Is it not ironical that political parties in Malawi that have words like “Democratic” and “Progressive” do not practice what their names suggests? In this country there are two political establishments that were supposed to demonstrate democracy and progressive in their deed, these are the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and its cousin the United Democratic Front (UDF) but these two parties are yet to embrace democracy and they are inherently retrogressive.
It is very strange that parties that do parade themselves as more democratic and they don’t have words democratic or progressive on its name are the ones that embraced democracy and are by far the most progressive of them all. The Malawi Congress Party (MCP) is one example of such parties. At the height of his rule, President Bakili Muluzi scorn the MCP alleging that MCP did not approve multiparty during the twilight of its rule but over the years MCP has grown to become a model of what a democratic parties look like.
In contrast the man who used to speak of MCP in negative light reduced his party into a family property such that even in his retirement he refuses to let go of the influence he used to exert on the party as he continues to dictate who gets what at the convention. This is the tragic fall of the once Malawi’s political power house UDF.
As an offshoot of UDF, the DPP is not different from the mother party. Formed after Bingu wa Mutharika ditched the UDF in 2005, the party has not had any name as its leader apart from Mutharika. Bingu had to call his brother from retirement in the United States of America to succeed him at the expiry of his tenure as both the party leader and the country’s head of state.
Immediately, the younger of the two ageing Mutharika’s joined politics, Bingu became estranged with his trusted friends who stuck with him during his first troubled term when he had a minority government. The most bizarre political drama happened when Joyce Banda, who was Bingu’s running mate in 2009 elections and went on to become his Vice President, was unceremoniously expelled from the party; her sin being that she openly expressed her intentions to contest against Peter Mutharika at the 2013 convention.
Truly, Joyce Banda was a rising star in the DPP having previously grown in the wings of Bakili Muluzi in her stink in the UDF. Bingu saw JB as the threat to the political ambitions of his “politically novice” brother and resort to “eliminate a threat before it eliminated his brother at the elective conference.”
Unlike his brother who is struggling to get rid of Kondwani Nankhumwa from the party the older Mutharika managed to eject JB from the party with ease. The time of the sudden death of his brother (Bingu), Peter had positioned himself as the only candidate to take the party forward with the Mutharika’s name his political capital.
So even the 2013 convention, which we were made to believe was an elective conference was just a coronation of Prince Peter to become the ruler of the family party. Even Henry Chimunthu Banda who dared the devil by contesting against Peter Mutharika knew that it was a waste of time. Like a tale of God and the devil the convention marked the beginning of an end of once upon time friends as Mutharika saw Chimunthu’s challenge as an open defiance.
Chimunthu Banda’s name fizzled into oblivion as time passed, the ascendancy of Mutharika to the presidency made it even worse as he became a forgotten man. The more the years wore on the more the DPP got established as family party such that one cannot mention the DPP without thinking of the name Mutharika.
What is happening with DPP is a complete opposite to MCP, as the DPP is obsessed with the “founder syndrome” MCP have conformed to the ideals of democracy and they have established themselves as an institutionalized party.
Formed in 1959, MCP is 63 years old now. Throughout the years the party has seen leaders come and go, leaders who are not blood related and from different tribes and regions. Orton is said to be the founder of MCP and its first President before he relinquished the position to pave way for Ngwazi Hastings Kamuzu Banda who was succeeded by Gwanda Chakuamba before John Tembo and more recently Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera went on to become the sixth head of state of the Republic of Malawi.
As already stated in its 17 years of its existence the Mutharika brothers have been the only leaders of DPP. And news that Peter Mutharika has been grooming Dalitso Kabambe his nephew to take over from him as a party leader is hardly surprising considering that this is the only way they can prolong their political dynasty.
The Malawi Congress Party is pretty much the same as the Tanzania’s Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), Mozambique’s FRELIMO and South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC). Chama Cha Mapinduzi is 45 years old, FRELIMO is 60 years old, the ANC is 110 years old.
In 45 years of its existence CCM has had seven presidents from Julius Nyerere, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, Benjamin Nkapa, Jakaya Kikwete, John Magufuli and the current leader Samia Sululu Hassan.
On the other FRELIMO has had four leaders in its 60 years of existence in Samora Machel, Joaquim Chissano, Armando Guebuza and the current leader Filipe Nyusi.
Over the course of 110 years the leadership of ANC has passed through many hands, at its formation its leader was John Dube but their famous leader of all time is probably Nelson Mandela who was succeeded by Thabo Mbeki, then Jacob Zuma and the current one Cyril Ramaphosa.
The good thing about parties like the MCP and these other parties as discussed is that their set up give room to people from diverse background to join and contest for the party presidency regardless of their background. Since MCP was founded no member from the Orton Chirwa families came forward to claim ownership of the party as is the case with the DPP. If it were DPP Lazarus Chakwera would not have become the leader of MCP let alone the country’s head of state.
Surely, people like Bright Msaka, Joseph Mwanamveka and others who are nursing the ambitions of becoming the President of DPP should know that as long Peter Mutharika is alive they stand no chance of leading the party.