On the road to 2014 -Phoya: Real deal or victim of 'bowa bwanga'?

Short bio:

Henry Duncan Dama (HDP)Phoya was born in Blantyre on 10th December 1966. In 2014 he will be 48 years old. He privately practiced as a lawyer for 10 years before joining politics in in 2001/2002 as a United Democratic Front (UDF) Member of Parliament for Blantyre Rural East Constituency.

Almost immediately, he was co-opted into the then ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) National Executive Committee and appointed by the then president, Dr Bakili Muluzi to be the country’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice.

Phoya’s First Crucible of Life:

Phoya’s appointment as Attorney General and Minister of Justice could not have come to him at a worse time. Around the same time, Bakili Muluzi was launching his infamous third term bid in its original form. This bid met such stiff resistance from civil society and politicians even from within the UDF.

Phoya: To join like-minded Malawians. Photo credit : Times Group

The circumstances placed the young Phoya into the thick of things. On one hand he had a president determined to have another go by bending the constitution, on the other hand, public sentiment against Muluzi’s bid. All this embroidered Phoya in a struggle where he was the unwilling referee, with seemingly no chance of coming out a winner.

Muluzi, other than conning some very powerful people from outside the UDF to support his agenda, was throwing a lot of money in and outside the UDF to create the impression that his wish (to extend the president’s term of office) was a result of overwhelming public demand.

Even if this had been true, any constitutional amendment had to pass through the due process and eventually land in parliament. The delicate balancing act that faced Phoya was therefore to deal with the conflict between the “wishes of the people” as the third term supporters were saying, and the sanctity of the constitution.

The proposal was presented to parliament and the amendment failed by a dangerously small margin. And when it failed, Phoya was the one to nail the last coffin and take the news of the parliamentary snub back to an unhappy Bakili Muluzi.

Phoya’s Second Crucible of Life:

Muluzi, smarting from the turn of things and annoyed in no small measure with his colleagues in UDF, roped in President Bingu wa Mutharika – the current president, who was an outsider in as far the UDF was concerned, as the party’s flag bearer in the 2004 General Elections. Mutharika, once elected, quickly dumped the UDF and formed the Democratic Progressive Party and the rest, as they say, is history.

But to reach where we are at right now, in fact for President Bingu wa Mutharika to finish his first administrative term, he drew heavily on Phoya’s wits, charm and persuasive power. Unlike Muluzi’s third and open terms bids, which failed; Phoya’s exertion to practically carry President Mutharika on his back to finish his turbulent 2004 to 2009 term of office succeeded.

Not taking into account the parliamentary budget debate deadlocks that characterised the 2004 – 2009 administrative term, there were two other key matters over which Mutharika and his minister of justice were losing much sleep. These were issues to do with Section 65 and the Impeachment.

Phoya held the fort; Mutharika survived and went on to win the 2009 General Elections with a majority, and there end his five year long nightmare, and with it Phoya’s significance.

Enter Prof Peter Mutharika:

Phoya’s fall out with in President Bingu wa Mutharika accelerated with the coming on the scene of the president’s brother. Professor Peter Mutharika. After securing a parliamentary seat on the DPP ticket, he was the preferred appointee to head the Ministry of Justice – which hitherto, had been Phoya’s.

Coincidentally, with the DPP now having a parliamentary majority and Professor Peter Mutharika’s coming on the scene, the DPP defied the odds to become a leopard that was able to change its marks.

It is an open secret that several of the laws that Phoya calls “bad laws” were hatched during Professor Peter Mutharika’s tenure at the Justice Ministry. They were then dumped on Dr George Chaponda, who was charged with seeing them through parliament come rain or sunshine, some like “the farting law” even without reading and understanding them.

According to Phoya, as a DPP parliamentarian and legal advisor of the DPP and one would add as Mutharika’s erstwhile right hand man, he never saw these bad laws until they were tabled in parliament or when they landed on his plate as the then Chair of the Parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee. The Injunctions Bill was the straw that broke the camel’s back and Phoya said enough is enough.

The result is history, he found himself party-less – the status he is “enjoying” today.

Phoya’s call to duty:

Following his public-resonating and well-argued stance on the Injunctions bill, Phoya became a household name and that is when people “around him” started prodding him in the direction of the state house. His response until recently was a loud silence.

The celebrity status arising from the Injunctions Bill, his expulsion from the now unpopular DPP, the fact that he is a younger, reasonably educated and relevantly experienced alternative, are all factors that are persuading people to increasingly put pressure on him to weigh in on the race to 2014.

Phoya’s response or lack thereof, self-doubt or timing?

According to the Daily Times, Phoya is still refusing to commit on whether or not he would join the 2014 presidential race.

“I haven’t made a decision as yet; I think for one to be able to make such a decision either way–thus accepting or abandoning the request– involves a number of factors,” Phoya is reported to have said in an exclusive interview with the Daily Times.

Phoya says he is yet to make a decision and he will arrive at a decision after taking into account several factors. The priority, he says, is for Malawi to get out of “this economic and governance mess” rather than being preoccupied with the 2014 presidential candidates.

His case has, as usual, been well argued and presented: But I beg to differ and submit that what he has said is not enough for him to keep everybody guessing. And this is where the question above comes in: is this procrastination a sign of lack of confidence or is it that he is a master in the art of timing?

On the road to 2014:

We now proceed to our discussion: looking at the possible implications of Phoya’s inconclusiveness in the context of the pothole riddled road to 2014 and attempting to consider some of the factors that he needs to take into account as he ponders.

One paramount reason for the economic and governance mess that we are in, lies in the way Malawi has been electing leaders more so the current one. Mutharika was elected largely by default or to quote Ambuje Tom Likambale, “Mutharika’s presidency was accidental” and not a result of a rigorous vetting process.

Nothing Mutharika is doing now is new. Everything he is doing is a repeat of his disastrous  COMESA reign, only that this time it is at a national scale and there is no one to fire him, hence the arrogance.

How then did he make it? By lying low and hiding and only being propped at the last minute, before the majority became wise and got first-hand experience of how he behaves when trusted with public resources and interests. And we do not want this to happen again.

Therefore, even if we were now to clean the mess that Mutharika has created, unless we get things right in preparations for 2014, soon after 2014 we will be back to square one having ended up with the wrong person. The way forward is that contenders for 2014 should come in the open now.

This will allow the public sufficient time to scrutinize not only their artificially embellished CVs, but witness how they can handle issues of national interest like the current mess. Are they care-frees out to get free helicopter rides and globe-trot? Do they have something to offer or are they hoping sympathy will do the trick? Or are they hoping to get to Sanjika depending on demographics?

The second reason is to do with organization. Phoya has alluded to being ready “to work with any like-minded people” towards the betterment of this country. This presupposes that in connection with the 2014 Elections, we may see him in a coalition of sorts or in an alliance with party X or Y.

Unless these coalitions are consummated now and founded based on matters of principle they will fail in 2014. The MCP /UDF alliance of 2009 (which was borne out of frustration and poor planning) and the Mgwirizano Coalition of 2004 are perfect case authorities.

This underlines why contender should come into the open now, so that negotiations for alliances and coalitions can be founded on matters of principle and not convenience, and more importantly, the allies can start working together now. Divided we fall, united we stand is not a new concept and this is the thing “messy” Malawi is missing.

On doubting the wisdom of [forming] new parties Phoya is to an extent, right; but he could also be wrong. If the existing parties as he implies are there to “merely act as vehicles to serve individuals’ aspirations” then we should have none of them. They should go. If the existing parties are however capable of transformation, then let us by all means join and transform them.

From the look of things however, and this is the reality, the DPP, the MCP and UDF will not be transformed anytime soon. In fact they may be beyond renovation.

The Youth and Agenda for change:

Should Phoya be dillydallying when he knows that he definitely wants to join the race, there is one other thing he needs to know. The majority of those wanting him to join the race to 2014 seem to be the youth.

Now, this raises an interesting element because: already in the race riding the youth ticket is UDF’s Atupele Muluzi. One thing I should say about Atupele is that he, unlike Phoya, seems to be aware of the cost that comes with “bowa bwanga.”

Someone way behind you in the race comes up and picks the mushroom while you are busy philosophising and posturing on how and when to pick the mushroom. Unfortunately for Phoya, my warning may be too late. This seems to have already happened.

Looking at the following and the storm that Atupele Muluzi is causing, one cannot believe that Phoya, “the man for all seasons”, is senior to the youngster in ALL respects. First, Phoya is not only a lawyer but he has private practice and government experience on his CV.

Secondly the trump card (and only experience) that Atupele has is serving as an MP, and Phoya has served longer and without the benefit of Dad propping him up.

Thirdly with Phoya, no-one will question whether he is mature enough or not. And what’s more he is not “the old guard” either. What is Phoya waiting for? We will know in due time, but time. And talking of time; to paraphrase Napoleon, while it is wise to take time to deliberate; when the time for action arrives, one needs to stop thinking and begin to act.

Conclusion and best wishes:

In conclusion, I now want to get personal with my good old friend Henry Duncan Dama Phoya. Malawi needs a leader from this generation. The youth, the majority in Malawi, want someone they can relate to.

Someone conversant, first-hand, with the misery of learning or teaching children in under-resourced primary schools, problems that students and teachers face in our secondary schools, the challenges that university (and higher learning) students, the frustrations of trying to get a job without a name and starting a business with zero capital from parents – but having at the same time, to take care of them and your sibling.

Malawi is crying for a leader with first-hand experience of what poverty is all about and not through the statistics churned out by the NSO. Malawi is dying for a pragmatic leader whose only qualifications are not heaps of degrees more appropriate for lecturing at international symposia, but one whose qualifications (even if humble) and experience are context relevant.

We imported learned Kamuzu, and we failed. Bingu was practically “a stranger in Jerusalem”; no wonder he thinks everybody is stupid.

Therefore, if you are the real deal, Henry, raise your voice and hand NOW or forever, hold your peace. Move on from rhetoric and philosophy. Give Malawians a chance to assess you in these troubled times because as Martin Luther Jr said, “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

However, whichever way you decide to go, my best wishes and seasonal greetings to you and your family.

*Wise One From The East

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