According to Michae Usi, popularly known as Manganya, the “Odya Zake Alibe Mulandu” movement is simply a channel for advocating a development philosophy. It is not a political party and has no intention of becoming one.
But I was in Blantyre a week ago when women dressed in the movement’s colours walked around Blantyre streets apparently on their way to make charitable donations somewhere. It was in interesting spectacle; and the word among most spectators was that with proper planning and a clear message, perhaps a movement like this one, with no party affiliations and networks to appease after the elections, was exactly what Malawi needs at this time when the country’s politics seems to be at the crossroads.
The question then is – whether that candidate is Michael Usi, or some other character yet to appear on the scene – is it time for Malawi to experiment with an independent candidate?
Contrary to popular belief, the race in 2019 doesn’t need to be simply between Professor Peter Mutharika and Dr Lazarus Chakwera. In fact it does not have to be. The idea that a strong independent candidate could emerge to challenge our heretofore-accepted status quo isn’t simply the idle work of frustrated pundits, tossing names out until one finally sticks. In reality, there exists a serious foundation — that with a comprehensive strategy and key assets; and with substantive seed funding in place, this could all signal the change that this country desperately needs.
I would like to submit, as a matter of fact, that the Malawian public is ready to look at such an option.
Of course polling the electorate for independent-candidacy demand can be imprecise — and optimistic. When the public dislikes two candidates (and many Malawians now seem disillusioned with Mutharika and Chakwera), it is easy for them to express a preference for an idealized, unknown third person. But in my snap polling, admittedly very loose and not exactly reflective, we have a demonstration that a generic independent candidate could snap up at least 65 per cent of the vote if elections were held today. Furthermore, up to 95 per cent of Malawians are willing to at least consider an independent candidate an a genuine alternative to the chaff currently obtaining.
None of this is news to political analysts of course. I’m not going to pretend that this polling means an independent candidate would sweep the field in one of history’s great political revolutions, but it does indicate that a credible candidate would earn a serious look, with the younger generation (unsurprisingly) most likely to jump to the support of such a development. A serious look is the critical first step.
I would also submit that the common argument presented against an independent candidacy, that is the party structures problem, is overblown.
Analysts who like to toss cold water on independent candidacy always go back to the same two-word shibboleth: “Party structures”. As the argument goes, it is just too late and too expensive to get on enough voter mobilisation to either win or impact the race meaningfully without party structures. Apparently this is why it is important to run for the presidency on a political party platform. But as I pointed out some weeks ago, political parties exist simply as vehicles for fundraising and voter mobilisation. If a candidate can find alternative solutions for these challenges – and alternative solutions do exist, I assure you – then this seemingly major obstacle falls away.
The other obstacle to independent candidacy is funding. But to a capable contender with the right strategy and a promising agenda, I dare suggest that funds are available.
Simply put, there is an enormous amount of money that is sitting on the side-lines. Businessmen, both local and international, that make their fortunes trading with government often fund political activities, but only when they identify potential and the possibility that the candidate has a real chance of forming the next government. But that doesn’t mean all that money is available to just anybody. When it comes to political fundraising, there is often a “chicken-or-egg” conundrum. Which comes first, the money or candidate viability?
Yet a man or woman with a loyal pre-existing network (or independent means, of course) can show financial muscle from the start — which will lead to immediate potential for success, and will spur additional giving.
Unfortunately, this factor is important in discouraging many a potential independent candidate’s from making the decision to run. Without an existing initial cash chest, the fundraising and mobilization challenge looks that much harder, and many are unwilling to take the initial risk of sacrificing their own funds with the hope that it will help bring in much larger amounts from donors later.
Nevertheless, it is my prediction that the 2019 election campaign will be unusually volatile. It is true that even though the odds are still against the incumbent, the DPP will obviously put up a strong resistance. However an independent challenger prepared to steel himself or herself for a tough fight will soon find that it is a fight worth starting. After a political season where all the “rules” haven’t applied and both the major parties have experienced historic infighting and insurgencies, it seems it seems to me the public disillusionment with the political party model is justified and the very catalyst of an environment where the answer for the nation may very well be found in a bold and courageous independent candidate willing to take them both on and give the electorate a genuine alternative option.
For those of us who care about the future of this nation, a strong independent campaign could have serious revolutionary benefits to our political framework. Given the terrible options before them (DDP or MCP), some number of Malawians — especially the principled conservatives — may just decide to stay home, to opt out of the “lesser of two evils” analysis and choose no evil. This could boost the chances of preserving the status quo as it is now. The real solution for such serious Malawians is to present them with an intelligent option that they can vote for without treading on the twinges of their conscience.
In movements like Michael Usi’s “Odya Zake Alibe Mulandu” Malawians may finally find the intangible and incalculable benefit of giving politically active and intelligent Malawians the opportunity to support someone in the coming election without throwing away their dignity and credibility on the ash heap of the rot that has become Malawi’s political parties.
Quite honestly, I don’t know if Michael Usi, or anyone else for that matter, will step forward. I do know that people are making personal and direct appeals to worthy challengers, people who have the resources to hit the ground sprinting. Even yours truly has been approached and asked to run, imagine! (But of course you all know I would never betray the critic’s podium for that particular option!)
The bottom line is simple: An independent challenge is possible. An independent challenger can do great good and may even win. Who will answer the call?