President Bingu wa Mutharika is rewriting history to make history. But it takes a sober mind and terrific analysis to reach such a conclusion.
He has redefined politics and a new era of politics has dawned on Malawi. Or, said in straight terms, Mutharika has defined politics correctly as administration of state affairs, not addressing rallies, not buying opposition MPs, not unleashing violence on people with alternative views.
But it has been difficult for some to understand that Mutharika is a politician, so he has been called an economist.
Perhaps it is a question of balance: How should a President balance between party politics and state politics? But the most important re/definition Mutharika has ever done is, perhaps, his choice of Joyce Banda as running mate in the May 19 presidential polls.
Mutharika has introduced a new dimension to presidential politics. He might be old, but he is experimenting new methods that even younger politicians are afraid of trying.
The fundamental question asked by presidential candidates in the choice of a running mate is region or place. This has remained a fundamental question since multiparty was reintroduced in 1993. (Malawi was a multiparty state in 1964 until 1971 when the Malawi Congress Party decreed that it would be the only party in the country.)
Two major contestants in the May polls have running mates based on place. John Tembo has Brown Mpinganjira, so he can woo the Lomwe belt vote for the MCP candidate. Mpinganjira also wants to use his (declining) popularity among the Yao in the Eastern Region to add votes to the MCP.
Muluzi is targeting the Central, hence picking Clement Stambuli. Muluzi has ever targeted the Centre since 1994 when he paired with Justin Malewezi.
The practical choice for Mutharika, according to Malawian politics, should have been from the Central or the North, so he could appeal to a place, a region and a tribe. This is how politics works in Malawi and it was regarded as the way it shall work forever.
But Mutharika has thought about this political clue and found it wanting. Instead of a running mate from the Central or the North, he has picked from the South. He is not appealing to place. Mutharika is not targeting a tribe.
"It is surprising because given the realitie Malawi’s politics to date, one would have expected the DPP’s decision to reflect some kind of regional balancing that has been at the heart of Malawi’s politics," said political economist Blessings Chinsinga in Nation on Sunday this week. "The decision, perhaps, heralds a new era of politics, less beholden to regional considerations but rather driven by issues."
Yes, it does. Mutharika, the politician, has appealed to something greater than region, something greater than tribe. He has appealed to sex and gender which are universal unlike place, region and tribe which are particular.
The choice of Banda has made Mutharika and his running mate appeal to people of different tribes, people from all corners of Malawi.
Or, put it this way, by choosing a running mate from his own region, Mutharika is a sending a powerful lesson that time for tribal politics and politics of place is gone. Instead, this is time for universal issues of gender, development, hard work and visionary leadership.
But the great question is whether or not Mutharika is right to bring an end to politics of place. First President Hastings Kamuzu Banda came from Kasungu. Did the district benefit more than any other? Muluzi comes from Machinga. Did the district benefit more than any other. Mutharika comes from Thyolo. Is the district any better than the rest of Malawi?
Place does not offer anything tangible apart from an illusion of a sense of social and tribal security. Mutharika has gone above cheap politics of place or region and thought of national issues, even international commitments, on gender and development.
This choice is a test of place versus universality because gender is universal; it cuts across cultures, religions and lands while place is cultural, place is religious, place is particular, place is tribal,
Beyond this, the choice of Banda says a lot to a majority of voters who are between 18 and 35. Anyone who wants to win the May 19 elections must appeal to this age group.
It is an age group that does not take tribalism at heart. They are marrying across tribes. They do not believe in employing on tribal lines. Those stuck in tribalism are mainly above 40. This is not that there isn’t tribalism in people below 40, but the degree is not as strong as is the case in people above 40.
The history of revolutions, the story of new political eras, shows that it is the youth who bring such changes. It was so in France; it was so in Iran.
It will be so in Malawi. A new era has come and Mutharika has read the politics rightly.