It’s 14th June today, to non Malawians, this is another day. But to us Malawians be it the former oppressors and former oppressed, 14th June has a historic entry in the new Malawi and a man who is largely associated with it, it is the man whom the nation is mourning –Tom Chakufwa Chihana.
Going through the tales,testmonies,encounters and the degree of their diversity, It would appear like the nation is yet again going through one of the biggest mind battles this country has ever known - a battle between two ways of mourning, one which leads inevitably to the sudden loss of a confused politician and the other leading to the sudden loss of a naturally born trade unionist and freedom fighter ,but mourning conserves all that is great and best in our national heritage and Chakufwa Chihana rightly belongs there. In paying a tribute of respect and of regard to an eminent man who has been taken from us, no one is obliged to alter the opinions which he has formed or expressed upon issues which have become a part of our history.
I had not come face to face with late Chakufwa Chihana until late 2004[I shall come to this later] But from the start, I was inspired by his courage and leftisim as I heard it on the BBC Until then, the exiles had been ideologically and organisationally divided and ineffectual, enjoying little support from inside Malawi or from Western governments. On 20-23 March 1992, in Lusaka, Zambia, they held a meeting of more than seventy-five exiles, planned before the pastoral letter and without a second thought, Chakufwa Chihana volunteered to lead a domestic campaign that will lead to embracing o democracy in Malawi but upon being warned of the dangers of going to Malawi, he replied by saying “If I die, my blood will fuel the engines of democracy in Malawi” I was moved.
The measure of his courage is not his participation in the Zambian meeting or his trade union background but rather his willingness to face his ideological enemies head on And as we all know, on 6th April Chihana's detention served as a catalyst for donor protests and provided an additional reason for them to suspend aid, which they did a month later, signalling their decisive break with Banda's regime (Newell 1995, 254-55). Chihana and a few other long-term detainees put a human face on the protest; they became powerful symbols for international and covert domestic pressure. I first saw him from a distance at high court in Blantyre.
There were a lot of people from all corners of Malawi. Some actually had traveled from Mulanje on hired buses defying Dr Banda’s malicious triumvirates. They traveled that far not to see the man himself but because they wanted to share the courage and conviction of a man who was prepared to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and betrayed in the hope of ending the wicked injustices of the MCP regime. They had all come to one conclusion that Chihana’s convictions were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heart-the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace, even at great peril, and certainly to the utter disdain of popularity or clamour. The second time I saw him in Lilongwe where he was addressing a referendum rally days after his release.
By this time, I had gathered much about him and had chronicled every item and was made aware of this rally through the DEMOCRAT paper. Although the meeting was scheduled for 12:00 pm, I was there by 10:00am and to my disappointment, he turned at 1:30 pm but this would soon change by some other characters in particular Machipisa Munthali. The guy was a naughty cracker; he did his “AFORD” salutations and without warning he launched a very unusual song singing “ CHANGA- CHNGA,WAMGWIRA KU MCHIRA WATAYA” by the time he was going to the second chorus, he was still singing alone perhaps a sign that very few people knew the song but we thought he might have taken an opportunity to show us his prison mantras after a 27 years of detention without charge.
All over a sudden, he started dancing, swaying his pelvic and hips provocatively –a crude dancing locally known as KUDUKULA”It was engrossing and enthralling and brought to the podium a tempo and tenor that illuminated the whole rally and when he changed the song to KODO-KODO AYE We all joined him, Hee, waikodola, and soon the high powered executive came and later Machipisa would go into the second stanza-IKUBWERA NDI CHIHANA YEMWE WAIKODOLA- There was fun.
I still remember the smiles of late Aron Longwe, and a smartly dressed Denis Nkhwazi seating not far from Augustine Nthambala and Peter Kaleso and many others then came Chakufwa Chihana. I was very close to the platform[in the audience] and took not of everything starting from his clothes and speech. This is when I realized that this man was too posh for Malawian politics.He had a brown leather ZEGNA jacket, a seemingly expensive Khakhi trouser and a jefry west brown shoes- o wonder most of his first meetings were held in hotels and conference rooms. I had gone there expecting to hear tough talk against hon Tembo and Dr Banda as this was common in many of UDF’s ,rallies where they had a slogan of which went like:
TAMBALA WAKUDA [Respondents] Dee! And this was followed by a sign of placing one’s finger against your neck [indicating killing the MCP] Chakufwa had a very different character. He too had a very well organized mind. He was methodical, forceful and, at least on the one question which mattered to him above all others – RECONCILIATION - I remember the audience shouting, baying for hon.Tembo’s head and we had an 1/4hour of emotions moved. Chihana’s response was different. The best way to handle Tembo is not doing what he did to the Malawian people. HAAAAAAAAH,the audience booed “If you want to kill Tembo, you must be prepared to dig your own grave because some one some where will be planning revenge against you.
There was silence
“You cannot build a great nation or a brotherhood of man by spreading envy or hatred. Aford’s policy is not built on envy or hatred, but on liberty for the individual man or woman. It is not our policy to suppress success: our policy is to encourage it and encourage energy and initiative. In 1959 it was not the cry of nationalization that made this country rise up and fight colonialism. It was the cry for freedom liberty and independence.” There was a huge approval which was seen by the clapping of hands. He was a man of unyielding determination.
Chakufwa Chihana Chakufwa Chihana was thought to have a better chance of winning the 1994 elections. Although his performance as a party leader and politician had incurred serious and in some ways justified criticism, there was no doubting Chihana's experience, brilliant intellect and contribution to the democratic process. His main weakness, which grew more evident in later years, was self deceit - something which is a frequent temptation to politicians especially those who think that they are naturally and effortlessly cleverer than those around them. I came into face to face contact with Chihana in late 2004. Apparently, I did not know that he was a regular on Malawitalk and that he had opened a file where most of my articles were physically archived.
It seems he was moved by an article I had done on 26 November 2004 which was featured in the Sunday times where I was arguing for Dr Bingu’s cooption into the UDF leadership. He wrote me in private and asked if I could be interested in offering a service to the Aford party on consultancy basis. In no time, we exchanged telephone contacts.He prefered to address me as Ba Gondwe than Malopa[God knows why] but it later turned out that one of a relation- Clement Malopa a Mzuzu based business man was his friend. As the talks, progressed, he raised the consultancy issue again I told him that I am not a qualified political scientist to which he replied, “Are you a lawyer? And when I said no, he went on to ask “an economist?” No again sir He sounded disappointed but made one attempt,
“What’s your background then?” I am a marketer “Right, just the sort of people I have been looking for” What do you mean, I asked, "I mwe baGondwe, You see marketers are the best political strategist" he went on to lecture me about the theory of monetarism, free market and how a marketer by the name Norman Strauss resigned his marketing post from lever brothers[uk] in the 70’s and drafted an ideological concept with his friend Keith Joseph, which led to the modern conservative party and later what is known as thatcherism. All this was news to me but he insisted that I should come up with, a strategic paper using marketing principles to reposition the party.
He promised to pay for my time without saying how much. It was a difficult task but later, I came up with a 28 paged document titled Aford’s integrated strategy -towards political process re-engineering. He invited me to his Chombe motel where I would do the presentation. It was highly critical of aford leadership and emphasised on the need for change in order to create momentum.He took it badly and he dint like it and I doubt if ever he had a chance to share it with his executive. I had heard of Chombe Motel and had high expectations about the place but when I went there; I got the shock of my life, I was dissapointed.
It had all the signs of a brothel. I was severely beaten by mosquitoes in this famous motel and had to move to a near by Nyakhumbata the following day.But one thing that striked me, was that Chakufwa was happy to operate from his home of origin than Mzuzu or Lilongwe. Although, he dint like my paper, he made efforts to honor his promises through a holiday offer in Zambia at one of his friend’s cottage. He was kind enough to let me use one of his 4x4 past Mzimba into Zambia.This is how I ended up at Shiwa Ng’andu, an opulent Victorian lodge deep in the forest of northern luwangwa near lake shiwa. It was an experience I will forever cherish. Tom Chakufwa Chihana died at the age of 67 after a conceding defeat to a battle with brain tumor.
He was rightly known and deserve to be known as a great houdini after surviving so many attempts on his life by the MCP dirty secrete frontiers. However, his political machinations leave a lot to be desired and lessons need to be drawn by political activists, politicians, and us ordinary individuals. Late Chihana was rarely out of news between 1992 and 2006 From a democratic activist he went straight into political promiscuity during a career in which he was embroidered in personal, political and financial scandals. From some one who championed the cause of freedom to some one who had a severe irrational tempers to the extent of boxing his own driver. To his loyal supporters, he was a hero who laid the foundations of the new Malawi.
To his opponents; he was a tribalist and corrupt politician who exploited his position to enjoy an extravagant way of life. Reflecting the Malawian culture of reluctance to criticize the dead, tributes that are being poured seem to be ambiguous. Of great interest to me is Dr Muluzi’s moving and well thought eulogy which read in part: “Late Dr. Chakufwa Chihana has been an ardent fighter for democracy, good governance, unity and reconciliation. He always placed first the interests of Malawi and not his own, as most people would prefer to do. The late Chihana has left behind a lot of unfinished business in the democratization process of Malawi.” These are nice words indeed which unfortunately contradicts the public available account. Chihana fanned a political class of cronyism in an atmosphere of corruption and bullying.
His assiduous cultivation of potentially useful as a mullah of the northern region occasionally backfired. He lost a constituency in Mzimba after one night stand with MCP and conceded more to UDF after the first botched lurid political cohabitation with UDF. The man who believed in the good of his nation would never have destroyed an ideological based party which started with the most talented and skilled followers Malawi has ever produced to a family party where he and his daughter-In law were the only members of parliament.To day,there is one member of aford in parliament. I do not agree with Dr Muluzi where he says" Chihana left unfinished business behind"
The dead cannot leave unfinished business. The work started by the dead is usually passed over to the living. but in principle I agree with Dr Muluzi’s notion of unfinished business only that it is up to us as the nation to finish it. Close friends like Dan Msowoya and Chipimpha Mughogho will always testify to his charm, generosity and affability as well as to his accurate judgment. Those outside the firmly drawn circle saw a diminutive figure with a hooded expression and a conspiratorial manner coupled with a quite remarkable degree of self control under pressure. He could be rude without being self-revelatory and seemed incapable of being surprised. But to dishonor him on the basis of his weaknesses will be unfair and unpatriotic to our country ,more importantly hypocrisy on the part of those who do not want to hear anything about Chihana.
In his madness and quietness, he maintained one thing-the spirit of fight. It is from Chihana that I realized that in any fight, what matters most is not the size of a bull but rather the size of a fight in a bull. With his brevity and courage, he rallied and galvanized a conviction built on the notion of non-violence which to the surprise of many contributed to the end of a dictatorial regime. His magic word was a V sign. As the nation mourns and remember the courageous acts of one Tom Chakufwa Chihana, it is my hope that we the mourners will go back to 1992 and mourn Chihana by refreshing our memories with his V [victory sign] for in that sign, the oppressed nation saw hope for the better Malawi It is very rare in one's citizenry life to be given the chance to revisit previous responsibilities.
Having shared Tom Chihana conviction about a freed Malawi where his life was offered as collateral to fuel the engines of democracy, the nation should take this time and use it as an opportunity to embrace an agenda that touches on virtually all domestic issues. Let us be clear about this mourning. We are not moaning Chihana to take part in a wake to remember the political past of Chihana. We are mourningChihana because we have an altogether, more optimistic purpose which gives us hope for a prosperous Malawi using Chihana’s courage as a model. In the Chihana’s courageous 92 model, there was no south-central or north.
He did not risk his life to free Rumphi central or Mulanje where he had a large support. His mission was loud and clear –to fuel the engines of democracy in Malawi. As the nation mourns, let our cry be - if Chihana did it, can we not do it?. Wining control of more authorities are skirmishing political battles of the few excited individuals. The real question in this mourning is that after nearly 12 years since the nation shared Chihanas V sign , what has the V sign actually done for the forgotten people-the poor? What does this most overblown phrase of Chihana the hero" chihana the true son etc actually mean to those kids leaving our stinking schools barely literate?
Do we really see any V sign in parliament where antagonistic politics seem to be eclipsing issues of national importance? Do we see any V sign when members of parliament are warned of expulsion should they dare join the government supporting citizen centric developments? When we hear threats of sabotaging national budget, do we see Chihana’s V sign and a glimmer of hope shining through the drab concrete of our country that is as far as the horizon stretches and, above all, an unswerving allegiance to Chihana’s 1992 vision of a net of civilized living above which all are free to rise, below which none may fall? In the forgotten Malawi ,there are challenges today of such historic scale.
Do not for one moment think that these problems are self contained, affect only that proportion of society that actually live in regional deprivation the north in particular-They are wide spread. There is high unemployment in Malawi. Can we unite together and show a V sign against unemployment and understand that this is the cauldron from which criminals come? In the tributes that I have seen so far, there is a consensus that a state funeral is the only way Ba dada Chihana can be honored.
Others have gone further to propose burial in a hero’s acre juxtaposing Dr Banda’s final resting place To the contrary, I represent the views of those who think Chihana need not to be honored by way of a descent burial in a hero’s acre. Burying the remainings of Chakufwa Chihana should be a private matter for the Chihana.To burry Chihana’s remainings at a hero’s acre will be putting an end to the legacy of a man whose brave and courageous actions symbolized hope to the victimized and those whom for so long had seen justice becoming a monopoly of the oppressors The right way to honor Chihana is to look back and put in perspective, the things he fought for.
I could be wrong here, but I think the best honour to this man will be to erect a statue in his image with a V sign and place it at the entrance of the high court. This in my mind, will bring hope to Malawians especially those that will be wrongly implicated by those who seek to pursue vicious agendas that there will be Victory at the end of their trials and tribulation so long they remain on the right side of law.
The V sign from this statue of a towering Chihana will refresh the memories of 1992.It will rest the spirits of those who were beaten to death by the nasty forces of the MCP regime in peace And finally that no matter how poor Malawi may be, soon or later we shall flash a victory sign to poverty, we shall flash a V sign to Envy,we shall flash a V sign to diseases and hunger And that there will be more Chihana’s to defend the tenets of our democracy. As a social democrat and tradition left winger,
I was a bit disappointed with what Chihana had become. He betrayed every cause he believed in broke every promise he made but as nation, we have learned to forgive and reconcile. May be forgiving chihana’s weaknesses could be the right honor. We all have our strengths and weaknesses I join the nation in mourning Chakufwa Tom Chihana with a V sign
Bright MacEverson Malopa