It cannot be denied that the Chilima movement has created a new wave in our political environment. For a people starved of good political leadership, any new political grouping creates excitement. The worrying thing is we have been here before. We had Mpinganjira’s NDA in early 2000s, the Chakwera wave in 2013. These created a similar if not bigger excitement than the Chilima one. It is common knowledge that newness has the tendency to create excitement on account of the hope it generates.
Past experience, however, has shown that newness is not enough. It is no guarantee of the realization of the hope it carries. Malawi needs more than just the excitement of newness. The concern is that Chilima is in danger of ending up like those before him. There are snares and pitfalls Chilima in the Malawian political terrain that he must sidestep to avoid this fate.
Chilima needs to define what he wants and how he plans to get there. Malawi is in a state of crisis. There is an economic crisis and more importantly, a leadership crisis. Ours is a systemic problem embedded in the culture we have chosen for managing our affairs. The solution needed is not simple demagoguery or cosmetic actions. We do not simply need new leaders; we need revolutionaries. Men and women of good intentions are not enough; we need men and women of great convictions; convictions that spur them to action. We need people who are ready and willing to turn the political culture upside down. Revolutionaries are known for decisiveness in action, and clarity of vision and demands.
Revolutionaries are not bothered by political correctness. And herein may lay the chink in Chilima’s armour.
Chilima has to date demonstrated an unwillingness to be a true revolutionary. His recent press conference and interview portray a man miles away from ‘the man on a mission’ this country yearns for. He has been general, vague and even apologetic. He has lacked the conviction and the aggression required to set the country on fire.
Chilima’s talk of engaging first in a hunt for political partners, seating down to define the vision and then choosing a leader is a sequence that does not obtain in a revolution. A revolution is not a multitudes thing at the outset! Revolutionaries require no popular consensus. They set the agenda, they are the ones that define the vision. When they go public revolutionaries already have a vision. They rally people behind a particular cause. Consultations are made later in working out the finer details on implementation. That is why revolutions are for broken systems and not a working one. Malawi is such a broken system. If Chilima needs any visions for Malawian it is already well articulated in Section 13 of our Republic Constitution. All that is needed are men and women that will pick it up and start running with it.
Now get me clear, Chilima like the many before him is capable of becoming the revolutionary we need. He however needs to avoid what has made others before him to falter.
The biggest problem with many new entrants to the political scene in Malawi is the timing of the introduction. They all generally come during elections. This poses a big dilemma for them as they grapple with pursuing the strategic objectives of the revolution and the immediate need to win elections. Chilima is currently laboring under this dilemma.
The DPP movement that birthed him was wholly focused on the 2019 elections. It was all about making him a presidential candidate for 2019. The temptation for them is to proceed with the same mission under a new set up.
Chilima is a man obsessed with winning every enterprise he gets himself involved in. He in fact prides himself in having never failed on all the major moves he has made in his life. This explains his delaying tactics so far. He does not want to start a political grouping that will fail to win the next elections. He knows it is not easy to start a political party today and win elections in 10 months. He does not have the time. He fears loosing elections. That is why he is talking about being a presidential candidate for a fluid political grouping or a coalition. This approach has meant that he is looking for partners even before hitting the ground running. He is unable to define the form of the political grouping he is or wants to lead. He has failed to have a name for his movement, leaving his supporters, who are obviously way ahead of him, to christen it Chilima movement. The hope is that the name will be decided together with the prospective partners in the coalition. One wonders under what banner ‘his team’ will engage the existing parties. Proper coalitions are based on an MOU, how will his team be identified in the agreement? How will the others? Further, his indecision on this matter is prolonging the obvious error of having a movement that is personalized.
Talking of coalitions, the unfortunate reality is that all major political parties are already in elections drive, their presidential tickets are almost defined. MCP’s ticket is almost cast in stone, Chakwera cannot dump Mia. The benefits would outweigh the gains. UDF’s Atupele has just seen his chances of partnering APM increase by the very departure of Chilima. This leaves minions available for Chilima to partner with. A grouping of briefcase parties, no matter how many, can never amount to a grand coalition.
Chilima must therefore choose between pursuing a revolution or focusing on the next general elections. If he is serious about leading the change Malawi needs he must choose to fight the bigger battle. He must free himself from the myopic view of 2019 elections. He must forget about participating in 2019 elections as an end in itself. He must quickly decide the vision behind which Malawians must rally. He must be decisive in his message and vision. He must choose the higher walk. Whatever vehicle he chooses to use must have a sense of permanency and the objectives must be those that cannot be deterred simply by elections.
Let him follow the EFF model. EFF has been the most successful political party in Republic of South Africa because their focus has never been elections. Their leaders have the audacity to tell the voters ‘don’t vote for us if you don’t subscribe to our views’. By freeing themselves from the fear of losing elections they have earned for themselves the freedom to tackle the most difficult issues, avoided by political parties, such as the land question. The purity of their message automatically rules out corrupt politicians from their ranks. In the 2016 local government elections, they had the opportunity to form coalitions with other political parties to govern metros and municipalities. Because of their predefined non-negotiable cardinal principles enshrined in their constitution, they had a ready guide for them in the negotiations. Political parties that never shared in their views were ruled out. They ended up forming no coalition.
One wonders what will guide the Chilima movement in their current attempts on coalition negotiations other than the convenience of the shared desire to win elections.
Despite being new and small, EFF has had the most impact on the legislative and policy direction of South Africa. They have steadily risen in impact and support. That is revolution! That is what Malawi needs. If Chilima takes that path, he will one day become President of this country. Sooner rather than later.
*For this article, I am heavily indebted to Emmanuel Chapo, Attorney at law, who was so ready and willing to share his thoughts and insights.
Allan Ntata’s Column can be read every Sunday on the Maravi Post