…raised over K1bn in cash and materials in 2 years
… Can he pull the biggest upset in politics?
…his name attracts angry rebuts from party cadres
Is Onjezani Kenani (OK) going to be the next president of Malawi? The answer that one gets depends on two things- tired and desperate Malawians will tell you he should run, and he will win. Those aligned to the political establishment will tell you he is not well known; he will waste his money or simply he can win on the Facebook platform only.
Five senior politicians we asked about Stanely Onjezani Kenani were honest; if he decided to run, he could likely upset the political status quo. His base is the same mostly educated and middle class, young people in colleges or looking for jobs and more importantly, thousands of villagers, he has helped to raise support whether during Covid 19 pandemic or more recently Cyclone Freddy.
“He is radical. He cannot be asked to shut up, but he is a leader who has shown great capacity to respond to urgent needs of Malawians, something our politicians lack, they take ages to respond to anything,” Lughano Mwalughali, former Student Union leader at Luanar wrote about Kenani.
One of the most recognised Malawians
In early 2021, when the nation was on its knees, Stanely Onjezani Kenani, known for poetry and social commentary on social media, teamed up with Dr. Thandi Hara Nsulira and started to mobilise support for Covid response in all district health offices.
While people were dying, the Government allocated funds close to K6 billion were stolen through “allowances” while the Kenani initiative updated donors every day, listing priorities and places that were to benefit from the donations he had received.
The initiative grew, and so too the name of Onjezani Kenani. One 76-year-old Agness Mtuwa from Traditional Authority Nsomba Area, who survived a Covid-19 scare told our polling team, “He was an angel sent to save me.”
The Switzerland-based accountant who never has held an elected office shocked Malawians and the world, in an extraordinary rebuke to the nation’s political class, after he marshalled again in March this year over K200 million for Cyclone Freddy victims, while President Chakwera took days to return to Malawi.
Onjezani Kenani’s reach was prompt and decisive. He defied the rains and the notion that it is impossible for an individual to do a “government job”. His initiative with others fed and clothed thousands and reached every district that had been affected.
The nation at large appreciated the timely leadership, and the politicians accused him of exploiting the situation, but the reality is that his leadership saved many people who for years will believe that he did a noble job.
His name is quite popular in different settings and now ranks among one of the most famous Malawians outside the political, entertainment, sports, and religious arena.
Identifying Onjezani Kenani
Our lead pollster Matthew Phiri explained that out of 1200 voters sampled in six districts on alternative political leaders for 2025, Onjezani Kenani tops the list, followed by Simbi Phiri and Nopolean Dzombe. Thom Mpinganjira is mentioned as an option but not across the country.
This is based on name recognition and what they have done before and later introduced to pictures of the topmost three, eliminating others such as social media influencers Pemphero Mphande and Gerlad Kampanikiza, businessmen Leston Mulli and Jimmy Korea Mpatsa.
The list when includes Religious Leaders, Prophet Shepard Bushiri, Prophet David Mbewe, and Bishop Martin Mtumbuka make it among the top three religious leaders voters would be interested to see assume political offices.
Bushiri ranks top in facial and wide recognition but among other religious followers, Bishop Mtumbuka ranks higher among the three top names. Others mentioned include Pastor Hastings Salanje and Reverend Yasin Gama of Mvama CCAP in Lilongwe.
When we added sports personalities Walter Nyamirandu, Kinnah Phiri, and Patrick Mabedi are mentioned as possible alternative leaders, compared to politicians Malawi currently has.
Onjezani Kenani, however, is mentioned by all age groups, with many referring to his charity works and leadership in crisis times as the best quality of a leader who cares. Among the urban, social media users and working class, Onjezani Kenani is hailed for accountability of received funds.
“I would trust him with our taxes and that he can lead a team that can deliver. I was compelled to donate during Cyclone Freddy as he gave a breakdown of resources received on a daily basis. Nobody else up to now has released such breakdowns,” noted Chifundo Mandiwas, a Lilongwe-based businessman.
A coalition of the angry and the desperate
Onjezani Kenani is leading an unseen rebellion of working-class voters, farmers who can’t get fertiliser because the Minister of Agriculture paid a butchery for fertiliser, angry students in universities whose fees and living allowances he must raise from big walks, and more important- the voter who feel betrayed by the Tonse Alliance.
“These people have been playing with our lives, paying money to a butchery to buy fertiliser. We now face famine,” wrote his early Wednesday post-Onjezani Kenani, who has blown the trumpet on different fertiliser scandals.
Onjezani Kenani has been in Malawi, twice this year and his allies have been emerging one by one to start throwing his name as a potential presidential candidate for 2025 and is said to be in touch with all parties.
“He has been in touch with different political leaders, others have offered him a running mate position. However, everybody knows for any meaningful change to happen, he needs to be in charge something the established parties would not offer,” said one of the people close to Kenani.
The parties include the UTM, MCP, and several factions of the DPP, while some influential church leaders have now taken it upon themselves to start pronouncing qualities of a leader, that fits Onjezani Kenani’s profile.
“It is the coalition of those angry with poverty levels with leaders who do not care. It is a coalition of those desperate to get better lives, education for their children, quality health care, farmers who can’t access fertiliser, and young people who were cheated of jobs. This is a coalition of angry Malawians who want things done for the better,” said another source, who is mobilising people in the Northern Region.
Four million Malawians now face food shortage and the Government is yet to release any strategy to mitigate the impact of the food shortages that is likely to be worse between December and January this year.
Agriculture Minister Sam Kawale gave Parliament a dummy that ADMARC will open its maize selling points this week, but he could not state the prices, raising fears that it could push the cost of grain higher on the parallel market instead of reducing it.
The Daily Times on Wednesday reported a 104 percent price increase in maize, with some areas selling at K55,000 for a 50 kilogrammes bag.
Most Malawians are disgusted by a stalled status quo that they would rather not vote in the next election, a percentage that The Investigator Magazine found to be higher among young people feeling betrayed by false promises of cheap fertiliser, jobs, access to NEEF loans, nepotism and sheer greed displayed by those in power allocating jobs to family and friends.
“The forgotten youth would rather not vote, the angry farmer can’t trust anyone, 2025 even the MCP will have a tough time in what is considered its traditional base the central region. In places like Thete in Dedza the party popularity is around 15 percent mainly due to fertiliser fiasco,” our pollster reported.
Underestimating Onjezani Kenani
Political supporters of the main parties underestimate Onjezani Kenani’s influence, most opting to state that he is mainly on social media, but their reaction exposes the deep fear should the quiet gentleman from Kasungu finally bow to pressure to run in 2025.
The silent movement growing every day looking for alternatives is said to have started in early 2021 after the COVID-19 crisis exposed how vulnerable Malawians are to natural disasters and inactive leaders who cannot act in time.
“Some influential people wanted him to turn it into a political pressure group. He refused. His mind and the team felt their mission was complete. The revelations that billions of kwachas were squandered by those in Government, and nobody has been tasked to date angered many people, That is the beginning of the Onjezani Kenani idea for leadership,” explained our source.
The idea is said to have died a natural death, though it has appeared occasionally, especially during the time the Anti-Corruption Bureau was under siege, as Kenani and a few others were outspoken against the MCP and Government abuse of power to save its corrupt Ministers and agents.
“For months OK has mesmerised the public with his unvarnished Facebook posts and tweets, and the occasional appearance on national television. His full-throttle grip on the national imagination as he is now flooded with all sorts of requests from a broad spectrum of society” analyses our political analyst.
Onjezani Kenani has become the centre of complaints lodging for poor service, and corruption, and at the same time people desperate for financial help or something urgent, always go to him through his social media, showing how influential he has become beyond social media itself.
“It is laughable, that these politicians complain in supporting their constituents. Onjezani Kenani, not elected by anyone, receives requests of all sorts every day. He must set his own time to deal with the thousands of requests that come to his mailbox. If you want to see his influence, its based on the trust people have in him helping them, than elected politicians. If you believe his influence is on social media, you will be shocked,” said a student at Chancellor College, involved in the OK Peoples Movement.
OK Peoples Movement
“It is the people that want Onjezani Kenani to throw his hat into the ring,” a Catholic priest based in Balaka who handled some of the donations he mobilised during Cyclone Freddy told us on Sunday.
His work and charity have made him a hero to many grassroots.
“This is a movement. It’s more than a normal political process, people do not see a leader in the current political setup, and they now want an alternative. Most are asking not MCP, not DPP not UTM, who can rescue Malawi. It transcends normal party politics,” notes a prominent Malawian who said Malawi has been waiting for a leader who has proven himself.
Among his core supporters who are openly campaigning for Onjezani Kenani are the radical and outspoken businessman Joshua Chisa Mbele, who christened himself “Mneneri” (prophet) and has been a guest of the Malawi Police Service for speaking, without civility, against impunity.
“The People are demanding that he must run for the highest office in the land. He is not a candidate for some running-mate to someone with dubious character. My inbox is overflowing with people’s messages saying we want Kenani. A man of sincerity. High morals and integrity,” wrote Mneneri Yoswa, amplifying the calls for the literary giant to join the race.
Onjezani Kenani has not been available for comment, despite our efforts to get hold of him in Malawi when he visited two weeks ago.
But another source said the movement is likely to sprout out of people from all parties, churches, youth groups, and outspoken characters that will shock political parties currently complacent believing they will win the 2025 elections.
“Very soon, one prominent Malawian will make a public call for Onjezani Kenani to run, which will show you how deep this movement is. Then week after week, things will roll out until the whole country speaks one language,” our source sounding confident said.
Donald Trump, Italian comedian Beppe Grillo and in Africa a radio DJ Andrey Rajoelina of Madagascar, Footballer George Weah of Liberia, and a former warehouse worker Adama Barrow in Gambia, all rose to become leaders of their nations- as voters were angry and tired with the political establishment.
Malawians are very tired of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), which prompted Bishop Mtumbuka to exclaim recently, “We cannot go on like this,” as the party’s success has been to raise the cost of living, fertiliser, and corruption scandals and speeches they can’t even remember the following day, and too tired to hear of the former ruling party the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which is now busy fighting itself, now are mentioning names they think can make a better president.
The Investigator Magazine monthly political polls show consistency across the country in mentioning Stanely Onjezani Kenani, a man associated with leadership in emergency responses where government machinery has been slow, Businessmen Nopolean Dzombe and Simbi Phiri and outspoken Catholic Bishop Martin Mtumbuka as alternatives to the “poor and corrupt” political leadership.
Who is Onjezani Kenani?
Beyond social media, who is Stanely Onjezani Keani, accused by DPP of being MCP and MCP of being politically ambitious? He has been on the receiving end, of social media and verbal attacks that can confirm the fear the parties have when one mentions his name.
He has raised over K1 billion in cash and material donations, with Cyclone Freddy topping at K211 million and Covid-19 around K204 million. Others have included materials, food, and emergency supplies that saved many need Malawians in their time of need.
He writes on his LinkedIn profile, “I have a bachelor’s degree in accountancy. I am a chartered accountant and have been a member of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) since 2007. I have also been a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) with the Institute of Internal Auditors since 2007. I have 18 years of experience working in five countries, three of them in Africa and two in Europe.
“I have worked as a finance professional and as an auditor in the government, private sector, and two international organizations (the African Union and the United Nations secretariat). In the last five years, I have taken part in audits in 30 countries around the world. My supervisors have rated my work very highly. I like working in challenging multicultural environments. I speak English but my French is reasonable. I have audited in French-speaking countries in which all documents are written in French. Though I have juggled between accounting and auditing, my passion now lies in internal auditing, where I am supremely confident of reaching as far as I can.”
Born in 1976, he will only be 47 years old in 2025. He is a renowned writer of poetry and short stories. In Malawi, he has now established his reputation as an advocate for accountability, philanthropy, and defense of the poor where opposition parties, parliament, media, and civil society all continue to sing government-sponsored orchestras.
His literary works have seen him perform across the world. He served as President of the Malawi Writers Union and acting Treasurer for the Pan African Writers Association. His writing has won him awards such as in 2007, his short story “For Honour” took third place in the HSBC/SA PEN Competition, which drew entrants from 12 Southern African countries and was judged by Nobel Laureate J. M. Coetzee. The same short story was shortlisted in 2008 for the Caine Prize (the highest literary award for African writing, sometimes referred to as “The African Booker” The story is published in the anthology African Pens: New Writing From Southern Africa 2007. In 2012, Kenani was shortlisted a second time for the Caine Prize for his story “Love on Trial”.
In April 2014 he was named in the Hay Festival’s Africa39 project as one of the 39 Sub-Saharan African writers aged under 40 with the potential and talent to define trends in African literature.
He is married with children.
Editors Note: We will be carrying out a series; Alternative to the Political Establishment: in our next article we look at the Potential leadership of Simbi Phiri, a businessman, several MCP officials claim they would want him to run for the party.