Minutes before Saturday midnight, Malawi’s cities’ streets were bursting at the seams with jubilant people who were celebrating the election of Lazarus Chakwera as the country’s sixth president after the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) delivered its final statement on the June 23 election results.
The celebrations were everywhere—in cars, entertainment centres, on roads and in homes. In some places, little children, who did not even cast a vote, joined the carnival which remained out in the biting cold until the sun rose yesterday.
In Blantyre, from every township, the young and the old came out to marvel together at the change that the country had suddenly witnessed after a yearlong battle which had finally sent packing President Peter Mutharika whose last gasp at power was evidential in a great deal of denialism.
Mutharika dismissed the election as a sham, following in the footsteps of his running mate Atupele Muluzi who also made some wild claims on the credibility of a poll where the pair only managed to get over 800,000 votes less than those of Chakwera and his running mate Saulos Chilima.
But the general feeling among Malawians has been that the country just held one of the most credible elections in its history and at the end, Chakwera was Sunday sworn in as President at an event presided over by Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda who Mutharika’s administration had attempted to use every tactic in the books to send on leave.
The President has risen to the top-most public position in Malawi after a tumultuous expedition that started in 2014 when his Malawi Congress Party lost in the election that ushered in Mutharika. Rigging allegations were made about that poll but Chakwera persistently told his supporters to move ahead with hope and focus.
So strong was his resolve that when he lost again in last year’s presidential election, he vowed not to “leave the crop field to the thief”.
Together with Chilima, they mounted a determined court battle challenging Mutharika’s re-election and successfully convinced the judges that many things had gone wrong with the election which had some results sheets horribly defaced with the correctional fluid TippEx.
The two, who went to court separately to petition that a fresh election should be conducted, were later told their cases would be consolidated into one. That seemed to have been the beginning of a pact which later saw them publicly announcing they would go to the fresh poll together.
A former president of Malawi Assemblies of God, Chakwera came onto the political front preaching unity and peace and riding on the priestly creed that his desire was to free Malawi from what he consistently described as the yoke of captivity.
He maintains he has always been in ministry and that the presidency would simply allow him to reach a larger flock. And today, he has been given that chance.
Born on April 5, 1955, Chakwera was president of the Malawi Assemblies of God from 1989 to 2013 when he declared his intention to contest for the seat of President at a Malawi Congress Party elective convention ahead of the following year ’s presidential election.
In his home village Malembo on the outskirts of Lilongwe City, the President was raised in a humble family of subsistence farmers. Two of his brothers born before him died in infancy and his father, in a hopeful prayer that he would live, gave him the name Lazarus after that biblical character who was raised from the dead by Jesus.
The symbolism in the name has further been fulfilled in Chakwera’s rise to the presidency against what seemed insurmountable odds. As he watched Mec chairperson Chifundo Kachale announce his election, Chakwera and his wife Monica with whom he has four children and grandchildren, appeared too emotional to rise and celebrate the victory.
Of course, his triumph became apparent a day after voting as unofficial figures gave him an extremely wide edge over his closest competitor. But in any case, a formal announcement that you have been elected President should naturally make you feel emotional.
Now that the election is done and Chakwera has assumed the highest office of our land, the task ahead of him is colossal. He will be leading people that have high hopes that the new dawn that they sought has arrived.
He will be leading a nation that has been heavily polarised on tribal, regional and political lines, some of the things which obviously cost Mutharika the seat of presidency.
Chakwera has to demonstrate that he is a leader of the people that have felt victimised for too long and that they will first be Malawians before anything else.
His ascension to power has come at a critical juncture in the country’s political history where people have been agitating for any kind of necessary change. Their expectations are high. They want corruption to be rooted and called out.
They want merit to be the guiding principle in the awarding of public positions. They want billions of kwacha that Parliament appropriates for various development projects to be spent on what matters.
Malawians are looking forward to development that goes to every corner of the country. They want their leader to lead with zeal and wisdom and to inspire confidence that it is possible for the country to move away from the embarrassing zone of the world’s poorest countries.
Efforts for achieving that have to be concerted, of course. But at the end, any nation’s success and failure depend on the leadership it has. Now, Malawi has Chakwera.