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Chronicles of Sam Mpasu

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JUBILANT —Mpasu with Gwanda Chakuamba

Former Member of Parliament and Speaker of the National Assembly, Sam Mpasu, was found dead Thursday morning at his house. In this write-up, ALICK PONJE chronicles some of the fallen politician’s highs and lows.

At his best, he never minced words where he thought some truth that needed to be divulged was being trumped beneath some unscrupulous desires of some individuals, mostly politicians.

He started politics way back during his days at Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi, where he once served as president of the students union.

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He was often deemed a very defiant student who had the guts to openly criticise the political system of his time; and he has two well-written books to his credit—texts written with so much creativity that a return to them may always be justified.

Nobody’s Friend published in 1975 and Political Prisoner 3/75 published after the introduction of multiparty politics were intended to convey a deeper actual message which could not be expressed in ‘normal’ literature.

His first writings were published when academics were taken to be enemies of government because they could not hesitate to put onto paper what they deemed to be anomalies in the establishment.

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After serving as a spokesman for the United Democratic Front (UDF), a position which he last held before he was jailed, Mpasu became the centre of public attention when he was the first to point out that the then president Bakili Muluzi’s chance of winning in the 2004 general elections were slim.

This was a time when the former Head of State was craving another go despite having already served as the first citizen for the constitutional maximum two consecutive terms.

Mpasu was not that politician who could easily mince words.

Such was a man who languished behind the bars of Chichiri Maximum Prison for three years after his initial six-year jail term for his involvement in the British firm Fieldyork International notebook scandal was later slashed.

During the one-party era, Mpasu was once thrown into Zomba and Mikuyu prisons because of his writings and when he came out of prison in 1977, he was stamped by government authorities not to work anywhere in Malawi, not even to operate any legitimate business.

Many job offers that he had on his desk were blocked.

It was when he was offered a job by Lever Brothers when it was not blocked. Mpasu also at some point worked with the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI).

There was something odd about the fallen politician’s Fieldyork conviction and subsequent sentencing. Only a few people appeared to sympathise with him.

Even the party which he had been its spokesperson before he was stripped of the position seemed not to commiserate with his welfare, perhaps because he had somehow turned against it in his apparent pursuit of truth, justice and intra-party democracy.

About Muluzi’s desire to stand again for a third time, Mpasu was quoted by the Voice of America as saying: “The Constitution, specifically in Section 83, Subsection three, says that a president or a vice-president will serve a maximum of two consecutive terms.

“There is no dispute about that because he serves a maximum of two consecutive terms, but the legal minds seem to have different interpretations of that.”

That was obviously some sort of peculiar confidence because it was a time when almost every top member of UDF could not get the guts to say anything that would displease the former head of state.

But Mpasu noted that Malawi might be plunged into legal battles and an avoidable constitutional crisis if Muluzi got his wish to stand again.

Yet afterwards, few people seemed to see any sense in the fallen politician’s proclamations and his conviction during the Bingu wa Mutharika administration— stemming from the Muluzi era—became a social podium where different individuals and organisations thought time had come to make names.

Even The Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) through its then executive director Undule Mwakasungula declared that it was “pleased that at last the truth surrounding the long-standing high-profile corruption case involving former minister of Education Sam Mpasu has prevailed”.

In their view, Mpasu’s conviction was yet another form of evidence of government’s commitment towards fighting corruption.

CHRR agreed with the view of then Lilongwe chief resident magistrate Chifundo Kachale who convicted Mpasu on all three counts of abuse of office.

A legitimate legal process was followed in the trial, yet there are those who believe Mpasu was simply a victim of political persecution as many people involved in corrupt practices at the time were scot-free.

Questions were being asked at the time: Are all those high-profile politicians occupying high positions in different capacities coming clean as long as corruption in the Muluzi era is concerned?

While at Chichiri Prison, Mpasu was almost completely forgotten on the political scene. Yet, this was the time when, some would argue, he needed moral support most.

He did not deserve to be forgotten because his name has to always stand out in the history of Malawi just as those of many other Malawians who fought relentlessly for the introduction of multiparty politics, some commentators argued.

Revered historian and writer Desmond Dudwa Phiri (D.D Phiri) wrote on October 13 2009 that perhaps Mpasu was never supposed to be jailed in the first place.

He might have indeed abused his position as the court that convicted him at first observed but the circumstances in which that abuse was done should have been the overriding decider, Phiri argued.

“In its 1994 manifesto, UDF pledged to introduce free primary education in Malawi. When he won the presidency, Bakili Muluzi appointed Sam Mpasu as minister of Education….

“The minister of Education was more anxious than most people that exercise books and pencils be made available in time, otherwise the free primary schooling programme was going to fail,” Phiri wrote.

Mpasu ordered the materials himself and was subjected to pressure salesmanship such that finally government was forced to pay for the writing materials from Fieldyork much more than it could have paid if a local supplier was involved.

These are the circumstances which 14 years later landed the former minister into the correctional facility.

In Political Prisoner 7/35, Mpasu condemns his detention without trial where he writes: “Imprisonment-without-trial, in my view, was something which was so manifestly unjust that even primitive tribes did not use it.”

And after being sent to prison in 2008, he still felt he was a political prisoner, because of his fervent opposition to some of Bingu’s policies which he thought were erroneous.

“In 1975, I was a victim of imprisonment without trial. I am not surprised this time also. Every oppressive government uses state institutions to victimise its opponents. I am not the first politician to go to jail,” he was quoted as saying.

D.D. Phiri once argued that mercy should be greater than justice in his attempt to appeal to government to release Mpasu from prison.

The late politician only walked to his freedom after spending three years at Chichiri Prison.

He is said to have been crucified by a party that he had been part of its formation.

And when people thought he had been thoroughly dealt with, the former legislator and Speaker of the National Assembly rose from the ruins of prison, formed a political party with others and became vocal again on the socio-political scene like he had always been.

He has been fervently speaking on development and economy, human rights and governance and politics in general— obviously not amused at current trends.

And in his death, his writings, speeches and moments of anguish will continue speaking to those left behind.

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