…the real power behind the President
…State House operating like big brother house- ex employee
In a normal country- serious allegations of theft, corruption and all sorts of debauchery at State House made by one Tiyanjane Mlangeni, including that President Lazarus Chakwera employed her as a Gardner and was paid by tax payers for doing party work and not gardening- could have seen heads roll and the President explain to the public how his own residence is operating like a bunga bunga or big brother residence, stripping it of its decorum and stature.
The muted silence to the serious allegations that implicates State House as one of the centres which has employed party youth and pay them government salaries to cheer the president and the party, reflects how Malawi’s sixth President failing presidency operates.
Scandal, mute, deny and move on. The question has been moving on to where? Where is Malawi heading under President Lazarus Chakwera, the man who promised Canaan but has delivered near-hell experience of food shortages, high cost of living and thieving Ministers, Presidential Assistants and according to his own former security agent- even in his own house- the State House.
Everything in Malawi has been falling apart. The Malawi kwacha has lost 66% of its value from June alone, the economy has gone south, government activities have come to a grinding halt- save for flying President Lazarus Chakwera (who is now flying local trips)- raising questions as to where the country is heading.
The Investigator Magazine has spent 12 months examining the power, influence and decision making under President Chakwera, and as confirmed by the outcome- it is a messy, tedious, and as Public Affairs Committee (PAC) nailed it, some characters are more powerful that one can wonder who exactly the President is.
An ex-employee of State House Tiyamike in an avalanche of a audio, paints a clear pattern as to what many Malawians have feared, that the President has no control even of his own residence, as some individuals are on rampage including, according to her carrying “bags of money from Malawi Revenue Authority.”
What taxes paid to MRA end up in bags at State House, is a serious and damaging allegation both the President and MRA cannot pretend the public are dumb enough to forget anytime soon. Of course the ex-gardner has mentioned names, while she might be bitter, but at least the tax payers know MRA after bullying them to pay taxes- send part of the collection to State House.
Malawians have been wondering as to who really advises President Lazarus Chakwera and why in most instances it takes long to decide on what sometimes are simple matters. Many times, his interventions are late, or he will just disappear and leave the nation guessing who is in charge or how will the matter end.
The President is yet to give comprehensive economic recovery plan nor direction as to when will the economy pick up and things start moving again. Only constant devaluation, hiking of prices, looming food shortages, delayed fertiliser supply, fuel and forex shortages, low medical stocks and a flying president seems to have become a reality to ordinary Malawians.
Hundreds of small businesses cannot be paid by government due to lack of money; public debt is still climbing up and nobody is marshalling the country to a direction or date it can breathe and hope things will get better.
At times he has publicly confessed that he didn’t know or at one time asked his Malawi Congress Party (MCP) officials to tell him the truth. What he does with the truth, is anybody’s guess. He has become a reactionary leader who has failed tame most of the corrupt elements in his government and his administration will go into history as one of the worst, clueless and failed of modern times.
The Investigator Magazine spoke to people that have interacted with President Lazarus Chakwera and most of them have described their conversations “lacking depth” and he does not have a defined personal vision.
Malawi’s first president Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s vision lay in three basic necessities- food, adequate clothing, and decent housing which he built systems to support and grow the economy. Dr Bakili Muluzi vision and achievable included with Human Rights, consolidation of democracy and freedoms through building of governance institutions and free basic education for all to improve literacy levels.
President Bingu wa Mutharika visionn summed up as a colour dream of moving Malawi from predominantly importing nation to an exporting one- he dreamt new universities and infrastructure, made new friends in BRICS and took Malawi from Taiwan to China.
Dr. Joyce Banda, the first female President in Malawi and SADC region used the Presidency to uplift women- giving Malawi its first female Head of Civil Service and other positions, launched economic recovery programme and went to rural empowerment, that included direct construction of houses for the neediest.
Professor Peter Mutharika stabilised the Malawi economy and appropriately for an educationist went to construct community colleges, expanded capacities of universities, and completed most of the infrastructure that his brother’s administration had started, including breaking up of the University of Malawi into several independent institutions.
President Chakwera, the sixth Republican President rode on Hi5 and inclusive governance he called servant leadership, but he has failed to keep any of his single promises from cheap fertiliser to fighting corruption to creating 3 million jobs for the poor.
His campaign rhetoric was so captivating, that when he declared that Malawi was destined to become the equivalent biblical land of honey and milk- Canaan- 60 percent of the voters believed the former President of the Assemblies of God.
He now literally is breaking corruption, nepotistic and travelling records while essentials and the economy are at their lowest in Malawi’s history.
“He parrots what is written on paper. You cannot discuss economics, law, or even serious governance issues with the President one to one. He sticks to generalities and repeats what he thinks the guest wants to hear. If you tell him something unpleasant forget meeting him again,” said a frequent visitor to Kamuzu Palace, in his assessment.
The President, according to those that have worked with him closely appears to listen but will continuously consult on one issue until the matter loses direction, making it difficult for the administration to move on its core projects.
“When you meet him, you will think things will start moving, but rarely there is no follow up and there is nothing that comes from there,” says another official, who said each Minister is operating independently and the same with the OPC, as the President is busy with appearances.
“The Reverend likes being a President, but he seriously does not have what it takes to inspire a nation to a great revolution he eloquently sang in the name of Tonse Alliance. Even insiders, like us are disappointed with his performance,” says an MCP operative who is close to the President.
The President once spoke to fire NOCMA CEO, but it never happened. He fired Labour Minister Ken Kandodo Banda but later told Malawians he was misled. He was unaware people stealing Covid money, neither was he aware of ACB Director arrest. Actually he has done nothing on these serious dents to his legacy.
He can contradict his own speech without blinking his eye.
Here are some of the names we have collected that gather around the President and have varying influence on his decision making.
The most powerful are three people who have access to the President unlimited. His wife, his son and interestingly the embattled Secretary to the President and Cabinet Colleen Zamba who is treated like “a daughter” by the President.
Apart from these, a contingent of Pastors and friends of the President from Pentecostal Churches are also seen as more influential to the President, according to insiders who have firsthand experience.
The First Lady is naturally the Presidents confidante. They have been together for over 40 years. She has managed to tame perceptions that the office should have loud and noisy people to be relevant to Malawians. Apart from a few appointments, which many think she influenced, she has managed her power closely to herself and only seen in public to support her husband or do her charity works of uplifting girls’ education.
However, we found that a good word from her, you get your things done.
Sons of Presidents and children of political leaders have been seen to take over political parties. We have Atupele Muluzi who took over UDF from his father former President Dr. Bakili Muluzi and Enock Chihana who inherited Aford from his multiparty icon Chakufwa Tom Chihana.
Pastor Nick took the same path as his dad; he became a Pastor in the Assemblies of God Church where his father was a Minister for over 20 years as a President. In power play, he is said to have been the connection to the President and family businesses.
Though he has been named, without evidence, of having rivals within State House and at the Office of the President and Cabinet, his only direct mention of politics has been so far has been his book that talks of religious leaders in politics.
As the eldest son, his influence is immense, leaving Malawians with a question- what does he tell his father the direction Malawi is taking or some of the scandals that engulf his administration?
He is another route to meeting the President, those that have had a chance, claim so.
The Secretary to the President and Cabinet Colleen Zamba is perhaps, after the President’s family members, the most powerful figure in the MCP administration. Party officials fear him, Cabinet Ministers don’t want to be on her bad side and Government officials know she has absolute power in hiring and firing in civil service.
She also controls parastatals- something that has seen her bash off heads with CEO’s who wanted to appear smarter than her. NOCMA, MERA, EGENCO and even ESCOM bosses know who calls shots. Martha Chizuma was interdicted by Zamba until the High Court called it usurpation of power.
The Investigator Magazine has been trying to confirm the source of her power. Guess it right, she is regarded as a family member of the Presidents family. The President puts family first, forget the rumours that she is going anywhere soon.
How she became family, simple, the SPC’s father and Reverend Chakwera were trained at the same school in South Africa and as all good Africans she became part of the family. With Zamba, you could as well count your blessing or curse- depending which side of her you rub.
She might have survived her immediate sacking, after she spent a few hours with the President in a meeting, one Friday after we had let the cat out that the President was about to fire her.
She has been accused of waging power and political war against MCP officials from Lilongwe.
The waning powers
He is out of Cabinet, but not out of the Presidents ear. Politically, he knows what the Presidents thoughts and plans are, he still has direct access to State House and reports indicate the two of them chat for hours.
However, another State House informant claim he now needs an appointment to see his President, which shows the declining influence over the President.
His biggest challenge was he became unreachable to the party systems when he was in cabinet, and he was accused of being on side of one political fight that claimed many during the first days of Chakwera’s presidency.
Outside cabinet since January 2023, he has spent time consolidating his power, making MCP more visible and fending off convention. He could surprise many, including Ministers who want to become Secretary General for the ruling party by winning again during the August 2024 party convention.
Do not write his influence off.
The South African based billionaire Simbi Phiri is not only the key financier of President Chakweras political journey but also a friend. Though he is yet to get his prized Salima Lilongwe Water Project, Simbi still has continued to meet the President on personal turfs, including the last of the President’s visit to South Africa.
The President also listens to the businessman, and a good word through him can get one what he wants.
Questions have appeared on his influence after President Lazarus Chakwera’s no show at his grand 60th birthday bash which he had invited 350 Malawi VIPS, only 70 honoured the invitation, leaving many VVIP seats conspicuously empty.
The former face of the Presidency who spoke to Malawians every week after the President took power has disappeared in the public realm. The issues far and complicated, some of his detractors claim he was literally the appointing authority of the first cabinet.
His backroom role, though attending most of the Presidents diary events, denies him public prominence that made him a leading member of the government. However, like many near the President, questions of his role as the Malawi leader plunged into comical blunders including the ‘infamous’ Bridgin Foundation signing ceremony, will always be asked on his competence as an advisor and controller of the Presidents engagements.
Apart from being a son-in-law, he is a former head of Flood Church Malawi and fingers have pointed at him for “appointments” of dozens of his for college- the African Bible College, many of whom have failed to perform in their roles.
The only thing Malawians know about this Chief Advisor is that he borrowed K370 million from a Malawian of Asian origin Batatawala. The money, where it went, only President Chakwera and Mkandawire can explain, developing lifelong link between them. Luckily, he is not poking nose in public and works in the background.
The first person to be appointed Cabinet Minister by President Lazarus Chakwera has ended up as a political punch bag for friends and foes. He is blamed for almost everything wrong in the party. From Police heist in Salima to JZU Tembos funeral funds.
But Chimwendo to his supporters is a victim of hard work, many fear him as he has devoted his time building the party, hosting rallies bigger than other position holders. Those fighting him claim his ambition is to bring own Dowa loyalists to the front of the party.
His influence on the President has waned but his loyalty has not. There was a talk of him being fired, but the President moved him another politically powerful portfolio in charge of local government and with that comes with Chiefs and Local Councils giving him political leverage as a Chief campaigner.
The Good and Sober advisers
He started off on a bouncy note- accused of all sorts of things- but one thing for sure, is his unquestionable loyalty to the President. Twice the Chief of Staff name has been mentioned in court, in all the cases he has come out unscathed and has not mentioned if President Chakwera was involved or not.
Though he is powerful as a controller of State Residences, stories of his strict discipline and prudence have made him political enemies who have created different stories that have ended up being petty gossip.
On his return from a year of suspension, even his rivals at State residence charge that he has become more of a leader and peace maker- perhaps his own experience he can share and advise the President of things other cannot tell him- that Malawians need genuine change.
Though she is the Head of legislature, her name keeps appearing on MCP party politics and she is accused of having ambitions to become runningmate to her boss. This is almost impossible as she must resign before her term and lose all benefits of the Speaker if she goes to be a runningmate.
The odds are against President Lazarus Chakwera who is set to become this President in a row to lose elections unless he drastically changes his leadership style and start paying attention to running of his government than the current mode of flying everywhere he is engaged.
The Speaker’s goodness has been experienced by insiders- who claim she has saved a couple of people from firing and that the President pays attention to her pleas. Perhaps she could use this goodness to change his direction.
The Vice President Saulos Chilima might have had the ear of his boss, of course like before, until someone continuously whispered to the President that he is his rival. The President missed a critical independent voice outside his party- an active and delivering veep.
The few times Chilima has been tasked in National Disaster or Public Reforms, he has brought energy to the assignment and given hope to Malawians that things are getting better.
Cyclone Freddy proved that the President needed a Saulos to drive the recovery. The Vice President meant good for the President and the country and should the President wish to return to the normal path, he can have his back and change the negative narrative surrounding his administration.
The two former Presidents have accepted to become the face of human recovery efforts of Cyclone Freddy and defacto advisers to the President as they have now access to him, giving hope that something good can come out of their experiences.
Their involvement in government should have created an opportunity for President Chakwera to learn from their mistakes and utilise their experiences beyond relief efforts. Whether their advice is taken or not, that is a story for another day.
Essentially an ex-officio Board Member of every Government agency, the man who never makes news is well known for his long stay as Head of Debt and Aid department at Treasury, perhaps the experience that has seen him try to enforce cooperate governance.
Apart from the companies directly involving Secretary to the President and Cabinet, some companies are now reporting profit and there has been general improvement in corporate governance where Malawians do not hear Chairpersons and CEO’s- though political appointees- running state companies through the media.
He could be the man the President needs to listen more to start changing his tide.
He has been a gentleman and working from outside the media. He was never caught in childish fights the former DPP and ACB Director General engaged in and despite being the MCP legal adviser, he appears to be calm and collected in dealing with party and government affairs.
He could be useful to the President if he told him the truth, especially when some of his juniors push agenda’s that have nothing to do with public interest. Remember, Ministers take oath to defend public interest.
Even at The Investigator Magazine we are surprised of his inclusion as something good in President Chakwera’s team of people that appear to have his ear. Our analysts argue the man- despite picking battles within the party, cabinet and sometimes with the public, he has become someone who will take a sword for the President.
Zikhale Ng’oma could be the good bully who get things done- like clearing refugees- forget the thieving Police caught on camera, suspending national ID expiry date after years of the public crying foul and now almost high-profile criminal act being arrested.
If he expended the energy, he has for more good things than political podium to drum up the President’s support, he could be a good power influence.
The other adviser
The Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda came in as a profile revolutionary- cancelling a bad contracts that the DPP had engaged in. Many thought he had come to be the change they had waited from President Chakwera team.
It turned out the change would be for the worse. The fear as the Presidents legal adviser is that he doesn’t seem to advise on legal reality but gives advice based on political expediency which has ended up being embarrassing .
The President has been in office for 1287 which is three-years, six months and nine days and he is remaining with 627 months or one year, eight months and seventeen days to do what he has failed to do in 1287 days.
He faces the daunting task. With hunger and a biting rising cost living his position is scary for any politician and his advisers to look at his failures and reconcile the fact that he must face the electorate in less days than he started.
The Investigator Magazine will release Cabinet and Government Review on Sunday the 31st and The Future of President Chakwera and his options for 2025 on Monday, 1st January, 2024.