I have never felt as pitiful for my people as I did today after listening to the BBC Hard Talk interview with Zeinab Badawi and Chilima.
Now if you are UTM you will hate everything I will say with a passion. If you are DPP or MCP you will love everything I say because you will think I am giving a nod to your party. But if you are a Malawian who loves his country, who is patriotic, who is looking for redemption, who puts Malawi first and party affiliation second, (because affiliation blinds and deafens people) you will ponder with me over these issues with a sober mind.
My hopes were raised when Zeinab asked Chilima an open-ended question, why are you running against the very man you stood with in 2014? That question presented Chilima with a million possibilities and opportunities. He should have used it to asset his tone. And his tone should have been that of anger, and frustration but also one that gave hope.
He should have said, amongst other things, I am running because the current government has failed to assist Malawians, it does not seem to have a love for its people, it is a corrupt government, a government that refuses to restructure. I am running because the government does not want to listen to my advice on reform. I am running because I want to see Malawi change for the better, because I have solutions for the problems of Malawians. I am running because it is time to change, it is time to redeem our nation from the hands of greedy politicians. I am running because I am tired of mediocrity and I can no longer watch from a distance, I can no longer play good boy, I must do something and do it now.
He should have articulated his goals and paint a picture of a Malawi he desires. I am running because I want to put drugs in hospitals, I want to build more colleges, I want to build a road system that works, I want to abolish the quota system and nepotism.
I am running because I am frustrated, just like the seventeen million Malawians I hope I am representing. I am running because I have been in government for four years and I have seen and learnt that these people are crooks.
I am running because Malawi is amongst the three poorest countries of the world, not because it lacks resources, or because the people are lazy or unintelligent, but because of poor leadership and I am ready to provide that needed leadership.
But instead Chilima went on the defensive. He took the question more personal, like it was about his personality.
“Times change.” That was his first answer. Like what? You are running because times change? Not because you want things to change?
And then, “um, first of all, it’s a constitutional right in Malawi for any person above the age of 35 who has got the right qualifications to contest for office.”
Oh my God! And I was trembling and shaking my head. I felt like crying. Who cursed us people? Who are these people we are trying to entrust with leadership and the future of Malawi?
You are running because it is your constitutional right? That’s all?
Where is that spirit of reform? Your constitutional right? So this is about you as an individual exercising your right? Why are you defending yourself? Zeinab is not attacking you. Why are you speaking more like a politician than a patriot? Why are you not angry enough with all these atrocities committed against Malawians? I didn’t see passion in his voice like I have seen with Martin Luther, or Mandela, or Ghandi, or Sankala, or Nkrumah, or Bobi Wine, or Chihana or Kamuzu? Why are you not standing with the people in your answer? Because it is your constitutional right?
And Jesus Christ Hon Chilima, Zeinab gave him a second chance to answer that question but he still got jammed to his answer, really?
Zeinab: I’m not saying that you’re not fit to run for president. I’m just inquiring why you have turned against Peter Mutharika. And yet you were campaigning with him on a joint ticket? Only in 2014.
Chilima: I don’t think it’s quite turning against him. It’s just I would like to exercise my constitutional right under contest for the office of the President.
If answers that Chilima gave to the first question made me question him motives, the answers he gave to the questions that followed made me want to search his soul.
Because it was clear that Chilima sits in the office of the vice president doing nothing. Zeinab asked if he is discharging his duties as vice president. Chilima revealed, through his own words that since June he has not had any official business with the state president or any cabinet minister. That made Zeinab conclude that Chilima is clearly not discharging his duties yet he is still drawing his salary. The mention of salary, it seems, made Chilima protest. He said he was discharging his duties. HOW? And this was his answer. “But what I’m saying is the office is there, the office has not been vacated. I am still in that office and therefore I’m available to provide counsel to respond to inquiries by citizens and respond to inquiries by different organizations as they come. So that is meetings and also there is guidance and administration provided in that office.”
Yes the office is there, it will always be there, but are you discharging your duties as vice president? Yes you are still in that office but are you still discharging your duties? You are available? Because it is possible to be available and yet to still be unable to discharge one’s duties. Are you saying you have become an independent consultant now to provide counsel and to respond to inquiries by citizens and organizations? He made it sound like he is now operating on his own, he is not taking orders from the government, he goes to the office and does what he wants not what his government wants.
From his answers, it was clear that Chilima was finding it hard to justify himself on why he is still part of a corrupt government. Why he still gets our money for his salary. Why he still uses government vehicles, fuel, security personnel even when he is conducting rallies for his party. He said he is doing so because he has a contract that runs to May 2019, that’s why he is still vice president. So this is about his contract and not the people?
Zeinab said, “But you are not obviously part of collective responsibility, I mean do you feel uncomfortable yourself saying I am vice president, but actually President Mutharika I have left your party. I am going to stand against you in elections next year. Oh, but oh yes, I’m ready to report for duties with you Sir?”Because it is impossible for the office of the vice president to operate on its own. The very existence of this office depends on the fact that there is actually the office of the president. If the VP’s office is the neck, the office of the president is the head.
But Chilima says I don’t feel uncomfortable at all, the office is there and I go there and I still work. My understanding has always been that in 2014 we did not elect Chilima as an individual. We elected Peter Muthalika and his DPP vice president. I mean, if Chilima was UTM and Peter was DPP and the two were running together, would we still have voted for them? Wouldn’t that be confusing? The arrangement we have today is not the arrangement we voted for. I always feel Chilima duped us. This is not what he signed up for. He broke the promise and the trust we had on him and he is acting on a premise different from the one on which we elected him, and in his answers Chilima did nothing to convince me to think otherwise. He totally missed that opportunity to dissipate those fears in me.