What must have started as, and meant to be a perfect public relations (PR) stunt for Kondwani Nankhumwa has needlessly ended in tears as the move has just brought more ridicule to the already embattled Leader of Opposition.
On Tuesday, Nankhumwa thought of joining the bandwagon of voices calling for the release of one teenager, 19-year-old Mussa John, who was earlier this year convicted for being in possession of the illicit drug, Indian hemp.
John is currently serving a three-year sentence following the reduction to his eight-year- sentence meted on him earlier by the magistrate court.
While the intention by the Leader of Opposition may sound a good gesture, it is how he has handled the issue that stands to leave his name all the more tainted.
In his letter, dated September 27 2022, and addressed to State President Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, Nankhumwa asked for presidential pardon for John on the premise that the convict is still a teenager and was looking after his old and single mother “and a sister with disabilities.”
Nakhumwa wrote: “He may just be a teenager who did not have the full knowledge of the consequences of his actions.”
“Your Excellency,” Nankhumwa added in his letter to Chakwera; seemingly aware of his limitations on the matter, “it is not my intention to argue whether the 19-year-old boy is innocent or not but to appeal to your selfless human nature, and based on the fact that other people who faced similar offences like Mussa John’s, or even worse, walked out with fines.”
Now, this was touching; very thoughtful of the Leader of Opposition who, despite the continued power battles in his own Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the subsequent make-up parties, remains the party’s ‘credible’ and strongest candidate to lead the party towards the next general election in 2025.
Not that he possesses the glamour with which to shake the present administration led by President Chakwera come the election, no.
It is just that at least every democracy needs a stronger opposition.
Out of the ‘rubble’, read ‘madeya’ as coined by one Davies Kapito when describing opponents to the party’s founder Bingu wa Mutharika ahead of the 2004 General Election, Nankhumwa stands out as a fairer candidate!
Back to the recent development.
Ideally, Nankhumwa’s missive was supposed to end here as, until the next paragraph, he had communicated [to the President] something that identified with the masses all along.
But then, that would not have been the beleaguered Nankhumwa we all know.
Instead of penning off at that juncture, he got carried away. He felt that was a moment to score a political point.
He opted to draft the convicted former Malawi Electoral Commissioner Linda Kunje into the equation for the Presidential clemency list.
What an own goal, costly for that matter, that has proved to be.
Not only did the move detached him from the masses who had, just some paragraphs earlier, chanted his name for championing a just cause and a display of the welfare of the locals at heart.
It has to be said that including Kunje also led to the outright dismissal of his ‘thoughtful and timely’ letter as leader to a government-in-waiting to Chakwera.
Chakwera may yet to return from his United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and related duties, but it probably will be the eighth wonder of the world if that letter from Nankhumwa will still be found in the President’s in-tray at his desk by the time he returns; let alone make its way to his otherwise busy office.
Not to fan a fire in Chakwera but just to put it into perspective; Kunje was convicted by the Court on August 19 2022 of criminal recklessness and negligence after obstructing, out of all road users, the President’s convoy in 2020.
Chakwera was just days old in his presidency when this took place.
Today, Kunje is serving an 18-month sentence at Zomba Maximum Prison for her actions that also got her then official driver in trouble over her arrogance.
It also has to be said here that it is yet to be recorded that Kunje, whose ‘early’ release Nankhumwa now has taken upon himself to champion, has ever sounded or appeared remorseful over her actions despite the crime being that gross.
At a time when everybody thought that mixing the two cases, that of Mussa John and Linda Kunje, in one sentence would be a grave mistake, the Leader of Opposition opted this to be the perfect time to comment on the same.
And then, he had the audacity to leave out Kunje’s driver out of his list to be considered for clemency by the President.
Not surprisingly, though. Or is it? I mean, do we really expect Nankhumwa to have ever read the famous saying: “We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great one to public office”?
Not a chance.
To him, the driver is some non-entity.
For sure, the Leader of Opposition goes with the popularity currency, irrespective of who he trampled along the way.
Nankhumwa’s judgement must have been clouded by his power ambitions; both within his party and outside.
And sadly, even the very same masses he wanted to appease have now realised that it has never been about them.
The mask is fallen and his real intentions are now in the open; for all to see.
Supporting John’s further reduction of his sentence stands to make the Leader of Opposition popular with the masses while advocating for Kunje’s freedom is largely meant to impress his party’s politburo that he still has what it takes to ‘call the shots’ around; so much that even the State President can bow down to his wishes.
Comments on social media portals Facebook and Twitter, for starters, attest to the claim.
However, the last time I checked, the President was still Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera; very principled and rarely shaken by the noise around him.
His recent trip to UNGA provides a perfect example of his resolute character in steering the country towards prosperity, irrespective of the deafening noise around him to consider abandoning his promises. Just look at what he is bringing home!
So, Nakhumwa should keep dreaming on his wishes.
In fact, it is never a crime to dream; just that the Leader of Opposition, the best of the bunch from the Blue Camp, is yet to start dreaming in colour!
For now, he just have to have this fact to contend with as he dreams on:
“The pardon procedures under the pardon guidelines dictate that the inmate to be pardoned should serve at least half of the sentence apart from showing good behaviour.”
In fact, Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda may just be a phone call away to remind the Leader of Opposition, at no cost for that matter, that there are guidelines and procedures the President follows before pardoning inmates, and “not doing the same under external pressure.”