Kaka Cassim Chilumpha fighting to work for enemy
by Mzati Nkolokosa, 15 March 2006 - 05:36:55
The mood at Mudi House is that of war time. The tenant, Cassim Chilumpha, is fighting for the position of Vice-President.Everything has changed. The gate that once had four Police Mobile Service (PMS) armed men now has one private guard. The grounds that were once clean are littered with leaves. Government withdrew its staff from the House after President Bingu wa Mutharika accepted Chilumpha’s “constructive resignation”. There is a skeleton of staff. One young man sits at the reception to welcome visitors—journalists last in case of last Wednesday. Mutharika’s portrait hangs on the wall. Chilumpha had to open the door into the press conference’s room for himself. Yet he had the courage to smile—a temporary smile perhaps, just for the camera.“Good afternoon gentlemen,” he greeted the journalists and shook hands with everybody saying “It is our culture to greet each other”. He had a political way of presenting his battle. “I am fighting for rule of law,” he said. “It’s not something to do with a person. Let’s protect our Constitution irrespective of who is in problems.” It was all war language or it says ‘let us’ ‘we’ and ‘they’ or ‘them’. It’s a call for Malawians to fight on Chilumpha’s side. He spoke like any person in dire straits. “Malawi has got one of the best judiciaries in the world,” he said.He had a choice for words influenced by both the Bible and the Qur’an. He had a tongue of Matigari, that Ngugi wa Thiongo hero in search of truth and justice in post colonial Kenya. But there is a difference between the two. Matigari was motivated by the plight of poor people. Chilumpha is fighting for his position but the battle is portrayed as for rule of law. “We want to ensure that court orders are obeyed,” said Chilumpha. “The issue now is whether [or not] Malawi will be governed by rule of law.”Every Malawian, he said, must begin to worry when a person—meaning Mutharika—who swore to defend the Constitution chooses not to obey the courts. Of course. But it’s difficult to believe Chilumpha is fighting for truth and justice and not necessarily his position. He has been fighting in the past five years and he likes to fight from within his group. That is how he works and there was no need for Malawians to be surprised when Chilumpha criticised his own government. (A better word should be condemned because criticism is constructive evaluation.) He was a co-founder and one of initial financiers of Forum for the Defence of the Constitution (FDC) in October, 2002. The Forum became a strong part of the fight against Bakili Muluzi’s wish to extend presidential terms. Some UDF members who co-founded FDC were disgraced from the party. An example is Jan Sonke. Chilumpha was not touched. Now that the FDC is being formed—again—to fight the constructive resignation of Chilumpha, among other aims, it becomes practical to connect the Forum to the estranged Vice-President whose life is difficult to understand. It’s even sensible to conclude that by fighting third term through FDC, Chilumpha was fighting for the presidency, which is a healthy appetite.Of course, it’s impossible to understand a human being but Chilumpha is a man who keeps his life to himself. His former workmates at Polytechnic, where he rose to the position of associate professor, says so. He was born in an Anglican Church family on November 29, 1958, was named Bright and grew up at Chiutula village, T/A Malengachanzi, about eight kilometres from Nkhotakota Boma.As a boy Bright read his primers at Chisoti and Nkhotakota LEA schools, went to Nkhata Bay Secondary School, and in late 1970s Chancellor College’s school of law from where he went straight into civil service. He went to college a Christian and left a Muslim, with a new name, Cassim. “I really don’t know how he became a Muslim,” says one of his college mates. “But it’s not strange. I was a Seventh Day Adventist when I went to college, now I am a Presbyterian.”After one year in the civil service, Chilumpha won a scholarship to study for master’s and PhD degrees in law at Hull University in the UK. He came back and joined Polytechnic’s Faculty of Commerce and went into parliamentary politics in 1994. He held the ministries of Defence, Education, Justice and Attorney-General in the Bakili Muluzi administration. He was minister when the K187 million scandal happened. Once he went out of the country for a few months, came back and one morning resigned from UDF only to be back in the party in the afternoon and refute the resignation reports.He became Water Minister in the Mutharika administration until he was fired from the Cabinet and started to speak against his government. That was the first public surprise because even if his boss was wrong, Chilumpha could have sorted out issues in camera. In any case a Vice-President is ideally the closest to the President. Chilumpha didn’t use that opportunity. There is an agreement that politically, Chilumpha does not deserve the Vice-Presidency. He may remain so legally. After all law protects the weak.But politically he will remain outside the Mutharika administration. Last week he called cabinet a “bunch of 20 people without Constitutional mandate”. How is he going to work with this bunch if he remains Vice-President?The danger, though, is that being Vice President, Chilumpha constitutionally becomes President in case Mutharika is incapacitated or—pardon nature—dead.In that case Chilumpha, as President, may—and only may—revive UDF and bring back Muluzi, the national chair, on TVM and MBC. The UDF will be in power again. Young Democrats shall terrorise innocent people again. “Chilumpha is playing with our psyche,” says one social scientist. “But that does not mean I agree with some of the things government is doing to him.”This looks like Chilumpha’s last battle. Either he will lose and go into political cocoon. Or he will win, remain Vice President, absent himself from cabinet meetings yet live on tax of poor people he is inviting to fight on his side.