What Political Future Holds for Malawi Vice President Saulos Chilima?

Malawi Vice President Saulos Chilima

“Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other.” – Oscar Ameringer, German-American socialist editor, author, and organiser.

Chilima’s Achievements

You would be making a gross error if you happened to underrate Vice President Saulos Chilima. Frankly speaking, Saulos is one of the few individuals who have achieved a lot in a short period of time.

Even as a quinquagenarian, Chilima is in his second term serving as the Vice President of Malawi under the tutelage of Dr. Lazarus Chakwera. This is no small achievement, considering that he joined active politics as the running mate to Prof. Peter Mutharika in 2014, directly from the private sector, displacing long-serving members of the once-mighty Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Education-wise, Chilima attained the highest academic qualification, a Ph.D. in Knowledge Management from the University of Bolton (United Kingdom). He also holds a Master’s degree in Economics, as well as a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Sciences with majors in Computer Science and Economics from the University of Malawi.

In terms of management skills, Saulos became the first indigenous Malawian to be appointed to the position of Chief Executive Officer of the prestigious Airtel Malawi Limited after holding various other managerial positions in private organisations, including the Leasing and Finance Company, Unilever Malawi, Coca-Cola, and Carlsberg.

Dr. Chilima is a great marketer. He is well-known for spearheading various projects such as Yabooka, Airtel Money, and a 3G network upgrade at Airtel Malawi Limited. These initiatives transformed Airtel Malawi’s annual revenue by 75% over a period of three years, from USD 54 million in 2010 to USD 95 million in 2013. With his marketing skills, Chilima’s newly launched United Transformation Movement (UTM) became the fastest-growing political party in 2019. Therefore, it was not surprising that Chilima, alongside Dr. Michael Usi as a running mate, came third with 20.24% of the popular vote in the 2019 Malawian general elections. Attaining 4 seats in the National Assembly in 2019 was no small achievement, considering that UTM was just almost 9 months old at that time.

Chilima also held a number of ministerial positions in the current and former regimes, including Minister responsible for Public Events and Disaster Management and Minister of Economic Planning and Development.

Chilima’s Uncertain Political Future

Despite the aforementioned achievements, what does the political future hold for Vice President Saulos Chilima? The naked truth is that Chilima’s political future remains in total disarray.

Firstly, Chilima is currently barred from contesting as a presidential candidate after serving his two maximum terms. This is according to the ruling of the High Court on the case of Muluzi vs. the State in 2009. It explicitly stated that a vice president who has served his maximum two terms as vice president is not eligible to stand for the presidency. Obviously, Chilima will have completed his maximum two terms as Vice President before the 2025 general elections.

Ironically, other schools of thought argue that the Malawi Constitution does not explicitly bar Chilima from standing as a presidential candidate. Although it must be admitted that the Malawi Constitution is supreme, where there is no explicit prohibition, the High Court’s and Supreme Court’s interpretation of the constitution takes precedence. In the common law legal system followed by the Malawi judicial system, such High Court verdicts become case law.

Some UTM supporters have jokingly expressed their wishful thinking that Chilima is eligible to stand because former Vice President Dr. Justin Malewezi was allowed to contest as a presidential candidate after finishing his two terms as vice president. The truth is that Malewezi stood in 2004 before the High Court ruling in 2009, and the law obviously could not have been applied retrospectively.

The second reason Chilima’s political future is in disarray is that many Malawians have lost trust in him. They had high expectations that his campaign promises, such as three meals per day, the creation of one million jobs, and cheap fertilizer, would materialise. Unfortunately, there is nothing concrete on the ground.

Furthermore, some UTM supporters have argued that Chilima is not in the driving seat and, therefore, he can’t be blamed for the Tonse Alliance’s empty promises. This argument does not hold water, as Chilima himself was at the forefront, promising people the moon while knowing that he would only be the Vice President to President Chakwera.

Lastly but not least, many Malawians are disappointed with Chilima because he preached against nepotism and corruption during the campaign period, only to be at the forefront of practising the same vices after assuming power.

No wonder some Malawians were flabbergasted to hear that Chilima’s mother-in-law was offered a diplomatic position in the Malawian Embassy in Zambia as soon as the Tonse Alliance ascended to power.

Recently, Chilima has been charged with a corruption scandal alleging that he received US$280,000 (over 300 million Malawi Kwacha) from businessman Zuneth Sattar to facilitate the businessman’s dealings with the incumbent government. Although Malawians are aware that a suspect is deemed innocent until proven guilty, Chilima’s allegations of corruption and nepotism are very serious.


Chilima should address the allegations of corruption and nepotism head-on. He should explain his role in the alleged scandal and apologize to the Malawian people if he is found to have been involved in any wrongdoing.

Chilima must do his best to test the waters by standing as a presidential candidate in the 2025 general elections. If the Chairman of the Malawi Electoral Commission, Dr. Chifundo Kachale, who happens to be a Malawi Constitution legal expert, rejects his candidacy, he can appeal against that verdict. With the rampant judge-shopping in the judiciary and the fact that most judges who ruled in his favour in the 2020 presidential elections case have been promoted to Justices of the Supreme Court of Appeal, Chilima stands a high chance of winning the appeal case.

To regain public trust regarding the empty promises, Chilima must come out of his cocoon and explain how his campaign promises will be fulfilled. To fulfilling his campaign promises requires SKC to work to improve the lives of Malawians by creating jobs, reducing poverty, and providing access to education and healthcare among other needs.

He should also clarify the circumstances surrounding his mother-in-law’s appointment to a diplomatic position. If it is found that she was appointed to the Malawian Embassy in Zambia through nepotism or without due diligence, then he should have her fired from her position.

Chilima can also take advantage of the weakness of the toothless, clueless, and partial Martha Chizuma, the Director General of the Anti-Corruption Bureau, by surrendering the bribe he is accused of. The precedent has already been set, as Bakili Muluzi recently paid back part of the money he was accused of squandering, and President Chakwera decided to discontinue his corruption case.

Recently, Prince Kapondamganga, the State House Chief, also returned the car he was accused of being bribed with, and Chizuma closed the case without proper scrutiny. This mediocre approach to dealing with corruption is unique to Malawi, and therefore, it could happen to Chilima too if he humbles himself by returning the accused money.


Although Chilima’s political future remains uncertain, there is still a glimmer of hope for him to attain the presidency if he follows the outlined recommendations. If he is able to address the challenges he faces, he could still become a successful politician. He has the potential to be a great leader for Malawi, but he will need to make some serious changes, an overhaul really, if he wants to achieve his goals.

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