President Joyce Banda vs. J.Z.U. Tembo MP: Can one tame an old fox?


According to information reportedly leaked by unspecified Peoples Party (PP) officials, the leader of opposition, Honourable John Zenas Ungapake Tembo, M.P. commonly referred to as JZU, has made a pitch for the Second Vice Presidency.

This, as per leaked information, is the condition he has made for his and presumably the Malawi Congress Party (MCP)’s participation in a Government of National Unity (GNU) that President Mrs Joyce Banda is being advised to form as a measure to deal with the deficit that PP has in parliament and as a nation-healing initiative.

As is often the case with anything to do with JZU, there are two strong diametrical opinions. The first is that President Mrs Joyce Banda should steer clear of JZU and MCP.

The other and contrary perspective is that a pact would make a lot of political sense for President Mrs Joyce Banda and PP; JZU and MCP; and the country’s political stability.

John Tembo

Before diving head first into this hot debate, a critical look at the ‘volatile political environment’ and our multi-party history is worth the while.

Issues at stake:

Four variables are featuring prominently in the equation and these are:

  • PP parliamentary deficit,
  • MCP and its modus operandi,
  • regional socio-political undercurrents, and
  • the lurking threat of impeachment.

PP parliamentary deficit:

It is a fact that PP does not have parliamentary presence. This glaring handicap has been aggravated by the elevation of Khumbo Kachali to the office of the Vice President. (The wisdom or folly of Khumbo Kachali’s appointment resurfaces later in this discussion – so for now, let us shelf it.)

But with respect to parliamentary dynamics, that appointment robbed PP of a strong legate and rendered PP even more vulnerable in the chamber; which is something PP could live to rue.

That notwithstanding and since Kachali was just one man any way, between now and 2014, as far as parliamentary proceedings are concerned, government policies and legislation are at the mercy of:

  1. the very fluid and unreliable 76 or so ex-DPP MPs that have quickly pledged loyalty to the new president,
  2. the so called “independents” that flow with the current,
  3. UDF’s 18 or so MPs, and
  4. a few DPP MPs that will rise above partisan politicking.

Excluded from this list, in lieu of the current debate, are MCP’s 30 strong band of MPs.

Quo Vadis MCP?

If JZU’s bid for the second vice presidency materialises, the PP-led government could count on the MCP contingent.

If it fails – there is no telling what JZU and MCP MPs will do – a fact that President Mrs Joyce Banda is very much aware of, hence the reported meeting with JZU.

Regional dynamics:

With respect to regional socio-political undercurrents, the one thing that has emerged is that investments made by the late President Mutharika in the central region during his first term, were from 2009 onwards followed by neglect and from the perspective of natives from his region and MCP, scorn and day-light robbery.

Unilateral relocation of the university and the stadium did not exactly attract applause from central regioners, not to mention Nkhoma Synod, not to talk of the MCP MPs all of whom save for Henry Dama Phoya, come from this region.

This region is therefore watching the new presidency. Depending on how she proceeds, it is a potential low hanging fruit. Since this low-hanging fruit is in a predominantly MCP zone, proceeding without JZU’s involvement is somewhat a gamble.

JZU – a veteran – knows this and is aware of the stakes, hence his playing hard-to-get.

A journey back memory lane:

Let us rewind the clock back to reflect on how MCP behaves when fate places it in the role of a kingmaker. Through-out our voyage in the annals of history, one thing that comes out clearly is that JZU is the shrewdest of all politicians on the landscape in Malawi.

Along the way he has blundered big-time, and he has learnt from the blunders and survived. He has watched others blunder, again he has drawn lessons plus he has learnt how to make political capital out of other peoples’ mistakes.

Personally, he avoids repeating the same errors, and when it suits him, he merely watches as history replays itself and like that Shakespearean protégé of the Merchant of Venice – Bassanio – he pays very close attention to see where the arrow will land this time around.

The third term and open terms saga are rich with insights on JZU. For all appearances, he was 100% in support of Muluzi’s bid. The fact is: JZU never, even once, believed that Muluzi had a chance of getting his way. Why?

JZU had tried to swim against the current and failed – twice. First it was during the referendum and second, during the 1994 elections. And hence, he was very much aware of the consequence of championing unpopular policies and since this would be to his advantage, he encouraged Muluzi on.

But why did he support or allow himself to be seen to be supporting a widely unpopular agenda if he knew it was doomed to fail?

There were two major reasons. The first one was to ensure that Muluzi’s legacy is irreparably ruined and the second was because Muluzi was dishing a lot of money to practically anyone who pretended to be gullible.

And since JZU and the MCP were very broke, and by hook or crook they needed money; and with Muluzi sitting on a gold mine, they decided to play ball. And by the time Muluzi formally lost his bid, MCP coffers were much better off.

In the subsequent elections the MCP – to everyone’s surprise – performed even better than the Mgwirizano Coalition in the presidential race and reigned supreme at the parliamentary level.

Without the money ripped off Muluzi, MCP could not have featured seriously in the 2004 General Elections. With funds skimmed from Muluzi, MCP was able to run and sustain an underground campaign – which paid dividends.

Was this the first time that MCP had boogied with “the devil” to meet its ends? No. MCP had merely borrowed a leaf from the book of the late Dr Kamuzu Banda, who himself had transacted with apartheid South Africa and the Portuguese imperialists in Mozambique, when it suited him.

On minor point validates all this. At the end of the road Muluzi realized that JZU and his MCP MPs had merely been pulling wool over his eyes. Realization that he had been practically mugged is what made Muluzi not only terminate their rapport, but to try to get even.

And MCP and John Tembo were featuring highly, bearing the brunt of Muluzi’s fury, in the 2004 temperamental campaign.

Moving on, the Machiavellian behaviour of MCP manifested itself again during the impeachment and budget impasses. Only when UDF agreed to JZU’s conditions, sacrificing Dr Cassim Chilumpha’s vice-presidency in the process, did the MCP join the bandwagon baying for Mutharika’s blood.

And typical of a political novice, late Mutharika added fuel to the fire by pointlessly poaching from MCP Binton Kuntsaira, Ted Kalebe and later the late Mrs Kate Kainja. That was mistake, because it sort of gave MCP a moral reason to dislike him.

And President Mrs Joyce Banda would do very well to avoid a similar mistake: MCP can be very vindictive.

Could history be repeating itself?

Now how is all this relevant to the drama unfolding today?

It is because JZU has been down this road before. With a minority government facing a livid party with scores to settle, and MCP awarded the role of kingmaker – the stage is set, ready for fireworks.

This time around, if JZU can help it, he does not want to fight public sentiment. He has cautiously watched the “JB euphoria” and knows that while fighting it will be the end of the MCP, collaborating with the new president holds a fortune.

Therefore, common sense has directed him to align MCP with the popular team. And what’s more, PP is calling the shots and most importantly the once mighty MCP is once again, as broke as a church mouse.

The bottom line is, MCP is ready to play ball again, but only if President Mrs Joyce Banda and the PP play ball too.

Double jeopardy: PP and MCP both facing a DPP threat

Now, if the MCP was reluctant to work with PP, the DPP has given it added impetus. To add woes to MCP’s precarious financial position, DPP stooges have started making noises, angling for the office of the leader of opposition.

JZU is very pragmatic and knows that the DPP could easily use its numbers in parliament and the speaker to change rules of the game and dislodge him (again) as leader of opposition – if he is seen as an obstacle by the DPP.

He needs a Plan B and needs one very quickly. Now get this right, it is not that he personally badly needs the money, no. But that the perks and status he enjoys as leader of opposition, enable him to sustain loyalty from MCP rank and file, keep rivals at bay and remain visible.

What to do now? A way out has graciously presented itself through PP’s predicament; and while JZU is at it, he has decided to go for gold – making political capital out of other peoples’ misfortunes seems to be second nature to JZU!

Any chance for JZU?

Yes and no.

Getting the second vice presidency or going into government one way or another is possible especially since he has been working on this behind the scenes.

Unlike yesteryears when MCP MPs associating with a sitting president drew wrath from JZU, this time around, when informed that several of his MPs were seen at the State House, his uncharacteristic comment was,

“As Head of State, she can meet anyone she wants. There is nothing unusual about that.”

Three questions for JZU:

  • Why then was it wrong for Dr Ntaba to associate with Muluzi and escort his mother to a hospital in RSA?
  • Why did he fault Binton Kuntsaira and Ted Kalebe when they met President Mutharika?
  • What has changed?

One can safely conclude that the MCP MPs went to pledge allegiance on his behalf in a well calculated and deftly executed move.

On the other hand, his efforts might come to nought because some in PP will not let any PP-MCP alliance happen.

While JZU was very tight-lipped on the agenda of his meeting was with the president, some quarters in PP quickly spilled the beans. Why?

They were either:

  1. strategically leaking the story to gauge public sentiments, or
  2. trying to foil the deal in order to safeguard personal interests; and

knowing some PP characters, it is more likely that the latter was their motive.

They will therefore work hard to convince the president that JZU is very bad news, of course without offering solid ideas on how to deal with the parliamentary deficit.

This is yet another sad reminder of where we are coming from: a president trying to survive, but surrounded by people with hidden agendas. The result = another reactionary presidency is in the making.

Honestly, what’s in it for PP?

If President Mrs Joyce Banda wins the cooperation of JZU and MCP – one way or another, the President could appoint some MCP members of parliament into cabinet and benefit from proxy presence in the chamber – without alienating MCP.

It is a badly kept secret that the new president has a soft spot for Henry Dama Phoya for instance. With the way things turned out, Henry Dama Phoya’s counsel is available, but care of JZU @!

Such an alliance would mean that PP has partnered a block of solid and experienced allies in parliament that can play foot soldiers in contending with impeachment which is still open for DPP.

There is of course a cheaper option, Sam Ganda and his 76 DPP MPs; with the problem that one loyal MCP MP is worth 20 or even 30 unprincipled ex-DPP MPs.

On the cards: Impeachment

If anyone still doubts the vital need for PP to secure a parliamentary ally, this should nail it: impeachment is still an option for DPP. And what’s more, DPP:

  1. has the numbers plus the speakers of parliament,
  2. is very pissed off with the turn in fortunes,
  3. has never believed in fair play,
  4. and most likely, it has resources to buy votes if the need arose.

And more conclusively, during the previous session of parliament, DPP inexplicably wanted to refine impeachment procedures. What was that in aid of? DPP was setting the stage for eventualities.

And lo, the eventuality has come to pass and hour is now at hand. If PP fails to prepare for this, it will have prepared to fail and fall; and will only have itself to blame.

Does President Mrs Joyce Banda stand a chance against Impeachment?

Yes, if she can invest both in and outside parliament. To put this in black and white, she needs to do two complimentary things:

  1. Acquire proxy presence in the house – and this is where the MCP fits, and
  2. Take the battle out of parliament – and this is where CSOs and regional dynamics could come in.

Let us first dispense with CSOs. CSOs, much as they would help, have a democratic deficit, they have no vote in parliament and in a constitutional set up like ours, being elected is everything.

Therefore, without proxy presence in the legislature, the president is a lame duck.  This makes a pact with MCP and JZU more or less inevitable.

Again, even if the battle is to be fought outside of parliament, regional dynamics will have a role. And it is at this point that Vice President Khumbo Kachali appointment’s begins to make sense and fits in a broad strategy.

In the event that DPP tables and pushes impeachment agenda; Vice President Khumbo Kachali would be entrusted with marshalling public support from the north, and President Mrs Joyce Banda herself would contend with the south. This leaves the question: who would mind the centre?

JZU is the best placed option. With a tri-pronged approach, armed with state resources, dealing with impeachment would be a piece of cake. It could even act as a deterrent to impeachment altogether.

Is it humanly possible to tame a fox?

This is the billion dollar question, again with a positive answer.

Taming JZU and MCP – broke as they are – is a relatively easy task compared to getting the public (and the PP horde) to accept him.

Assuming that President Joyce Banda convinces the troubled PP executives and the highly fluid public; to tame JZU it will simply require ensuring that he is kept very busy between now and 2014.

And there is no shortage of work to be done – in all sectors and portfolios. He could have his hands too occupied to cause any trouble.

Lesson from Sir Alex:

The first gentleman, a former footballer, is obviously aware of Man U and Sir Alex Fergusson. Sir Alex’ success lies in his instincts to attract, recruit and nurture talented footballers. All this goes with the territory.

There are basically two sides to his strategy.

  • Firstly, he identifies players that can fit at Old Trafford and in his game plan. He buys them and uses them in games regularly.
  • Secondly, he identifies players that he can afford but does not need in the team. But if this lot, left to their own devices and allowed to play in opponents’ teams would cause havoc to his team, he again buys them.

The second lot, he uses mostly to warm the bench and improve healthy competition for the first team. This is not a very bad tactic at all with regard to JZU and MCP.


To conclude, given MCP’s modus operandi, and PP’s parliamentary deficit, no astute politician would want Hon J.Z.U. Tembo and his MCP on the loose in such an unpredictable environment.

And in any event, riding an experienced donkey on a slippery and rocky track is not a shabby idea – if one can control the donkey. The new president, if she has made it this far, should be capable of this feat or else she will not last.

The problem is that in politics there are no permanent enemies. And MCP has in the past demonstrated no qualms in waltzing with the devil; what is there to stop JZU and MCP ‘talking’ to Professor Peter Mutharika’s DPP and raising hell in parliament if it is not tamed right away?

I rest my long case.

*Wise One from the East

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