Nankhumwa’s three political options

…throw a bomb that will end his political career

…join a party, but won’t be trusted

…form own party, with little impact

Reality in politics is always hard to ascertain, but the script is the same, only different players. Lead a rebellion, and at the pinnacle of it, everyone you trusted desert you. As Mulanje Central MP Kondwani Nankhumwa only found out, after leading a battle against the DPP establishment, relying on fellow MPs who dumped him when the temperature rose. They went for the Malawian’s “each and eat philosophy”, leaving him to ponder the next move alone.

Within months, his outspoken supporters, including Mwanza Central MP Nicholas Dausi, have gone quiet, Mwanza West MP Joyce Chitsulo has gone independent, and his anointed spokesperson Ralph Jooma has gone back to Mutharika DPP alongside his legal member Mulanje West MP Nthenda.

Other political names leaving Nankhumwa include Sameer Sulieman- the Agricultural Committee Chair, and Uladi Mussa decided not to “wait like pregnancy” for nine months after he was suspended as Nankhumwa was completely expelled from the party.

Promised a political earthquake after being fired out of DPP (Phot: old good days with APM)

The week ending 3rd February, he promised “a political earthquake” on his next political journey, and newspapers reported that he might be seeking to propose a constitutional amendment that essentially targets his now political nemesis, Professor Peter Mutharika, the president of the DPP.      

With the support of the ruling party, which has only 61 parliamentarians, Nankhumwa could have his last two moments of fame, but he would find it to be the last card in tribal and regionalist-dominated politics, and it could end his two-term parliamentary political career.

Nankhumwa’s politics has been very basic, and his strategy to gain power has been mainly limited to parliament, as evidenced by his key supporters. None of his party officials, those with name and prominence, have followed him.

His joker now is to try to scuttle Peter Mutharika’s chances of attempting to run in the 2025 presidential race by proposing a constitutional amendment to propose an age limit for candidates to 80, essentially blocking Mutharika if passed or adopted as a law.

Nankhumwa’s joker now is to try to scuttle Peter Mutharika’s chances of attempting to run in the 2025 presidential race in an attempt to propose age limit

On the face of it, it’s a smart move- tit for tat, but looking at its political and public implications, he could just be throwing a political suicide bomb that will finish his career and even drag some of his “hidden supporters into the mud.”

Nankhumwa’s first base, as he demonstrated last week, is Mulanje Central, his constituency. The former MP for the area is Brown James Mpinganjira, who, in his political days, was a powerful kingmaker. He made politicians in the Lhomwe belt, Blantyre and even in some areas like Central Region. That is why he still had strong loyalists like Hopham Makande from Mangochi, Mai Clara Makungwa in Kasungu, Peter Chupa in Blantyre and others who followed BJ as he was popularly known to every political pilgrim he undertook.

In 2009 he was the running mate to Malawi Congress Party (MCP’s) John Tembo. He lost Mulanje; it ended his political career. His strength was his base- Mulanje. He has never recovered. BJ’s political demise led to Nankhumwa’s rise in Mulanje Central.

For his age limit bill to succeed, Nankhumwa needs the MCP votes and support in Parliament. Again, this will vindicate his political enemies that he has sold the presidency to the “MCP, ” a claim that will be difficult for him to shake off. And predictably, just like BJ, he would find it tough to sell his agenda in the Lhomwe belt, which has openly been crying and waving tribalistic cards against the MCP.

Nankhumwa will also find that amid the economic and food crises, dragging personal fights into parliament and making it a national issue to change the constitution will not endear him to many people nationally; he would emerge as a “petty” politician and no other party can trust him again.

“If he moves the motion, even if he wins it, nobody will ever do business with him again. Nobody can trust him again. So this one act, is politically unthoughtful- he will lose his base, lose the national sympathy as a petty vindictive politician, even people who thought DPP was petty in expelling him. Then he will discover that nobody will be working with him again nor welcome him to their parties for the very same act they will cheer him on. If Mutharika doesn’t run, he will put someone, but he will be finished,” said a political analyst whom we gave four areas of base, national, alliance and the future to analyse.

Nankhumwa’s bill is a double-edged sword for both the mover and the ruling Malawi Congress Party (MCP), which would likely be the benefactor of a Mutharika not running in the 2025 elections.

Will the August house pass the bill?

For Nankhumwa, apart from losing his political base and eventually career, the bill elevates Peter Mutharika to a political giant to beat, providing him and his wailers an opportunity to claim he is “the most feared” amongst all the potential 2025 candidates.

The MCP will have two problems, as the bill support would not endear it to the DPP base, it desperately needs to turn to itself for it to attain the magic 50 plus 1. They should, our analysts say, have tried the Bingu strategy of 2008 and 2009, which led to his DPP winning seats in every district in the Central Region, including Dowa, Lilongwe Rural, Ntchisi, Kasungu and Dedza. Bingu adopted Kamuzu and appeared pro-Central Region. Antagonising Mutharika will not get MCP votes in the Southern Region; it will generate block resistance.

The second challenge for the governing MCP is the DPP’s reaction to the bill once tabled. DPP insiders claim that they are preparing national demonstrations to petition all District Commissioners and a possible vigil at parliament.

With the political tensions high, building election fever and an already angry citizenry over economic and food shortages, Nankhumwa’s nationalisation of the DPP problems could turn into national problems and headaches for President Chakwera.

As seen between 2019 and 2020, demonstrations that include party leaders and supporters- as DPP might be planning- could end in tears for the MCP for stocking their political noses in what could be a short-sighted political game.

MCP and President Chakwera do not need demonstrations, not now when everything is either expensive or in short supply. Supporting the anti-Mutharika bill will give many an excuse to join any demonstrations- whose biggest loser will not be Nankhumwa but the MCP, as seen recently in Ndirande, where citizens are waiting for an opportunity to hit at the President and the party.

“By supporting the bill, they will confirm their fear of Mutharika. They will give him the free publicity and attention that some might have missed. The bill has a character of backfiring on Nankhumwa and MCP as a ruling party,” advises our analysts.

The bill will elevate Mutharika to become the political demi-god, and even if stopped, whoever wins his endorsement is likely to become the next President, as MCP’s Chakwera would have blinked and publicly demonstrated their fear by trying to stop him.

Changing the constitution to block one person is the highest display of political fear, and voters, ironically, vote for the people leaders fear most. It happened with Bingu in 2009, and again, it happened with SKC in 2019. Though he did not win much to take him to the State House, it established him as a much-feared politician.

Political nomads, especially those without clout and crowds, when they join other parties, are welcomed with pomp and cheer, but behind closed doors, suspicion reigns. Nankhumwa was at home with the DPP, he started there, and his career was built around the party. Joining another party would be a challenge. Nobody would trust him, again, not to do what he did in DPP.

Let’s start with UTM. The most convenient choice for Nankhumwa will be UTM as it has two key members around Mulanje, namely Vice President Micheal Usi and Secretary General Patricia Akweni Kaliati. Though it would be a welcome addition to the UTM, but it is also a challenge.

The problem is that Nankhumwa rose in DPP to the highest position of Vice President, and DPP is larger than the UTM. Usi and Kaliati are senior officials above Nankhumwa in UTM. Where do you place Nankhumwa?

The next challenge is whether the DPP will start working with UTM for the 2025 elections. There have been secret discussions The Investigator Magazine has been following. In such a case, if the two find common working ground, Nankhumwa would not find any warmth in the UTM. He will be pushed aside for the larger DPP.

Lastly, there is a feeling from those who left the DPP for UTM that Nankhumwa was among those who pushed Saulos Chilima out of the party to set themselves up for an eventual presidential race once Mutharika retired. The suspicions linger on and make it impossible for Nankhumwa to head to the UTM.

In terms of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Nankhumwa will find the majority of the regional team and Ministers from the South very unwelcoming, whilst those in the NEC would not want to give him an influential seat as President Chakwera vies for his last term.

For the MCP, he is good for destabilising the DPP but would not be wholly welcome to be a leader among them. The MCP officials will be looking and fighting for “their turn” after Chakwera completes his term or loses the next election.

Another party of choice for Nankhumwa is the UDF, which, apart from Atupele Muluzi, would find most of them eager to embrace a big new name without much competition. His only challenge is that he can only be a running mate to Atupele and not his dream of being on a ballot paper as a leading candidate in the next 18 months.

The same would happen if he joined Aford with Enock Chihana, and very unlikely, he would be welcome at President Joyce Banda’s Peoples Party after he accused the former President of something serious.

The option of joining another party means he must forgo his ambition and dream of being a presidential candidate, which seems unlikely at this juncture.

Kondwani Nankhumwa’s viable option is to form his own political movement or party, only he has failed to do what Brown Mpinganjira did- attract a few MPs and senior DPP officials to form his base and strength. After being fired from the DPP, he only has mostly low-ranking party officials.

After being fired from the DPP, he only has mostly low-ranking party officials

Failure to attract huge political names and the recent dumping of his camp by some of the legislators who supported him, make his party less threatening than Mpinganjira’s NDA was to UDF or Chilima’s UTM was to DPP. At most, like Dr Cassim Chilumpha’s FDD and Khumbo Kachalis, the Freedom Party, his personal loyalists, and a few officials would make it, mainly from his constituency.

Looking at the period left, 18 months to the elections, he will need to have resources and the right people to reach half of what Chilima achieved from June 2018 to the 2019 elections. The two questions he must honestly answer himself are:  does he have financial muscle, and can he attract political giants to drum up support beyond Mulanje Central?

These will be fundamental questions as at 45, Nankhumwa probably has five elections to either participate in shaping his future or see how far he can rise on the political ladder.

Nankhumwa, a self-made politician who rose from the MBC newsroom to become a Parliamentarian, a Cabinet Minister, and Leader of the Opposition, and owns a stringent of business, a school and a media outlet, now faces his biggest question- what next for him in Malawi politics.

Throw a political bomb, personalise parliament fight and lose his base and political future? Or join another party and forgo his political ambition at the top? Or form his own party?

Malawi’s short political history provides a lot of case studies from Gwanda Chakuamba’s leaving the MCP through to Justin Malewezi, Aleke Banda and Harry Thomson leaving the UDF. Add another prominent then-political powerhouse who left UDF in the name of Brown Mpinganjira.

Then you have a long list of MCPs “fired or left” groups between 2004 and 2016” before the DPP lost Chilima and a significant youthful vote in 2018.

The DPP, with the right decision by Nankhumwa, could feel his departure, but with the emotional decision, Nankhumwa could elevate and justify the party’s decision against him in its strongholds- the same strongholds Nankhumwa needs to build his political base and the future of his stay in politics.

He could calm, recollect and fight as an independent MP while reorganising his options for 2030 when Mutharika, Chakwera, and likely Chilima will not be the big names for the elections. He could benefit from reading Barack Obama, Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa and Kenya’s William Ruto’s patience and pouncing at the right time with the right strategy. Or go out of the frontline like Gwanda Chakuamba and Brown Mpinganjira- who couldn’t wait for the right moment to rise.

The former Leader of Opposition, the first act in parliament this week, could define his political future nationally, regionally, and even in his Mulanje Central constituency. It is very hard to be a Kondwani Nankhumwa at this point.

Unfortunately, politicians do not learn from history.

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