story also carried a picture of our College Union president then, one Keith Mmdelanji Lipato, in an arm-sling, having received enough dosage of battering from gun sticks and having tasted the cooler for a good 8 hours at Lilongwe police Station.

About week later, Bakili Muluzi was shaking hands with us at KCN throwing jokes around and “mocking us” regarding our demonstration.

Simply put, the man was there, practically, to solve practical problems with his people, or at least some of his people. Of course do not ask me if I also imagine what Bakili Muluzi would have done if he was at the helm of political power when the academic freedom saga ensued; my considered view is that Bakili Muluzi would not have allowed the saga to escalate to the levels it did. In Tumbuka I would say “ngachi agho” (let sleeping dogs lie).

Sorry for that digression, and let’s revert to issue at hand. For those that have had the chance to listen to the man and watch him engage with his audiences, pose for a minute and imagine Bakili Muluzi on the campaign trail for the 2014 tripartite elections. Ma’an ooh Ma’an, I think the dynamics would twist and turn a great deal. Of course, I must quickly state, I am not so certain about his strength, vigour and energy at the moment. The last time I shook hands with the man was at COMESA Hall in October 2011, a colleague of mine was wedding and I was Chief of Protocol. I recall the former President joking when he saw my tag and he went, “Chief of Protocol, that is serious business”. All around me went into stitches of laughter including yours truly.

With dad on the campaign trail, the Atupele Muluzi we all look at as a “baby” today would sound and look like a man and a half in an instant. For example, imagine Bakili Muluzi addressing a rally at Masintha Ground or indeed Njamba Freedom Park, or somewhere within the vicinities of Mzuzu, Katoto Freedom Park for instance – with Atupele Muluzi around and he goes: –

 “Amayi ndi abambo ndati ndidzakupatseni moni. Indeee, nditamva kuti kuli masankho pa May 20 pano ndati iiih, amalawi ndikacheze nawo pang’ono nkale lija. Tsono ndati ndingonenapo mawu awiri ar atatu okha, amayi ndi abambo. Running Government is very serious business, ooooh yes. Mukundimva amalawi?

Anthu amvekere, “tikumvaaaaa bwaaaaanaaaa”!

 “Tsono amalawi, munamvapo kuti kuti ngo’ombe yayikazi imakoka ngolo?

Anthu, “ayiiiiii sitinamve bwanaaaaa!”

Nkhani zammabomatu zimenezo amalawi”.Chabwiono, nanga ndamvanso kuti chakwera chakwera, kodi chimenechi chakwera chani? Ndipo ndichani?

 Anthu: “sitikudziwa bwanaaaa”!

“Tsono inu ndithu amalawi kuchoka kunyumba kwanuko, waya waya waya waya, nkumati chakweraaaa?

Anthu: “ayiiii bwanaaaa”!

 Chabwino, nde ndamavanso mukuti pitala, pitalaaa pitalaa, kodi ameneyu ndi ndani? Wachokera kuti?

Anthu amverkere: sitikudziwa bwana.

 Tsono inu nditu zoona amalawi kukavota nkuvota komwe, mukavotere pitala?

Anthu: “ayiiiiii!”

 Chabwino, ndiye ndimalize motere, pali mnyamata wanu pompano, amangwetu tadzukani anthu akuwoneni (pointing at Atupele). And Atupele stands up. Addressing Atupele: “Ndanmvanso kuti mwabera ndi mayi akunyumba”, Atupele nods; “nawonso adzuke anthu awawone”. And Atupele’s wife stands up. Amalawi, tandiuzeni, kodi pamenepa, chalakwikapo ndi chani?

Anthu amvekere “palibeee bwanaaaaa”.

 Ameneyu nde mnyamata wanu, pakamakwana pa May 20 pano amene akhale Purezidenti wa dziko lino, purezidenti wanuuu. Ambuye akudalitseni, zikomo.

Simple as this appears, if it is Bakili Muluzi himself carrying and delivering the message, I bet my index finger, Atupele’s image will change in an instant.

But then, the all-important questions could be “is Atupele ready to govern? Is he ready to take us out of our, arguably, pathetic poverty situation from day one? Your answers to those questions, fellow Malawians, are probably as good as mine.

The bigger question then becomes, “who would be ready to hit the ground running on May 21 (or thereabouts) as President of this great Republic? My honest answer is a straightforward – “I do not know.”

But a quick look at the candidates, one is left with a palpable feeling of emptiness, a feeling of “what wrong did we do as a country to be so limited for choice in as far as political leadership of our country is concerned?”

I for one would feel proud, if my President is delivering a speech at the UN General Assembly for example and the command & diction of the Queen’s language came out as it does from one Dr. Lazarus Chakwera. I would feel, literally, on cloud 9 because the man exudes confidence with the English language -with an American accent – he displays a rare breed of confidence with what he says, comfortable in his own skin. Added to this, I am yet to hear obscenities coming out of his mouth. He seems, at least to me, to take seriously his pledge of an issue-based campaign.

But then I ask, is that all I require from my President? My simple answer is “I think I require more and it is “the more” that I am yet to hear from Dr. lazarus Chakwera on the campaign trail. Please bring it on Doc.

Taking the argument further, I would love to swim in the thought that a Professor at Law is my President. Professor Mutharika’s articulations, in my view, depict a man that would be different from his brother – who by all standards, in his second term, nearly took us back to the dark days of the Malawi Congress Party. But is being a Professor at Law enough? Is being different from Bingu wa Mutharika adequate to rid this country of some of the most obvious dispositions of mediocrity?

Again, I am yet to hear specifics from Prof Peter Mutharika on what he is going to deliver for Malawians from day one. Will he be his own man or will he ride on the grandiose image of his late brother?

Going deeper, I would also love to bask in the feeling that at the helm of our political leadership is “amayi”; a female President – one of the very few in the world; and only the second in the whole of Africa and a gigantic & gargantuan first in the SADC region. It does a lot of good to our fight against gender inequalities. At some point and level, I also admire her approach to issues; simple and down to earth e.g. cow, goat, blanket, maize distributions (do not ask me how long it will take for all of us to benefit from those). These things, simple as they may appear, are huge to the people that directly benefit except, one wonders, do we have to run matters of the state on a piece meal basis like that? Your guesses for answers are as good as mine.

And further, a president of a country is a President, ladies and gentlemen. The chips fall on that office from all and sundry; and sometimes from significantly unsolicited angles. I would want a president who takes responsibility, who is in-charge when our hospitals are down under, I would want a president that takes responsibility when sales of national assets seem to be going in uncharted territories, a President who takes responsibility when Cabinet goes off its rails and almost takes the responsibility of parliament regarding the proceeds of sales of national assets, if what the President said the other day regarding proceeds of the presidential jet is anything to go by.

I would want a President who is true to the law, including the law that talks of assets declaration; I would want a President that is willing to be open and be scrutinized and allowing unhindered access to public information under the ambits of Government – and not deem scrutiny as an attack on the gender aspect of the person who is President.

As for the other Presidential candidates, they come across as small in terms of the support base, but definitely there are some among the pack who talk a lot of sense. I have in mind people like Kamuzu Chibambo, Mark Katsonga and Helen Singh. Listening to them one feels that they have a plan – but then, will they pick the “tab” looking at their support base? I have my doubts.

By and large, viewed from where I stand, I can say it, without fear or favour that we are limited for choice for president as a country – and yet we have to choose a president from within “the limited choices and options”. If I had the power to influence, I would say Malawians require serious tactical voting and make Parliament a powerful institution – because to me, it is only parliament that would, if well managed – and in our circumstances, hold people and institutions and even the presidency, ACCOUNTABLE.

Well, one thing before I sign off, when examined from the running mates prism, the picture looks significantly different. Somewhere in the running mates, we have people that can run this country for real and put it on good footing. I will, however, spare my exact opinion on this for next time as I continue to study the running mates, understand their backgrounds – and of course, as I continue to listen to what they utter – and the questions they ask; because, as they say, “judge a man by the questions he asks”.

  • *Isaac Cheke Ziba, a free thinker writes exclusively for Nyasa Times on this column, He will be contributing on this online publication.

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