Year in review: A 2018 of surprises

Zameer Karim

Malawians were heading into 2018, over 365 days ago with hope of what would turn out not to be the usual ahead of the 2019 elections. The political scene offered overwhelming twists and turns, so did the sporting and arts realms. We will be justified to say “What a year.”

We look at some of top events and stories that took the nation by surprise.

Top on the listing was the emergence of a faction in the DPP. Initial calls behind the faction, that later blossomed into what is known as the United Transformation Movement -UTM, only became rife at the leak of a WhatsApp thread by DPP politburo who argued leader Peter Mutharika needed to pave way for his Vice Saulos Chilima at the convention.

The chat and arguments were spearheaded by Callista Mutharika, Peter’s in-law, and Patricia Kaliati among many others.

Surprisingly,   Chilima was in the cocoon of his own and cast out the calls he was siding behind the incoming faction.

It was around mid-2018 year when a press briefing, Chilima stood to the ground he had stepped down from the DPP and would announce his next political move in a few days.

He had ironically indicated there was no blood lost between him and Mutharika, amid incessant media reports, the two top leaders had fallen out of talk on each other.

Chilima also made claims the DPP leadership was corrupt and that his move was only but an indication he was detesting it and was distancing himself from the corruption he says was eating up each and every corner of the Mutharika leadership.

After a few weeks Chilima launched the UTM across all regions, with a theme of change against what he calls as poor leadership. At the taste of a few court battles, UTM finally got legitimately registered.

In a debated Hard Talk interview with the BBC, Chilima said his intentions to rally against Mutharika who picked him as running mate in 2014 did not rest on malice but because ‘he meets the qualities’ and that it is ‘his constitutional right’.

This far, the UTM has posited itself as one top contender for the Presidency in a poll to be held in May 2019.

The other story was about abrupt leadership woes that haunted the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP). While analysts earlier this year told Malawi24, in a series of interviews that the MCP needed to be putting its house in order, it appeared otherwise. Local leadership had been baying for the blood of its leader Lazarus Chakwera accusing him of failing to run the party.

Chakwera fell out of favour against top officials such as Chatinkha Nkhoma, Felix Jumbe, Gustave Kaliwo and Jessie Kabwila (who has since joined UTM after her loss in the Primary election).

Unfortunately, the then Vice President, Richard Msowoya who has also made his way to UTM was seen to being ditched by the party at the coming in of Sidik Mia and Harry Mkandawire who are now Veeps for the South and Central regions respectively.

At a rally, Chakwera beat off the tradition of letting people know of one’s running mate at the day of submitting nomination papers to the Malawi Elector Electoral Commission (MEC) by announcing Mia will be his running mate.

Tales of woes have also rocked the primary elections by the MCP with a disputed poll in Dedza East involving Juliana Lunguzi and Patrick Bandawe.

The scandal world seemed not to spare the DPP. At the back of a maizegate scam involving one of its top officials George Chaponda, the fold turned to the top man himself, Peter Mutharika.

He was at the centre of a police service food ration scandal reportedly acquisition of funds amounting to K145 Million to an account that Mutharika is said to be a sole signatory.

A bandwagon of Civil Society Organisations have been dragging Mutharika head into the matter. Arrests have however been made of one Zameer Karim and Police commissioner Innocent Bottomani who are feared to have taken a role in the unscrupulous deals.

Mutharika had however denied the accusations. The news sparked an unprecedented wave of debate and served as what appeared to be a new dossier of how public funds are looted. At the moment, Malawi’s top corruption scandal is still the cashgate scandal in which top government officials were involved, arrested with huge amounts of cash during the Joyce Banda regime. Over the years, Banda has heavily denied involvement and had insinuated she was not aware of the loot when it was happening.

At the launch of his party, Chilima had been making claims there is a rigging machine that the DPP regime purchased to flout the 2019 elections.

His claims went as far as indicating he knew where the machine was being kept and that plans were there to have it relocated.

The UTM leader however swiftly said he had plans to stop the planned rig of the polls.

In reaction, Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN) Director Steve Duwa told Malawi24’s Joseph Dumbula that such claims needed to be substantiated with evidence urging Chilima to tender the evidence.

He said such claims risk the chance of seeing the nation into a disputed poll as people will head in the elections at the backdrop of such beliefs.

The DPP had also denied the accusation and asked Chilima to prove his case.

Chilima’s silence on the matter has followed and it is arguable whether it was mere political rhetoric or not.

At the moment, MEC is undertaking the voter’s rolls verification exercise.

Although there have massive concerns in matters of logistics, a massive data among others, the electoral body has indicated up to 6.8 Million electorates had registered.

At the start of the registration exercise, statistics indicated a tremendous drop in number of people registering to vote.

Analysts have cited a probable public trust loss on the part of the citizenry as a driving factor.

Malawi votes this May for the second time running for Ward Councillors, lawmakers and the president.

News that former President Joyce Banda was coming home had been running when the nation headed to 2017.

It is unarguable that it was bit by bit halting to carry more weight as it were, because previously dates had been announced she was returning only until U-turns were made.

From 2014, Banda had been in the US. She traveled just after she lost in a disputed poll to Mutharika in May 2014.

At hand were accusations she took a role in the public loot of resources known as Cashgate and that Mutharika’s regimes was apparently working towards having her arrested.

She described the news as mere political witch-hunt.

In 2018, although the ACB had said they were still working on evidence linking Banda to the scandal, the Malawi Police Service issued a warrant arrest for Banda.

However, since her arrival, she has not been arrested and the law enforcing agency has played lip service on the issue.

She had at a rally in Zomba said she is not afraid and not leaving the nation again.

She also in the year reinforced her intent to contest in the elections in 2019 by being voted the party’s torchbearer at a convention held in Blantyre.

Banda has since ignited a nationwide campaign.

She posits herself as one of the two female candidates for the presidential hot seat alongside LCP leader Sally Kumwenda.