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The birth of Bakili Muluzi’s United Democratic Front: Malawi Politics

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Brown Mpinganjira and Bakili Muluzi: The kingpins of UDF

Amnesty international had been pressuring the Kamuzu Banda govt to release Jack Mapanje and all political prisoners.

In an interview Jack Mapanje stated, “when we were ku Mikuyu, the only person who seemed serious to wanting to form a political party was Brown Mpinganjira. a very smart and intelligent young man who had whilst in prison figured out how to communicate to the outside world. He would talk to anyone and every one who knew about politics and knew about running a political party. He was so committed to removing Dr Banda”; (Politics, Poverty….Lwanda J).

Brown Mpinganjira, a journalist by profession, benefited from the Amnesty pressure. He was released. Soon after that he went to work for either the British Council or the British High Commission. Whilst there he started talking to some donors about forming a political party. The British saw potential in Brown Mpinganjira and therefore promised him that if he would mobilise patriotic Malawians and then actually manage to form a political party, the british would fund them.

One weekend, BJ (as he would later be known) still trying to figure out how to get rid of Kamuzu visited his uncle, Mr Mlelemba, a former Secretary General of the Malawi Congress Party. BJ wanted to get his advice on how he could organise and mobilise people to fight Kamuzu and how he could organise a political party.

Mr Mlelemba told BJ that he was too young to actually run a party (BJ was then in his 30s). Mr Mlelemba told BJ that day that “in this country, there are only two people who can bring down Kamuzu. The first one is Gwanda Chakuamba and the second one is Bakili Muluzi.” However Gwanda was in prison at that time and so it wasnt going to be possible.

Mr Mlelemba then asked BJ to visit again the following week. When he came back the following weekend he was surprised to see his cousin Dumbo Lemani at Mr Mlelembas house. Upon inquiry, the uncle told BJ, that his nephew Dumbo was a necessary asset in the formation of the party because analibe mantha and he knew all the people who can help mobilise horigans and young people, plus dumbo was popular with the wanderers people. over and above anything Dumbo was the one who knew Bakili and would take them there.

“Brown its sad that u cant be president, chinthu choyamba wekha. Koma i will make sure one day, uzakhale president basi” dumbo had said to which BJ had replied “thats not important, what is important is that we remove kamuzu and free the malawian people.” These statements came back to haunt both men and hurt their relationship years later.

Later that day, the three men drove to either Mtaja or Kapoloma in a vehicle that Dumbo had borrowed from his friend Patrick Mbewe (who did not know the actual purpose). When they got there, Bakili was with some Sheikhs that the three men had to wait in the vehicle until the Sheikhs left. As Bakili walked towards the vehicle, the men got out and Bakili said “Brown akuti ukufuna kugwetsa boma?” To which BJ responded by saying “akuti inu ndi amene mungati thandize” they all laughed and went inside some house where they spent hours talking.

BJ did not know Bakili much but he did not take long to realise why Mr Mlelemba had suggested Bakili to lead them, he spoke of Kamuzu without fear, he jokingly made fun of the MCP officials and knew almost everyone , their politics, their family history and if they could join the movement. what Bakili seemed interested to know is that BJ had the contacts and that those contacts would be able to fund their political activities. As Dumbo would later say, “we discussed on the way back that if Bakili had the finances, he would have removed Kamuzu years ago.”

It was also at that meeting that BJ asked if it was better to merge with the then upcoming Phwezi Group. The phwezi group is what later evolved to Aford. Bakili told them that there was need for a national party and that he had been in touch with the phwezi group and they not have financial resources and had an “its time for the north to rule” attitude.

A series of meetings then took place between the four men. Mr Mlelemba made it clear from the on set that he would not be interested in political positions. He told them that he was old and wanted to enjoy his retirement. Bakili Muluzi was president when Mr Mlelemba died. He attended the funeral and talked about Mr Mlelembas involvement but did not give him enough credit.

Bakili was of the view that there was need to shake Kamuzu up by bringing into MCP all the people that Kamuzu loathed. But most of them were in exile. The four man also came up with a list of 14 people whom they wanted to attend the first meeting of their party. Bakili approached each one of these people to ask them to attend the meeting.

As the date of the meeting approached. The MCP govt got news that a certain Brown Mpinganjira was forming a political party and talking to donors to sponsor them. BJ became a wanted man again. Bakili then had a good plan, he decided to ask BJ to go to zambia, Tanzania and the UK to mobilize those in exile. So BJ left kukagwira ntchito yomwe anamutuma chairman (Bakili).

On the day of the first meeting at Dr Kahumbes place, BJ was out of the country (people now believe Bakili actually planned to not have BJ at that first meeting). When the meeting took place there were twelve people who attended, minus Mr Mlelemba and BJ.

Those who attended the meeting continously said Bakili kept mentioning Brown Mpinganjira whom some people knew and remembered from prison. BJ did not return again until just before or just after the referendum.

People in the party knew very little of him, so when he contested at the party convention as party publicity secretary, he lost to Cassim Chilumpha. BJ was then coopted as a NEC member but was Bakilis right hand man and everybody knew. Bakili would tell him, “Brown chipani chako ichi, once i finish my first term, you will have to come in and lead the party.” Later Bakili and BJ would fight over who actually formed UDF.

So much is said about BJ, but i feel we dont give him enough credit for his role in getting rid of dictatorship in this country. i have skipped alot of things here about Bakili, BJ and Dumbos involvement in mobilizing support for catholic bishops to issue their pastoral letter and how recruitment was done etc.

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