Once again, Phungu Joseph Nkasa will have to do something extraordinarily wrong to lose my respect and admiration. For the past decade, the Mayaka reggae star has immersed himself in politics, singing for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Progressive People’s Movement (PPM) and People’s Party (PP). This track record can tell it all that the once top selling and chart topping artist does it for nothing but money. He goes where he will be paid more by his political clients.It seemed he was part of the 2009 Bingu wa Mutharika landslide win with the song Mose Wa Lero. But too much of everything ends up into too much of nothing. That is the story of Nkasa. He abandoned his own calling as Phungu (Councilor) and started rallying people for politicians. It is contrary to the man Malawi knew in 2002 and 2003 when he was at the peak of his prowess.
But it will not make sense to look at the man from his former self. And more, it has to sink within us that Phungu understands what and why he sings. We have to look at his career from that perspective. Recently, the singer has come up with pro-DPP songs, Yoswa and Mbiri. These efforts have only been popular for those on the political divide the message is for. Generally, Nkasa lost his authority as a singer to most people. The scramble for his new music is not done out of necessity, but an attempt to see the extent of his now trademark self-inflicted blows.
Just when peace was reigning, Nkasa is back to remind Malawians how much blue he is. Looking at the timing of his songs, it is easy to tell that he works hand in hand with the DPP camp. When Mbiri came out, it was during DPP’s onslaught on the former ruling party, Malawi Congress Party (MCP), as atrocious. His latest offer, Ayimanso, is a perfect response to what DPP is currently advancing. The governing party is facing a fatal leadership crisis. There are two camps within it. One for President Peter Mutharika and one for his vice, Saulos Chilima. The Chilima camp is claiming that the President is old and incapable and has to give power to his deputy who is now 45.
President Mutharika is being defended by the conservative side of the party which has old party gurus while Chilima is under the favor of the young party members. It all started with former First Lady, sister-in-law to the President, Callista Mutharika, who rooted for Chilima. It sounded like a mere opinion but it has gone to the extent of shaking the party to its core. DPP has never been in a leadership crisis as detrimental as the present one.
Every day, the party has to endure a deepening crisis. As usual, the party is employing primitive tactics to arrest the situation, but to no avail. Just last week, during the opening of Parliament on May 4, Patricia Kaliati, a Member of Parliament (MP) on the Chilima side, was barred from entering the house by youths who are for President Mutharika. There was even more chaos inside the chamber. The same youths found their way in to cheer for the President during his State of the Nation Address to the annoyance of MPs in the house. It was all planned in a way to scare those who are for Chilima. They had to be forced out of the Parliament leading to a fight and a journalist being beaten. As if that was not enough, on May 9, the party organized demonstrators against MP Bon Kalindo in his Mulanje South constituency. The legislator is also for Chilima.
On the other side, President Mutharika has on a number of occasions stated that ayimanso (He will contest again) in 2019. He is going against the idea of those asking him to pave way for Chilima. The two top citizens are therefore, and clearly, in a power struggle. When Nkasa chose to tittle his latest song Ayimanso it is clear on which side he is on. In a sign that he has not lost his former fluid delivery, Phungu sings for President Mutharika in an admirable lyrical fashion.
The man knows his Bible. To make of what is happening in DPP, Nkasa had to consult the holy book and dwelt on the story of one young man, Absalom (2 Samuel). Absalom, described as a good looking young man in the Bible, was the son of King David. When the king was old and frail, Absalom was convinced by some to take over the mantle from his father. But God had not approved it, the Bible implies. Absalom then waged war against his own father in an attempt to be the king but ended up being killed by his father’s soldiers.
Some have also titled the song Absalom. But although Nkasa significantly uses the name, the main message the song carries is Ayimanso. Whatever happened between David and his son Absalom perfectly fits into what is happening between President Mutharika and Vice President Chilima. After all, at one occasion, the President described his second in commanded as “my son”. The genius of Nkasa saw all that. Taking aside his wrong political choices, for his diehard fans like me, there is always that flash of brilliance every time Phungu decides to step in the music arena.
Peter Mutharika, ayimanso. (Peter Mutharika, will contest again)
Mufune musafune, ayimanso. (Whether you want it or not, he will contest again)
Mpoto akunena, ayimanso. (The Nothern region has said, he will contest again)
Chigawo cha pakati…; ayimanso. (The Central region…; he will contest again)
Chigawo cha ku mwera…; ayomanso. (The Southern region…; he will contest again)
Peter Mutharika (AMuna!), ayimanso. (Peter Mutharika, will contest again)
Achinyamata akunena, ayimanso. (The youths have said, he will contest again)
Malawi yonse ikunena, ayimanso. (The whole Malawi has said, he will contest again)
Kaya mufune musafune, ayimanso. (Whether you want it or not, he will contest again)
Mpaka 2024 (Peter), ayimanso. (Up to 2024, Peter, he will contest again)
Sings Nkasa on the chorus. But there is more in the verses than in the chorus. There are deep and relevant questions David was asking Absalom; Peter Mutharika is asking Saulos Chilima: When did you realize that I am old? Wasn’t this kingdom to be yours after me? Nkasa then advises ‘Absalom’ not to vie for Presidency while the seat is occupied. Absalom died for his premature ambitions and it could be the fate of Chilima as well. The song takes an interesting turn when Nkasa sings of Harman and Mordecai from the Biblical book of Esther. Harman planned to kill Mordechai on the gallows but he ended up dying in the same way he plotted against Mordecai. It is a clear warning shot to Chilima.
One cannot help it but feel the emotions Nkasa employs in the song. In the second and third verses, Nkasa uses trademark exclamations in which he has Absalom…! and Mwana iwe…! He sounds to be pleading with Chilima to reconsider his political decision. It is coming out as if Nkasa is crying. On the first impression it sounds like real tears, but his past songs say more than what his present emotions are trying to communicate. Nkasa does not mean it. He is just being who he is; a weaver of words to create images and feelings in his listeners.
The songs claims that the Presidency of Peter Mutharika was chosen by God. Nkasa is a confirmed traditionalist and it is no wonder he thinks so in this situation. But if ever there is one thing this song will mean to the whole crisis in the DPP, it is that the Peter Mutharika camp will use it to directly attack Saulos Chilima. This will be for the first time since its beginning. There is no way the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) can avoid the Ayimanso message the song carries. These are words that have directly come from the President himself. Even to the supporters of the President during political rallies, the easy to sing along chorus will be used as a rallying call for the clear intentions of the President.
Finally, reality has come before Saulos Chilima’s face that his boss’ camp is resolved not to have him as an option in May 2019. There has not been a word from Chilima but his silence says more than enough. If he is behind President Mutharika, from the onset of the debate, he could have stated it that he is for his boss. The only sound from him is that of silence despite the two appearing in public together in face saving smiles for each other. Two years ago the media speculated that the two are not in good terms. Chilima rushed to dismiss those rumors. This time it is clear to everyone that the two may be near each other, yet so far. Chilima is facing his end of days in DPP by each passing day. It is hard to tell how all this will end, but it is clear that with Ayimanso, Phungu Joseph Nkasa has led the direct isolation of Chilima in the DPP, consequently, deepening the leadership crisis inside the falling blue empire.