By Zakale Botomani
Malawi Congress Party President Dr Lazarus Chakwera has been sworn in as Malawi President . The joy that he demonstrated from yesterday when MEC chairperson Justice Chifundo Kachali announced him the winner was not just the joy that he had finally made it, but it was also a reflection of the long, winding and often rough journey that he has been through to get to where he is. Twice defeated in 2014 and 2019 in elections that were fraudulent and where he was expected to win, Chakwera stood on his faith in God to keep him going knowing one day he will make it. Through the years however, Chakwera has been learning the art of Malawi politics.
Joining politics after leaving the church, Chakwera was a novice among the experienced politicians. After the loss in 2014, Chakwera had to ponder on what will be his next move. Something had to change. Through his Secretary General, he engaged the most feared strategist of all times to help him win elections, a political strategist in Dr Ken Zikhale Reeves Ng’oma. Political strategy has been the unseen hand that pushes candidates towards their victories, get the strategies wrong, then all efforts are fruitless.
When internal wrangles rocked MCP, at the time when the then secretary general Gustav Kaliwo, and former Speaker of Parliament, Right Hon. Richard Msowoya an others , vowed to bring Dr Chakwera down and took him to court, Chakwera did seek help from the man that knows Malawi politics from inside out Dr Ken Zikhale Ng’oma.
Zikhale Ng’oma, a rejected stone in the party of his own formation DPP, humbly accepted to work with MCP and it didn’t take long before he started shaping the party towards a path to victory.
His first task was getting involved in the planning of a rerun in Lilongwe city south east where Ulemu Msungama brought a new phenomenon in the courts of Malawi, being the first individual to win an electoral case in challenging the incumbent member of parliament. Zikhale took a leading role in drafting strategic plans that saw people like Richard Chimwendo gain ground in mobilising the youths and regional chairperson like Soko, Chidzanja and others benefit from restructuring guidance he delivered. He organised a vibrant team which came up with a strategic plan that was adopted by the party through a management meeting where Directors agreed to take advice that the strategic plan gave.
Zikhale strength as Political strategists comes from his vast experience in the area having worked with DPP from its inception. Zikhale pushed for the repositioning of MCP moving away from a central region concentrated party to a more accommodating national wide party so that power should be distributed across the country and bury the strong story that MCP is only a Central Region Party. He also called for the drafting in of legal team of Titus Mvalo to help the party clear all the cases it was struggling with at the time.
Zikhale poignant role as Political strategists is evident by empirical evidence that sees Chancellor College of Malawi and other universities lecturers quoting him when lecturing public administration, political science and law students.
It was luck that MCP had just chosen young and brave Secretary General, Elsenhower Mkaka, who was understudying the veteran in his approach to issues, therefore he organised and worked tirelessly with the Strategist, organising resources and coming up with modalities that would make MCP after several attempts to get back to power since the founder of Malawi nation, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda had left.
Mkaka is on record now to have been the first Secretary General to have led the party under the leadership of Dr Lazarus to have fought a fight that has seen MCP bouncing back into power.
Dr Lazarus Chakwera is known to be a great listener , very accommodating and an intelligent leader who got 7 points during his MSCE exams and was selected to Mtendere Secondary School and then Chancellor College. This wise leader allowed to share views with Zikhale the Strategist and accepted a very simple formula that Zikhale brought to the party of inclusiveness. He wanted the approach to focus more on presidential vote promoting MCP as a Party as one way of making party that is changed and flexible.
He introduced and encouraged the leadership that for the party to win they must make alliances with parties that will bring value and have proven record of performing hence made moves to convince Khumbo Kachale of Freedom Party, Dr Joyce Banda of People Party and UTM which could see all the parties affiliated to the mentioned targets also joining the wagon.
This initiative did not take long, it started but met challenges as it was met with mixed reactions from some quarters of the party that wanted Dr Lazarus Chakwera stand alone and continue with their tradition as a Central Region Party. There was also resiistance from PP and UTM leadership whose perception was that a party with a bad past records could not match with the current democratic dispensation.
Dr Lazarus Chakwera’s focused vision and that he new what he wanted, he stuck to the strategic plan and pushed for these strategic alliances. Previoulsy MCP had not been eager to work on alliances, as it was observed way back when MCP and UDF had wanted to go into an alliance and the split of MCP to form New Republican by late Gwanda Chakuamba.
Zikhale still maintained that in order to win, alliances should be the way forward and Dr Lazarus Chakwera did not hesitate but to keep on fighting until all the targeted parties were persuaded and started working together with MCP as Tonse Alliance . the parties also opted to adopt some of the flagship campaign promises from the individual parties and blend them together.
The other selling point was from the organised and unity the Tonse partners displayed during the court proceedings and demonstrations where some individual organisers like Timothy Mtambo, Gift Trapence, IT expert Sulemani, Chimwendo, Mkaka, displayed their inborn talents and won the hearts of many Malawians. It was not just efforts from an individual but of many players that made the journey fruitful.
Zikhale also organised among others a team from diaspora that specialised in countering propaganda from the the DPP and UDF teams. Comprising of Allan Mandindi, Chalo Mvula and Nic Thindwa the team tirelessly neutralised DPP efforts to paint MCP in bad light. They worked with the local strategists in Chikumbuso Mtumodzi and Humphreys Mvula, just to mention a few.
The parties organising team under an iron lady Khumbize Chiponda and a silent Chief Whip Sam Kawale played a crucial role in organising and coordinating strategic rallies that confused the ruling DPP to a point of finding excuses by hiding behind Covid 19 and executive powers to frustrate the elections. The courts ruled in favour of fresh elections and directed that the elections be held within 150 days. Former MEC Chairperson Jane Ansah, tried playing delaying tactics and focused more on Covid 19 effects to stop elections inorder to see APM clinging to power. Ansah managed to convince donors not to support the elections due to Covid 19. Jappie Mhango who is the Chair of the committee running the affairs of Covid 19, inflated figures of Covid 19 to scare people but people stood firm and wanted elections first and Covid 19 later.
Chakwera win has really cemented Zikhale Ngoma role as an icon of Malawi’s political strategy. The way Chakwera sailed through the internal fighting’s that were happening in party , the sudden energy and vibrance that was injected in the party , the new appeal that was added to the party broadening its scope from just the central region to roping in votes from the north and centres is all a testament of what good strategic decisions can make
DPP who thrived in calling themselves a “System” have been masters of not only political strategy, but their cunning execution of propaganda that was aided by malpractices during voting that helped them rig elections. Zikhale idea of roping in people in the diaspora to run a propaganda team not only confused DPP but also gave MCP an edge, as it had people who could see what was going on from a distance.
As Chakwera is now the president, it is a great time for Malawi Congress Party as they find themselves back in power after 25 years.