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Presidency, the North, miraculous old age

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Whether in the preparation of the 2019 tripartite elections, several spokespersons of the Democratic Progressive Party have visited the Northern Region and talked about when, if ever, the Northern Region will produce a president of Malawi. Some have uttered words which are patronizing while others said things to alienate Northerners.

By talking in terms of regions, these people do not know that they aggravate the bogey of regionalism. They position the North against the other two regions and make the Northerners feel that theirs is a deprived and underdog part of the country, doomed to occupy positions which other regions can afford to spare.

When you talk in such a manner that you force people of a certain region to unite in self-defence, you pave the way for insurrection. If we look at civil wars that have occurred in countries such as Sudan, Nigeria and Democratic Republic of Congo, you will see they have been on regional rather than ideological basis.

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When I was working on his biography, the late Aleke K. Banda told me that before the end of Bakili Muluzi’s second term, he had offered himself as a presidential candidate for United Democratic Front and someone had said to his face: “I cannot support you because Malawi is not ready for a president from the Northern Region.”

These were not just impolite words but not conducive to national unity.

To strengthen the unity of the country, we should be talking on the basis of districts rather than regions. For example, Kasungu produced the first president of Malawi, Lilongwe and Mzimba, the biggest districts in the country demographically and geographically respectively, have not yet produced a president, Machinga and Zomba have produced a president each Thyolo has produces two whereas Mulanje, Mchinji and Karonga have not been lucky enough.

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On district basis, disappointments will be allayed by the feeling and realisation that one’s district is one of the many others which have not produced a president, so why be unduly grieved because of this?

Those who think a district such as Chitipa or Nsanje cannot produce a president go about with their minds and eyes closed to the facts of recent history. In the year 1953 or 1954, the Drum magazine in its editorial said if Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Prime Minister of the Gold Coast, was invited by the government of South Africa to come on a state visit, Dr Mnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s leading statesman, was going to take a chit to heaven. No one at that time could take you seriously if you said in our lifetime South Africa will have a black president and a man will land on the moon; these things have happened. There is a hymn which I have often loved to hum ‘God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform’.

In Nigeria, the Muslim North had for several decades after independence dominated positions and politics of the country but made no economic and social progress.

In Uganda, the Baganda, Banyano and the Achole had failed to unite the country. In South Africa, the National Party with its apartheid ideology had turned the country into a pariah. In all these countries, public opinion in the most unlikely places said let us try those we have been discriminating against. Tired of the indifferent achievements of those who perpetually won elections, people of Malawi might one day try a candidate from smaller tribes like the Sena in Nsanje or the Sukwa in Chitipa; God knows the future than any of us.

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The late president Nelson Mandela did not want to serve a second term because he said someone aged over 80 was too old to run the affairs of a country. But is someone who is 80 or 90 incapable of doing anything that younger people do? Here is a surprise for you as it has been for me.

The great American Benjamin Franklin in his Poor Richards Almanak of 1751 wrote: “On 6th of this month 1711 died in England Mrs Jane Schrimshow aged 127 years. But England boasted some much longer Livers James Sands of Horburn in the county of Stafford near Burmingham, lived 140 years and his wife 120, in a perfect state of health till the day of their deaths. He outlived five leases of 21 years each, all made after his marriages. Thomas Parr married his first wife at 80 years of age by whom he had two children, his second wife after he was 120 years old by whom he had one child and lived till he was something above 150. Henry Jenkins of the Parish of Bolton in York Shire died the 8th of this month, 1670 aged 167 years. In these American parts, we have no such very old men, not the climate is unhealthy but because the present inhabitants were not born soon enough.”

Is this fiction? No doubt these records can be verified in the British Museum or other archives there.

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