The battle scarred United Democratic Front (UDF) held its overdue convention last Tuesday, leaving a number of casualties in its way. But it seems the most bitter casualties are former Chairperson of the Atupele Muluzi camp George Mtafu and his former secretary general, Kennedy Makwangwala. Before we interrogate the drama that was the convention and its casualties, it is very orderly to congratulate the UDF for finally holding the much touted indaba.

This convention comes after the People’s Party held its own. Our political leaders love to hate conventions because they do not like to account for their sins and seek fresh mandate from the party followers.

That is why Pick and Choose will always applaud parties that hold convention, even when they are shams or mere electoral forums where founders massage their egos by having their desire to contest in 2014, ‘legitimized.’

A dose of own medicine

Now the story of Mtafu and Makwangwala is very interesting. The pair has been a king maker in the rise of the young Muluzi. When Atupele and his fellow UDF legislators rose up against their president, Friday Jumbe, Makwangwala stuck with the Jumbe camp. He used his position of being an administrator of the party to manipulate the supporters and even the leaders.

He used to argue that the Jumbe camp was the legitimate UDF faction because he, as SG, threw his weight behind it. After some months, he crossed to the Atupele camp and flipped the same argument to legitimize his new found abode.

While in the Atupele camp, he tormented the Jumbe faction and went ahead to organize the convention to Jumbe’s chargin. Suffice to say that Jumbe himself was imposed on the party by Muluzi. All this time, Mtafu played the war lord, calling the shots and protecting his fort.

When an attempt was made to reunite the two camps, Mtafu and Lillian Patel pitched up at the Grace Bandawe Conference Centre to sign the truce. None of their MPs accompanied them, despite the law makers being the backbone of the camp. It was apparent that Patel was kind of bulldozed to the function while Mtafu insisted that he meant it.

To observers, it all looked comical. A day before the celebrated convention, reality dawned on Makwangwala that he was not part of the chosen clique to take the party to the next election. He declared that the supporters would not elect new entrants who were interested in positions.

This put him on a collision course with members of the new politburo. At a news conference to articulate issues around the planned convention, Makwangwala ranted his undemocratic remarks and stormed out of the briefing room, in protest. Come the convention day, Mtafu who wanted to size up Atupele found himself at a wrong venue-a Public Affairs Committee meeting. He too screamed to whoever cared to listen that the convention was stage managed to catapult Atupele and the chosen few to 2014.

Do they deserve sympathy?

Not quite! It was volenti injuria (self inflicted injury). The two wasted time for every Malawian. When others saw the hand of Muluzi senior in the plot to hand over power to his son, the two saw democracy at work. When commentators asked the party to ensure that funds for the convention should be handled by an organising committee, the two bowed down and asked Atupele to carry on. They did not feel the heat because it was directed at enemies. They forgot that after their all their rivals were down, they would be the next targets, voila! The pair failed to read the plot.

Muluzi senior has toyed with the idea of letting go the reins of power in the UDF but on condition-he had to anoint his successor. He tried it when, in 2004, he brought in a total stranger, late Bingu wa Muth-arika, sidelining all those who stood with him through thick and thin. When Bingu ran with the baton to the mountains, Muluzi did not relent.

He maintained his tiluze tonse (if not for me then no-one will get it) approach when in 2009, he ensured that the UDF had no presidential candidate but instead support his sworn enemy, MCP’s John Tembo. The alliance succumbed to Bingu’s tricks on the polling day.

Lessons to Atupele

He has won the battle but not the war. He has thumped his rivals but he has promoted competition. Apart from facing candidates from other parties, he will have to wade off scheming from the Jumbe camp as well as his makers-Makwangwala and Mtafu. His former mentors might resort to tiluze tonse tactic by arming his rivals to thwart his attempt.

Yes Atupele is young and probably the most articulate and charismatic among the possible 2014 candidates but his stay in the current administration will also mitigate his chances. This is so because in Malawi politics, candidates generally capitalize on weaknesses of their rivals. Atupele cannot talk of the ailing economy because he had the chance to make a difference and Malawians might think that he slept on the wheel.

But politics, especially Malawian politics, is dynamic. Emotions among citizens are high. Any player who properly reads the game will carry the day. As for Makwangwala and Mtafu, my humble reminder is that one cannot benefit from self inflicted injury. May the best player prevail.

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