Awo a Bingu pogawa nsalu amatani
Kekeke Chipani mwachiona
This song by Sendela sisters was one of the political campaign songs which took the political landscape by storm. At the height of the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) rule, this powerful song denoted the spirit of sharing, caring and unity of purpose which existed in the party. While the song may not sound that futuristic and prophetic, it may as well be regarded as such with the deepening divisions in the party. Keeeee! The once mighty party is being torn apart from top to bottom like the temple veil at the death of Christ.
Since the DPP was booted out of power in the 2020 historic presidential elections, the party has been riddled by leadership wrangles which have divided it into two factions. On one hand, the former president and the party’s chairperson Arthur Peter Mutharika (APM) is backed by the majority members of the National Governing Council (NGC) while on the other, Kondwani Nankhumwa, the party’s southern region vice president is being pampered by most of the party’s parliamentarians especially from the southern region.
Nankhumwa has never been shy about his intentions to take over power from the ageing APM. Coming from the Lhomwe belt, the DPP’s stronghold, one would be compelled to think that Nankhumwa is entitled to be the heir apparent to Mutharika but on the contrary, the animosity between the two antagonists has been growing and glaring in the last two years.
In 2020, Nankhumwa and the party’s Secretary General, Grezelder Jeffrey were expelled from the party but later reluctantly reinstated through a court ruling. In parliament, he again survived being toppled from the position of leader of opposition after being validated by Speaker of parliament, Catherine Gotani Hara.
He has stayed on, albeit without Mutharika’s blessings. Recently, he announced what appeared to be an all-inclusive shadow cabinet with some Mutharika loyalists such as Bright Nsaka, Joseph Mwanamvekha and Jappie Mhango making the cut but they all declined the appointments, citing failure by Nankhumwa to consult the party leadership when making those selections.
Now with the next elective conference scheduled for July 2023, the prospect of unity seems far-fetched. Over the weekend, we saw the unprecedented development by the party when the two warring factions held two separate rallies at Mgona ground in Lilongwe. The first rally which was held on Saturday was led by Central region’s Vice president and franked by DPP’s National Organising Secretary Chimwemwe Chipungu, Dyton Mussa among others. Then on Sunday, Nankhumwa held his own rally which was mostly attended by members of parliament.
Looking at how things have unfolded in the party, it is not an overstatement to conclude that this infighting has reached this state because of weak leadership. At last year’s Mulhakho wa Lhomwe celebrations at Chonde in Mulanje, the former president Bakili Muluzi weighed in on the matter and asked the embattled Mutharika to show leadership in order to save the party from extinction.
“As a democrat who loves peace and unity and also the president of DPP, you need to demonstrate your leadership to end the wrangles and avoid further divisions if you are to triumph in the next elections,” Muluzi said drawing loud applause from the cheering crowd.
He continued: “All the structures of the party are intact and they (the followers) are giving their unwavering support to the party (DPP) but the problem is with top officials. Therefore, you (Mutharika) must demonstrate leadership and bring sanity in the party.”
Apparently, Mutharika hinted that there were problems rocking his party but maintained that he was still the party president until 2023 when the next convention will take place. The immediate former state president promised to find lasting solutions to the prevailing problems but six months later, the problems have worsened and it seems there is no solution in sight.
Now here are the interesting narratives which point to the fact that the friction in the party will leave the party in disarray. In April this year, Kondwani Nankhumwa told party supporters that he intends to make the party strong again the way it was during late Bingu wa Mutharika’s time. “My desire is to manage the affairs of DPP the way Bingu was doing. Whenever Bingu said I want to end hunger he made sure that there was no hunger in this country.” Clearly, this statement undermines and disapproves the leadership of Peter Mutharika.
These exchange of words did not start today. In one of his press briefings at his PAGE residence in Mangochi, APM was once quoted as saying that he will not allow anyone to sell the party to another party. Mutharika’s statement was not a one off nor surprising as there have always been speculations that Nankhumwa will deputise vice president Saulos Chilima in a UTM-DPP partnership in the 2025 presidential elections. Interestingly, Nankhumwa seemed to have responded to Mutharika at the recent Mgona rally when he said: “They tell you that I will take the party to UTM. Do I look like I belong to UTM? UTM has only 4 parliamentarians, so how I can squeeze over 60 parliamentarians in the UTM, am I sane?”
There is something particularly interesting about political history. What is happening in the DPP strikes resemblance to what happened before in the domestic politics. The upcoming DPP’s national convention will even heighten the crisis in the party. In the event that Nankhumwa loses at the convention, as he will likely find out, he is expected to form his party and take with him a chunk of DPP supporters.
Of course, times have changed and the political landscape is not the same but similarities can be drawn here. At one point, Brown Mpinganjira, Gwanda Chakuamba and Green Mwamondwe of the United Democratic Front (UDF), Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the Alliance For Democracy (AFORD) in that order, enjoyed their moments of fame before they all broke ranks with their parent’s parties. Mpinganjira formed National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Chakuamba the Republican Party (RP) and Mwamondwe the Movement for Democratic Change (Mgode). Now, although these parties died a natural death and the political future of their leaders went up in the smoke they caused a lot of damage to their respective parent parties.
While some believe that the birth of DPP was a defining moment for the UDF and rightly so, it can also be argued that the birth of NDA had already weakened the once mighty UDF. The same can be said about AFORD, a party which has never recovered from the damage caused by Mgode. The MCP suffered a minimal setback and soon recovered largely because of its non-dynastic politics.
Now it does not require a political scholar to forecast what the political infighting means for DPP. The party has never gone into an election divided but now the stakes are very high as we approach the 2025 elections. As the saying goes, when two dogs are fighting for a bone, it is a third dog who eats it. There will only be one winner in this bickering: MCP. It will be impossible for the weak and divided DPP to prevail over the united MCP. In fact, if DPP does not set its house in order, 2025 will not even be a contest. It will be a walk over for MCP.