As far as I can tell from a limited perspective as well as from reading the memoirs of men and women who have led nations before, one of the main responsibilities of being a Head of State is decision-making. Good, strong, credible, and timely decision-making is the essence of executive leadership. In fact, decision-making ability is a greater asset in executive leadership than knowledge, which means a person who is able to make and communicate complex decisions well and on time would make a better president than an indecisive person who has a PhD from a world class institution. It is not the ones who know more who lead well, but those who make better choices.
Now, I think that Vice President Saulos Chilima is facing the greatest leadership test of his young political career. A former First Lady who is also the sister-in-law of the current President has broken rank to publicly declared that Chilima should be chosen to be the governing party’s nominee in next year’s election instead of letting her brother-in-law seek a second term. Her decision to do so is neither small nor inconsequential. She has already been attacked, vilified, and threatened for her decision, but she has stuck to it. The timing of her decision-making in this has been impeccable and her resolve to stand by it and defend it in the public domain has been unflinching. To be sure, in making such a clear decision, she has exposed the indecision of President Mutharika about whether he will retain Chilima as his running mate in next year’s election. However, it should not be lost on us that she has also either intentionally or inadvertently pushed Saulos into the valley of decision.
Chilima must now decide between four options:
OPTION 1: Believe the hype and euphoria the former First Lady has generated for him and ride the wave by immediately declaring that he will contest as a presidential candidate in the next election as a DPP candidate, thus making it clear that he will challenge Mutharika to the party’s nomination at the party’s convention.
OPTION 2: Believe the hype and euphoria the former First Lady has generated for him and ride the wave by immediately declaring that he will contest as an independent presidential candidate because he believes neither the President nor the Party are democratic or progressive enough to let him have a fair shot at being the party’s flag bearer at the polls next year.
OPTION 3: Ignore the hype and euphoria the former First Lady has generated for him and immediately and publicly dismiss it as wishful thinking and further distance himself from her remarks by unequivocally rejecting her proposal and giving a full-throated endorsement of Mutharika’s candidacy in order to preserve his solidarity with him and raise his value to him as a loyal running mate in the next election.
OPTION 4: Remain silent and risk losing not only his solidarity with Mutharika for failing to immediately, publicly, and unequivocally defend his leadership and candidacy, but also his credibility as a viable presidential candidate in the eyes of the public for failing to demonstrate that whenever the hour of decision comes, he has the mettle to rise to the occasion and challenge the status quo with the kind of resolve the former First Lady has shown.
It’s now been five days since these things began to unfold, and Saulos is still nowhere to be seen. At a time when he should be making news, he seems to have chosen to do nothing more than following the news others are making for him. If he allows the hype and euphoria to pass, as it must, he may wake up to find that he has lost more than he has gained, for the indecision his silence projects is itself a revealing decision. And it’s time someone told him that these are the sort of historical moments in which silence is not golden.