Many political commentators had predicted that the funeral for Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe would be a unifying factor in a season where the political fray is furiously polarized; with marked differences. It happened when political foes have drawn daggers as they gear up for tripartite election next year.
Many people thought the demise of the Chikulamayembe would be an opportunity for President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika and his estranged Vice President, Saulos Chilima, and even Leader of Opposition, Lazarus Chakwera to shake hands and forget their political differences to unite in mourning the towering Tumbuka chief.
It turned out this was just mere talk and teenage wishful thinking. The funeral of Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe actually turned out to be an arena for a show of political muscle among political parties and politicians. It actually turned out to be a place where unity and tolerance was in short supply and at its lowest ebb as government; the opposition and the church jostled for dominance and in the process turning the somber session into some mini political shadow-boxing.
The bone of contention appeared to have been the funeral programme, particularly about who drew it in the first place and the level of consultations made with the family and the church. As much as it was known that government had declared that Chikulamayembe would be accorded a state funeral, which implied that government would take charge of the programme it appeared the CCAP Synod of Livingstonia also created its own parallel funeral programme replete with different speakers, which clashed with government’s programme.
As expected, this created chaos as all parties sought to dominate and take charge. However, despite the chaos, there were also some bright moments that helped to dignify the ceremony and made the final send-off for Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe a memorable one.
President Mutharika did not speak as he was too aggrieved to speak, but delegated his youthful Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Kondwani Nankhumwa to deliver a eulogy on his behalf. And in what is increasingly becoming his trademark, Nankhumwa did not disappoint but delivered some spirit-lifting words to round up the big-man’s send off.
In his eulogy, Nankhumwa said the President was deeply shocked with Chikulamayembe’s death because, apart from the fact that he was Paramount Chief of the Tumbukas in Malawi, he was also Mutharika’s personal friend and over the years the two had shared and compared notes on common ideas to help spur the country’s social and economic development.
Nankhumwa, who is also vice president for the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) responsible for southern region, said the nation had lost a towering pillar and a symbol of unity among people of Tumbukas in Malawi and Zambia. He described the Paramount Chief as a hardworking man who was instrumental in the promotion of Tumbuka culture and one who ensured that its inherent traditions are widely accepted and preserved.
Nankhumwa gave an example of the annual Chigonapamuhanya traditional ceremonies, which the chief fervently promoted, as one of the cultural concepts that helped promote and preserve Tumbuka culture and made it one of the cornerstones of socioeconomic development in this country.
He said government had lost an intelligent leader and skilled negotiator whom it used to assign to mediate on land and chieftaincy issues. He added that government was particularly saddened because within a short period it has lost 14 chiefs in total, who included paramount, traditional and sub-traditional chiefs.
Nankhumwa then advised the Chikulamayembe family to ensure that they follow the Tumbuka chieftaincy succession procedures and to identify an equally capable relative so that he is installed by his ministry to take over from the departed chief.
He said it is the duty of the family to choose a capable individual because government does not choose a chief but only installs him or her after he has been chosen by the family. He therefore advised the family to have thorough consultations amongst themselves in order to propose a name which is agreeable by all.
Nankhumwa lamented rising incidences of disputes over chieftainships across the country some of which he said end up in courts, whereupon he advised the Chikulamayembe family not to fall on that path. He thanked President Mutharika for directing his ministry to do everything to ensure that the chief had access to proper medical care before he died.
It was a eulogy that was well-received and once again confirmed the youthful Minister as someone who is steadily and surely stepping up to the plate whenever duty calls to address critical national matters at the apex of government operation.
Throughout the eulogy, Nakhumwa was cool, calm and collected and it was obvious his message was connecting with the mourners, at least looking at the level of attention he was given as he spoke. In fact, this was not the first time that the youthful Minister of Local Government had been to Chikulamayembe Headquarters to represent President Mutharika. Earlier in the year, Nankhumwa represented the President at the annual Chigonapamuhanya ceremony, which also took place at the very place where he delivered his eulogy.
As Minister of Local Government, which is responsible for affairs of traditional chiefs in this country, Nakhumwa had also consistently interacted and developed a personal bond with the departed. The eulogy therefore, apart from the fact that it was delivered on behalf of the President, was also in many ways Nankhumwa’s own personal story and final goodbye to a father-figure that he had come to regard and connect with as his own.
The Chikulamayembe funeral ceremony once again highlighted Nankhumwa’s humble approach to issues and a crack work ethic that has come to define him as a person of his own political league and gene. His approach to issues as Minister of Local Government, Leader of Government Business in Malawi Parliament and DPP’s VP in the southern region has seen his profile as a politician grow in stature and reach.
His youthfulness and the fact that he is humble has also endeared him with the most critical voting bloc in next year’s elections – the youth – who consider him as a poster child for DPP’s youthful projection; an image positioning, which the party has adopted in order to win this critical voting bloc.
Recently, Nankhumwa has been holding what many people have christened as mega–rallies in the southern region, which have been attracting huge patronage particularly the youths.
- Lusubilo Kelvin Masambo is a Blantyre-based social and political writer. His views are not necessarily those of Nyasa Times