By Gregory Gondwe
Chakufwa Tom Chihana is a name that is associated with multiparty politics of Malawi when the talk is in different shade where politicians are trying to out-do each other with some politicking.
He is a man who until his death, the northern region where he came from, stopped taking him seriously. This is the reason they kept decreasing number of parliamentarians that he took with him to parliament.
Chakufwa, the Czar
Chakufwa as he was and still is fondly called, is the only political party leader who was being referred to as ‘Czar’ for his party the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD).
When you try to look any the meaning of the word ‘Czar’ you will get more confused with Chakufwa Chihana as he, according to the Malawi media, is the only one who earned this title.
To start with, ‘Czar’ in political sense is sometimes spelt like ‘Tsar’ and is an informal title for certain high-level officials.
It is commonly used in the United States and United Kingdom.
Wikipedia says political czars can run or organize governmental departments, and may devote their expertise to a single area of work.
The “czars” have various official titles such as adviser, director, administrator, or diplomatic envoy, but such titles are often quite long or awkward sounding.
In the United States, czars are generally executive branch officials appointed by the President either with Senate approval or without it.
Some appointees outside the executive branch are called czars as well. Specific instances of the term are often a media creation.
In the United Kingdom, the term tsar is more loosely used to refer to high-profile appointments who devote their skills to one particular area.
The czar term derives from the title Tsar which was used to designate the Russian, Bulgarian or Serbian monarchs of pre-World War I Europe.
It says during the latter stages of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson appointed financier Bernard Baruch to run the War Industries Board. This position was sometimes dubbed the ‘industry czar’.
“One of the earliest known metaphorical usages of the term in the U.S. were to Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who was named commissioner of baseball, with broad powers to clean up the sport after it had been dirtied by the Black Sox scandal of 1919,” says Wikipedia.
In 1926, it says, a New York City chamber of commerce named what the New York Times termed a “czar” to clean up the milk delivery industry.
In the United States, the term czar has been used by the media to refer to appointed executive branch officials since at least 1930s and then the 1940s under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In 1942, The Washington Post reported on the “executive orders creating new czars to control various aspects of US wartime economy.
“Positions were created for a transportation czar, a manpower czar, a production czar, a shipping czar, and a synthetic rubber czar, all to solve difficult problems in coordinating the resources necessary to fight World War II,” says Wikipedia.
Now, how come Chakufwa Chihana was an AFORD Czar? Perhaps this could go down to the way he controlled the party; with an iron fist, more so when the party became a northern region bloc within which Chakufwa exercised unappointed powers that had unconfirmed but confined jurisdiction.
Chakufwa, the Democratic Activist
In fact the road for Chakufwa started with his trade unionism where he led the labour struggle with vigour but then this altered into pro-democracy activism.
Chakufwa Chihana lived between 23 April 1939 to 12 June 2006 and in the 67 years that he existed on earth it was the last 14 years that Malawians knew who he was.
Not that he had never been involved in politics in the tender years of his life, no, but that his courage to challenge Malawi’s first President Ngwazi Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda made him what the rest of the world call ‘Father of democracy in Malawi’ although within, attempts have been made to re-write the history.
Chakufwa Chihana remains an enigma when it comes to many descriptions that one would get when you enquire about him.
At Chombe where he was running a lakeshore resort, there are legends about Chakufwa ‘who they say is the father of many’.
At political level, starting with his party AFORD where he is said to be the father and founder, his demise completely mangled the party into something unrecognisable. It has been electing leaders that are merely figureheads and still failing to fit into the shoes of Chakufwa.
At national level he also remains the only person to ever hold the position of Malawi’s second vice president.
Apart from the Bishops who did it collectively, Chakufwa is the first person to also openly challenge Dr. Kamuzu Banda’s despotic regime and this is the reason he is the only one in Malawi to ever have been awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1992.
Chikufwa, the Trade Unionist
Chihana was born in Rumphi district in Mhuju area, at Kawiruwiru Village, in the Northern Region of Nyasaland before it became Malawi.
His father died when he was young and he was raised by his mother, an activist for local women. Chakufwa was fond of reminding all his meetings about his mother, a Nyausowoya – Nyatekenyu.
He used to say without her, surely he would not have been learned. And indeed after his secondary school, he worked for the colonial government and became active in the 4000-strong Commercial General Union, a Trade Union.
At a tender age of 19 Chakufwa became the union’s publicity secretary and magazine editor.
The following year, he was made secretary-general of the Trade Union and became so active in campaigns involving Malawi Railways and the Imperial Tobacco group.
Afterwards he consolidated his positions with studies at Oslo and Dubrovnik universities and received a Masters in Politics at Bradford University.
He worked as a lecturer at the University of Botswana afterwards but the trade unionism spirit was still adamant in him and in 1985, he became a co-founder and secretary- general of the Southern Africa Trade Union Coordinating Council (SATUCC).
Chakufwa, the Political Prisoner
As early as 1970 Chihana was detained upon his return from exile and suffered incarceration of torture for seven years where five of such years he spent in solitary confinement.
In fact from the onset, it was clear that Chakufwa’s spirit was far from being apolitical.
At the time he was busy with trade unionism, he also joined the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) but as Dr. Kamuzu Banda began to consolidate his power after his presidency, Chihana continued to be pro-independent trade unionist and pro-democrat.
He was consequently dismissed from the MCP. He was ordered into internal exile and assaulted and he was hacked with an axe that was left sticking deep into his skull and thrown in some bushes in Nkhatabay.
It was a Catholic Priest who found him, treated him and helped him escape to Kenya.
While in Kenya Chakufwa continued to criticize Kamuzu Banda while at the same time working as an adviser to the Kenya Federation of Labour.
In 1992, he led the underground movement to topple Kamuzu and when he came to challenge him openly, he was arrested at the airport and was sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour for sedition.
He was however released in June 1993 on the eve of Malawi’s referendum to decide whether to introduce multi-party democracy.
Chakufwa, the Brave Warrior
The reason the northern region still looks up to Chakufwa Chihana as a brave political warrior was among other things the speech he made at a Press Conference in South Africa the very day he was coming to Malawi to challenge Kamuzu.
When you look at the video of the Press Conference now, which is in possession of NorthernLife, one wonders what went wrong.
In the preamble of the conference Chakufwa who strongly believed he will be killed by Dr. Banda declared:
“This is my last Press Conference in Freedom.”
“I am returning to Malawi today with an aim of helping to restore human rights and democracy in the country,” said Chakufwa flanked by Dr. Mapopa Chipeta, the late, a political scientist who was working at Southern African Political Studies based in Harare and Ahmed Dassuo at that time a London resident.
“I am quite aware that a warrant of arrest is out in Malawi and I may be arrested immediately I step out of the plane. But I am not frightened at all, I think we have a mission to accomplish and this mission will have to be accomplished, whether there is a warrant of arrest, whether there is death waiting for me, my colleagues will continue with the struggle,” explained Chakufwa.
Not that he was not afraid of Dr. Banda as he said: “Although I am apprehensive, but I am not frightened and my arrest or death can only fuel the struggle for the restoration of democracy and our basic human rights in Malawi, therefore it will not be in vain.”
The message that Chihana had was that for a long time Malawi has suffered terrible repression because it was surrounded by Marxist governments and the West paid a blind eye to the dictatorial tendencies in the country because she was the West blue eyed boy.
“The destiny of Malawi therefore cannot be left in the hands of Dr. Banda or John Tembo alone,” declared Chihana. “For me to say such thing now is regarded as treasonous by those who hold power in my country.”
Chakufwa the Political Prostitute
Chihana who upon his arrest in 1992 served nine out of the twenty-four months he was sentenced to serve was appointed leader of the first Pressure Group in the country the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD), which was instrumental in Banda’s agreement to a referendum, held on 17 June 1993.
This was the turning point as the following year Malawi went to the general polls having decisively rejected the one-party rule in the referendum.
“Democracy is irreversible now in Malawi. We are going to have a new Malawi, and no one can stop the change,” this is Chihana’s oft quoted remark coming after the referendum victory.
As the founder and leader of the political movement AFORD which became a political party once it became legal to establish political parties in Malawi, he contested in the 1994 elections, but tumbled since the voting pattern followed the voters’ region of origin.
Bakili Muluzi’s United Democratic Front (UDF) emerged victorious while Dr. Banda’s Malawi Congress Party (MCP), lost power to Muluzi but came second while AFORD) came third.
UDF did not muster a majority in parliament and therefore coaxed AFORD to be their bed fellows and changed the constitution to give Chihana the position of the Second Vice President.
Chihana served as Vice-President under President Bakili Muluzi from 1994 to 1996 and then left government claiming UDF government was corrupt.
“Munganya uyu nkhamanyanga yaye[I never used to know this man],” said Chihana when he justified his decision to move out of the coalition government. In 1999 elections he took AFORD to the MCP camp where he was running mate for Gwanda Chakuamba who was the MCP torch bearer. This ticket lost mysteriously to Muluzi who was elected for a second and final term.
He re-emerged as the second vice President between 2003 and 2004 and said when the people questioned him: ” Ine chakurata chane ntchakuti nisukhunye khuni kuti yembe ziwe, kuti imwe musolenge waka nakulyanga” [My aim is to shake the mango tree so that the fruits can fall down and you can just be picking them and eat]”.
This earned him the title of a political prostitute.
He was also part of the coalition government that President Bingu wa Mutharika put up soon after winning the presidency on a UDF ticket in 2004. He fell out of grace with Mutharika and he was fired as Agriculture and Food Security Minister after protesting Mutharika’s ill treatment of Muluzi.
Chakufwa and the last Journey
On the May 14, 2006, Mrs. Christine Chihana, wife to Chakufwa informed the Office of the President and Cabinet that Chihana was unwell and he had been feeling unwell for the previous 4 weeks.
Government doctors at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital assessed the medical condition of Chihana, and recommended he be immediately flown to South Africa for specialist medical attention.
Chihana was flown to South Africa on Tuesday 16th May 2006 and was admitted at Garden City Clinic in Johannesburg, where he later had brain surgery on 18th May 2006.
Right Honourable Dr. Chakufwa Chihana sadly died on the morning of June 12, 2006 at 0800 hrs while still in hospital.
Although Chihana was accorded a State Funeral his grave site where he is sleeping all alone at the Hill Top in Mzuzu, near the Reserve Bank and Nation Bank has become a bone of contention between the family and government. There is fight over who should take care of the place.
The same way as his gravesite has been neglected is the same way that he has been politically forgotten.