"It's shameful that the UDF party wants to take us back to the dark days,"

Mr Gwanda Chakuamba (2003)

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A new 'Ngwazi' in the making in Malawi

Lusekelo Adam

Last week I talked about how the Malawians chaffed under late dictator
Mzee Ngwazi Hastings Kamuzu Banda. As biology was slowly but surely
claiming the 'Ngwazi', Life President of Malawi , the country was being
ruled by a cabal comprising of his chick, Cecilia Amanda Kadzimira and
her much-reviled uncle John Tembo. Ngwazi is Kingoni for 'warrior'.

Born in 1932, Tembo went to university in Lesotho and worked as a
schoolmaster before being appointed to Banda's cabinet as Finance
Secretary in 1963, an appointment which was unpopular with other
cabinet members for it smacked of blatant nepotism.

In his early years, Tembo played a sycophantic role in Parliament,
using his position primarily to acquire a personal fortune. By 1990, he
was a director in practically every business sector that dealt with
government, including Malawi's main bank.

John Tembo who was Banda's hatchet man came to be seen as his
natural successor, and in January 1992 he finally became, in name, the
Minister of State in the Office of the President. In effect, John Tembo
was appointed the executive president of Malawi .

The long suffering Malawians let out a loud grumble and, reading
the times, the Catholic bishops of Malawi wrote a protesting letter
which documented in graphic detail the failings and abuses of power of
the Banda administration. The letter was read aloud in every Catholic
church in Malawi .

Banda's response to the letter was to place the bishops under house
arrest. For that move, the ageing 'Ngwazi' was condemned by governments
and churches worldwide. Within Malawi , for the first time since
independence, there was a climate of open dissent. May 1992 saw Malawi
gripped with strikes and protests, culminating in the Lilongwe Riot of
May 7, in which 40 people were gunned down by the police.

In October 1992, Orton Chirwa, the founder of MCP and a leading
member of the short-lived independence cabinet, was murdered in Zomba
prison , reportedly at Mzee's orders, where he was being held since

Banda's unpopularity left him with little option but to announce a
referendum on the question of multi-party election. There arose two new
parties: AFORD, and the UDF that challenged Banda's MCP.

The Malawians gave the MCP the boot in favour of UDF led by Bakili
Muluzi, a businessman. Muluzi became the de facto owner of party. John
Tembo became owner of what remained of MCP and AFORD was led by the
late Chakufwa Chihana.

Bakili Muluzi soon found out that two five-year terms in the
presidency were too short a time. So he became victim of the power
disease which afflicts most African presidents. He wanted to change the
constitution which will allow him stand for a third term. The Malawians
gave him an overwhelming NO. He was left licking his wounds.

But Muluzi was not finished yet. He decided that he could rule
Malawi by proxy. He picked a bright economist within his party, Dr
Bingu wa Mutharika, and made him the UDF president while Muluzi
remained chairman.

He taught Mutharika what and what not to say, making sure that he
(Muluzi) edited his speeches. Muluzi even wrote Mutharika's acceptance
speech as the next president of Malawi .

But Mutharika had other ideas. He crafted his own speech and
departed from the puppeteering by Mr Muluzi. Once installed as
president, Dr Bingu wa Mutharika publicly said he was no one's puppet.
He also established a new party, the Democratic Progressive Party,
which now rules.

Malawians have also hastily decided to wipe out last vestiges of
Banda's legacy. They have removed his portrait from the Malawi Kwacha
in favour of John Chilembwe, a 19th century Malawi nationalist.

Now over the past fortnight or so, Malawians have been zapped by
what they claim to be delusions of grandeur by their president. He let
it slip into the Malawi public that he won't mind being given the title
of 'Ngwazi'.

The first 'Ngwazi' was Hastings Kamuzu Banda. Now there is a Ngwazi
Dr Bingu wa Mutharika. Presently, there is a spirited debate on whether
Mutharika should wear such a title. Some hope that he does not add the
title of 'life president' in the future as the late Mzee Banda did.

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