Malawi: We Hear You Callista but Those Who Seek Equity Must Come With Clean Hands

12 April 2018

A few days ago former First Lady, Callista Mutharika made a statement in a WhatsApp group chat of former Members of Parliament (MPs) to the effect that she prefers State vice president Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima to president Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika as DPP presidential candidate in next year's presidential candidate. In her view, the governing DPP would not win next year's elections if the party maintains the incumbent as its presidential candidate.

Her sentiments were first expressed through a WhatsApp forum chat among former MPs and newspapers, television and radio stations, something which has attracted a lot of eyebrows and comments particularly on the social media.

Many theories can be furthered as to why the former First Lady would want to be critical of her own political party and indeed her own 'mlamu', president Mutharika through public forums.

It is highly likely that this (the comments and criticisms of the president) is only a symptom of a much deeper family malaise. Callista has most likely been displeased with how certain elements of her relationship with her brother-in-law are panning out. This is underlined by how she has chosen to go public with her criticisms; a fact which also renders credence to assertions that this is more of a family matter than a political one.

Whatever the case is, the former First Lady should not have gone public with her criticism (or opinion whichever way one choose to describe it) in the manner that she did. It says more about her levels of integrity and sense of reasoning. To begin with, she was married to President Arthur Peter Mutharika's brother and founder of the DPP, the late President Professor Arthur Bingu wa Mutharika, and there can never be shortage of channels

To communicate such thoughts through a WhatsApp chat group where most of participants are also not DPP and probably have nothing to do with the DPP, is an insult to the integrity of President Mutharika, Malawians and the DPP. Callista's ranting have the hallmark of being a highly emotive family issue and the former First Lady has no business dragging all Malawians into her family issues. It is unfair for her to use Malawians as a collective Trojan horse to settle outstanding family scores.

Callista Mutharika claims to be a 'senior' member of the DPP owing to her being wife to the founder of the party. She therefore must be aware that the DPP is a highly organized institution with structures and well defined reporting trees that she could have exploited to channel her grievances. The party is also a very democratic institution, which will most likely hold its national convention anytime before elections next year.

If the former First Lady is genuinely passionate about Chilima's candidacy, she must be free to encourage the VP to use the national convention to gun for the top office in the party rather than her random approach.

Her recent actions say a lot about the lack of respect and regard for the integrity of the organization that she claims to speak for and represent.

The former First Lady must understand that not everyone hates President Mutharika and that there are millions of Malawians who do not share the loathing of her own bother-in-law. There are many people (in DPP and outside the party) who love Prof. Mutharika and consider him their leader and President. They also consider him deserving of all the respect as President of the Republic of Malawi.

Madame Callista should, therefore, have exercised better judgement before taking her grievances to the public in such a disrespectful manner. The last thing she wants is to wash the dirty family linen in public, because it is not in the best interest of the party; of the family and certainly not in her best interest. She may be enjoying a false sense of glory at the moment but when all the chips are down, she would be the one to be hurt politically and otherwise.

Going by the history of multiparty politics in Malawi, presidents often fallout with their second in command on issues that cannot be immediately defined. Bakili Muluzi fell out with Justin Malewezi in the twilight of Muluzi's presidency; late President Bingu wa Mutharika did not see eye to eye with his deputy Dr. Cassim Chilumpha from the onset of their presidency, and later dropped him in his second term in favour of Joyce Banda. The later Mutharika later also fell out with Joyce Banda who later fell out with Khumbo Kachali when she became president following Bingu's death in 2012.

The Mutharika/Chilima presidency is the only one that appears to be holding out and certainly slated to escape this curse. Just recently, for example, President Mutharika delegated Chilima to represent him at a huge world business symposium in India where he was also a keynote speaker. Just a few days ago, Chilima was also with his boss at the official opening of this year's tobacco sales at the Auction Floors in Kanengo, Lilongwe.

This underlines the good relationship that exists between Chilima and Mutharika as President and Vice President of the Republic of Malawi. The best (or the worst, depending on how you look at it) that Madame Callista Mutharika's sentiments can do is to sow seeds of disunity in this otherwise cordial and perfectly working relationship.

As much as the former First Lady may be bitter (with what we don't yet know), the last thing she needs to see is the feuding Peter Mutharika and Saulos Chilima. Again, it is not in her best interest.

The former First Lady must understand that DPP, as a party, is much larger than any one individual. By this fact alone, she should have carefully thought through her lines before going public, or taking to WhatsApp and the media to spew her ill-timed vitriol. She must understand that she was wife to Bingu wa Mutharika during the time that he was also arguably hated by most Malawians.

The questions that Madame Callista must begin to ask herself should be what was her role, or contribution, to the presidency that time. Did she play a positive role?

Malawians remember that when she was First Lady, Madame Callista said that people in the villages do not care about fuel shortages because they do not own vehicles, when she pretty well knew that people in the village have motorbikes that operate on fuel and that they also rely on diesel-powered maize mills for survival on top of using paraffin extensively for lighting.

It is on record that as First Lady, Madame Callista went out of bounds and indulged in partisan politics where, among others, she publicly made derogatory remarks against former state Vice President, that time, Joyce Banda, describing her as "mayi wa mandasi".

They say 'those who seek equity must come with clean hands'. It is clear that Madame Callista's pronouncements about President Mutharika may not have been made with entirely good intentions. The whole facade about Chilima and the DPP could just be a smokescreen to hide her real intentions, which may be more sinister than Malawians imagine. She therefore must be treated with suspicion and disdain that she deserves.

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