Saulosi Klaus Chilima:

The First Deputy of two Presidents

The Vice President Saulos Chilima is dead. At 51 years, many had hoped he had a long career in politics, and he could at least implement his ideas- reformists who would bring business approach to Government.

He was found dead in a plane wreckage- deep in one of Africa’s biggest man-made forests, Chikangawa. Ironically, the same district that defined his fellow clansmen- Ngonis of Jele clan defiance to the colonial rule. He was a Maseko Ngoni of Ntcheu.

He started a movement- the UTM in mid-2018, within a year he had over 1 million votes and made his political intent to be a force. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) the party that had brought him from private sector into politics was in crisis.

A year later, he would return into Government, as the first Malawian to deputise two Presidents- Professor Peter Mutharika from 2014 to 2020 and Reverand Lazarus Chakwera under Tonse Alliance between 2020 and now.

Charismatic, energetic but naïve politician

The fifth and sixth Republican Vice President was a charismatic sportsman and marketer- from jogging, basketball, gym and golf, Chilima fitted well into the modern images of presidency sending Zambia into frenzy when he went for an official tour.

With former boss former President Peter Muthalika under DPP regime

However, he was naïve politician who had to learn how brutal and deceptive Malawi politics is all about.

In DPP, he never held any position, something he should have regularised on his appointment but left it for late that by the time he started working towards political office- his rivals for succession of Peter Mutharika had already damaged him.

They even accused him of plotting to kill Mutharika alongside UTM Secretary General Patrica Kaliati.

All Vice Presidents in Malawi before him, save for Justin Malewezi have suffered the same accusations- plot to oust or kill their Presidents. The sad thing is Presidents have not learned from their predecessors that professional political gossipers wedge a knife between them and their deputies.

Chilumpha was charged with treason, Joyce Banda accused of engineering her boss- Bingu wa Mutharika’s death and Khumbo Kachali accused of seeking charms to kill his boss. Now it was Chilima’s turn. He didn’t survive the political gossip machinery, he was sidelined immediately. Kaliati lost her Cabinet post.

Early Life and Education

Chilima was born on February 12, 1973, in Ntcheu District, Malawi. He is a Ngoni from the central region of the country. Chilima received his primary education at HHI and Dharap primary schools, and his secondary education at the Marist Brothers Mtendere Secondary School Thiwi in the Dedza District. He went on to the University of Malawi, Chancellor College, where he graduated with a degree in social sciences in 1994. After working for a few years, he returned to his alma mater to pursue a master’s degree in Knowledge Management, graduating in 2006. On August 10, 2015, Chilima received his Ph.D. in Knowledge Management from the University of Bolton in the United Kingdom.

He was married to Mary Chilima and he had two children.

An ardent Catholic, the Vice President was an active member of St Patricks Catholic Church in Area 18 Lilongwe, where prayers for his safe return had been on going since the message of missing plane came into public arena.

Marketing guru

He managed Airtel- becoming its first black Managing Director.

The departed Vice President made his name in marketing working through big brands including then Carlsberg Malawi and ending at Airtel- becoming its first black Managing Director. He built a brand of marketers that would make a mark in Malawi’s consumer goods and spotted by politicians.

Politics, a change agent who ended up damaged

His appointment as runningmate to Peter Mutharika energised most young voters who were disgruntled by the old brand of politics. In 2013, Chilima was young, fresh and poster boy of future Malawi politics.

Digital savvy, private sector oriented- Chilima’s first days at Capital Hill shook the old rugged Civil Service- arriving on time, questioning standards and driving reforms. Malawians placed hope in the administration that things were to change.

The more he spoke like a manager not  a politician, the more the public hailed his adventures and work. This was worrying to those that has thought he was a novice who could be used to bring votes and be dumped later.

Chilima who had been in Aford and UDF wings in his college days, proved he also had an art of political skills but failed to build a stable base within the DPP. His popularity was concerning to those that would want to succeed Mutharika.

He was slowed down, moved around and eventually dumped to the “delegated duties” which includes attending weddings and funerals on behalf of the President. Unfortunately, even at funerals people scrambled to see him, people cheered every word and people loved his humble nature more.

By 2018, he announced he would not seek to run at DPP convention by August a movement within DPP was calling for Mutharika to be replaced with Chilima. This gave ammunition to his detractors and soon he had to move out of the party and boom- the UTM was born.

UTM was built around Chilima, its survival could be hard

The UTM largely collected rebels from DPP, MCP and some from Peoples Party who felt the party had no strong direction. The marketing strategy was built around the Vice President as a brand that would change Malawi.

UTM was built around Chilima, its survival could be hard

The strategy worked on young voters, but traditional politics require presence and structures on ground. UTM had more volunteers- some failed as MPs or party leaders in other parties.

While it was attractive at the top, some of his overzealous supporters were antagonistic making majority stay away from the party.

Vice Presidency under Tonse Alliance

While he played a role as Vice President for Tonse Alliance, the ruling MCP was not interested in sharing power and soon Chilima was moved around and eventually dumped as Minister. He remained in Government and continued to appear next the President until June 2022 when he was ‘suspended’ by President Lazarus Chakwera from delegated duties due to corruption charges.

During one of the court visits which the charges were dropped in May, 2024

His charges were dropped in May 2024.

Unchartered political waters

His death will test Malawis political stability and probably haunt the Tonse Alliance as questions of government delays in searching for the plane hours after it went missing were angering Malawians.

a photo with the registration MAF T03 Dornier that the Vice president was in

May his soul rest in peace.

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