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GWANDA CHAKUAMBA: a coat of many colours

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Gwanda Anguluwe Steven Chikanzi Chakuamba Phiri, now late, will go into the annals of Malawi’s politics as a straight to the point politician. He minced no words, at times his militant and blunt approach, attracted the wrath of political opponents and government.

Born on April 4, 1934, Chakuamba was a Lower Shire political gladiator, generally earning public applause during his rallies. His tongue had a Sena accent, and he always stood tall and proud of his Lower Shire roots.

He hailed from Fatima [Chinyanje], in the area commonly known as East Bank, of Nsanje. He was a political father figure, not only to the people of his Nsanje North Constituency, but also the entire Lower Shire valley.

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Actually, locals still say there has not been any stronger politician than ‘Mbuya Gwanda’ in the Lower Shire belt, and it could take time for one to emerge.

Between the 1960s and the 1970s—before his arrest by the then one party state—he used to pay school fees for needy students from the Lower Shire area.

His strength in the one party state made many to insinuate that he was also part of the machinery that made opponents of the one party state, disappear. During some campaign rallies, UDF founding President Bakili Muluzi and his team are on record of having insinuated as such.

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Chakuamba was also known for his temperamental nature.

But the man should also be remembered for his relentless political fight and of the fact that “he never worked in any job, out of politics”.

Starting with the time Malawi was agitating for independence [in 1964] until February1980,when he was jailed by the ‘infamous’ national Traditional Court sitting at Kwacha in Blantyre for sedition and condemned to serve for 22 years in prison. He was released in July 1993 after spending 13 years in the cooler.

For those from yesteryears, memories are still fresh of the conduct of the court and how the political giant, alongside one Faindi Phiri [former MP from Lower Shire], were convicted and later condemned by the party structure.

But during his first political tie with the MCP, he was no ordinary person. He served in many cabinet positions, including being in charge of the Malawi Young Pioneers (MYP) and the country’s youth.

Straight from prison, the tall flamboyant politician found himself back into politics–briefly joining Bakili Muluzi’s UDF, then jumping ship to rejoin his former party, the MCP.

It was said he rejoined the MCP fold, on demand of the then ailing Kamuzu Banda himself. He immediately was made the party’s Secretary General, making him Malawi’s de facto vice president.

And, when Banda, fell ill later and underwent a surgery in October 1993, Chakuamba led a presidential council, that oversaw the running of the country due to the constitutional absence of a vice president. He held the position until Banda was fit again to assume his office.

Other members of the Council were John Tembo and Robson Chirwa. That marked another political era of the departed Mbuya, who used his militant might to later politically fight with JZU Tembo, at the time Kamuzu had retired from politics after losing the 1994 elections to Bakili Muluzi and his UDF.

Chakuamba vied for state presidency under the MCP and on an alliance with Chakufwa Chihana’s Alliance for Democracy (Aford). He made Chihana his running mate to the chagrin of Tembo who was MCP’s vice president. In 2000, the two camps held separate party conventions where Chakuamba and Tembo were separately elected MCP presidents. The High Court later nullified the elections.

The fight became bloody at a convention held at Motel Paradise where pangas, chairs and empty bottles were used as weapons as the two camps tussled over party election results. The feud was even visible in Parliament, where they looked set to overcome each other as Leader of Opposition.

Later, Chakuamba was forced to exit the MCP and formed the Republican Party. He also attempted to battle for the state presidency, including when he teamed up with Aleke Banda’s PPM and other smaller parties in what was to be known as Mgwirizano Coalition.

He lost the 2004 election which some quarters believed was rigged in favour of the then UDF candidate Bingu wa Mutharika. His loss ignited wide-spread civil unrest resulting into deaths of innocent people, including a young Soche-East based Epiphania Bonjesi who was killed as she sat on her homes veranda.

But Chakuamba, courted wrath of his supporters when he met Muluzi, secretly, and accepted a peace-deal.

Later, he worked with Mutharika to form the DPP. His three officials were appointed ministers. Chakuamba was later made agriculture minister in the DPP cabinet. He unceremoniously left the cabinet after being accused of buying an expensive BMW SUV using tax-payers money.

Chakuamba also flirted with Joyce Banda’s People’s Party playing an advisory role.

Volumes can be written of this man from the Lower Shire, but none can describe his true self and quest to become ruler of Malawi. But one thing remains true that Chakuamba truly believed that Muluzi robbed him of a lifetime chance to occupy Malawi’s plot Number 1. He also blamed all his old age misery on that “state sponsored theft.” Fare thee well Mbuya!

Chakuamba’s political career highlights

1964-1980—Was key figure in the political administration of Malawi Congress Party occupying a number of cabinet portfolios, alongside being commander of the Malawi Young Pioneers (MYP)

1980— He was thrown into jail for sedition. He was given a 22-year prison sentence

1993—Chakuamba got released from jail as the political current in Malawi changes to multiparty system of government. Upon his release, he joined United Democratic Front (UDF) but he soon returned to Malawi Congress Party where he became the party’s secretary general.

Due to Dr Banda’s ill health, in October 1993 Chakuamba led a 3-member presidential council until Banda was declared fit enough to resume power.

1994— MCP lost in the general election to UDF and in August that year, Chakuamba assumed MCP leadership following Banda’s retirement.

1999—Ahead of the general elections that year, Chakuamba took MCP into a coalition with the Alliance for Democracy (Aford) and Chakuamba was picked as the presidential candidate for the coalition in that election. Instead of picking long-serving, senior member and vice president of the MCP, John Tembo, as his running mate, Chakuamba picked Aford leader as running mate instead. That led to a spell of leadership wrangles for MCP between Chakuamba and Tembo which split the party into two camps

2000—At the height of the leadership wrangles, the two sides held two parallel conventions that endorsed both of them as presidents of the party. However the court ruled later that the two conventions breached the Malawi Congress Party Constitution. As a consequence, the party leadership remained as before the conventions, namely, Chakuamba as president and Tembo as vice president.

2004 —Ahead of the elections in 2004, Chakuamba dumped the MCP and formed Republican Party which joined forces with six other parties to form Mgwirizano Coalition. Chakuamba was its presidential candidate. He lost the election to UDF presidential candidate Bingu wa Mutharika

2005—Mutharika dumped UDF to form his own Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Chakuamba dumped Republican Party and joined him and was instrumental in the formation of the DPP. Mutharika later appointed him Minister of Agriculture. In September that year, Chakuamba was dropped from the cabinet after he had insisted he needed top-of-the-range vehicle in that capacity. He quit DPP and formed the New Republican Party (NRP).

2009— Chakuamba announced he would support Mutharika in the May general elections. He also ran as NRP candidate for a Parliamentary seat in his constituency in Nsanje but he lost. Soon after the elections, he announced he was retiring from politics altogether to concentrate on farming. He said he would be supporting Mutharika’s government and he disbanded NRP.

2016 October—Chakuamba dies

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