/ 16 May 2019

Malawi is at a crossroads. It needs change

Vice president Saulos Chilima.
Vice president Saulos Chilima. (Amos Gumulira/AFP/Getty Images)


The challenges facing Malawi, considered one of the poorest nations on planet earth, are well-documented. Indeed, our nation is not short of challenges.

Our communities are being ravaged by curable diseases; an overwhelming majority of our citizens live in dire poverty, and spend less than a dollar a day; our population is exploding, placing a serious strain on our already meagre resources; environmental degradation is the order of the day; in our communities, women are discriminated against and young girls lack the same opportunities enjoyed by their male counterparts; thousands remain unlawfully detained in our overpopulated prisons because they cannot afford legal counsel while the rich and powerful continue to plunder public funds with careless abandon; economic inequality is dangerously growing as the influential and connected hoard wealth, leaving our poor and vulnerable to scramble for daily bread and wallow in malnutrition; and now, albinos are being hunted for body parts without adequate and rightful condemnation from our elected leaders. These are among the alarming indicators that show that our country is slipping backwards and is not progressing.

It is this altogether gloomy situation that initially compelled me to leave the comfort of the private sector and join my compatriots in the trenches of politics. I left the private sector to be part of the efforts to build a better and stronger Malawi, not to be a part of the evident gravy train. I left the private sector because I believed, and still believe, that each and every one of us owes it to this nation to do their small part to uplift the poor and the marginalized.

It was with this overwhelming sense of duty to my nation that five years ago I accepted to partner with President Arthur Peter Mutharika and successfully run on the ticket of the now ruling Democratic Progressive Party. I thank Malawians for the confidence they reposted in us. Despite obvious daily challenges they face, Malawians are patient and hardworking people.

However, I felt that along the way that their patience was being taken for granted by those they entrusted with the levers of power. Corruption has been worsening. Nepotism has been festering. Cronyism and rent-seeking was tolerated if not encouraged. Our party manifesto, which promised clean and transparent government, was abandoned and replaced with a myopic and increasingly autocratic way of governing and further perpetrated by a tribal cabal.

Increasingly, over the years, some people in our government began to hijack the agenda we set out to execute. There have been criminal elements within the Malawian Government and the ruling party. Many have gotten rich overnight and fail to account for their newfound wealth. They are conspicuously consuming and brazenly display their affluence and ill-gotten gains in face of the ultra-poor. In short, our language is no longer about freedom and justice, probity and accountability, transparency and integrity. It is rather a language of plunder, slander, name-smearing, mudslinging and sheer pettiness.

I could not take this any longer. I owed it to myself, and to my country, to step out from the shadows and challenge this backsliding. I owe my allegiance to the people of Malawi. I swore to defend the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi, not an individual or a political party, as powerful as it may be. That is why, despite being the vice president of the Republic, I felt duty-bound to raise these issues privately and, finally, publicly.

It is precisely for these reasons that I ultimately decided to resign from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and join a group of well-meaning fellow Malawians to form the United Transformation Movement (UTM), a party for which I am the presidential candidate for the forthcoming May 21 general elections.

My candidacy represents a generational shift. While we acknowledge the achievements of past leadership and commend them for their efforts, we must now look into the future with a younger and more modern leadership that is no longer rooted in the ways of the past. We cannot fix this country by clinging on to the same failed tribal politics that have doomed us for generations.

Malawians should dare to dream of a better country and improved leadership. Whatever our political party affiliation, or tribe or religion, or gender or any social status, we should all fight for a more just and fair society. I am personally buoyed by the massive support my candidacy has received during the past several months. Malawians of all walks of life have contributed towards an all-inclusive and all-encompassing movement of the silent majority that is tired of the economic stagnation and social malaise that has engulfed this nation. By doing so, they are maintaining the brave tradition of those gallant sons and daughters of this land who have come before us. And I am honored to pick up the baton, and to do my part.

Malawi is now on the verge of a revolution. The masses have risen up to demand wholesale political change. Everywhere I travel, the youth of this country are saying loudly and unequivocally: ‘enough is enough’. Indeed, particularly in the rural areas the downtrodden and marginalized women of this country are saying in unison: ‘enough is enough.’ The forgotten and the silenced across Malawi are, in a booming and collective voice, saying: ‘enough is enough.’

I have heard these righteous demands. I have listened intently and internalized them, and I commit to carry them forward. Now, my humble task is simply to give our people the bullhorn to amplify that thunderous voice of discontent. In the words of the Scriptures ‘… since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders …. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.’ I hope you will join me.

Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima is the current vice-president of the Republic of Malawi. He is running for president in the 21 May elections under the banner of the United Transformation Movement.

Editor’s note: In the interests of balance, the Mail & Guardian has contacted representatives of other major political parties in Malawi and invited them to make a contribution.