Scrutinising Chakwera’s and Mutharika’s Leadership

Lazarus Chakwera

This article examines the leadership styles and achievements of Malawi’s current and former presidents. After the fresh presidential election in 2020, Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika lost power, and Reverend Lazarus Chakwera assumed the presidency. With three years having passed since Chakwera’s inauguration and his fourth year in office underway, we can now make realistic comparisons and contrasts between the two leaders, as four years account for three-quarters of a five-year term.

President Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera’s Profile

President Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera currently serves as the President of Malawi. He was sworn into office on June 28, 2020, at Malawi Square, Bingu International Convention Centre in Lilongwe.

Prior to entering frontline politics, Chakwera served as the President of the Malawi Assemblies of God from 1989 until his resignation on May 14, 2013, to contest in the 2014 General Elections as a presidential candidate for the Malawi Congress Party. The 2014 election was marred by irregularities, leading the Electoral Commission to request a manual audit of the ballots. Despite his support for the audit, Chakwera’s rival, Arthur Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party, obtained an injunction to halt it, compelling the Commission to announce the results. Mutharika was declared the winner with an 8.6 percent margin. Chakwera chose not to challenge the results, allowing Mutharika an opportunity to prove himself in office. Meanwhile, Chakwera won a parliamentary seat and became the Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly.

He served as the Leader of Opposition until February 2019 when he submitted his nomination papers for the second time to run for the presidential election held on May 21, 2019. The election was highly contested and marred by irregularities, including the use of correction fluid on results sheets. Despite complaints and accusations, the Commission declared Mutharika the winner by a margin of 3.1 percent. On the day of Mutharika’s second-term inauguration, Chakwera announced his decision to challenge the election results.

Together with State Vice President Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima, Chakwera filed a petition to the Constitutional Court, seeking a fresh presidential election. After a six-month hearing, the five-judge panel unanimously nullified the 2019 presidential election due to “massive, serious, and widespread irregularities” that violated constitutional provisions and election laws.

The court ordered a fresh election to be held within 150 days of the ruling. However, President Mutharika appealed the judgment to the Supreme Court, which unanimously upheld the lower court’s decision. In the subsequent fresh election held on June 23, 2020, under the oversight of a newly constituted Electoral Commission, Chakwera emerged victorious with 58.57 percent of the vote. Chakwera was born on the rural outskirts of Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi, on April 5, 1955, to Earnest Person Chakwera and Mallen Mwale, who were subsistence farmers.

His upbringing was typical of a rural home without electricity, running water, or privileges of any kind. The poor conditions exposed the children to frequent sickness, resulting in the death of two of Chakwera’s older brothers in infancy. His father named him Lazarus, expressing faith that he would defy the odds and live long, just like the biblical character who was raised from the dead. Chakwera has a sister and a brother. He is married to Monica, and they have four children and 12 grandchildren.

In 1977, the year of their marriage, Chakwera graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Philosophy) degree from the University of Malawi. He obtained his honors degree from the University of the North in Sovenga, South Africa. In 1991, he earned his master’s degree from the University of South Africa. He received a doctorate from Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois, USA, in 2000. The Pan Africa Theological Seminary awarded him a professorship in 2005. Chakwera has held various executive leadership roles in Malawi and internationally, including Chairman of the Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM) from 1997 to 2014; Board Chairman for All Nations Theological Seminary from 2008 to 2013; Board Member of the Global University in Springfield, Missouri, USA, from 1999 to 2005.

He also served as the Board Chairman of the Pan Africa Theological Seminary (PATHS) from 2004 to 2014; Chairman of the Association of Pentecostal Theological Education in Africa (APTEA) from 2011 to 2014; President of the Africa Assemblies of God Alliance from 2004 to 2013; Secretary of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship from 2005 to 2017; co-chair of the Facilitation Team created to resolve the Budget and Section 65 Parliamentary impasse between Cabinet and Opposition in 2008; Chairman of Malawi’s Petroleum Control Commission; and Chairman of the National Council for Sports. President Chakwera has promised to govern based on a set of five principles called “The Chakwera SUPER HI-5,” which highlight five policy focus areas: Servant Leadership, Uniting Malawi, Prospering Together, Ending Corruption, and Rule of Law.

Former President Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika’s Profile

Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika served as the former President of the Republic of Malawi, winning his second term after the May 21, 2019 Tripartite Elections. Born on July 18, 1940, in the tea-growing district of Thyolo in southern Malawi, Prof. Mutharika attended various primary schools, including Mulanje Mission, before proceeding to Dedza Secondary School, where he studied alongside notable Malawian politicians like the late Chakufwa Chihana.

Mutharika obtained his law degree from the University of London in 1965. He later earned his LL.M degree in 1966 and JSD degree in 1969, both from Yale University. As a professor, he taught at the University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Haile Selassie University (Ethiopia), Rutgers University (USA), the United Nations Institute for Training and Research Program for Foreign Service Officers from Africa and Asia at Makerere University (Uganda), and Washington State University (USA).

He also served as an Academic Visitor at the London School of Economics (UK). He informally advised his older brother, the late President Bingu wa Mutharika, on foreign and domestic policy issues from 2004 until the President’s death on April 5, 2012. Prof. Mutharika has held several positions of leadership, including Minister of Justice and later Minister for Education, Science and Technology. He also served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2011 to 2012. He is currently the President of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and was a Member of Parliament for Thyolo East from 2009 toMarch 2014.

The Charles Nagel Professor of International Comparative Law and recipient of the 2008 International Jurist Award, Prof. Mutharika was appointed to the panel of arbitrators in a land dispute case in Zimbabwe until August 2011. Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika is married to Prof. Gertrude Mutharika.

In the next article, we will delve deeper into the comparisons and contrasts of these two leaders.