In 2002, during a political rally in Blantyre, former Malawi President Bakili Muluzi was heard to have promised musician Phungu Joseph Nkasa a car for his sensible songs. A few people have confided that indeed the president made the promise during the rally.
Going back into the political history, in 2002 President Muluzi was under fire, for his plans of contesting as president of Malawi for the third / open term after the end of his constitutionally mandated two five year terms in 2004. He was supported by his henchmen like the late Davis Kapito, who was then the party’s Southern region governor, and the outspoken cabinet minister, the late Rev. Dumbo Lemani.
But a good section of Malawians were not for his interest and it resulted into, among others, running street battles, exiting of former close political allies like Brown Mpinganjira, Rev. Peter Kaleso and Joe Manduwa from his ruling United Democratic Front party, and more prominent, musician Billy Kaunda’s critical song, ‘Mwataya Chipangano (Agalatiya)’ (Where Is The Promise?). It is from the latter that President Muluzi’s promise of a car to Nkasa came about.
The sources say that after President Muluzi had spoken against his critics on the issue he singled out Billy Kaunda’s song and asked the people if indeed he had broken the promise. In a chorus, as it is always with political rallies, the people responded that President Muluzi was not wrong to seek another term. He then asked musicians to come up with good songs which can build the nation like those of Nkasa.
He was then referring to Nkasa’s newly released sixth album in 2001, ‘Wayenda Wapenga’, which was a lyrical masterpiece, a project which launched the Nkasa who drove Malawi insane later on. President Muluzi was right, the album was full of advice and it tallied well with Nkasa’s own given stage nickname, ‘Phungu’ (Advisor). In his usual flamboyancy, President Muluzi is said to have promised Nkasa a car for the goodness of his songs. But the problem was that the car was never delivered for reasons Nkasa revealed in a song found in his next album, of which President Muluzi is said to have responded to as well.
In 2003, with the late William Khwiliro, Nkasa came up with his seventh studio album ‘Tigwirane Manja’, (Let’s Work Together) which sealed his status as a moral voice, as his nickname suggests. After being frustrated of what happened from the time the president promised him the car to the time he was going to the studio, Nkasa came out of the shell with the song ‘Anamva’ (They Heard You).
It was the response to the President for failing to fulfill his car promise. But after the president had listened to the song, at another rally, he is said to have clarified his remarks saying that he never said Nkasa should come and collect the car, but that his music sounds good when you listen it from the car. This attracted laughter from the people. That was the man, President Muluzi. He used to get away with anything using his jokes.
But Nkasa went hard on it through the song, assuring everyone that he was a sane man asking for what was promised to him. In one of his fastest songs, he spoke from his heart. In the first verse, he was clear: I am still waiting till this day. He further said he was not begging from the president. Rather, he was being rewarded for his good work. But he was frustrated by the red tape on his way to the president. Since everyone heard about the promise on the radio, everywhere he goes people ask him where the promised car is and he responds to them that he was given but he sold it, just to protect the image of the president.
In the second verse, he addressed the president directly, singing; ever since the president had promised him the car he always looked forward to the morning of the next day to meet him over it. He tried to go through people to take him to the president but they were all not willing to help him. In the last verse, Nkasa continues to lament the people who made sure he did not meet the president. He then thanked the president for his willingness to reward him and addressed the president that he has failed to go through the system to meet him, hence the use of the song. And it paid. The president heard the song and responded to it on the rally.
Nkasa then uses the chorus to drum up the support for his cause from the whole country, with the mention of both urban and rural areas. He claims that people heard him being promised the car by Mtunda (The Apex), as he called him in the song. It was one of the several nicknames the president used to proudly call himself. Surprisingly, he only mentions places in the political administrative central and southern regions, as if the northern region never heard about the promise. It has proved that the song fulfilled its intentions. It made people to remember the president making the promise and felt for Nkasa for not being fairly treated by the system and the president. It was a promise and he deserved to get it.
This was thirteen years ago. Nkasa has in between moved on and has never made any references to the promise in his following songs. He accepted his failure of getting what was due to him for his hard work, as he sang. But President Muluzi is still alive, and probably some of the men who made sure that he never gets to the president.
Has Nkasa forgotten about it? No. He still has it in the back of his mind. A human being rarely forgets a promise, especially from a president.
President Muluzi, if you can remember your promise and you are able to give Nkasa the car you promised him; it is better late than never. Have the conscience and please do so. Just as he sang then: ‘Ndikudikilirabe mpaka lero…’ (I am still waiting till today…); he is still waiting for the car.
Wonderful Mkhutche is an author, a political scientist and a manuscript editor and developer