The 2019 race for power is heating up, especially between the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the main opposition, Malawi Congress Party (MCP). The other two strong parties in the 2014 race, former ruling parties, People’s Party (PP) and United Democratic Front (UDF), have been dissolved into DPP. This has effectively taken them out as front runners in Malawi sixth general elections since 1994.
Politics in Malawi can be heartbreaking, mind blowing and tiresome. These become intense when general elections are around the corner. The world may consider the country one of the poorest, but there are people who can do anything to run it. There was even a former President who wanted to stay on in power, no cause for regret in our politicians that they entered into an office with the promise of development, but want to keep on being there even when they have failed.
But in 2019, all are legitimate runners for power. The battle will be between President Peter Mutharika and MCP’s leader, Lazarus Chakwera. As parties, they are working on tactics to outwit each other. But as the party in power, DPP is having the incumbency advantage. This means it has access to State resources for campaign and nationwide media coverage through Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), among others.
Although this has been the standard act for ruling parties in an election, it has never been to the country’s advantage. There is wide abuse of State resources as well as MBC. Simply because MCP does not have access to this, means that they can easily be overrun in an election. There have been attempts to correct this anomaly in our politics, but it continues being the same.
In an attempt to discredit MCP, DPP and MBC have gone for a media campaign that aims at tarnishing MCP’s image as dictatorial. This is in reference to its three decades rule, when it was the only legal party in Malawi. MCP government went out of power in 1994 as one of the most brutal regimes in Africa. Kamuzu Banda tortured and killed his political enemies with no mercy, but a determined inside and outside movement led him out of power.
MCP became history with UDF taking the reins of power in 1994. President Bakili Muluzi of UDF did all he could to keep MCP down in reference to this unfortunate history of the party. He usually singled out the then party’s front faces, John Tembo and Gwanda Chakuamba, who were close allies of Kamuzu Banda. But Gwanda Chakuamba left MCP during the run up to 2004 general elections and John Tembo retired from politics and the party in 2013. The current party leadership does not have traces of the old tyrannical ways. It is fresh and has managed to rebrand the party to the point of a landslide win in parliamentary and local government by-elections in October, 2017.
But the change in the party may be of substance only to those privileged with information. An attempt not to discriminate or overlook those in the rural areas, that they cannot understand this, will lead to a conclusion that by now, most Malawians know that the new MCP is indeed a new MCP. The party was out of power in 1994, 24 years ago, and most of the would-be voters in 2019 are around this age. For MBC to base their propaganda on the old MCP is a waste of time and a wonder to the new generation.
But the State broadcaster cares less. To expect them to reason in this line will be expecting too much from them. MBC is too deep into politics that they are blinded enough not to see that the 2018 ordinary Malawian is more socially and politically sophisticated. Calling them to desist from such will not yield anything, but there is a sad human face to their latest anti-MCP propaganda: MBC has a new program, Sapita Kawiri (Never Again), which aims at reminding people of MCP’s atrocities. The program is featuring victims of the one party system.
To begin with; it is simply inhuman to fetch people and talk about their dead beloved ones for political mileage. These people had moved on, but the program is pretending to be concerned about their loss when actually it is about DPP and MBC. This is mockery to the lives of the victims and taking for granted their stories. At this time, when we are supposed to be advancing in our politics, the mediocrity of DPP strategists is taking us back.
It is not that the party itself is clean. In September 2011, there was a brutal murder of a University of Malawi – Polytechnic student, Robert Chasowa. In the inquiry, some prominent party officials were implicated. They are currently in power. There is still unsolved death of former third in command Issa Njauju at the graft busting body, the Anti- Corruption Bureau. His car was found burnt down and his body half buried. No one has been arrested over that, three years down the line. In July 2011, 20 people were shot dead in country’s pro-good governance demonstrations.
The ruling party boasts in providing to Malawi one of the most educated Presidents in Africa. No one would dispute that. But there is more to education and leadership. As a man who has been outside for over four decades, tracing most of his stay in the USA, the world’s capital of democracy, one would expect a strong pro-democracy stance from President Mutharika. If this was not one of his agendas, four years as the President was enough to make swift changes. But we are a democracy that is still acting like one party. And even more, we have leaders who parade themselves as democrats but are far from living it.
The common saying among those in the DPP and MBC camp will be, you do not know politics. Maybe people do not know your politics. But as we know it, there is no gain in riding behind the backs of one party era victims for political gains. Power may be won through that, but in the end, what will it mean when it is gained without minding its human face during the campaign? There is no way one would expect the two to back down from the Sapita Kawiri strategy, but let it be said for posterity’s sake that at the time MBC and DPP was drunk in power, one citizen wrote them against it. People are meant to be served, not used.