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Kamlepo Kalua: The Foot -soldier without a gun-a political prophet

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Kamlepo Kalua has just released the latest episode of his long old series of cleaning up the lot in public and restoring public management. This time, he claims, it is one involving the misuse of K3 billion to buy poshy vehicles for government executives on the back of economic austerity measure. Meanwhile, millions of Malawians are in hard times facing hunger and growing poverty. Kamlepo’s latest release reminds many of the Kamlepo political character that Malawians have known since the early 1990s. YOKONIYA CHILANGA goes back to the man to understand who is he and what he has been.

IN a hundred ways, Kamlepo Kalua’s story is exceptional among his political peers and pioneer multiparty politics proponents, though he is always a prisoner of his heroic past and hurtling toward an uncertain end.

After he has played many roles of a public self-imposed investigative journalist, a self-imposed multiparty politics spokesman and self-anointed Malawi’s political prophet and devised the template for how lone street demonstrators can stage a successful protest; which together have helped him create some occult figure of a rare breed of politician; what next for Kamlepo as he is popularly called? The Vice-presidency or the presidency or simply a short-lived political indulgency in Parliament or worse, a next abashing loss of his parliamentary seat in 2019?

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Most people can ask these questions for the bar that Kamlepo set himself in the beginning of his political life is very high and not ordinary.

The tale of Kamlepo’s political life is marked because it is not linear in success and failure footnotes- though if you ask him- he would tell you he has never been a failed politician and he will never be and he has never been a blind frustrated disciple of politics.

The enigma of Kamlepo’s political skill is that you would thought he has been always in Malawi parliament representing his constituency and speaking for other constituencies. Interesting, Kamlepo has never been to parliament as its member except from last year until 2019.

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This is where Kamlepo is exceptional and that is why his political life is a lesson for both the old and new generation of parliament dwellers.

He was not a career politician at first, and he liked to refer to himself as only a freedom fighter who now and often threatened to take to the bush to start a war- but if you searched him he had no gun but the syntax in which he couched his words were emotively scaring for the incumbent presidency. More so, after he had threatened to go to the bush, Kamlepo would go missing for some days and you would assume that he had really crossed the borders to prepare a guerrilla fight to surprise the government with a coup. But the next time you listen to him, when he resurfaces, was the same old threat: I will go into the bush.

And he is not the kind that depend on numbers; on how many support his cause or not. For him, his head and legs are enough reason to stage a protest that can oust a government. He wasn’t a lone marcher to Sanjika Palace to deliver a petition by default like what Billy Mayaya had become recently. His lone protest marches were by design. He used to believe so. Though, he has never ousted one, he has never been a guerrilla fighter, neither has he been totting guns.

At times he seemed to be taken seriously. At other times he was just brushed aside like some cockroach. But he was always convinced of his cause and feigned to have given all his life to his words. That is where his story begins.

Kamlepo’s political longevity story is interesting because it is actually not typical and is perhaps best representative of what Malawi politicians must look like. Kamlepo’s has survived all Malawi’s political harsh weathers.

He was there when Kamuzu Banda looked like a lion that can never be fought and he was one of those that first attempted to touch the claws of a lion through his frequent interviews with the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s, famed Channel Africa’s Chinyanja Service. Kamlepo exploited the opportunity to talk and motivate the Malawi exiled population and in the diaspora to come back home and fight Banda.

Kamlepo’s militant politics did not end with the ousting of Banda. He took Bakili Muluzi head on and watched the Malawi democratisation process. He also threatened to go into the bush again to fight Muluzi. But he never did.

And perhaps, his avowed political enemy was Bingu wa Mutharika. During Mutharika’s second term Kamlepo picked the political militancy with which he helped fight Kamuzu Banda. The way, he begun to talk to Mutharika, you would picture him slipping into the bush to prepare a guerrilla fight.

He challenged Mutharika and his arrest and jail was near when he reminded Mutharika during a Mangochi campaign rally towards the 2009 general elections that ‘tamenyana ndi vikuluvikulu ife aka ndi chani aka, aka ndi ka ndani aka ka Ngwazi’ meaning he has waged great wars with great people such as Kamuzu Banda. But here again, he never went to the bush.

But he is not the South Africa’s firebrand Julius Malemia who dons on mine digger’s attire to send his message that he is always with the poor. Kamlepo is fond of a simple untucked shirt and pair of trousers when on the business of a public protest.

The simplicity in his way of dressing matches the simplicity in which his anti-bad policies messages are put and told. Usually, he does not speak with an angry tone, even if he looks angry. His speeches are always driven in beneficent tone and he does not look to be switched from madness and back to a course of sanity.

Kamlepo also well knows where the line of political glory and fame crosses into ignominy. So he always treads carefully in his anti-government claims and it is difficult to drag him to court and secure a win over his usual political accusations. And he is not one that run to issue an apology over his claims. He waits for the storms to hit and die naturally. Kamlepo is simply many things, not easy to box – but not a political schizophrenic.

Shrewdly, over the years he has worked on his speaking skills to connect to the Malawi poor masses from which he is liked by both the old generation and the new generation. He does this to modernise into the times and remain relevant to Malawi politics. Kamlepo immerses himself into the daily life of the poor Malawians and he becomes their spokesperson wherever he feels the need.

But at the end of the day, beyond speaking for the rural and urban crowd and young people, Kamlepo’s militant criticisms helps him to make a point. This kind of messaging allows Kamlepo to stay in politics after he loses in a parliamentary race he has been involved over time to paper over a lot of personal and political liabilities at his home constituency.

Kamlepo, therefore, has a winning strategy after every election loss- even if he sides with a losing party or himself lose in a parliamentary elections, he does not look like a looser every time.

Maybe he has a well-calculated strategy to protect his political image from sinking into insignificancy. Kamlepo after an election either choses to remain quite for a short period of time or he chooses to intimidate the new government that it cannot be a government that Malawians will live with peacefully.

And being the political prophet that he looks to be, this as well works for him. Kamlepo will always pull off something extraordinary to prove his points and claims- he uses complicated figure and goes scientific and at many times he will claim he has evidence for his allegations and he goes further to claim he can produce his evidence. But surprisingly, as it is with his ‘going into the bush’ political motto-where he has never gone- he again never produces that evidence.

No wonder Kamlepo remains an enigma in Malawi politics. Even his own friends could not manage to unscrew his character. That is also why the descriptions of him vary from being a militant, strategic, revolutionary, democrat, and reformer and a human rights activist. Admittedly, his story is nevertheless probably unequalled among other politicians we have known.

Kamlepo political points are scored in many forms. Having the record of a person that speaks for the poor, he, he assumes either an avuncular or scholarly tone, lecturing his audience and sometimes he casts himself in the image of national teacher.

So his political image never fades with passing time. He knows how to accustom himself to changing politics and he as well hibernate strategically when he sees the need. Kamlepo had hibernated for a long time before he resurfaced to join the Peoples Party (PP) on which ticket he won the Rumphi East parliamentary seat.

But you can never know on whether his attachment to politics is a result of a deeper inner feeling like it is his religion. Kamlepo either belongs to politics as a science to which objectives he values. Sometimes he looks like a human rights activist. Sometimes he looks like a public top-notched investigative reporter on some government faults. Sometimes he looks like a political pessimist that never sees anything good in the incumbent government.

But sometimes, he sounds the tone of a Born Again Christian and politician that have come to preach the message of good hope, sometimes like a Jew who is always in waiting of a saviour but the saviour is taking a lot of time to arrive. It appears, Kamlepo is still waiting for the saviour- the presidency that will fulfil his long-awaited expectations and hopes before he will take a bow from politics.

Kamlepo is fond of hobnobbing with what looks like human rights evangelical groups. You especially come to know that he is above the expectation of a politicians when he speaks about the people’s welfare with all his heart and human feelings.

Bu t h i s e n i gma t i c a n d uncharacteristic troubling evolution of his real character, does not seem to divide his followers and members. In case, sometimes it feels like he has his doctrines of faith in politics.

But in his unscientific and early radical phase, the period of Kamuzu Banda- where only he acted like a Malawian appointed preacher of Banda’s bad governance, Kamlepo looked to be destined for greater things. He was among those you would think, will form Malawi’s presidency one day.

His ambitions and maybe his inner feelings to save Malawians are what led him to form his political party, Malawi Democratic Party (MDP) and registered as a presidential candidate in the Malawi and 1994 and 1999 general elections, emerging the third and fourth winner respectively.

Probably his disappointment with politics has a long history as well. He has faced back-to-back losses in parliamentary elections. But what still brought together his broken pieces of political heart to call for renewed energies and continue with his ambition is strangely interesting and calls for many moral lessons of a well-defined political life.

There were times that you would want Kamlepo not lose an election and also times that you want him appointed to a government ministerial position but it looked like he was bewitched to some political fate. Sometimes you wonder, what drives Kamlepo on back of his political frustrations.

Kamlepo was to be the man who was to be paid and rewarded with Malawi democratic politics from its beginning. But it appears until now, he has not benefited much from Malawi politics comparing how religiously he has been committed to it.

This is where we find the real politician Kamlepo. The riches that politics sometimes come with look to be the last things that he has to get after many years of seeking an official political position. The turbulent times he has passed through in politics, were it for the faint-hearted, could have abandoned his ambitions.

He had been denied and maybe betrayed several times. Sometimes he has been rejected to being given official government or political party positions. But he has lived on until now.

Today his persistency in politics looks unnecessary, in part because other people would have been happy to bank the credits he has garnered and move on to top political positions such as a minister, vice president or president. But everything has its time, even it is said every dog has its day.

The political trail blazer that he has been from the early days of Malawi democratic politics in comprehensively liberalising the airwaves and open up to foreign radio stations to speak about Malawi without fear of punishment is the first step to a top political position, how long it takes to reach.

Kamlepo has led many fights towards bad governance. He has fought even with his own political friends when they look to have gone astray in good governance. The other interesting part of Kamlepo’s political career is that he like to speak for people of all regions in Malawi. This is why he has been liked by them all.

But are Kamlepo’s political ambitions that he set in the early ‘90s all dead and buried? It could already be seen that Kamlepo the parliamentarian since June 2014, in terms of political astuteness and sheer strategic cunning, is ahead of many of his colleagues.

Maybe Kamlepo should forget his broken past and hangs on hoping to play more last dices of the dice, which will at last see him become what he was destined for in his early days of politics. The figure of a foot-soldier that he has cut for himself over the years should not end in disgrace.

Kamlepo’s now can develop new strategies and conjure up strategically with the right people and political parties.

It maybe his last opportunity. At times, if he likes he can be jumping back into his old political character while stopping to continually wrap himself in the heroism of the liberation wars.

But should Kamlepo keep salvaging his anti-Kamuzu Banda’s legacy with him as a means to keeping his political image? Suggestively, he can, but now, he must exploit the new opportunity that has come with his parliamentary position to mend his broken past.

But whether he achieves more or less in his modern politics in this second coming-or soil his legacy there is still one more thing that will remain for Kamlepo: If he is some of the mortal beings, the long procession that will carry his remains to his eternal home on his last day, will return to their homes with one great feeling that; they have been separated from a brave politician they will never replace

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