Interview with Chakwera: Malawi Congress Party presidential candidate

Rev. Dr. Lazarus Chakwera, the recently resigned president of the Assemblies of God in Malawi, was overwhelmingly elected president of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) last weekend at the main opposition party’s long-awaited and hotly contested national convention. This means the end of an era for one the country’s veteran politicians, John Tembo. Tembo, who has been in politics since 1961, has been at the helm of the MCP since the death of founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda. Journalist Raphael Tenthani sat down with Dr. Chakwera and asked him about his vision for the party. Excerpts:

Rev. Dr. Chakwera, congratulations on your victory as the new MCP president. So what is your vision for the party?

Rebuild it, make sure that we follow the principles and policies that will enable Malawians to have confidence that the Malawi Congress Party is ready to govern again.

Now, we know you come from the pulpit which is very different from the cut-throat politics that characterises podium politics. With such a background, are you ready to fit in in the cut-throat politics?

MCP presidential hopeful Chakwera
MCP presidential hopeful Chakwera

I am ready for my throat to be cut several times. But we understand how sometimes things happen. We want to maintain without any distraction issues that will provide the Malawian people with hope because we are following policies; we are following institutions that have been empowered to do their work. And, like Malawi Congress Party does, with unity and obedience and loyalty and discipline applied at every level we should be able to do what we are meant to do without the cut-throat type of politics.

Come to think of it, the MCP has been in power for 30 years from 1964 to 1994 but, if truth be told, its record is not exactly rosy and many people still cringe at such memories. As a new leader, what are you going to do to cleanse the MCP’s soiled image?

Well, I am just appealing to everyone because not everything that was done was that bad. But in case there were some things, we need to forget the past, forgive one another, and make sure that we do not return hate for hate because we can only conquer hate with love.

And we need to work together as a nation forgetting the past and say how can we built a future that will be good for our children, good for our grand-children and the next generations because the kind of politicking that sometimes happens can be passed on from generation to generation. You know how prejudice is, it is never taught officially; it is passed on because people just hate one another sometimes without even knowing the reasons that started that kind of hate in the beginning.

We need to understand that what happened happened and we should learn to go past our past in order to build our future together that will be good for everyone.

Now that you are in the hot seat of the MCP, what will be your central policies to take the party back to power as you promised?

I want to pursue a developmental agenda that will have policies and set procedures that everyone will know and have no doubt about how we intend to stick to those in order that every institution and every facet of the Malawian society is able to perform at their maximum while they work excellently and are able to produce whether you’re talking agriculturally or you’re talking in other forms of endeavour at every level.

If we we’re able to do that, even demonstrate that from party politics, we can translate the same into Malawian politics in general.

By the way, you have burst on the political scene literally from nowhere, just who is Lazarus Chakwera?

I was born in Lilongwe on April 5, 1955. My parents were subsistence farmers. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in arts (philosophy) from the University of Malawi in 1977 and obtained an honours degree from the University of North, Sovenga, in South Africa. I got my master’s degree from the University of South Africa in 1991.

Then the Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois, USA, awarded me with a doctorate in ministry in 2000.

I worked as an instructor at the Assemblies of God School of Theology from 1983 to 2000. In 1996 I became principal of the school.

I have been president of the Assemblies of God from 1989 until I resigned effective May 14 this year to pursue active politics.

I am married to Monica and together we have four children and eight grand-children.

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