Mzati Nkolokosa argues that northeners are tribalists

By Mzati Nkolokosa

It has been a second term of a kind for President Bingu wa Mutharika. A second term called all descriptions: The President does not listen. The president has failed on governance. The president has failed to run the economy. The President has failed this, has failed that and that too.

All fingers point at Mutharika. Malawians have not failed anything, only the President has failed everything.

But this is not enough. It cannot be that the President has failed everything—of course he is human, but it cannot be—and that Malawians have got everything right. This conclusion is more out of anger, a conclusion more political than analytical.

For answers we need analysis, not anger, not political ambition.

Nkolokosa: Its battle for tribe

Malawi is a battle ground for wars, several wars that we need to understand. Let’s move together.

1st Term vs. 2nd Term

After 30 years with one President, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, we are yet to get used to our new found collective power of voting a person into or out of State House.

For those who grew up during the Kamuzu days, the idea of voting in an election can be too exciting to come once in five years. Perhaps voting and the period before voting have become so exciting that we can’t concentrate on anything but politics.

Once we vote a President back into State House, for a second term, we fail to accept that he has five years to work. Our national psyche is not ready to allow a President have a full second term. Or some politicians play with our national psyche during second terms.

How come both Presidents Dr Bakili Muluzi and Mutharika’s first terms are praised and second terms despised?

Can it just be a problem of the presidents? No. Opposition politicians and their associates keep playing with our national psyche. They know it is difficult, almost impossible, to defeat a President seeking a second term unless he or she has really messed up. So, second terms are like a chance, an only chance, for all with presidential ambitions.

Once Muluzi won in 1999, Brown Mpinganjira (BJ) started his way into campaign. His newspaper, The Mirror had its Editor, the late Chinyeke Tembo, one day asked Muluzi who would succeed him.

This was at a press conference on Muluzi’s return from duty outside Malawi. Muluzi’s answer was political: “Alipo wakutumani eti? (Has someone sent you?)” This answer should give us an insight into politics. Politicians know each other better than we understand them.

Buy asking “alipo wakutumani?” Muluzi showed that he was not surprised with the question. He knew it would come out someday, and not surprisingly from BJ’s newspaper.

BJ was later to form the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a pressure group, later political party that shook Malawi, a group of people that provided entertainment and an illusion of hope for those who could not stand the five years Muluzi had to rule between 1999 and 2004.

Into the second term, the national psyche of some sections of Malawi removed Muluzi from State House and put in BJ. It was fun.

Once a President wins a second term, we take them out of State House and put in someone else. As at now, some have put in Atupele Muluzi, others Joyce Banda [others Peter Mutharika]. We thus disregard what the person at State House does during second term. We live for the day they leave State House and hand over the keys to our candidate.

Middle Class vs. Ruling Class

The advert that called for the July 20 demonstrations revealed a war between the ruling class and the middle of Malawi whose battle ground is the lower class.

In Blantyre, the advert called people from Ndirande, Chilomoni, Chilobwe, Bangwe, Zingwangwa, Machinjiri, Mbayani, Chileka and Lunzu while in Lilongwe, people were called from Kawale, Biwi, Mchesi, Chinsapo, Bunda, Likuni, Mgona, areas 23, 25, 33, 49 and 39.

The North had Zolozolo, Katawa, Chibanja, Chasefu and Mzilawayingwe while in Zomba people were called from Matawale, Chinamwali, Sadzi, Itiya, Ndola, St. Mary’s, Chikanda and Mpondabwino.

The common factor to the areas above is that their residents are over 95 percent lower class. But the reasons for demonstrations were not really the immediate challenges of the lower class. The advert further asked CEOs and middle class citizens to send their domestic servants to the demonstrations, a real show that this is a battle of the middle class, using or abusing the lower class, against the ruling class.

Shortage of fuel. Load shedding due to major repair works at Escom’s power stations. Poor governance (whatever this means?). New laws that are said to be undemocratic. These do not resonate with the lower class.

Not that people should not be invited to demonstrate. But once this country had no food, there were no drugs in public hospitals and nobody, repeat, no civil society or opposition leader, mobilised resources and people to demonstrate.

Why? The answer is straight forward. These were challenges of the lower class and the middle class had nothing to do with lack of drugs or hunger because the middle class can afford food in chain stores and are on medical schemes that enable them get better health care than the lower class.

Essentially, the middle class is fighting the ruling class, President Mutharika in particular. But the battle ground is the lower class.

The President’s sin is that he has chosen to spend forex on subsidised fertiliser and drugs for public hospitals. The middle class does not need any of these two because they can afford food and health care.

The middle class wants fuel for their vehicles and forex for buying wedding rings and toothpicks from outside Malawi.

Who cares when there are no drugs in public hospitals? Who cares when there is hunger in Malawi? The middle class doesn’t. The President does. This is the reason he has spent scarce forex on these two commodities.

The dilemma of life is that humanity cannot have everything at once. Life is a choice. We must choose food for all people or fuel for few. The President has chosen food for all people and the middle class are angry.

For you to understand that the demonstration was for the middle class, look at the placards. They were prepared by the middle class. We want petrol and diesel, said one placard, and another and yet another.

There was no mention, absolutely no mention, of paraffin. Why? Paraffin is for the poor and this strike was for the middle class who were using the lower class to fight the ruling class for helping the lower class. What an irony?

This country has had no paraffin for months, even years. The lower class have been queuing for months, in search of paraffin; the lower class have been walking distances for years just to find out if paraffin is available at the nearest service station. The lower class has been in darkness for months because this country has no paraffin.

Yet nobody, not even one single person, has talked about paraffin—only petrol and diesel.

Christ vs. Anti Christ

At some level Malawi has become a battle field between Christ and the anti Christ.

Jesus Christ, who Christians believe to be the Son of God and the Saviour of humanity, was in a temple some day; the Gospel, according to St Matthew, says Jesus went out and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to show him the buildings of the temple.

“See ye not all these things?” asked Jesus. “Verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”

Disturbed by the saying of Jesus, the disciples came to Jesus privately, and said, according to Matthew: “Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?”

Matthew, in quoting Jesus, gives the answer: “Take heed that no man deceive you,” says Jesus to the disciples.

The message to believers of the end of times is that they take heed that no man deceives them because, it can be concluded, and safely so, deceivers that shall be plenty and plenty shall be deceived, stealthily so.

But how else would we recognise a period described by Jesus Christ as the last days? Apostle Paul, writing to Timothy, says the last days shall be perilous times and he lists the characteristics: “For men shall be lovers of their own selves, blasphemers, unholy, false accusers, despisers of those that are good, traitors, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”

There is no better description of some sections of the civil society in Malawi today than this piece of writing from St Paul to Timothy.

People are in love with themselves; they are selfish, hence the middle class can abuse the lower class to fight wars that do not concern them. People have come up with all kinds of accusations against President Mutharika but if you carefully go through each, you discover, deep in the honest corner of your heart, that most are false accusations.

People are despising those that are good and standing for good. We have traitors, Malawian civil society members who are collaborating with the West to disturb Malawi on false accusations.

And we have lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God. For how else can we explain same sex love movement except that people are in love with pleasure more than God?

The argument is that this is about human rights and it is important that at this point we should have what one religious leader says of human rights.

John Pope Paul, in his book “Crossing the Threshold of Hope”, asks the question:  “What are human rights?” And he gives an answer. “It is evident that these rights were inscribed by the Creator in order of creation; so that we cannot speak of concessions on the part of human institutions, on the part of states and international organisations….”

Continues the Pope: “The Gospel is the fullest confirmation of all human rights. Without it we can easily find ourselves far from the truth about man. The Gospel, in fact, confirms the divine rule which upholds the moral order of the universe and confirms it, particularly through the incarnation itself.”

The Gospel is the fullest confirmation of all human rights. Without it, we can easily find ourselves far from the truth about man.

Humanity today is far from the truth of God in search of human rights. There is no better example than same sex relationships.  God created man and woman and God Himself blessed a union between man and woman.

We recognise God’s creation power by accepting this basic truth that He is our Creator and Redeemer. Reversing the male-female relationship into male-male and female-female is the core of the anti Christ movement.

One revealing sign of the last days is the last bit of St Paul’s to Timothy. “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” and he had a warning: “From such turn away.”

Isn’t it surprising that the clergy are working together with secular humanists (people who say there is no God) to organise demonstrations? We have religious leaders who are united with atheists/secular humanists fighting for what, according to Pope John Paul, are things far away from the truth of God?

Tribe vs. Tribe

Samuel P Huntington, the late Harvard University professor of International Relations left a thesis that “culture and cultural identities…are shaping the patterns of cohesion, disintegration, and conflict in the post-Cold War.”

This is true, largely. Culture cuts across international borders. The Chewa in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique, for example, have their allegiance to Kalonga Gawa Undi because he is the custodian of their culture and cultural identity which is more important than any form of identity, according to Huntington. In this case, this cultural identity is more important than national identity.

In a globalised world where people from all corners of the world drink Coca Cola, watch European Championship, pray and worship the same way, and fly across the globe in hours, what is there to mark a difference between peoples? It is tribal affiliation. Huntington, again: “In the post-Cold War world, the most important distinctions among peoples are not ideological, political, or economic. They are cultural.” Elsewhere, in his book, “The Clash of Civilisations”,

Huntington says “people use politics not just to advance their interests but also to define their identity.”

“In this new world the most pervasive, important, and dangerous conflicts will not be between social classes, rich and poor, or other economically defined groups but between people belonging to different cultural entities. Tribal wars and ethnic conflicts will occur within civilisations.”

Quoted by Huntington, Vaclav Havel says “cultural conflicts are increasing and are more dangerous today than at any time in history.”

The Chewa people example signifies the importance of cultural identity over other forms of identity, including national or state identity. It is this theory that should help us understand the conflict in Malawi.

At the surface, it is political and economic but deep under the waters, it is a fight between one tribe and another. We have a tribe or a unity of tribes from the North fighting the Lhomwe and other tribes from the South.

After the July 20, 2011, demonstrations in Karonga, Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Zomba and Blantyre, it has become clear that this is a war of tribes, disguised as a war over governance and economic issues. (By the way, the media has consistently called this “nationwide demonstrations” yet they happened in five districts in a country of 28 districts.)

The North, the smallest region in physical size and population, had two centres of demonstrations at Mzuzu and Karonga. The North had more deaths than the other cities. Media reports suggested almost 10 people died in Mzuzu and Karonga. Clearly there was more anger in the North than in the other cities. Why? Was this an accident of coincidence?

No. This was an expression of anger by the people of the North against the people of the South.

Or consider the people behind the demonstrations. At the forefront is a person from the North. The team behind him is largely from the North, and of course, some collaborators from the South. This is where we need an explanation. If this is a tribal war, how do we explain the involvement of those from the South or Central region?

The answer is in Marxist Theory. The first instinct of every human being is economic survival. There is money involved in civil society, and…well…who doesn’t want money? If it is not money, then those from the South and the Centre have been blinded to believe they are  fighting for good governance. They  have not asked for a definition of good governance.

Malawi Diaspora Forum

Or see the names of those running the Malawi Diaspora Forum, a movement that is collaborating with Britain to bring Malawi on her knees. The list of leaders is from the North, largely. If you still don’t believe this thesis, go to Facebook, sample and analyse comments by people with names from the North and see what they say about this administration. Want more evidence? Get the two dailies in Malawi, The Nation and The Daily Times and see the stories, the writers and the sources. The most angry stories on this administration are by journalists whose original homes are the North and they quote sources whose origin is the North, largely so.

The most revealing evidence that this is a war of tribes is on Namisa Forum. Namisa is National Media Institute of Southern Africa. There are 258 subscribers to the forum and of late journalists from the South and the Centre have gone into the background. They are not commenting on political issues, especially attacks on President Bingu wa Mutharika and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). A debate on the  President’s house at Ndata Farm had comments from journalists whose origin is the North, almost all, of course, except two.

Not just the Ndata house issue, but other issues as well. The comments on Namisa Forum have been a clear testimony that this is a battle of tribes. Again confirming Huntington’s theory that tribe is today’s most important identity because even journalists can agree on professional lines but differ on tribal lines.

The question, now, to be tackled should be: How come some people of the North are leading a fight against President Mutharika? The answer lies in another question: How can it be when the North largely voted for Mutharika?

The answer lies in a couple of months after the May, 2009, elections. The President’s administration implemented Equitable Access to Higher Education policy which is commonly called Quota System. The equitable access extends to high positions in government. Selection figures to the University of Malawi can be alarming. The North, for years, had a share so big, so unfair in comparison to the Centre and South.

Dunduzu Chisiza who died in 1962 is reported to have told his friends from the North something like, “We are a minority and it will take time for a person from the North to become President of Malawi, but we can become a majority by influencing national policies, we can influence national policies if a lot of us attain higher education.”

He might have meant that they should work hard in school. But over the years, some people from the North found ways of getting the best education.

First President Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda noticed this and one day, at a rally in late 1980s, he directed that all teachers should work in their regions because teachers from the North, posted in the South and the Centre, were deliberately being lazy so that children from the two regions should not learn as much as those from the North. This was a one party era and there was no opposition. There was no public debate about it. Sympathy and everything else were in private. Even now, issues rooted in tribalism are not openly debated. They are discussed by people of the same tribe. Multiparty democracy reversed this directive.  Now teachers can be posted anywhere in Malawi.

Years later, in 2009, something called an event happened in Zomba. It was reported in the media but, as always, there was no public debate about it, partly, perhaps largely, because it concerned tribalism.

Two teachers in Zomba were arrested for adding marks to scripts of candidates from Karonga. Both teachers are from the North but were teaching at secondary schools in Zomba. They were marking Junior Certificate scripts. They were tried, found guilty and sentenced.

There was no debate about this window into greater things. Meanwhile, Mutharika was the only soldier standing, fighting for equitable access to higher education.

These events are a faint show that there is something that some of our friends from the North were doing in the education sector. This, in good part, explains their anger against equitable access to higher education policy only that they have disguised the anger as from issues of governance and economics to win support from the Centre and the South.

During the equitable access to higher education debate, there was a lot of opposition from the North. People who sued and obtained injunctions against the system were from the North. They went as far as saying they would start a revolving fund to pay fees for students from the North to get places as non residential students in the universities, meaning, this issue of equitable access to university education hit them so hard that they could not hide their anger.

This, too, is the reason politicians like Joyce Banda and Khumbo Kachali insist on reversing the equitable access to higher education policy because they know it is a cause of anger for the people of the North. For the two politicians, it is a clue to winning votes of the North.

The Livingstonia Synod of the CCAP, which presents itself as representing the people of the North, opposed the equitable access to higher education system so much.

Now people from the South and the Centre are realising that this is a tribal war and the results may be bad, showing themselves in 2014 when the majority from the South are likely to vote for a candidate from the South as an expression of anger at some people from the North.

It should be put on record that people of the South have been tolerant and accommodating for decades. In Blantyre, for example, there have been parliamentarians from the North. Gift Mwamondwe in Ndirande and Jimmy Banda in Blantyre City South. And there are others. On the contrary, there has never been a parliamentarian from the South in Mzuzu. This is not an accident of coincidence. The argument can be extended to religion. People from the North have positions in churches in Blantyre and Lilongwe but rarely do people from the South resident in Mzuzu have such positions in church.

Yet this tribal war presents an opportunity for a leader from the North who can stand above tribal influence and champion national identity, even if it may be an illusion. There is a generation of thought, not age but of thought, that is above tribal wars. This generation can be made ready for a President from the North. But the onus is on the North.

Opposition vs. Ruling

At some level, the battle is coming from the desire for the opposition to go into government and the ruling party to remain in power. In any case, the primary aim of any ruling party is to remain in power while the opposition does all it can to get into power by, in the first place, making people doubt their government. This is a battle for power and the second term provides an opportunity for the opposition because there is no incumbent involved in the contest.

Late in 2009, there was a conference in Mangochi attended by almost all political parties, academics, and civil society members. It was observed that the opposition had come out of elections weak and that academics and civil society should stand by the opposition by way of filling the gap. It is not surprising that some of the people involved in the Chancellor College saga were part of the meeting.

The weak opposition, seeing an active civil society funded by imperialist powers, have hijacked the agenda of the civil society as away of going into State House. So it is not about economic issues or about governance, it is about power, a struggle for power between the ruling party and the opposition parties.

West vs. China

This war in Malawi is the return of the Cold War or something close to  Cold War, in some way.

History teaches us that the Cold War was never fought in the U.S. or U.S.S.R. The battle ground was in Africa, largely and elsewhere but not in the two countries involved. In fact, the term Cold War implies a war without guns but in truth, it was a war of guns and bullets in which millions died only that they died in Africa.

Of course, it was a war of ideologies between the US and the USSR. But on the battle ground, it was a hot war. The West helped dictators in Africa as long as they were against Communism. The welfare of the people in Africa was not a concern of the US or Europe. Their concern was the support for capitalism as opposed to communism.

Beyond this, some civil wars in Africa were a product of the Cold War with the US supporting one side and USSR the other. Take the war in Mozambique and Angola, for example.

The USSR is no more. Out of it came states that are struggling to identify themselves. This is a different topic. But Asia has produced another rising giant. China is still poor but it is rising and its rise has been a subject of studies in the US with rising numbers of China candidates and experts. Former editors of international editions of Time and Newsweek magazines Michael Elliott and Fareed Zakaria respectively, were in a real battle to do a better China analysis than the other. Elliott did a 10 page story titled “The Chinese Century” in Time of January 11, 2007, two years after Zakaria had done a cover story on China in the May 8, 2005, edition of Newsweek whose headline was a question: Does the future belong to China? He followed up with a book, “The Post American World” in which Chapter four is a discussion of China, how it is carving itself a place in global economy.

The rise of China has been the greatest story of our time. Now the focus of the media in the West has changed. It is no longer about the rise of china only. It is also about concerns of China’s influence in Africa. The BBC and The Economist have been at the forefront portraying the Chinese as destroyers of Africa, as blockers of democracy because their funding to the continent does not have conditions attached to it.

If you listen to the BBC, sometimes it’s like of every five people you meet on the streets of Africa, three are Chinese. The West is attempting to discredit China in Africa. Remember the BBC is a foreign policy arm of the British government. The BBC is funded through the foreign office in London. The media in the West fights for the superiority of the West.

So in essence, this is a war between the West and China but it is being fought in Malawi. Britain has made it clear that it will continue to put pressure on Malawi to legalise same sex relationships (David Cameron himself said this at his house, No 10) and that they will work with civil society and the media. This is in a way a fight against China that is working with government to bring infrastructure that is changing people’s lives in a practical way. At the centre of it all, it is a clash of cultures: the Western culture and the Chinese culture.

Individuals vs. State

There are people who are fighting Mutharika but the battles are disguised as economic and governance issues. A journalist is working for a government ministry and does a column in the newspaper. One week he is in government and he writes in defence of some policy. The other week, his contract has not been renewed and he hits hard at the President. How do we explain that change of focus? This is a personal battle which we may not understand. But we know, survival is central to human kind.

Or take a journalist who makes numerous calls to a government minister, asking for a director position in the ministry. The journalist does “good work” in writing positively about government.

Suddenly, he changes tune. He hits at the President week in, week out. What has happened? He is angry that the position remains vacant but there are no signs that it will come to him. Again a personal battle yet disguised as part of the agenda of the civil society.

You want more? What about a politician who claims that Mutharika promised to hand over the presidency to her and turns against the President after the party goes for another person? Is she fighting national agenda or personal battles?


In our polarised country, it is easy to see life as either this or that. But life is more complicated than that. We can easily fall prey to individuals who are championing ideas we do not know, ideals that may never be ours.

Malawi stands at a time that calls for critical minds. Unfortunately, the digital age has enabled everyone to publish online but being able to shout does not signify critical thinking.

Criticism, says Jon Meacham, is a crucial thing (the lifeblood of democracy, the fuel of freedom). True but the challenge, perhaps problem, is that there are more speakers/bloggers than critics.

“The fact that anybody can say anything does not mean that anything anybody says is worth hearing,” says Meacham in his May 2010 article on President Obama’s strategic response to the BP oil spill. The response was labelled delayed and almost nothing by Obama’s critics yet in practice nobody could have stopped the spill in a month.

Criticising, as we are seeing, can be exciting. But criticism as in constructive evaluation is rare; and saying so is not an elitist view. We are seeing more anger than analysis. In a country where everyone is speaking loudest, Malawi needs analysis, a kind of writing that attempts to make sense of the issues.

Any critical minds to join this debate?

*Mzati Nkolokosa ia one of the editors  at state Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC)

All responses to [email protected]

Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :

Sharing is caring!

Follow us in Twitter
Read previous post:
Mary Waya establishes netball academy

By Jeden Chilikunzako and Jeromy Kadewere, Nyasa Times Malawi’s most celebrated and award winning netball player Mary Waya  aid out...