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Decades of AFORD’s political woes

Written by  Wisdom Ngwira
Muluzi and Mwenifumbo waves to supporters on arrival at Civo Stadium for manifesto launch Muluzi and Mwenifumbo waves to supporters on arrival at Civo Stadium for manifesto launch

Mzuzu, April 9, 2019: Chakufwa Chihana is revered for being the first Malawian to openly challenge Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s autocratic rule.

In 1992, the ex-trade unionist, through an underground movement, spoke out of the time for Malawi to start multiparty democracy as opposed to single party.

Despite coming third during Malawi’s first General Elections in 1994, opposition Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) under Chihana scooped all 33 parliamentary seats in the northern region.

To put an icing on the cake, it further managed to get three more seats from the central region.

Just as United Democratic Front (UDF) and MCP were indisputably the strongest parties in the southern and central regions, respectively, AFORD was a face for the northern region.

In the elections, Chihana amassed 18.9 percent of the total votes which saw Bakili Muluzi of UDF becoming an eventual winner.

1999 tale: so close yet so far away

In the second general elections in 1999, still oozing with the 1994 elections confidence, AFORD did not field a presidential candidate, but rather opted to join forces with MCP to unseat UDF.

AFORD’s Chihana became running mate to Gwanda Chakwamba in the alliance.

The results, however, were disappointing as UDF defeated the MCP/AFORD alliance by collecting 52.38 percent against the alliance’s 45.17 percent of the total votes.

AFORD came out scathed as it lost its grip on the northern region. It lost seven of its 36 seats won in 1994. This was the genesis of the fall of the once mighty AFORD.
2002: Chihana’s loss of direction

After the 1999 defeat, AFORD’s leader Chihana, walked out of the MCP alliance and mutually agreed with President Bakili Muluzi to work together in a UDF/AFORD alliance.

Eventually, Chihana was appointed second vice-president of Malawi in 2002.

The decision by Chihana to go into an alliance with UDF did not go well with some AFORD senior members who argued that the alliance would benefit a few members of the party.

Subsequently, the disgruntled members later broke away from AFORD and formed the Movement for Genuine Democracy (Mgode).

Slowly, AFORD was heading for disaster in that later, during 2004 general elections, the party got six MPs only.

This clearly showed that even people from the northern region had lost hope in the party. Independent MP’s dominated the region.

 

2005: Chakufwa Chihana’s demise and the rise of Enoch

In 2005, still smarting from the 2004 parliamentary elections defeat, the party was dealt a huge blow when its leader Chakufwa Chihana died on June 17, 2005.

Dindi Gowa Nyasulu was later elected the party’s president.

The death of Chakufwa, however, paved way for his son Enoch Chihana as he won the by-elections to succeed his late father on the Rumphi Central Constituency parliamentary seat.

Enoch was previously a member of the UDF. Under Gowa Nyasulu, the party tried to reorganize itself but serious infighting still dogged the party’s progress.

In the 2009 elections, the party opted to take a go on the presidential elections but with completely little success as its candidate Gowa Nyasulu amassed 0.45 percent of the total votes.

2013: Enoch takes over and power struggle ensues

At its 2013 convention, Enoch, who was slowly gaining ground in AFORD’s fold, was elected the party’s president.

In the 2014 tripartite elections, the party got a single seat from the Rumphi Central Constituency where Enoch, himself, won.

After the elections, Karonga Central Constituency independent MP Frank Mwenifumbo rejoined AFORD.

“I have come back to this party in order to help it regain its lost glory.

“We need to return where we belong as a party. We need to revamp AFORD,” Mwenifumbo told people when he was welcomed in the party.

He subsequently crisscrossed the country mobilising people, who had left the party, to come back.

Many people believed that the party would soon be back on its heels as Enoch and Mwenifumbo embarked on a campaign dubbed ‘Revamp AFORD’, as the strongest party in the region.

However, Mwenifumbo later started pressing Enoch to call for an elective convention.

Mwenifumbo argued that the national executive committee’s mandate had expired according to the party’s constitution.

But Enoch argued that the party had no money to finance the convention.

Deep in Mwenifumbo’s mind, however, was ambition to become the party’s president. Battle lines were now clearly drawn between him and Enoch.

Their struggle later came to a climax in 2018 when they held two parallel conventions where each was elected president.

The two then sought court’s intervention on who was the legitimate president of the party.

Court adjournments were the older of the day. Each of the two leaders vowed never to give up on the presidency.

As all this drama was on show, time was not on the party’s side since the 2019 tripartite elections kept nearing.

Towards the end of 2018, Mwenifumbo surprised the nation when he told journalists that he had finally given up on the AFORD presidency and was recognising Enoch as the party’s legitimate leader.

It looked as if the party ended the year in unity.

2019: one party in two marriages?

On February 7, 2019, Enoch surprised many when he, together with former State President Joyce Banda, announced that they had entered an electoral partnership with Vice-President Saulos Chilima of United Transformation Movement (UTM).

Enoch said his party would not field a presidential candidate but rather render support to UTM’s candidate, Chilima.

“AFORD will go flat out to campaign for Dr Chilima in order for him to be president of the Republic of Malawi. AFORD believes Dr Chilima is the only candidate who can help develop this country.

“Above all, we share similar vision with UTM,” Chihana told the media after striking a deal with UTM to go into an electoral alliance.

Enoch said, subsequently, AFORD would mobilise its supporters to vote for Chilima and UTM.

The new arrangement was further cemented when Enoch accompanied by some AFORD followers were seen at COMESA hall in Blantyre during Chilima’s presentation of his nomination papers to Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC).

Twenty four hours later, more drama unfolded when UDF’s presidential candidate Atupele Muluzi unveiled AFORD’s Mwenifumbo as his running mate in the tripartite elections.

Speaking at UDF northern region headquarters in Mzuzu during a briefing to the UDF and AFORD members in the north about his choice as running mate to Muluzi, Mwenifumbo urged supporters to vote for UDF.

“Muluzi has set aside many development projects to be done in the north; so I urge you all to vote for UDF during May 21 tripartite elections,” he said.

Meanwhile, University of Livingstonia political analyst George Phiri argues that it is AFORD that is losing out. He says the party is confusing its followers on which party to vote for.

“I can even predict more disaster for AFORD in the parliamentary elections as the party clearly shows lack of direction and leadership.

“A party cannot have two of its camps campaigning for two different presidential candidates.

“In the end, it’s the voters who will be confused as some will end up voting for UTM or UDF MPs as there is no clear direction for AFORD,” Phiri says.

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