The Grand Old Party of Malawi politics, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) has survived every direct and indirect attempt to have it end up in the dustbin of history. After leading one of the strongest and most brutal rules in Africa for three decades, in June 1993, Malawians voted for a multiparty system of democracy. A year later, the party was voted out of power, ending its grip on power.
The new leadership of the United Democratic Front (UDF), under President Bakili Muluzi, went all lengths to have the MCP legacy, and that of its leader, President Kamuzu Banda, erased from the history of Malawi.
He renamed some public structures under the Kamuzu Banda name, arrested Kamuzu Banda, John Tembo and Cecelia Tamanda Kadzamira, three most powerful individuals during the MCP era, for their involvement in the infamous ‘Mwanza Four’ death in May 1983. President Muluzi would always remind people how tough it was under MCP and went on a personal political battle against two prominent MCP members, John Tembo and Gwanda Chakuamba.
But all this was in vain. In the following General Elections, 1999, 2004 and 2009, MCP would still show some strengths, especially in the Central region, its traditional political home. The party had survived its biggest democratic era scare. The leadership of John Tembo can be credited as one result for this. But as 2014 General Elections were approaching, its supporters felt the man had done his duty and was outliving his welcome.
The party wanted change. And it happened. As the fifth General Elections were approaching, MCP made its boldest move in a democratic era. For the first time, it was neither John Tembo nor Gwanda Chakuamba as its leader, a political novice in the name of Lazarus Chakwera had risen to the helm in, probably, the most democratic intra-party Presidential candidate search. Once a known religious leader, Chakwera had dared the system and went for one of the most lucrative political jobs in Malawi: If it is not being in government, MCP is always guaranteed of leading political opposition.
The party was voted out of power two decades ago on the need for democracy. Two decades later, the party retained the favor of people for its intra-party democracy, a character that all the other leading parties after it never showed. That is how the party has moved itself from the doldrums to ushering a wind of change for a system it was rejected for. It may have lost the 2014 General Elections, but it has never been close to the seat of power as it was in the previous elections.
And that is how it has recently been moving. As the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) continues its fall from the grace of people, MCP is being looked upon as an escape of political, economic and social challenges the country is going through. With a new leadership in place and a political opposition that keeps track of the government, there is literally no case against the party.
The only challenge the party has faced in this era is its failure to penetrate the Southern region, dominated by UDF and DPP, and the North, a region that changes its voting pattern. With the demise of the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD), a party that called the North its home, the region now presents an untapped land for political parties. But with sparsely settlement, it has less numbers which makes parties focus most on the other two regions.
But make no mistake, the North has proved to be the difference sometimes, especially in the 2009 General Elections where late former President Bingu wa Mutharika swept its votes that helped him win a landslide victory, the first in the democratic Malawi. His victory meant breaking the regional political boundaries, and brought in the Northern region as one of the king makers. In 2017, the region needs not to be ignored.
MCP has a Vice President from the region, the current Speaker of the National Assembly, Richard Msowoya. The mention of his name and his presence in the party brings in the question of names and regional influence. That is how Sidik Mia comes into the fray. Has Richard Msowoya made a difference in the party as an individual or because of his home of origin? It is hard. The challenge is both the qualitative and quantitative meaning of the ‘difference’.
But in the names of Lazarus Chakwera and Richard Msowoya, MCP has two leaders who have no dark trails. After being in the ruling DPP as Minister, during the leadership of Presdient Bingu wa Mutharika, Richard Msowoya joined MCP when it mattered less. It was a political move we all saw but never dwelt on. He had no name and offered little hope for change with John Tembo at the top, and an era that associated the party with Central region individuals.
Defying all odds, he rose to the seat of party Vice President. When he was later proposed as the Speaker for Parliament, he easily won. He has held the office with integrity as he continues being an MCP member. He is part of the new MCP, a political piece that is right for our politics. Untried. Untested. If ever MCP is carrying hopes for the nation, Richard Msowoya is the reason. There has not been much shift of power for the North because of his presence in the MCP. But as an individual, he has driven the MCP to the direction of power.
Then comes Sidik Mia. Rising into politics during the autumn days of UDF, reaching the height of power during the ‘first term’ of DPP under President Bingu wa Mutharika, the political demise of Gwanda Chakuamba gave him way to the seat of ‘Lower Shire giant’. He deliberately chose not to contest as a Parliamentarian in the 2014 General Elections after moving from the DPP to the then ruling People’s Party (PP), under former President Joyce Banda.
He has a financial muscle and a soft-spoken political tone. A Muslim by religion and a colored by race, Mia has come out to make a clear political move after a short absence. Last week he told the nation that he will contest as Vice President for the MCP at its convention, next year. As people are afraid to say their political ambitions in the ruling DPP, for fear of reprisal, MCP is open enough for all who have ambitions.
Mia’s move for power has to be respected. But does the party need him? The real answer will come out in 2018, and subsequently, 2019. But following the journey of MCP recently, what should the party do? In the first place, Mia should be treated as an individual. The idea that he carries the Lower Shire with him wherever he goes is archaic. PP failed badly in the region despite his presence. There are no regional political names anymore.
MCP has defied times and outlived its political traps. It is not a party anymore, but a brand that is resonating even with the youths, the same generation President Muluzi famously preached the anti-MCP rhetoric to. There is a wind of change going through the minds of people in Malawi. With the ballot being the only place of making the change possible, and the reality of politics that still germinates from regions, it leaves most people clueless of how best it can be done.
Recently, Afro barometer, found out that if Malawi can go to the ballot today, the ruling DPP can lose its mandate to govern. It tells a story. With MCP being the only strong opposition party, the votes will definitely be in its favor. Although this may be as a result of people’s loss of trust in the DPP, the political lure MCP currently takes the credit as well. And all this has happened with Mia away from the party.
He comes into the party with a strong financial muscle. Some are seeing in him the possibility of taking the Lower Shire back to the party. But the latter is a political cliché, and at the turn MCP is now, it needs no money to make it. Its investment lies in the individuals is has recently been associated with and the will of the people to see change coming through politicians it has no case against.
Party President Lazarus Chakwera may be tempted to think Mia is the party’s way into the Lower Shire. He is not. Mia represents politicians who have a sense of entitlement, those who feel they own the system and can woo people to their side at any given moment. If MCP wants to strengthen its hold in the Southern Region, it needs to go for new blood and names, in the likes of former Blantyre City Mayor, Noel Chalamanda. Money may run General Elections. But character and integrity run politics.
Lazarus Chakwera should not be lured by Mia into betraying or sidelining Richard Msowoya. With him, he has formed a team that has transformed the party into a potential government. People have been swayed back because of the way they have handled the party and its politics. Its march for power should not be built on financial resources, but in the wish for people to see change. There are several ways to penetrate the Southern region and the Lower Shire, but Mia is not one of them.
About the author: Wonderful Mkhutche is a professional speech writer, a political scientist and a manuscript editor and developer