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Muckaracking Extra:Cost of Chabuka’s folly

Malawi PoliticianGranted, the so-called Tisintha Alliance cannot have any impact on the outcome of the May 20 elections. But do you know the cost of the decision by its vice presidential running mate Sylvester Chabuka to pull out mid-stream? 

Officials from the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) and other stakeholders were supposed to fly to South Africa to oversee the printing of ballots at least by today. But the whole process has been put on ice so that the implications of Chabuka’s actions must be debated and analysed.  

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Art of diplomacy

Raphael Tenthani“Running a government
serious business”

Bakili Muluzi


Before we go into issues of diplomacy, let us hold a session of ‘Politics 101’ with one Austin Atupele Muluzi. 

In politics always get it right the first time; any attempts to clarify a gaffe later do not wash. A caveat to this lesson is: always be clear what your message is. Ask yourself what you want to communicate on the political podium; do not leave anything to doubt, conjecture or speculation lest you risk communicating stuff you do not intend to.  

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Three days in April

Raphael Tenthani “No great genius

has ever existed


some touch of madness”


Friday, April 6, 2012: Exactly two years ago today we were still in limbo about whether our president had died, was very sick in a Jo’burg hospital or was enjoying some bliss Down Under in his favourite holiday pad of Perth or in the Algarve in Portugal or partaking of champagne and caviar somewhere in the Far East.

I remember it was a slow Thursday. Nothing of any significance was happening, so I lay in bed not wishing to wake up any time soon.

…Until a friend almost hysterically called me to ask whether “I have heard”.

“Heard what?” I wondered.

“About Bingu.”

“What about Bingu?”

It was just before 11 o’clock in the morning. By then Bingu had been making some real crazy pronouncements. I remember a few weeks back, on March 6 to be precise, the President had just made his “meet me in the streets” pronouncement.

His blue-eyed boys (and girl) Bintony Kutsaira, Luscious Kanyumba, Patricia Kaliati and Heatherwick Ntaba tried unsuccessfully to explain what the Big Kahuna had meant.

But we knew what he meant. In fact he did not try to coat his message in niceties. He did not mince his words when he said: “The MCP didn’t allow Kamuzu to be abused; the UDF didn’t allow Bakili to be abused, why are you letting ‘them’ to abuse me without doing anything?”

So however Kutsaira or Kanyumba tried to twist and explain away Bingu’s message, we heard it for ourselves; it was a call to arms to his unofficial militia to deal with all those who dared raise a finger against him.

So when my friend called me to talk about Bingu that early Thursday morning I thought: “What is the old dude up to again?”

“Someone tells me Bingu has been taken ill,” the friend continued. “He is at KamuzuCentralHospital now.”

That did not jolt me that much. After all online media had “killed” Bingu more than three times before.

But I could not just dismiss that information outright. I called a friend at KCH and how he answered me made the journalist in me spring in action.

Zotolana mkamwa ai,” he told me not to ‘put words in his mouth’ even before I greeted him.

That told me something was amiss big time.

I scrambled out of bed and started working the phones.

I first called Ken Lipenga, who convinced me he genuinely knew nothing. Then I called Patricia Kaliati, then official government mouthpiece. Her phone rang and rang, no answer.

But a journalist friend of mine in Lilongwe told me a new police check had quickly sprung up on the road between KCH roundabout and Kawale.

“Something is going on, but I am not sure what,” this friend told me.

Meanwhile, friends in Lilongwe confirmed sightings of unusual build up of ministers, DPP MPs and presidential aides at KCH.

By now I knew this was certainly not ‘business as usual’. By 1pm someone confirmed seeing Callista Mutharika, the First Lady, being helped into a waiting vehicle fighting back tears.

The President was dead…

…But not officially.

MBC, the official broadcaster, continued as if nothing was afoot.

So Thursday gave way to Friday, no announcement until 11pm when six ministers took to the microphone to assure the anxious nation that the President was under the weather, of course, but was being taken care of in a clinic in Johannesburg.

“Let’s pray for him,” Kaliati, who was among the ‘Midnight Night Six’, implored us.

This was when I realised that Malawians had had enough of Bingu. The setting was Mount Soche Hotel’s Sportsman’s Bar. A live band was playing. When the ‘Midnight Six’ came on the tube the band was asked to stop playing. By then everybody knew Bingu was dead but we wanted an official confirmation so when the ‘Midnight Six’ did not confirm the news the revellers went wild.

Friday gave way to Saturday. Government was stillprocrastinating about the status of Bingu. Meanwhile, we heard later they tried to beat life back into Bingu to the point of breaking his ribs. They even christened his corpse ‘Daniel Phiri’ as they tried to smuggle him to Johannesburg to resuscitate him.

But Bingu’s time was up. On Saturday, April 7, 2012, the lame-duck government finally ate the humble pie and announced Bingu was dead.

The rest, as they say, is history.



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Remembering Bingu

For some reason whenever I met him Bingu called me ‘my first son’. I never found the occasion to ask him why.

Suffice to say I was evidently not particularly complimentary about his presidency. I found him rather arrogant and self-centred and I never shied away from saying so.

But, save for threats from a few of his overzealous apologists, somehow Bingu still called me ‘my first son’ whenever we crossed paths.

I think Bingu was a nice guy but he was in a wrong job at a wrong time. He obviously thought highly of himself. He once told friends Malawi was too small for him.

But I think he could have done well as a village chief where nobody was supposed to challenge his authority. He abhorred opposition. Remember how he prorogued Parliament when John Tembo and the gang pitted Section 65 over the national budget?

Those who say Bingu should have come immediately after Kamuzu are not wrong. Bingu should have been among the likes of Kenneth Kaunda, Julius Nyerere and Kamuzu Banda when the leader was supposed to ‘rule’ without opposition.

If truth be told, Bingu was a perfect example of a ‘Mr. Know-it-All’. Remember that time when we had to devalue the artificially strong kwacha? Everyone in his economic advisory team told him it was time to devalue. Guess what the Big Kahuna told the Chikaondas of this world: “Go rinse your brain in OMO!”

That was Bingu for you!

One positive attribute about Bingu was that when he believed in something he was prepared to defend it at whatever cost. Remember the incident about that British diplomat? Everyone knew it was crazy to expel Her Majesty’s top envoy whatever his indiscretions. But Bingu wanted him out regardless.

He had an advisory council headed by his own brother, Peter, with the likes of Rev. Fr. Boniface Tamani, Dr. Ken Lipenga and Prof. Mathews Chikaonda as members.

This group of wise men agreed it was suicidal to send Fergus Cochrane-Dyet packing. It agreed to send Peter to ‘talk nicely’ to his brother.

But it was too late. Bingu had already despatched Etta Banda, then Foreign Minister, to deliver the marching orders to the ‘wayward’ diplomat.

That was Bingu for you!

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Muckracking Extra:To run or not to run

Which brings me to the court battles MEC has lost.

I have no problems with some folks being disqualified if the good people at MEC find them wanting in one way or the other. Indeed not every Jim and Jack can offer themselves for election; they have to satisfy certain issues like age, sanity, education and all that.

But I have a hell lot of problems when today MEC says Candidate A is legible, tomorrow it says Candidate A is ineligible.

I have no problems with the disqualification of Jesse Kabwila, John Chisi and Mathews Ngwale. MEC made a firm stand that these were public officers, being dons at the university, and therefore ineligible.

But the certification of the three presidential aides and their last minute disqualification brings lots of suspicion.

Why was it necessary for MEC to seek a second opinion on MacDonald Sembereka, Malani Mtonga and Wakuda Kamanga? Why did the electoral body not trust the first opinion? If the first opinion was found wanting, what makes the second opinion trustworthy? Why not seek a third, fourth or indeed a fifth opinion?

Interestingly, when the three aides were cleared to stand we never heard of any resignations. But once MEC cracked its whip the trio produced resignation letters. When did these good people resign and why, for MEC initially had no problems with their working for Ama?

Indeed why should MEC quickly accept their purported resignations and not interrogate them? Things are not adding up here.

On the three aides MEC needlessly exposed its soft underbelly. When it cleared MacDonald, Wakuda and Malani to stand, the electoral body should have stuck to that decision unless someone challenged their legibility. Why should MEC certify the trio to stand and then go back to challenge its own decision?

I agree with Justice Dunstain Mwaungulu that MEC had no legal reason to disqualify Prof. John Chisi unless someone petitioned it. Likewise, MEC should not have sought a second opinion on the three presidential aides unless someone petitioned it.

As my senior colleague Zebedee would put it, I suspect some hanky-panky shenanigans here…

…Which ain’t good for a Commission smarting from a botched voters’ roll verification exercise.

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