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Malawi - Politics


Hastings Kamuzu BandaMCP 06 Jul 196621 May 1994
Elson Bakili MuluziUDF 21 May 199424 May 2004
Bingu wa MutharikaUDF / DPP24 May 2004 5 Apr 2012
Joyce Hilda BandaPP07 Apr 201231 May 2014
Peter MutharikaDPP31 May 2014xx May 2019

Regionalism has always been a major factor in Malawian politics, and shapes the prism through which modern political life must be seen. Dr. Hastings Banda's one party dictatorship struggled at times to maintain the veneer of regional balance. However since the advent of multi-party politics in 1994, regional alliances have taken center stage one the political scene. Malawi's population has been strongly influenced by Christian missionaries and Muslim slave traders for over one hundred years. Most Malawians define their identity primarily by region (northern, central or southern) and by religion. Unlike many other Africans, Malawians identify somewhat less strongly with their ethnic group. The most politically-influential religious organizations in Malawi remain the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP), the Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM), and the Catholic Church.

While the CCAP remains split into synods with widely differing political views, the Catholic Church remains a relatively united national voice that comments on the political environment annually in a pastoral letter. MAM continues to be a strong advocate for the Muslim population, primarily concentrated in southeastern Malawi.

Since churches and mosques are the only non-governmental organizations that reach nearly every village in Malawi, most religious leaders feel a duty to provide some form of civic education. Such efforts, however, have complicated the clergy's ability as mediators of political disputes, with every major religious organization accused of some bias by some stakeholder. Regardless of their differences, all major religious leaders are somewhat concerned that religion will continue to be politicized.

While the Northern region's 33 seats in the 193-seat National Assembly are more than it should have based on its population, the region's perception that anti-Northerner sentiment will block anyone from the region from winning the presidency makes many still feel politically neglected. Heading into the 2009 presidential elections, the northern-based Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) party, which captured all 33 seats in the 1994 election, had dwindled to a lone parliamentarian in the National Assembly by 2008. AFORD's decline has left the region up for grabs, and sweeping this battleground region could potentially be the key to winning the presidency in 2009. Political rumors continued to swirl that President Mutharika could choose respected Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe, a popular MP from Mzimba in northern Malawi, to be his running mate in 2009 in an attempt to cement Northern region support.

The Central region of Malawi has 40 percent of the country's population and is the stronghold of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), the polticial vehicle of former dictator Kamuzu Banda. Banda's roots in the Central region, and his resulting favoritism towards its people, helped entrench the party even beyond Banda's rule, but the CCAP Nkhoma Synod has also played a part. The Nkhoma Synod, founded by missionaries from the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa in 1889, joined the Livingstonia and Blantyre Synods in 1926 to form the CCAP. Due to its strong ties with South Africa, the Synod benefited from the MCP government's recognition of apartheid South Africa. While 89% of the Northern region and 85% of the Southern region voted for a multi-party system in Malawi's historic 1993 referendum on democracy, only 32% of those in the Central region supported the shift away from MCP's one-party rule.

While Malawi's core Muslim areas in the East were staunchly UDF in the 1994-2004 elections, new leadership at the Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) sought to disassociate the organization from politics in general and the UDF in particular. Sensitive to past claims that if you were not a UDF supporter you were not Muslim, Sheikh Yusuf Kanyamula, chairman of MAM, said the organization would prefer to see Muslims act as a balance of power between Christian groups. He said the group's primary interest was to stop people from allowing democracy to backslide, citing corruption and disrespect of the constitution as the two main problems in Malawi government.

Based on their ground-breaking 1992 pastoral letter, which criticized the one-party state for a growing gap between rich and poor and noted serious restriction of freedoms including censorship, the Catholic Church has been seen as a leader in the political formation of a democratic Malawi. More cohesive than the CCAP, the Catholic Church continues to use its national reach and its widely-read annual pastoral letter to comment on the current political situation.

Religion, more than tribalism, reinforces regionalism in Malawi. Whether Protestant, Catholic, or Muslim, in the North, Central, or Southern region, all religious leaders expressed fears that politicians seeking to mobilize support or take retribution for perceived slights would continue to politicize religion.

During his presidency, Hastings Kamuzu Banda consolidated power and declared Malawi a one-party state under the ruling Malawi Congress Party (MCP). The MCP subsequently made him the party's President for Life. And in 1971 he did indeed became the country’s President for Life. During Banda’s 33-year rule, there was no information about his travel plans or when he would return home from his meetings abroad. Many speculated that it could have been his way of trying to prevent his administration from being overthrown during the latter part of his presidency.

The paramilitary wing of the MCP, the Young Pioneers, helped keep Malawi under authoritarian control until the 1990s. Increasing domestic unrest and pressure from Malawian churches and from the international community led to a referendum on the continuation of the one-party state. On June 14, 1993, the people of Malawi voted overwhelmingly in favor of multiparty democracy. Free and fair national elections were held on May 17, 1994.

On 30th May 2014, Saulos Klaus Chilima [aka SKC] became Malawi’s Vice President at a swearing in ceremony that took place at the High Court Complex in Blantyre. The flamboyant "Mr. Money", Chilima was born on 12th February 1973. Chilima is a Ngoni from Ntcheu District in Central Malawi and is married to Mary and together they have two Children. He is a devout Roman Catholic member with leadership Positions within the church. He holds a Master’s degree in Economics and is currently reading towards a PhD in Business Management with the University of Bolton.

Chilima is the first Malawian to head Airtel Malawi, the leading mobile telecommunications company in Malawi. Before venturing in telecommunications, Chilima held Senior Sales Marketing positions in the banking sector and the fast moving consumer goods sector namely the Leasing and Finance Company, Unilever Malawi, Coca cola and Carlsberg. Politics is not new to him as he is one of the young people who played a pivotal role in championing multi- party democracy when he was President of the Chancellor College students union.

Accoring to one fan, he "is an extraordinary witty gentleman. He is a risk taker. SKC is a noble man who is audacious, bold and valiant. He is a dare devil. He does not fear circumstances, he creates the circumstances for the good in life not only form himself but all and sundry."

Weeks of heavy rain resulted in massive flooding in Malawi, leaving over 176 people dead and around 153 unaccounted for, the Guardian reports with reference to the Malawian Vice President Saulos Klaus Chilima. "It's a very bad situation," the newspaper cited Chilima saying at a press conference in Malawi's city of Blantyre 17 January 2015. At least 200,000 are left homeless, roads and bridges have been washed away by the torrent. The vice president called for additional support. "But we still need more assistance. For example, we require some 3,777 tents to accommodate the displaced people," Chilima said as cited by the Maravi Post. The vice president also stressed that the government of Malawi is working on ways of resolving the catastrophe and preventing any such situations in the future. "The rains will continue coming for the next two of so months, do not think of going back to where you got washed away after the waters recede. You need to relocate after these rescue operations," the Maravi Post cited Chilima as saying.

Chilima's misfortunes were twofold. He was not an active DPP member by the time he was handpicked to pair with Mutharika. His appointment was an electioneering strategy to pair Mutharika with fresh blood from Corporate world. By February 2016 they were ready to dump him. In April 2017 a newspaper columnist questioned the recent media blackout of Malawi's Vice President Saulos Chilima on government social media, describing the act as suspicious and act of hypocrisy.

Seasoned award winning columnist and Managing Editor of The Nation, Ephraim Munthali has described the fake "resignation" letter by Vice President Saulos Chilima and the aftermath reactions by the DPP's machinery and the President as cheap, immature, amateurish propaganda meant to hoodwink the public that the Vice President was not interested in his job.

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Page last modified: 06-09-2021 11:51:05 ZULU