“To find fault
to do better may be difficult”
Plutarch, Greek essayist
I refuse to join the chorus of analysts who sung that the recent vice-presidential running mates debate was a disaster.
I personally think the mere fact these men (there were no women!) agreed to be in the public glare was a mark of statesmanship. To me all of them succeeded in their own unique way.
I will tell you how.
I know it is human nature to find fault. After all our skin looks smooth and solid, but it is all littered with holes, respectfully called poles.
So those of us who crammed into the Bingu International Conference Centre (BICC) and those of you who listened from the comfort of your homes were all eager to nit-pick these people. We were looking forward for the quartet to stumble, to stammer, to make fools of themselves.
But, to me, all of them won in their unique ways.
Let us start with Angoni Chilima.
Look, we all set the bar too high for Saulos. Here is a youthful marketer who ‘has been there, done that’. We wanted him to exude all his marketing skills here. So when he seemed tense, we went ‘Argh?’, when he seemed hesitant, we went ‘c’mon!’, when he fluffed a question, we said ‘huh?’
Angoni is a marketer extraordinaire, no doubt. But what we conveniently forgot was that he was not marketing a specific product, like ‘Yabooka’, at the BICC that night. So he could not use the same tactics. He was not in a boardroom with four or five people, for goodness’ sake.
That night Angoni was facing about 2,000 people in BICC and a million more in Malawi and across the world with diverse interests, levels of education et al. If he was officious we would have been labelled him ‘arrogant’; if he was general, we could have found him ‘boring’.
So the Democratic Progressive Party running mate had to strike a balance. And he did it expertly.
A similar situation faced Sosten Gwengwe. As a governing People’s Party panellist, the young man was not oblivious to the fact that his orange party is currently not looking too good…what with the ‘cashgate’ imbroglio and its step-sister, jetgate, to think about?
Gwengwe might have over-played his education card to a point that some people thought he was arrogant. But he expertly compensated this by cutting an ordinary personality rising from zero to greatness.
By trumpeting the fact that he went to school with fried maize stuffed in a bottle of Coke for a break time meal made him connect with the masses.
He showed readiness when he backed his answers with statistics. That showed that he prepared for the night. He might have shown attributes of a ‘cry baby’ by complaining that the moderator was giving his opponents too much time, but his ability to spew figures at the spur of the moment made him the star of the night.
As for the Malawi Congress Party’s Richard Msowoya, the debate happened in his party’s territory, thus anything he said drew the loudest cheer.
But he brought to BICC a wealth of experience and articulation. He might have over-played the Kamuzu card but he seemed to understand what his party stood for.
He should have tried a little harder to project a re-born MCP, but he knew a complete disconnect with the past would have been suicidal.
Godfrey Chapola has been roundly accused of approaching the debate in a laissez-faire manner. But to me, that was his strong point.
The United Democratic Front vice-presidential running mate wanted to tell the world that running government did not require rocket science.
The oldest among the panellists, the former tobacco industry chief took an ‘easy does it’ pose. He took all questions with disarming ease that even the moderator, Joab Frank, never saw any reason for follow ups.
That, to me, was the winner for good ol’ Godfrey!
So, if you ask me, all the four vice-presidential candidates did their best.
We had high expectations for Saulos Chilima because of his immediate past job. But he taught us that one can hold one’s own without being flowery based on one’s past pedigree.
Sosten Gwengwe also schooled us that youthfulness is not synonymous to inexperience. C’mon, his reference to how he wanted Malawi’s Gini Coefficient to be turned the debate on its head. Many went, ‘what’s this young man talking about?’
As for Richard Msowoya, he showed that you can represent a party with a chequered past but be able to extract what was good in the past without hurting your game.
I mean, the old man sampled what was good under Kamuzu and blended the same with what he wants for Malawians.
As for Godfrey Chapola, he taught us that, although Atcheya said running government is serious business, you do not have to be too serious while at it.
Chapola was the most relaxed of the pack…which is good because when one is too serious one displays a sense of panic.
So, you see, to the Muckraker, this duel was a ‘no contest’, nobody won, nobody lost.
But if there was somebody who won, it was our nascent democracy.
And kudos to Zodiak Broadcasting Station for not kicking the can down the road. ZBS started the conversation; let us actualise the national dream.