Author's Note: This story appeared in The Nation on July 16, 2007, but it is still on high circulation sometimes with changes to suit people's political biases. I hereby provide the original piece for your reading. If the story engages you in any way, feedbackis welcome at the e-mail address above or firstname.lastname@example.org
He is so attractive, an irresistible, little flame that attracts moths. But it’s a flame that suffocates and all who don’t realise early enough, die.
Big Bullets (BB) seems to be a cursed football club. It had plans to go commercial, yet it has stayed three seasons without sponsorship, the very grease to roll the club to commercial levels.
Not long ago, BB was Bakili Bullets. It was the country’s richest team and the only club in recent years to spend a month training in the United Kingdom; visiting club houses and admiring their commercial status. Bakili Bullets wanted to go the same way. Then it seemed possible. Then it really did; not now, but then.
"Those were good, old days," recalls sports journalist Garry Chirwa. "I travelled with the team to the United Kingdom and we were booked in a four-star hotel in Birmingham. Every member of the 40-or-so delegation was getting a $50 daily allowance."
Such, says Garry, was the luxury and pomp that club chair Hassam Jussab had the cheek to arrange for a friendly match against crack English Premiership side Aston Villa.
The game failed but the players had something to cherish and Garry has fond memories.
"The players went to up-market shops where the likes of Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand buy expensive designer clothes. When we were returning home, the team raised eyebrows at Heathrow Airport because of our excess luggage that even British Airways staff doubted the team’s ability to pay for the baggage. The airline was surprised later on to learn that money wasn’t an issue at all. The excess baggage had been paid for in full," says Garry.
The romance between Muluzi and the Bullets started on May 25, 2003, a year before the 2004 General Elections and was meant to last five years. It was an attractive package, somehow, for a team that was desperate for a sponsor.
There was a K15 million sponsorship. This was not much but the former president also promised to construct a K15 to K25 million stadium for the club. And on the day the sponsorship was launched, BB supporters from the North used K200,000 donated by Muluzi to travel from Mzuzu to Blantyre.
The team participated in the Confederation of East and Central Africa Football Associations (Cecafa) tourney and showed, for once, what good sponsorship does to anything, even football. Bakili Bullets also carried the former president’s name into the Caf Championships.
That, however, was four years ago. Today the club is, perhaps, the poorest. Today the land near Soche Technical College meant for the club’s stadium lies idle, as it has been always. Today, Kinnah Phiri, the coach the team attracted from Swaziland has returned into foreign lands in search of greener pastures. Muluzi withdrew sponsorship a year and months after the 2004 elections. Perhaps he wanted to use BB for campaign and it worked.
Since then, the club is struggling for survival, not even bare existence.
The days the club travelled from city to city in the UK are over. The days the team took supporters to cities in the region to cheer the team when it joined Cecafa and Caf Championship are no more. The days Muluzi promised players K75,000 each for a win in a game against Zambia’s Zanaco in Cecafa are gone. The days BB played teams like Enyimba of Nigeria are fast being forgotten.
On July 1, 2004, Muluzi gave BB players K100,000 each for performing well in the Caf Championships. BB was among the last eight teams. That was July 1 and on July 31, 30 days later, came a different headline: ‘Bullets in financial woes’. The team was failing to pay its coaches for six months, failing to settle transfer fee balances for nine players and failing to pay rental for using BAT ground.
Muluzi had spent K60 million and perhaps was tired. By August 2004 headlines on BB had changed from ‘BB to camp in UK’ to ‘BB fail to camp’ and this was not in UK but Mulanje. The club could not afford to lodge in Mulanje.
The former president was becoming angry with club officials and threatening to withdraw sponsorship not only from BB but from the Bakili Muluzi Super League. The club was being haunted by debt collectors that by August it was asking the then Sports Minister Henry Chimunthu Banda for money to participate in Caf champions League.
Then followed chaos. Players firing club executive committee, a meeting with sponsor—or the former sponsor, because Muluzi was no longer bank-rolling the club—failing.
Saturday 25 December, 2004, was supposed to be a happy day: end of week, Christmas and about end of year. But the headline in Weekend Nation was bad news: ‘Total chaos in BB’. January, 2005, was biting hard and BB’s patience with Muluzi was wearing out. He wanted audited accounts. He promised a starter pack but nothing came forth. It was money from player sales that was running the club.
By April, BB had a K9 million debt and in July the club cut ties with Muluzi, who claimed to have been taken by surprise. In November 2006, the club was rebuffed by President Bingu wa Mutharika.
Some months ago, two twin brothers who graduated from the University of Malawi a couple of years ago decided to take over the club in a relationship that was full of doubts and sour moments.
Those who love education wondered why the Msiska twin-brothers could not donate the K5 million they spent on Bullets to the Polytechnic Library to purchase books. The Cifu group was forced out of the deal by the club’s executive that wanted to deal with Petroda, a petroleum company that promised a K20 million sponsorship.
And just last week, the deal with Petroda flopped. The club remains poor with an uncertain future. Or, put plainly, without a future at all.
Big Bullets is now like torn curtains. Who has finished the Big Bullets? Perhaps the right question is: What is in Muluzi that finishes those who work for him (not with him) as the BB did? The club is just one example of how Muluzi appears attractive like a beautiful flame at dusk, attracting all kinds of insects longing for light soon after sunset. Yet this flame kills insects. And Muluzi has worked like that flame, killing the political or professional life of people and institutions.
This late icon who fought for democracy in 1992 was a giant until he worked for Muluzi. He died politically long before his physical death in 2006.
Once Muluzi got into government in 1994, Chihana’s Alliance for Democracy (Aford) formed an alliance with the Malawi Congress party (MCP) to oppose the United Democratic Front (UDF) within and without the National Assembly. It was a scaring alliance.
"They have a hidden agenda," said Muluzi who later on invited Chihana into an alliance with UDF. Chihana was made second vice-president. (He remains the only Malawian to hold this position and it seems it was created for him and him only.) Some Aford officials, too, were offered Cabinet positions.
The whole story is that the political marriage between Aford and UDF lasted 20 months and Chihana lost some of the cream of Aford. The two parties remarried in 2002 when Muluzi was campaigning for life presidency disguised as Open Terms Bill. When this and the Third Term Bill failed, Chihana was used to campaign for President Bingu wa Mutharika.
By the end of 2004 Chihana was a spent force, forgotten and vanishing from the memory of history. He had been used and almost dumped and by the time he died, it was simply physical death, politically he had already been killed by Muluzi—the beautiful flame that burns all who carelessly fly close to it.
Once he came out of prison in 1992, he was a rising star, even when he joined the MCP to work with first president Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
People had embraced multiparty democracy and forgiven the past in which Chakuamba worked. He was a revered opposition leader even as late as 2004 when he led Mgwirizano Coalition. That status changed when he formed an alliance with UDF soon after the elections.
That, then, seemed a noble cause especially when he became Minister of Agriculture in Bingu wa Mutharika’s administration.
But when Chakuamba was fired and begun to associate with Muluzi on impeachment, that became the first step on the last mile of Chakuamba’s political journey. Take note: the last mile started with associating with Muluzi, the beautiful flame that burns.
Now Chakuamba does not have political wings. They have been burnt by Muluzi. Now Chakuamba’s political mobility is on the shoulders of Muluzi.
Now Chakuamba is failing to make sense of the budget-Section 65 deadlock, two separate issues that the UDF and MCP are connecting. (It is also not wise to blame all opposition MPs as if they are talking nonsense on this: some, like Mark Katsonga, Justin Malewezi and Aleke Banda have offered sober thoughts on the impasse. These, too, are examples of people who worked with—not for—Muluzi and survived.)
The story is that once there was a politician called Gwanda Chakuamba. He worked with Kamuzu and remained strong. He worked with Mutharika and stayed above petty politics. He is working with Muluzi and has become a spent force.
Does anyone remember this name? He is remembered for one thing: that he moved the brazen Open Terms Bill in July 2002.
Immediately his name was in international media outlets and for a bad reason. He was, of course, rewarded with deputy minister position. But that was his end. He loved himself more than the country and Malawians know the place of such people: the political dustbin.
This is where he is now, forgotten and not remembered at all. He flew close to the beautiful flame that burns.
Malawi, like all countries, is a place of role models and bad examples. There are children born with a silver spoon in the mouth but who squandered all the money left by their parents, sold businesses and are now living on alms.
And there are those born in extreme poverty—like Lucius—who worked hard to become millionaires. (Do not be surprised, most of us are millionaires: just value your car, sofa, TV, beds and you will find they add to millions.) Lucius was a model not for people of Balaka only, but for all Malawians.
Once he joined politics, he was getting popular and Balaka had hope that one day a senior Cabinet minister will come from around Sosola.
What was wrong being a famous musician without an MSCE? He worked with Muluzi for years and later went a step ahead to work for Muluzi.
The flame had become too beautiful to be avoided. He had lost sight. There he was burnt. He needed an MSCE to contest for a parliamentary seat and the way to get it was not to sit (resit?) for the examinations, but to get a certificate with good grades.
Where is Lucius today? If he were not a musician who built a reputation for a decade, he would have been forgotten like Khwauli Msiska.
Fondly called JZU, Tembo is the longest serving MP in the Malawi National Assembly. This, though, seems to be the last term in Parliament for the veteran politician.
The reason is simple. He is working for Muluzi. Section 65 was there when Mutharika formed a coalition government with Republican Party. But Tembo didn’t make any noise. What has happened to Tembo that he should now want the Constitution followed?
He is working for Muluzi. Both Tembo and Muluzi are not happy with Mutharika’s performance. This is surprising because they were supposed to be happy so that they inherit a healthy economy in 2009 when they win as they claim.
The two were talking the same language at their rallies 10 days ago. This is not the first time Tembo has worked for Muluzi. The leader of opposition voted yes to the Open Term Bill. Muluzi had just bought pieces of cloth for the MCP women’s league. Now Tembo is working for Muluzi again to trouble the Mutharika administration.
It is funny because Mutharika has never had a peaceful time since he became President yet he has been performing. By fanning trouble on his government, the UDF and MCP are making Mutharika perform even better than before. Apart from the political turbulence, Mutharika had a sick wife for two years and he knew she was dying. But even then the office of the President was as functional as if everything was fine.
Does JZU believe Section 65 is the best weapon to make himself popular among Malawians? This is the faulty thinking of Muluzi.
There are those who believe Muluzi is a good public speaker. Right. But his actions scare away people. While he was president, he collided with the NGO community and Malawians. Thousands chanted against third term campaign.
The same people who were against Muluzi as president are against him as retired president. His policies remain for personal gain not for the people of Malawi. Tembo has fallen into this trap and is fast losing popularity—the end of a man who has been in politics for decades.
Muluzi is like a candle that is about to burn completely and he knows that; which is why he has become a beautiful flame to kill the political or professional life of hundreds before he is forgotten by the memory of history. It does not matter your profession. Be it a lawyer, journalist, football team, politician, institution—whatever, your life gets chocked once you work for Muluzi.
Big Bullets can testify. Or ask John Chikakwiya.