GOD'S MAN IN STATE HOUSE: Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera.

AuthorYedder, Omar Ban

Like his Biblical namesake, Malawi's President Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera metaphorically came back from the dead.

He won Malawi's re-run Presidential elections, held on 23 June this year when he defeated Peter Mutharika, the former President.

This election followed the cancellation of the 2019 poll when Mutharika, standing against Lazarus Chakwera, was declared the winner by gaining 38% of the votes to Chakwera's 35%.

Chakwera, and his nine-party Tonse Alliance, appealed against the result and in February 2020, the Constitutional Court annulled the result, setting a historical precedent. No other sitting African President has been removed from office following a challenge in the courts.

The Court changed the first-past-the-post rule and made it mandatory for a winner to gain more than 50% of the votes. In the re-run in June 2020, Chakwera won 59.34%, against Mutharika's 39.92%.

Chakwera, a former church leader (see profile on p. 21) said he wanted to clear the rubble' of corruption that has blighted this Southern African country for decades and to be a unifying figure.

Can 'the man of God' deliver where so many of his more secular predecessors have failed? Will he be able to reconcile his deeply-held religious ethics with the worldly demands of political expediency? Will Chakwera, as many across Africa hope, set a new bar for Presidential behaviour while in office?

To find answers to these and other questions, Omar Ben Yedder and Baffour Ankomah interviewed Malawi's new President.

What does your election victory and the way it came about say about democracy and the legal system in Malawi?

I think it does speak volumes in terms of the independence of the judiciary as well as the resilience of the people in demanding that their rights be not trampled upon.

What we saw was a sustained voice, not just in court but on the streets, for the consolidation of democracy. Malawi has set a very good example on the continent and in the world at large, that we are capable of doing what is in line with the demands of the people.

We held elections without any international observers. It was just our citizens observing and saying: "We will do what is right." People didn't give us the chance, but here we are today. It is almost like truly coming back from the dead.

What were the messages from your fellow African Presidents?

Everyone has in fact congratulated me. I'm their brother and it is amazing how they had been looking forward to seeing the question in Malawi settled right.

They did encourage everyone of us Malawians to resolve this thing. They were extremely happy when the institutions in our country performed as they should. This again adds to the fact that democracy is maturing in Africa.

How much influence do you think your previous life as a Church leader will have on the way you run the country?

I cannot divorce myself from what my life is all about. However, I also understand that one has to use the principles that one lives by.

One of those principles is service. I used it as part of my campaign, to say we need to serve people. Leadership that serves, not leadership that is served. This has resonated well with the Malawian people because we have seen of late political leaders who just wanted to be served rather than serve.

What are the critical leadership traits that you see as being important to running a country successfully?

I believe that what I just said about serving people is needed. Also, a leader must value unity because you can't have each tribe pulling their own way. In this context, you have to have a certain level of unity in order to achieve your goals and vision.

You need the value of honesty, no corruption; the value of abiding by the law, wanting to make sure that you have an environment in which people can prosper not just one individual but everybody, [all being] given a chance. I think these are values that really help in the long term.

You spoke of ethics in politics, what do you mean exactly? And how do you build an ethical civil service?

What you are talking about, for example, is a work ethic that says: I want to be honest, whether I'm in office or out of office; I want to be honest in public as well as in private; I want to work hard; I want to work smart; I want to be effective and I want to be efficient.

These are ethics that any life would benefit from. If people live by such honesty, even in politics, I believe that people can be served much better that way.

People say that politics is a very dirty game and you need to do things that are...

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