Monday, April 30, 2012

Where Is Chikumbutso Mtumodzi?

Chikumbutso Mtumodzi was once Malawi's State House Press Officer.
A position he abused.
Or, put more bluntly,  (a position) he did not understand.
The problem with Chikumbutso Mtumodzi is that he made hatred his communication strategy. In other words, hatred was his communication strategy. 
Then, perhaps after realising what sheer folly it was to put Chikumbutso Mtumodzi there, former president, the late Bingu wa Mutharika, shifted him. Even without the necessary qualifications, he was 'made' Director of Information.
In that capacity, he introduced the Malawi Mail- a government publication published by the Ministry of Information and Civic Education.
But, like his State House Press Officership, that (publication), too, did not last. It disappeared from the market.
At first (before it existed on the market), the Malawi Mail  was a dream in Chikumbutso Mtumodzi's head. Then, it became reality. Palpable reality. After some time on the newspaper market, where it was not faring well despite having government backing, the dream (Malawi Mail) died with the sunset of September 24, 2011.
High-tempered dreams die young, really. It is me saying this. It is my impression.
Chikumbutso Mtumodzi may now be somewhere in the civil service, working for the Malawian citizen. But Joyce Banda's broom will get him wherever he is hiding.
After all, his was a political position. Especially that of State House Press Officer.
People privy to the issue of how he ascended to that high office have it that his (Chikumbutso Mtumodzi's) mother was friends with the former First Lady, the late Ethel Zvauya Mutharika.
And, on that basis (the basis of familiarity), Chikumbutso Mtumodzi got his job.
As State House Press Officer, Chikumbutso Mtumodzi will be remembered for his reckless comments.
At one time, when former Speaker of the National Assembly, Sam Mpasu, was spokesperson for the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF), Chikumbutso Mtumodzi touched the former's raw nerve when he said:
"Sam Mpasu should not comment on government issues because his son is in prison". That was Chikumbutso Mtumodzi at his best.
What had happened for Chikumbutso Mtumodzi, who once belonged to the duplicate New Dawn for Africa, along with the likes of Thom Chiumia and Ken Ndanga (a party that was formed to foil the agenda for National Democratic Alliance, which was formed by former UDF strongman and Information Minister Brown Mpinganjira. Mpinganjira, the favourite of the British Broadcasting Corporation, is now a member of President Joyce Banda's People's Party politburo), to become this outrageous?
Here is what happened. Mpasu was the spokesperson for the opposition UDF. It was a tough time. Mutharika had just dumped the UDF, the party that campaigned for him during the 2004 Presidential elections.
This (resignation) happened on February 5, 2005 during an Anti-Corruption Bureau's Anti-Corruption Day in Lilongwe, Malawi's capital.
This development flared tempers.
Surely, the UDF was bitter. The way Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) zealots are bitter right now. That is why they (DPP members) wanted to foil the ascendancy of Joyce Banda to the highest office in the land. They forgot that, as Vice-President, Banda was within stiffing distance of the throne. Poor thinking!
To UDF's bitterness was added political gamesmanship by the Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD).
Because State-run Malawi Broadcasting Corporation was giving all the airtime to UDF and, later, DPP, CMD's Kizito Tenthani and his colleagues came up with a trap for the ruling party in the name of training for senior members of opposition political parties including those of the ruling party.
At the training, opposition political parties were drilled on how to set the agenda (on how to be pro-active), instead of waiting for the ruling parties (the government side) to set the agenda. This agenda, the parties learned, could be well-set by having party spokespersons.
These spokespersons, that's what the training was all about, could do well by speaking on issues before the government (which, in Malawi, has come to wrongly mean the ruling party) did so.
The opposition parties could do this by attacking government policies. This way, the government (and, therefore, ruling party) would spend much time defending itself instead of campaigning or 'stealing' all the lime in the light!
Now, if there is someone who put this to good use, it is Sam Mpasu.
Mpasu could, on a clear morning, 'create' dark clouds for the government (and, therefore, ruling party) by introducing an imaginary issue, link it to the national agenda, make all the people believe in it, and steal all the lime in the light!
It was as simple as that.
And that (this;Mpasu's machinations) irked Mtumodzi so much he run short of counter-arguments.
It is in this light that, one day, Mpasu sopke about the loss of direction on part of the ruling party, and suggested resolutions.
Instead of coming up with an equally-sound response, Chikumbutso Mtumodzi took it upon himself 9and, therefore, upon the 'whole' State House) to shrug off Mpasu's sentiments.
Under normal circumstances, it was the DPP that was supposed to respond. And not the government, let alone New State House. But Chikumbutso Mtumodzi responded. It was a strange world, then.
"Mpasu should not comment because his son is in prison".
Not that Mpasu's son was not in prison. He was. For his won sins.
But does that spoke a father from speaking on national issues? No.
At the State House, people lose their heads.
But not all the people lose their heads at the State House.
Alaudin Osman, one of the directors for private-run Capital 102.5 FM radio, was once the State House's Press Officer.  He executed his responsibilities professionally. He did not pluck feathers. He did not take his position (as State House Press Office) as a political position.
Osman's experience in Botswana could, perhaps, have helped him executive his State House Press Officer duties with impartiality and professionally. To him, we can just guess, the party was the party, and the State House was the  State House. Two different things.
Not with Chikumbutso Mtumodzi.
To cut a long story short, let me explain one experience I had with Chikumbutso Mtumodzi. This is when he was still State House Press Officer.
I met him in town. Blantyre Central Business District (CBD) to be precise.
Those who have been to Blantyre CBD may know Escom House, the headquarters of the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi.
Chikumbutso Mtumodzi was talking to two city parking fee collectors. I knew one of these parking fee collectors. He was a DPP zealot. A DPP Youth Cadet (as the late Mutharika later christened them).
I gave him a "Good Afternoon!".
Not because he was State House Press Officer. Because I knew him. I knew him the time he was running his own media agency.
No, I knew from an encounter at Njamba Freedom Park. As way back as 2003.
I had gone to Njamba Freedom Park (the place Pope John Paul 11 stepped upon during his State Visit to Malawi in 1989) to cover a New Dawn for Africa rally. This, as alluded to earlier, is the party Chikumbutso Mtumodzi, Chiumia, Ndanga formed to counter the agenda of the National Democratic Alliance of Mpinganjira. This New Dawn for Africa was a fruit of Muluzi's head; yes, Muluzi's confusion-marred thinking. Muluzi 'forced' these rational 'boys' into forcing the duplicate party to achieve his own political agenda: That of making sure nobody challenged his ill-intentioned Third Term Bid.
I was the first to arrive at Njamba. No, perhaps the fifth. Chikumbutso Mtumodzi and some four rough-necks were already at the venue of the rally. They were guarding the tent against imaginary National Democratic Alliance attackers!
I arrived quietly and sat under a Mango tree. One of the 13 mango trees that surround the venue of political meetings at Njamba Freedom Park, a place that will, forever, remain in the hearts and minds of Malawian Catholics because Pope John Paul 11 stepped on this very place; yes, the very same Pope who was being beautified by Pope Benedict the Sixteenth on Sunday.
Then, from nowhere, Chikumbutso Mtumodzi came. No, he came from behind one mango tree. I did not see him as he came.
He grabbed my hand, rather violently.
"What are you doing here?" He asked.
"I have come to cover the rally," I said.
"What rally? I say which rally?" he queried, holding me by the arm. Tightly.
"To cover this meeting," I said, as I squeezed him ankle.
Let me say that tussle ended in a "draw'. After I told him the media house I went there to represent.
It was a media house owned by the one who forced them to form the New Dawn for Africa.
So, from this point, I thought I knew Chikumbutso Mtumodzi. Let me say we, somehow, clicked after that.
I could see him drive the Nissan Twin-cab that was New Dawn for Africa's only 'tangible' property.
I could see him walking, on foot of course, in Blantyre CBD.
I met him so many times. Before he became State House Press Officer.
Then, from nowhere, Mutharika appointed him State House Press Officer.
Things changed.
Chikumbutso Mtumodzi was always (at every opportunity he saw me) accusing me of "reporting bad" about Mutharika.
The climax came that day in late 2008, at Escom House.
I gave him a "Good afternoon, Sir?" He did not respond.
"Good Afternoon, Sir?" I repeated.
He did not respond. He just looked at me.
I greeted him for the third time: 'Good afternoon (for it was 'Afternoon'), Sir?"
Chikumbutso Mtumodzi did not respond.
I continued on my journey, wondering: 'Does this boy think that he will be State House Press Officer for ever? Isn't this (the way he, and not Osman, made it appear) a political office?? This boy was walking on foot just three years ago and now he thinks he is there. Now, he thinks that journalists should not point out the wrongs in government. He wants journalists to praise the government and practice blind loyalty. No, this is not journalism. Journalists should be vigilant all the time. Journalists should, of course, be fair. Journalists should be the watchdogs in society, the watchdogs of society. When powerful people like Chikumbutso Mtumodzi dislike you for what you are doing, professionally; then, you are doing a good job. If public officers praise you, as a journalist, just know that you are doing a poor job. It could be sunshine journalism. It could be bias. Oh, it is good; when people like Chikumbutso Mtumodzi shun you because of the way you report, because of your dedication to the truth...'
This is what I was thinking  when, suddenly, someone touched my arm. It was the (Blantyre City Assembly) parking-fees' collector I knew.
"Chikumbutso Mtumodzi was just telling us that 'I don't want to come anywhere near that boy. He is a bad boy, who hates the government. That's why I did not respond to his greeting'," said the parking fees' collector.
I was dismayed.
I was surprised.
Chikumbutso Mtumodzi is a journalist, I thought.
He should have understood the role of journalists in national development.
The journalist is not a praise-singer.
Unfortunately, Chikumbutso Mtumodzi continued with his habit of 'shunning' me, ostensibly because I was an enemy of the State; someone out to destroy Chikumbutso Mtumodzi's pay-masters' names.
That is why I am wondering today: What will Chikumbutso Mtumodzi do, now that his 'journey' is over. What will Chikumbutso Mtumodzi do, now that the DPP is no longer in power?
What will Chikumbutso Mtumodzi do...now that so many things have changed?
Surely, as we read in Julius Ceasar , the evil that men do lives after them.
Let's hope Chikumbutso Mtumodzi did no 'evil'.
But Chikumbutso Mtumodzi's ordeal must serve as a lesson to People's Party officials.
President Banda will, surely, appoint some of the confused people to influential positions. Those officials should not look down upon other people. Those officials should not dislike others on the basis of those (others') work.
When all this is over, we all go back home to roast.   

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