3 “Therefore, brothers and sisters, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. – Acts6:3
In its 57 years of independent rule, Malawi has had six presidents and eight vice presidents. The role of vice president is a recent phenomenon, and understandably, Malawians both in the leadership ranks and the lower rungs of society, know precious little nor do they care to learn how to wade the problem-solving waters, when the leader and his/her vice are entangled in an unavoidable dispute.
The institution of the vice presidency is entrenched in our constitution; it is incumbent for all Malawians to embrace the office of the VP, work with it, and to assist it, as opposed to rising up storms of fanciful discord.
For 30 years, former President Kamuzu Banda single-handedly ruled Malawi, without a vice president; in his waning years, he agreed to take on a vice president. Malawians warmed up to former convict Ganda Chakuamba. While Chakuamba left office in 1994 along with Kamuzu, his stay in the Malawi Congress Party was cut short by internal squabbles. He left to establish the New Republican Party. Hence Chakuamba was the first victim of Malawi’s abhorrence of vice presidents.
The next vice president was the soft-spoken Justine Malewezi was the second victim. A highly professional administrator and a good steward. Despite the open disrespect from his boss Muluzi, something about the number of medication and his kidney transplant, Malewezi soldiered on, patiently and quietly waited out for his term of office to end.
The third victim was Cassim Chilumpha. Malawians sent Cassim to prison for plotting to assassinate his boss, Bingu wa Mutharika.
Next in line was Joyce Banda. She was Bingu’s VP in his second term. The chemistry seemed great, the optics in place; the Malawi women turned out in large numbers to vote for the picturesque duo as Malawi sailed down history boulevard toward having its first female president. But as soon as Banda got into her VP role, creating structures to enable her to fulfill her passion of lifting the standards of women and girls, she was whisked away to the back burner. Bingu was grooming his younger brother, Peter, to be the next president.
So on the back burner, Joyce Banda waited as Malewezi had done. There she waited until fate stepped in. On April 5, 2012, Malawi leader Bingu wa Mutharika suffered a massive heart attack and died. A few very tumultuous days passed in a wrangle for power, as Peter and his followers sought to find ways to prevent Joyce Banda from being installed president, to have instead Peter Mutharika.
Banda chose Kachale as her vice president. The relationship lasted to the end, but it was not smooth sailing, and only lasted two years. Banda failed to win the 2014 elections against Mutharika and Chilima. On his part, Mutharika spent much of his time scheming ways and means of throwing Joyce Banda in prison for the IFMIS, the accounting system,
Like Joyce Banda had been for Mutharika, Saulos Chilima was the tipping ingredient in Mutharika’s campaign. Joyce brought in the women; Saulos brought in the youth. Women and youth are plenteous in Malawi.
Tribalism played a major role in slicing asunder the Mutharika/Chilima magic. And like Malewezi and Banda before him, Chilima waited out his term of office to 2020. He was so vastly popular, like Banda before him, he formed his political party (UTM) while he was still vice president to Mutharika.
As Chilima campaigned under the UTM ticket, Mutharika chose Chimulilenji as his vice president. He served for a few months before the court order for fresh elections. In the fresh elections, Mutharika gambled away Chimulilenji, opting instead to have Muluzi; a mechanism to get more votes. It didn’t work.
The Chakwera/Chilima ticket was a well-crafted one that attracted nine other parties. The new dynamic duo whisked the Tonse Alliance to the State House. And for the first time, the vice president has a ministry to oversee; he is also in charge of the civil service reform process.
But barely a year in power, the buzzword spread wildly about discontent, nepotism, regionalism, non-consultative mature of things, and a host of other isms. Many soothsayers are predicted the alliance will disintegrate, others threaten they will not vote Alliance.
The experiences that Malawi vice presidents have had to endure in the past 25 years, at the hands of the president in power, or the local people, being a vice president is ominous and daunting. Either an act of parliament, or a decree that clearly spelled out the role of the vice president. The one thing that must be clearly scripted should be “you were elected as one; you must leave as one.” The world is watching,