By Richard Chirombo
Malawi Democratic Union (MDU) president Amunandife Mkumba, a renowned ally of retired United Democratic Front (UDF) chairperson Bakili Muluzi, has lambasted UDF officials over their recent comments, in which they accuse Muluzi of practicing underhand politics in his alleged quest to continue influencing the former ruling party.
UDF Secretary General, Kennedy Makwangwala, led the onslaught on the former Malawi president, accusing him of influencing his son’s (Atupele) ambitions to have a go at the UDF presidency, and possibly represent it in the 2014 Presidential elections. Makwangwala’s stance is supported by UDF gurus, notably Dr. George Ntafu, Director of Research Humphreys Mvula, and UDF Taskforce for Change and Convention chairperson Kenneth Msonda.
Though the party seems to have backtracked on its earlier stance, the development is yet to convince Atupele that the UDF road to 2014 will be marked by fairness, transparency and accountability.
Atupele said it was high time the party started exercising principles of tolerance and respect its members’ wishes to aspire for any position, including that of president- currently being held on caretaker basis by former Finance Minister Friday Jumbe. By ganging up against certain members, he said, the party was putting other contestants at a disadvantage.
“Anyway, I have been asked by people and am not about to let them down. I maintain my position that I would love to contest for the UDF presidency,” said the Junior Muluzi.
Speaking on recent developments in UDF, Mkumba accused the party’s leaders of orchestrating negative sentiments against the former president in their recent remarks, saying this amounted to lack of appreciation and political ‘blindness’ considering Muluzi’s contributions in UDF.
“I felt sad to hear that UDF officials were now up in arms against the former president, Dr. Bakili Muluzi. I could not believe it because Dr. Muluzi has made tremendous contributions towards the country and party’s development. His achievements cannot be watered down by temporary leadership squabbles in the UDF; he deserves respect from these people because he made them what they are today,” said Mkumba.
Mkumba- who was part of the UDF/ /Alliance for Democracy/New Congress for Democracy alliance during the 2004 Presidential elections, also supporting UDF’s last-minute decision to support Malawi Congress Party’s John Tembo for president in 2009- asked UDF leaders to practice ‘civilized’ politics by alluding to principles and policies, and not individuals.
“Why are these people blaming Muluzi for the party’s declining political clout when, all along, they were part of the system? It is time to concentrate on rebuilding the party; let us move away from the past, at the same time we should not forget the lessons 15 years of democracy have taught us. Some of us were here at the height of multiparty sentimentalism in 1994 and know what we are talking about,” he said.
Mkumba was recently quoted in the media complaining that, ever since Muluzi abandoned active politics, things have not been well for him. Among others, he was quoted as saying that he no longer received cash handouts from Muluzi (as a token of appreciation for attending the former president’s campaign meetings).
He also revealed that he has not spoken to Muluzi for a time now, but maintained their relationship was cordial.
“We both fought for multiparty politics of government, and both suffered greatly at the hands of the one party regime. Some of us used to distribute anti-government pamphlets at night and sleep by day. It is sad that, today, people don’t appreciate all this and look at us with disdain. Our hope is that history will judge us fairly,” said Mkumba.
But UDF Secretary General Makwangwala dismissed claims party officials were smearing mud at Muluzi, saying the party appreciated the role the former Head of State played.
“All we are saying is that, since he retired from active politics, he should let us rebuild the party. We all love the party and want it to reclaim its lost glory. We cannot achieve this if retired people still want to play politics,” said Makwangwala.
Makwangwala also said procedures leading up to the choice of the party’s president will be transparent, assuring aspirants of fair play.
The UDF is currently grappling with a myriad of problems, mostly hinging on leadership. Aspiring party presidents, including one-time parliamentarian and legislator Lucius Banda, have accused Jumbe of clinging to a position (of party president) not recognized by the UDF constitution, describing it as a violation of the party’s statutes.
Then, there is the issue of a task force led by Msonda. Msonda’s group went to the extent of sealing the UDF headquarters in Limbe earlier this year, though their catalogue of action has now dwindled to sporadic calls for a convention and the need to embrace change in the party.
At the height of all this came Atupele announcement he wanted to contest for the party’s presidency. Apparently, this did not go down well with party officials, prompting them to ‘see’ the invisible hand of Muluzi at play.
Tension has since simmered, though calls for reform and leaders’ legitimacy through a convention continue to grow.