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Marrying own wife

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On Saturday, October 9, 1999, the Malawi News carried a screaming headline: “Muluzi marries his own wife of 12 years”. The paper was announcing a public nikkah (Islamic wedding) ceremony that the then president Bakili Muluzi had with his then second wife Patricia Muluzi, the previous day.

The two were first married in a civil ceremony in 1987. I covered this lavish ceremony, as a young reporter, which was graced by leaders of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Burundi and Swaziland.

I vividly remember the hype that the organising committee, chaired by flamboyant politician, the late Dumbo Lemani created in the run up to the wedding. There were press conferences to announce that Patricia had converted to Islam and her new name would be Shanil. And while caressing his beard, Lemani waxed lyrical about how beautiful the name Shanil was.

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But the media and other stakeholders believed that Muluzi was being extravagant by blowing up K15 million just to make Shanil a First Lady.

I recalled the scenario last Sunday when President Peter Mutharika welcomed some characters into his ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The state controlled Malawi Broadcasting Corporation Radio and Television attempted to created expectations, hinting that the event would mark a watershed on the political landscape.

But came Sunday, November 27, all the hype turned out to be what my Tanzanian friend would call Nguvu ya Soda (power of a fizzy drink). You see, opening a bottle of fizzy drink promises a serious pop or outright burst. But in the end the whole bottled energy just fizzles out uneventfully.

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The Masintha anti-climax

The nation saw that the purported defectors were largely DPP inactive members just waking up from their slumber. You are talking of names such as Professor Etta Banda, Khumbo Chirwa and Bintony Kutsaira who have been in a DPP cabinet before. Kutsaira was so comfortable in the DPP to the point of being DPP’s Secretary General. He also infiltrated the government system and was made technical adviser to the Ministry of Agriculture as well as being Director General of the National Intelligence Bureau at one point. But Kutsaira has also been to every major party in the country, except the United Democratic Front. Just like his fellow “defectors” Kutsaira, is just a mere returnee to the DPP not worth even a footnote in the annals of its membership register.

Then you have other returnees such as Mwanza Central MP, Davis Katsonga and Patrick Makina from Zomba Ntonya who have all along worked with the DPP in Parliament. Katsonga has been riding on his experience as a former Speaker of Parliament and a founding member of the DPP to position himself. Makina was even booted out of the People’s Party (PP) on allegations that he sidelined PP structures and worked with DPP followers in his constituency.

We should also think of other journeymen such as self-acclaimed foot soldier, Kenneth Msonda. Msonda is a man of action and full of political energy. It will be interesting to see if he will be given space to manoeuvre in the DPP.

Credibility gap

The DPP might seem to be winning the battle but risks losing the war. It is increasing its numerical strength in Parliament but continue to lose trust on the ground. The party is picking too many fights: with the opposition, the media, university students and the donors. There is also serious infighting in the party that threatens to break it into four or more blocks.

The fact that the party is controlling state resources is the only wall paper covering the cracks.

But the defectors can easily be dismissed as recycled politicians who are capable of adjusting their sails according to the direction of political wind. But that is besides the point.

What should worry the DPP more is whether the “owners” of the party have and will welcome the defectors. It was interesting to note that maybe apart from DPP Acting Secretary General, Francis Mphepo, Mutharika and that young legislator who organised the rally, the rest of the DPP stalwarts did not look excited. There were no smiles but their faces showed apprehension as if they watched a horror movie.

The other minus is that most of the defectors are ageing. Politics is dynamic. You cannot apply 1992 tactics and expect to excite Malawians. Strategies must be based on situational analysis and not memory only. No wonder Mphepo mistook social media posts for mainstream journalism articles.

The hype around these sterile defections reminds me about the poaching that the Malawi Congress Party made in the run-up to the 1994 elections. Its drag net brought in church ministers, actors and other recycled politicians with the hope of endearing itself to the people.

The ruling party should also learn to separate party and government business. The time for Ngwazi, Chipani ndi Boma (the leader, party and government are one and the same) is long gone. Reports meant for Parliament should be made as ministerial statements in the House and not at Masintha Ground where there is no time for the audience to seek clarity.

It also does not make sense for the President to report back to Malawians, on issues of reforms, through sector ministers, leaving out the Vice President, Saulos Chilima, who is the Minister responsible for public sector reform programme. That is the other tale-tell sign that not all is well in the party.

Otherwise, there was no cause for a lavish show and hype around the defections as the DPP is just marrying its own wife.

Feedback:ichitosi@bnltimes.com

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