Chilima must desist from being seen as someone who capitalizes on the mistakes of his bosses. If the silence is persistent, the same pattern of events that happened between his and former President Mutharika will recur.
By Titani Chalira
Unexpectedly, the current Malawi Vice President Dr Saulos Klaus Chilima entered the political scene in 2014. Some had thought his lack of experience in politics was a disadvantage. Others thought he was best suited for the job considering his vast experience in the corporate world where results are emphasized. Chilima ended up becoming the vice president of the nation, nonetheless.
Relatively, after a short period people noted that Chilima had an admiration on work ethic. This work ethic manifested itself in the way he was handling the public service reforms process. He was on time, demanded more from people, met targets and was candid in the way he rebuked what he regarded as shoddy work.
Chilima’s political prowls that won people’s hearts
Chilima became more visible and his status as a political figure started gaining ground. This became cause for worry to some established politicians in the then governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) especially those who had prospects of assuming the leadership of the party at some point in the future. They started their own political machinations to have him out of DPP. Chilima was considered as an outsider in their eyes. On other hand those who were impressed by his work wanted to succeed former Malawi President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika (APM).
Overtime, Chilima got completely sidelined in both government and DPP (party) issues. When calls for him to stand at the party convention came, he eventually declined. He went silent when a certain section of DPP wanted to form political party and leave DPP. This group gained momentum amidst the silence from Dr. Chilima. It went under the banner of a Transformation Movement. He later came out and assumed the leadership of this movement.
As time went on, the DPP-led government kept making a lot of mistakes in the governing process. There was rampant corruption, nepotism, tribalism and overall general incompetency. People’s general welfare got heavily affected. As a result, the general public was generally angry and dissatisfied with the DPP led government. Chilima, Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) now state President and Civil Society Organisations under the banner of Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), took advantage of the situation.
When elections came in May 2019, Chilima stood on a ticket of the newly formed splinter party United Transformation Movement (UTM). He did put a spirited campaign with support from various quarters. One notable thing he lacked was a notable tribal base. This was unlike the other two major political parties namely MCP and DPP.
The May 2019 elections were contested in court and eventually nullified. Another interesting thing that came from the ruling was the change in the electoral system. It was decided that the system to be followed would be the absolute majoritarian system with the winner getting 50+1 of the votes.
The electoral system meant that those parties that relied on the tribal currency had to forge alliance to get a realistic chance of winning. UTM with the current Vice President Chilima as a leader had slim chances of making the polls alone. Chilima however went silent just like he did during the in-fighting when he was in DPP.
How MCP used Chilima’s deafening silence for power
It is likely that MCP which hard realistic chances of winning used Chilima’s silence and went on to put up a narrative in the various media platforms suggesting that an alliance between them and UTM would be the best to change Malawi. MCP just needed a sizeable percentage from UTM to get into government. The narrative gained traction and Chilima got into the alliance in the same way he became UTM president. His silence in both scenarios brought up narratives that got institutionalization in the form of a party and alliance respectively.
Eventually, Chilima worked hard and went around the country bracing all the challenges along the way. Coupled with the fact MCP had also support with media on their side, their campaign worked and they won elections under an alliance called Tonse.
Mess up in Tonse administration, dashing peoples hopes
See, it has been a year now since Tonse Alliance formed government. Many things have changed. Generally there is some level of disappointments in people’s hearts. Malawians expectations have not been met yet. Things that were supposed to be left behind with the fall out of DPP are continuing and earlier than expected.
So, far, incidences of corruption, nepotism, tribalism and failure to prosecute or conclude cases of corruption are making people angry. There is rising inflation and general economic meltdown. Amongst many good elements coming with the laws the regime is initiating, there are some which are oppressive and against the democratic spirit.
Very sad, Chilima who has overtime gained reputation for being candid, bold and hands on in his approach is silent again for the third time. He has not come out to show whether he is not complicit in all that is happening.
The percent coming from Chilima’s silence is likely that he is sitting on the fence. It is either he is playing safe to avoid destroying his working relationship with Chakwera as his boss. Or he is looking for a cumulative effect of the governance flaws taking place so that he capitalizes on them and seen as an alternative just like he did with the DPP administration. It might not be convincing this time around because people will have the impression that he is the problem.
Why Chilima’s deafening silence?
Chilima’s place in the governance challenges being experienced is not clear at the moment due to deafening silence which is leading to the thinking that he is politically posturing himself for the next elections. People’s perception of the silence may differ off course. Some especially his supporters may think he is in a fix and therefore merits sympathy to at least be given a try in the coming elections. For those who are frustrated with the current governance set up, who are not his supporter s might be thinking that his silence may mean he is involved and should never be given a chance again. Either way, if those thinking that he is part of the problem or current Chakwera mess up are many, therefore his supposed political posturing will likely not yield results in the next elections.
Chilima was more idealistic and utopia in the 2020 presidential election campaign period. This made his to raise the expectations of the people highly in the campaign period to form new government. Ordinarily, it is not bad to set lofty goals for the nation. What becomes problematic is to manage the expectations created. The process of managing the expectations means gradual implementation of the set goals. But it has proven difficult to walk the talk with the Tonse administration. It is even more frustrating for the people to note that Chilima who inspired so much confidence and gave them hope is silent again. The UTM leader is expected to come out and show where he stands in all this.
Between the alliance partners in Tonse, MCP largely relied on people who were frustrated and the tribal card while UTM depended only on people who were frustrated, it did not have a tribal card. In the one year Tonse has been in power the tribal card of MCP is taking an upper hand. Some feel it is their time and they are entitled to have it all. Chilima has found himself in a very difficult space. However, although this is the case the silence is not justifiable.
In all what has been happening and deafening silence, Chilima must consider coming out. He should be bold enough to avoid sitting on the fence. This should be in the form of reprimanding and not protecting those who are close allies, regardless of the whether they contributed in the campaign period.
Chilima must desist from being seen as someone who capitalizes on the mistakes of his bosses. If the silence is persistent, the same pattern of events that happened between his and former President Mutharika will recur. Instead he should be proactive to make sure governance mistakes are minimized. Taking advantage of the mistakes of his immediate bosses is something that negatively affects the country’s economic trajectory. It makes a sizeable section of the population to stop cooperating and instead frustrate development efforts.
Chilima must be more open to avoid allowing some quarters to second guess his actions. Whether he sees that things are not taking shape as they should, he should openly engage and at the same time avoid speaking language different from the rest in the government.
Usage of absence of a political tool to create a need for him in the people must be avoided. This is bound to meet misinterpretations and many are likely to be bored. It is a tool that may at some point outlive its usefulness. As a result, Chilima might end up damaging his political image.
Moving forward Chilima he should be strategic and not allow himself to be a victim that needs sympathy or be someone who relies on fondness people do grow towards his coming from his absence. Chilima should be strategically present and change the narrative by putting to use his capabilities for his legacy to rein on.
Notice: The article firstly appeared in The Lamp Magazine (Montfort Media of August-September 2021
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are those of the author not necessarily of The Maravi Post or Editor