By Mapwiya Muulupale
“You [Mark Antony] climbed up, approached Caesar’s chair … and offered him a crown. …Where did you get the crown? You didn’t just find it lying there; you brought it from home, a premeditated and carefully planned crime!” – Cicero
For better or worse, the race to the 2025 Presidential Elections has started, and under different circumstances and with worthy ‘nominees’, I would have commended this early bird catches the worm attitude.
As things are, however, these early endorsements are one more example of party zealots’ self-serving behaviours pulling Malawi down the abyss.
If these behaviours’ impact was limited to the parties in question, I wouldn’t have bothered. The problem is that the self-serving endemic is why we are where we are as a nation.
These pronouncements remind me of a moment more than 2,000 years ago when Mark Antony, a prominent and influential politician in the Roman Republic, offered Julius Caesar a crown in a futile stunt that did not only shape the course of history but shortened Caesar’s life.
It is said that the Romans had banished their last king in 509 BC. They opted for and founded the Republic and vowed never to be ruled by kings again. They devised a governance system of electing senators led by two consuls.
During times of crisis, a “dictator” was elected and given sweeping powers for a term of six months, or until the emergency had been resolved and the government could return to normal.
In the first century BC, military commanders like Marius, Sulla, and Pompey found loopholes and amassed extra-constitutional powers. Julius Caesar came and exploited the system even further.
In 49 BC, he led his army out of Gaul (present-day France), crossed the Rubicon River into Italy and was elected dictator. The result was three years of civil war during which he was elected dictator again for a whole year, then for 10 years and then in perpetuity, with no term limit.
He was also elected consul with his right-hand man Mark Antony as his co-consul.
On February 15, 44 BC, Caesar – now dictator for life – was watching the celebrations of a purification festival called the Lupercalia. And at one point, Mark Antony approached Caesar and offered him a crown.
The crown grumbled. Perhaps noticing the public disapproval, Caesar rejected the crown. Once Caesar refused the crown, the crowd cheered.
As per Cicero, were Caesar to become a king, Roman citizens would become his subjects, i.e. Caesar’s ‘slaves’.
Of that incident, historians are split into various schools of thought. One school suggests that Caesar didn’t want to be a king but had devised the stunt to convince Romans that he respected the Republic.
Another school suggests that Caesar wanted to be a king, but the crowd’s reaction changed his mind.
Yet another school says Caesar, as dictator for life, was a de facto ‘king’; hence, Mark Antony was only formalizing matters.
All this notwithstanding, adoption of the title of a king would have had fundamental implications. It would have changed Romans’ national identity. Whereas they were citizens of a republic, owners of a “commonwealth” (in Latin, “res publica”), free and self-governing; under a king, they would be “subjects”.
This threat that this posed didn’t go unnoticed. A month later (on the Ides of March), Brutus, Cassius and others murdered him because they believed he had become a tyrant, never mind the label he wore. To them, one-man rule under any guise was unthinkable, a betrayal of Roman values and the death of freedom.
Cicero suggests that Mark Antony was using the Lupercalia incident to gauge the public mood, just like in Malawi today, where some in MCP and DPP are ill-advisedly testing deep waters with both legs.
The Speaker of Parliament cum MCP Deputy Secretary-General Catherine Gotani Hara’s pronouncement that MCP has endorsed Lazarus Chakwera as its presidential candidate for the 2025 presidential election should not be taken at face value. Especially when one considers her shameless misrepresentation of the Bible to “anoint” Chakwera and similar sentiments by MCP vice president Harry Mkandawire and their brother nomadic politician called Binton Kuntsaira.
This means that MCP – the only genuinely democratic party succession-wise – is irreversibly regressing into yet another of these combinations of nuisance whose leaders own the party.
Sadly, the insanity that is taking hold of MCP is contagious. In the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), some want former president Peter Mutharika, aged 81, to do a “Roger Milla” and contest in the 2025 presidential election. In their shallow thinking, this is the only way to end succession squabbles they have failed to resolve.
“We want to face the 2025 Presidential Election as a formidable force. With Mutharika and Atupele as his running mate, we are assured of getting back in power. For those interested in this position, we urge them to come to the convention to challenge Mutharika. We are not stopping anyone from joining the race because we are a democratic party.” This was Hon. Mchacha.
You might be asking: if MCP and DPP believe that Chakwera and Mutharika are what the doctors prescribed for MCP and DPP, respectively, vis-à-vis the 2025 race, what business of yours is it?
Look here, it is not debatable that we have had no visionary leader after Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who laid a foundation (now disintegrated) that was the envy of this region. Late Bingu wa Mutharika was an exception in his first term but in his second, aided by the same types wanting Peter Mutharika back, he reverted to type.
Again, it is a fact that in 1992/93, the United Democratic Front (UDF) had within its ranks capable people who could have done a better job in managing the transition from Dr Banda without throwing away the baby with the water. UDF however gave us Bakili Muluzi.
We know what followed.
It is also a fact that in 2014, DPP could have identified someone more competent than Peter Mutharika. However, DPP gave us Peter Mutharika, who was found wanting when subjected to the litmus test.
Looking at the incumbent, it is now abundantly clear that while he is an excellent pastor and orator, as a president, he is finding the going tough. Malawians are crying, and even his fellow clerics have written and continue saying as much via TV and social media.
Now, given that Peter Mutharika tried and failed and that two years on, it’s as if we did not change a president when we booted out Peter Mutharika in 2020; who in their right minds would be thinking of letting Pres Chakwera – ‘APM 2.0’ – continue past 2025?
What campaign promises will President Chakwera run on in 2025 given that the ‘Chakwera Super Hi5’ has proved a farce and that corruption and nepotism-wise, some are saying that the “Prince of Thieves” was a kindergartner?
Who will even listen to him?
If MCP and DPP are addicted to these twins, they can make them “Life Patrons” for their respective parties. No one will complain.
But offering us these two as candidates is the height of unpatriotism and the quintessential manifestation of putting the party first over the country.
Like the Romans of old, we have aspirations of liberty. The liberty we seek is economical in a country free of corruption, nepotism and cronyism. With all due respect, those two gentlemen do not inspire in this regard.
Hence my humble ask of MCP and DPP to spare us the pain of failing to vote for a lack of worthy candidates in 2025 when plenty of options in both parties exist.
If these two gentlemen are half-wise, they will pick a leaf from Julius Caesar’s book and reject the “crowns” some clowns are and will continue offering them.
Please, lead us not into temptation.