It is right to call this period a season of rumours. But Brown Mpinganjira must go on to accept that crucial political truths in Malawi start as rumours.
Brown Mpinganjira, the cleverest politician in Malawi according to Jack Mapanje, is good at communication. He knows words that are loaded with meaning, he speaks poetry, and he can confuse people, even journalists, who don’t follow him critically.
In what can safely be called beautiful interviews this week with Blantyre Newspapers Limited journalists, Mpinganjira denied that he is being considered as a running mate for the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president John Tembo in the May 19 presidential polls, saying this is a season of rumours.
He was clever, and right. Election times have been seasons of rumours since the 1994 polls. But one truth that Mpinganjira has not considered is that important crucial political truths start as rumours.
It was so with the coming of multiparty. Just a rumour, something from nowhere. It was so with the coming of Alliance for Democracy (Aford) into partnership with the United Democratic Front (UDF), just a rumour, something from crazy minds. Still, it was so with the divorce between Aford and UDF. Yet it was so with the open term and third term bids. It cannot be true, said Muluzi. Finally, it was so with the anointing of Bingu wa Mutharika as candidate for the UDF in 2004.
Even the birth of National Democratic Alliance, Mpinganjira’s own baby which he killed, started as a rumour. Yet in the face of such historical truths, Mpinganjira had the courage to tell The Daily Times of Monday (26/01/09) that he is not leaving the UDF.
"I am going to hold a press conference either on Tuesday or Wednesday to reiterate that I am yellow, yellow, yellow. The day I will leave the UDF, ask me about this and tear me apart on that decision," he told The Daily Times.
The following day, on Tuesday, he was in The Daily Times again, speaking poetry, using powerful construction, full of rhythm. He was speaking his mind on former president Bakili Muluzi who desires to contest in May.
"It would be naive to deny that there are problems there [in UDF], there are concerns stemming from the fact that there are a lot of rumours that ...Muluzi would not be allowed to stand. That he would be barred at the last minute; that he would be taken to court, all sorts of things. That is working on the minds of the UDF supporters," said Mpinganjira in visible poetry that can be re-arranged as follows:
It would be naive to deny
That there are problems there,
There are concerns
Stemming from the fact
That there are a lot of rumours
That...Muluzi would not be allowed to stand
That he would be barred at the last minute
That he would be taken to court.
It is interesting also that while Mpinganjira is calling this a season of rumours as a way of dismissing news that he is joining the MCP’s presidential ticket, he speaks his mind on Muluzi based on rumours as well: That there are a lot of rumours, that...Muluzi would not be allowed to stand, that he would be barred at the last minute and that he would be taken to court.
Why should Malawians disregard the rumour about the Mpinganjira-Tembo ticket but take seriously the rumour that Muluzi may be taken to court, that he may not be allowed to stand?
Mpinganjira is being selective. He is imposing one rumour on Malawians as truth and dismissing another as a product of a season of rumours. Aren’t both rumours a product of the same season of rumours? This is a question he is yet to answer. Or, perhaps, a question Mpinganjira, or BJ as he is called, is yet to be asked.
The most likely truth is that BJ is leaving the UDF or he is wooing the UDF to MCP. His assessment of the UDF alliance is honest and what people have said all along.
The parties that have partnered UDF do not necessarily bring numbers as in votes. All of them: from Kamlepo Kalua’s MDP, Uladi Mussa’s Maravi Peoples Party (MPP), Ralph Kasambara’s Congress of Democrats (Code), Amunandife Mkumba’s Malawi Democratic Union (MDU), with an exception of Gwanda Chakuamba’s New Republican Party (NRP) which may, perhaps, bring countable votes.
The challenge in UDF is that most people are afraid to speak. But not so with BJ. He does speak his mind. And so he has spoken, just short of Sam Mpasu’s hit: Muluzi can’t win.
Way back in the year 1999, there were rumours that Muluzi was supposed to pave way for BJ to stand on UDF ticket.
Just a year or so later, rumours were in town that BJ and Muluzi were not seeing eye-to-eye. Then BJ was Minister of Roads, Works and all the names that went with it. On the day Muluzi opened the Limbe-Thyolo-Mloza Road, Mpinganjira nearly knelt down, pledging his support to Muluzi and asking him to "remember me when you appoint your next Cabinet." This was at Luchenza on October 21, 2000.
"My loyalty to President Muluzi is unquestionable," said Mpinganjira, visibly angry at journalists who reported that he was harbouring presidential ambitions.
Next, BJ was fired from Cabinet, formed his NDA and was arrested, resulting into a court case that made him popular.
Just weeks ago, BJ repeated the Luchenza speech at Thawale Primary School in Mulanje. Mpinganjira reminded Muluzi that it was UDF’s Sapitwa region that first asked him to be candidate for UDF; that it was BJ who offered personal support for Muluzi; that the region has supported Muluzi throughout and that Sapitwa region of the UDF will support Muluzi to unseat Mutharika.
He spoke the tone of Luchenza when he pledged his allegiance to Muluzi. Now he has done the same. It seems likely that he will move out of UDF.
This is so despite his insistence that he is yellow, yellow, yellow. It is not the first time Mpinganjira has ever made such a claim. He did so just before the eve of the 2004 elections in which he was a presidential candidate.
Then, former editor of Focus on Africa and Network Africa, Robin White visited BJ at his Chitakale residence.
They became friends that whenever BJ went to London, he visited Bush House where the BBC is based and on one such trip, White, in an interview, suggested to Mpinganjira that Muluzi might invite him to UDF, meaning he should leave NDA and become UDF’s candidate in the elections in 2004.
The answer was interesting. BJ said he can "never, never, never, never, never, never, never"—seven times—join the UDF. (I used to record BBC programmes and still have the tape which I played to BJ the day we spent about seven hours together. He just laughed at my historical interest.)
Yet at the sunset of the 2004 elections, BJ dissolved NDA and joined the UDF, forgetting the never he said seven times on the BBC.
Now he claims he is "yellow, yellow, yellow" and that the day he leaves UDF he should be torn apart on this aspect. This invites one message for Mpinganjira, in some form of a letter, a brief one:
You are right. This is a season of rumours because electoral rains have fallen and insects are singing. But some rumours, especially about Tembo and yourself, seem to be the kind that end into what was was rejected: truth.