Lazarus Chakwera’s political footsteps and shadows


It was exciting when Dr Lazarus Chakwera announced his intentions to join politics.

Chakwera brought with him four things to Malawi politics.

Firstly, his Doctor of Philosophy degree which is rare among Malawi politicians was a blessing to the new class of leaders, in a country of politicians infested with the Malawi School Certificate of Education or questionable degrees.


Secondly, he came into Malawi politics with the face of God. His landing was such as a reincarnation of a man of God who has successfully led his sheep for so many years and overseen the process of the growth of his Church-the Malawi Assemblies of God and now simply reborn to a mother of the fresh-the Malawi Congress Party (MCP).

Thirdly, his eloquently forsaken and seemingly strayed tongue of the Queen’s language inspired many. He proved the possibility of how a Malawian raised on mother’s soil could get transformed, all of a sudden, to speak like a born American.

Lastly, he brought himself as the inevitably most favourable and rightful successor of MCP’s veteran leader John Tembo.


All these that he brought, had an effect in changing the old battered face of the MCP. Moreover, he sounded like a democrat.

That is could be the reasons Chakwera’s arrival in Malawi politics excited a cross section of people.

But now, is Chakwera losing the political character that he cultivated for himself in his first days of politics?

Perhaps, Chakwera is only a repeat of history-the history of the MCP leaders that only remain opposition leaders and perpetually remain dreamers as occupants of the presidential palaces?

An attempt to find the Chakwera political person, would eventually lead one to the following characterisation.

The God factor

The mark of difference on Chakwera’s arrival in politics was that he rode on religious wave. That background had the potential to attract some Malawi citizens to his political career.

Others from the pulpit have also in the past attempted to contest on the presidential ticket.

But it was the first time for a man of God to contest on the ticket of one of the biggest parties in Malawi such as the Malawi Congress Party (MCP).

That time, Chakwera found many trodden souls that were looking to God as their saviour from the poverty they faced. In this way, Chakwera was to such people like one whom the Jews had been waiting for to save them and to establish a prosperous earthly kingdom, as they were promised.

Chakwera’s arrival in politics was like a fulfilment of a prophecy-that one would come to save Malawi from its perennial hopelessness. Many, indeed, found themselves in that leap of faith- that Chakwera was the special one appointed by the divine fingers to lead Malawi. That factor, perhaps, also helped Chakwera to easily win people’s approval as the new leader of the MCP. Now are people still carrying that same belief in Chakwera or they have started asking whether he was not the promised one and that God is yet to send them another one?

Saintly character

Add to that, Chakwera arrived in Malawi politics with a saintly character untainted by the mischievous political past. As such, he was regarded as a saint compared to some contestants who had their own bad past as fraudsters, corruptors, thieves of public money, ego-centric and all those evils that characterise many politicians.

Chakwera stood alone as a saint among devils attempting to cleanse themselves of their past political sins. It was difficult to find and tell his sins because he had never joined politics or talked politics at public forums before. In the party race which he had with the likes of Felix Jumbe and many others, he came out with a landslide victory, partly owing to his an untainted political past. It was very difficult to campaign against Chakwera, a man who had at own will, just dissociated himself from the heavenly flock of angels.

Fat pocket from the church?

You can never become a presidential candidate of a big party such as the MCP, while you come to its meetings and go on campaigning on a bicycle. At least, you need to buy a belief of living far away from bankruptcy. Chakwera, who had been at the leadership of a church for many years was thought to be well connected to the world.

His way of articulating the Queen’s language, moreover, led many to believe that it will be very easy for him to convince anyone and invite huge sums of money to the party from the rich friends abroad, he had known over the years. This factor also gave a sigh of hope to members of a party that had been entangled in huge regrettable debts and was running on hand to mouth funding.

Tembo’s long boots

Most of all, John Tembo’s boots, the long serving leader of the party, after Kamuzu Banda, were feared to be very long to fill in. Only a mature character would replace Tembo who had very vast experience of the party and Malawi politics. Despite that, Chakwera had no experience in the party, his experience as a leader of church that spanned decades was accepted as a requirement that could replace the experience in politics that he lacked.

That factor again gave him an upper hand to win the party presidential position at a convention, beating those that even had experience in the party and even those that considered themselves as outright Tembo’s successors. But of all odds that stood against him, Chakwera managed to sail easily to become the party’s president without leaving the party divided or others disgruntled on his elections. Many appeared very keen to have Chakwera as the party’s new president.

And he went on to campaign for Malawi’s presidency with all the enthusiasm of the beginner in politics and he was set to make history of a man who had left the church flock to immediately become the country’s president.

First baptism of fire

But he failed to make that history and instead he got his first baptism of fire into Malawi politics. At first, Chakwera was only a convert to politics who had not yet got his baptism- the baptism of winning or failing elections. He was a convert waiting to be immersed in water, instead, he was sucked in fire. But like his predecessor, he did not accept defeat. He went on to claim that he had been robbed of victory of the Malawi presidency. But the parliamentary seat that he won in the constituency he contested, at least gave him a mark of identity and was an approval to his new career.

But as they say great expectations make frustrated men, Chakwera despite winning a parliamentary seat was living in denial of the loss of the presidency. He had great expectations and the parliamentary seat was like a fish that expected to live in an ocean only to find itself in a pond. Chakwera looked at first to be not comfortable to live in a pond. But, somehow, it was good that he received this baptism of fire in order to have time learn the complexities of the Malawi politics before he rushes into the country’s presidency.

Bitter leader of opposition? In Malawi Parliament as the leader of opposition, Chakwera has cut his many teeth in learning the ways of Malawi politics. On many occasions, he has proved to an already matured politician. Through his contributions in Parliament, he has also received several tests of his political character.

Though, Chakwera has proved not be only a bitter leader of opposition paries but he has also shown maturity by avoiding becoming a dog that always barks at nothing. In this sense, Chakwera always makes sober contributions and is not very much an emotional leader of opposition. What is also very interesting much interesting about him, is that he always dares President Mutharika-to face him in Parliament and question his governance.

But sometimes, he fails to make substantial contributions in the House. For example, it is Felix Jumbe, one of his party’s members of Parliament, who opposed the hike of fees in secondary schools. If this opposition had come from Chakwera, he could have gained more confidence and trust of the Malawi electorate.

But for many times, he wastes that opportunity. Yet, this position in Parliament could be used as a better stepping stone to the presidency. It is where he could be selling his development plans for the country. And how he failed to defend himself on the posh cars that government bought for him and his deputy, leaves Chakwera with a question to answer on his frugality and simplicity and what he feels about the wide gap that exists between the rich and the poor in Malawi.

Rebuilding a fallen hut

Outside Parliament, he still has a huge task to do in his party. His party is still broken in terms of its past. The MCP looks to be the same party that Tembo left. It is already common knowledge the party is failing to penetrate well the Southern and Northern regions of the country. But it was one of Chakwera’s promises to make MCP a party loved by people from all the regions. Apparently, he is failing on this.

Though the MCP is the largest opposition party in Parliament but it still carries the picture of a fallen hut that Kamuzu Banda left to stand.

Ray of hope

However, Chakwera remains a ray of hope for the MCP. If the MCP will remain an opposition party in Parliament after the 2019 elections, it will be Chakwera’s responsibility. The cause to change history of the MCP haunting past is not easy. But what should fail Chakwera if he already leads the biggest opposition party in Parliament. He just has one step to move on to the presidency. But he can remain stuck on that. He must just get wiser.

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