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Malawi: Citizens’ take on vice-president's dismissal

In early 2009 Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika was fighting for his political life with an opposition that frustrated his every move in parliament and looked strong enough to unseat him. The majority of Malawians were very impressed with the president’s economic and infrastructural development, and were very sympathetic to his pleas to re-elect him to a second term. The president picked a woman, then Foreign Minister, Joyce Banda as his running mate.

For the first time in Malawi’s history, the country had a female Vice President. The honeymoon was shortlived, however. Nineteen months later, on December 11th 2010, President wa Mutharika chaired a party meeting at which the Vice President, Joyce Banda, was removed from her position as Vice President of the party, and expelled from the party’s National Governing Council. To the disbelief of many Malawians, and to the delight of her detractors, she was expelled from the party itself, the Democratic Progressive Party.

The President spoke at nationally televised event a few days later and said Mrs Banda was being insubordinate and had formed parallel structures behind his back. He said no organization would tolerate such insubordination; not even the churches and the Non-Governmental Organizations which had criticized the expulsion. Many Malawians suspect the real reasons for firing the vice president from the party have to do with succession plans for the next elections in 2014.

The president’s brother, Professor Peter Mutharika, a Yale-trained legal scholar, left a chaired professorship at an American university and ran, successfully for parliament in Malawi. He entered his brother’s cabinet and took up a cabinet position, first as Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, and currently as Minister of Education, Science and Technology. It is widely believed that President wa Mutharika is paving the way for his brother to succeed him in 2014, hence the move to remove his own Vice President from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party. Joyce Banda remains the country’s vice president, but it remains to be seen how she can continue on in that role having been expelled from the very party on whose ticket she was elected together with the president.

It has been called a political earthquake and Malawians have been reacting on social networking sites and forums. The reactions have expressed shock and disbelief, with some calling for Malawians to reclaim Malawian democracy. A new group, calling itself Friends of Joyce Banda, was announced in the days following her firing, with a website and a Facebook group. Another Facebook called Joyce Banda is the 2014 Answer has existed for some months now. This write-up quotes several reactions on social networking sites, and ends with a sharp, insightful analysis provided by blogger and journalist Kondwani Munthali.

An early reaction appeared on Twitter from Chiume:

I have choice words for DPP. This Peter Mutharika guy should not be shoved down people's throats.

Kondwa wrote:

Recent developments of the differences between VP Joyce Banda and President Bingu Wa Mutharika, also are rooted upon the same resentment.

Joyce Banda is one heartbeat away from the state house:

Mai Callista, Joyce Banda is numbala 2, one heartbeat from presidency. You must spend sleepless nights!

Below are messages left on the wall of Joyce Banda is the 2014 Answer Facebook group:

@Dumbo,a need to be patient enough & later cast no vote 4 him coz they r takin Malawi as a stone they can easily throw

The director of women affairs and her fellow ladies are behind JB [Joyce Banda],COME 2014

The ruling party is falling:

The 2014 journey continues, as DPP [the ruling party} fall apart….indeed the signs of the times!

Dadakim discusses the comparison between President Bingu wa Mutharika and Hastings Kamuzu Banda:

There has been some comparison lately between President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi and the former dictator, Hastings Kamuzu Banda. The comparison doesn’t emerge from thin air: Mutharika’s government has attacked critical Catholic clergy (the same civil society group that challenged Banda to transition to multiparty democracy in the 1990s); he continues to push for the ruling party’s next presidential nominee to be his brother, Peter; and Mutharika recently fired his Vice President from the ruling party (but not from office) — the last of these causing MPs of the ruling party (the DPP) to resign from the party.

Add to that a new fight between the President and the Malawi Law Society over procedures the government claims to be part of an audit of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC).

Joyce Banda undecided on 2014 presidency, Zacchimalawi reports:

Fired Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) First-Vice President, Rt. Hon. Joyce Banda, reveals being pestered by people to stand for president in 2014.

But Banda told Zachimalawi in a brief telephone interview she is yet to make up her mind on the issue.
“When the time comes, I will issue a statement,” said Banda.
She, however, said she would continue to serve as State Vice-President, adding that her new status (as a non-DPP member) will not “affect my political career”.

It was left to Kondwani Munthali, a blogger and journalist, to provide a historical analysis of a pattern of ambitious politicians being thwarted by leaders. He pointed out that it was only posterity that would distinguish truth from falsehood:

Posterity is the most powerful element in human history as it tells the truth from lies. Greed from reall public interest.
Jump to Bakili Muluzi's era, after the death of all UDF strong men in the likes of Alufeyo Chilibvumbo, Colin Chizumila, Edward Bwanali, Wenham Nakanga and Shaibu Itimu, lies and concotions played a party in dismissals of people like Brown Mpinganjira, Peter Chupa and Cassim Chilumpha.
Mpinganjira, told parliament on 18th December 2001, that he was “accused of being ambitious” that he wanted to run for presidency. Ambition is not allowed in politics- especially in Africa. In other worrds, you must wake up and follow the tune.
Vice President Justin Malewezi went into an ordeal of insults about his illness, his veichles withdrawn and later was almost pushed out of any confort. Posterity has judged him well. His tormentors now suffer the consequences of their laughter.
Cassim Chilumpha has a treason casee, he is the first Vice President to use the police black maria, be bangled in a cell of a common criminal. Seven years later he is still in parliament and fighting off treason charges.
Some of the most vocal Ministers like Patricia Kaliati and Khumbo Kachali, today languish outside the confort.
Today, it is Joyce Banda, one woman who could not mince words in defence of Bingu.

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