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The return of aleader

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The return of Joyce Banda will be such a landmark event to both herself and her detractors.

JB, as she is fondly called, upon losing an election, willingly chose to live in a strange land.

However, her detractors allege that her “self-imposed exile” is an act of running away from Cashgate cases.

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It is very interesting to see how her enemies are itching for her return such that every time she hints at her return, they flex their muscles and revel at the prospect of seeing what will happen to her if she indeed comes back home. You can read the disappointment on their faces every time she fails to come.

Will her return benefit the detractors more than herself as an individual? Will her return resurrect the dead economy? Is she the last piece in a political jigsaw?

If not then why worry yourself that your enemy has failed to come? Is it not a chance for you to shine in the absence of your enemy? Is JB not old enough to know the right time when she must come back home?

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Heads and former heads of states love to visit the US or UK. Few trips yield better coverage at home than their foreign trips. The customary photographs of the presidents or former presidents and the US presidents or British prime ministers, are brought back or sent home, so proudly.

The Joyce Banda we have known over the past year is the one in photographs— flanked by the great men and women of the world or in a university theatre delivering a lecture.

Banda’s trip after losing the 2014 election could be a sign of lack of faith in her country. She could not withstand the humiliation after the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), whose leader she castigated, won the elections.

By all means she could not stay home and face the reality of seeing the wounds of her unexpected loss heal in the presence of the knife that tore through her.

So, Joyce Banda fled the country like a bird whose nest has suddenly caught fire. At first, her stay away, was branded as a little rest from the grueling campaign. Later, she was portrayed as an internationally reputed woman who is very engaged doing a good service to her country by speaking at various women rights and empowerment forums, championing the global maternal health drive and delivering lectures at some foreign universities.

Later on and perhaps what will stay to persist as the reason for her prolonged stay will be what she has branded as “DPP wants her life”— In other words, she has turned suddenly to be a coward before death, forgetting how she stood on the podium to preach she is not always afraid of death— for God is her protector.

What is called the former president’s press team has since her running away taken the trouble of producing and releasing midnight press statements in defence of any stories against the former president. Today, for Banda, East or West home is never the best; it is the worst.

But it is the return of a leader of a party or state that has become an interesting ritualistic event, and so an interesting topic we can start exploring. With the excitement, anxiety and anguish that are building up on Banda’s anticipated return, this could be the right moment to ask the questions: Why do Malawi leaders wallow in the prospects of a hero’s welcome after a prolonged stay abroad?

Do they think they have a political bearing in the aftermath of their return—- to help them build their political parties and careers and win the hearts of many? Or are the returns of leaders an occasion of showcasing the leaders’ care and love of the party members? Are these the moment’s leaders reach for the sympathy of their political enemies? And why do the political enemies of the returning leader worry over the return?

The first historic return of a leader could be the July 6, 1958 arrival of Hastings Kamuzu Banda at the then tiny Chileka Airport from Britain where he had come from to lead Nyasaland to independence by first breaking the “Stupid Federation”. Kamuzu Banda’s return created a celebratory mood among Nyasaland Africans and a sad one for the colonialists.

To the 3,000 Nyasaland Africans who had gathered to greet him, it seemed like the second coming, and more than one mind turned back to the legend that John Chilembwe would one day rise again to lead the Nyasas to freedom.

That day of Kamuzu Banda’s return, politics mixed incongruously with the general rejoicing. Small boys waved Union Jacks; Hanock Phiri, Banda’s uncle, gave his nephew a ceremonial broom to help him sweep away the Federation.

But beneath the gaiety, all those who welcomed him at the airport that day, regarded Banda as much more than a chief. He had returned, as Kanyama Chiume, aptly put it, as “the symbol of Nyasa independence”. But later, at a press conference, he warned: “Everyone expects that I have come with self-government in my hand-bag, but we will have to struggle for it”.

To Kamuzu Banda, his return marked the end of a self-imposed exile and the beginning of a new life.

It started with Kamuzu Banda that the return of a leader in Malawi is synonymous with airports. The return of a leader in Malawi is largely an airport affair that leads into the roads and culminates in a mass rally and dancing for the leader, either at Njamba Freedom Park or Nyambabwe Ground in Blantyre or at Masintha Ground in Lilongwe. So, there is always until now this paradox of a return— the paradox of sadness and happiness.

The return of Kamuzu Banda set the pace for the Malawi heroes or fallen heroes’ return. And from Kamuzu Banda, the tradition has continued.

Later, the return of sitting presidents from either United Nation’s General Assembly two-week sessions or any other assignments have always followed great expectations and hopes.

The return of leaders of opposition also creates similar expectations in the party enthusiasts. Chakufwa Chihana prepared himself a great return from exile to fight with Kamuzu Banda’s one-party government.

Then, Bakili Muluzi’s return from his United States of America visit during President Bingu wa Mutharika’s first term in office was also a return of a leader among members of the United Democratic Fronts (UDF) who were feeling abandoned and forsaken.

And recently, Peter Mutharika’s return from America, where he had gone for what he called a long holiday towards the end of 2013 during the time that the presidential campaigns for the 2014 elections were building up, was also a great return of a leader whose party was still fighting back tears after Bingu wa Mutharika’s death in April 2012.

But Joyce Banda’s return, the leader of the People’s Party (PP), whatever day it will come, how long it will take, will be a defining moment.

First she will have to come back to gather the pieces of what remains of her party. Second, Joyce Banda will return to face the reality of the loss of an election of an incumbent president and exorcise all the evil ghosts in her party.

Third, JB will come back to meet the vengeful faces of the people she threw into Maula Prison and perhaps visit Chief Cashgate convict Osward Lutepo.

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