In November 2013, I was preparing for a long travel when I received a phone call from an acquaintance. The acquaintance gave me a cell phone number of the late Hellen Singh and told me to contact her to set quick appointment. Hellen Singh (may she continue to rest in peace) had formed her political party, the United Independence Party (UIP) and she was ready to contest for the office of President of Republic of Malawi in the general elections that were to take place in 6 months. She was to be the only female presidential candidate against government.
The acquaintance wanted me to talk to Singh because after we had met at some place one weekend, I said something about president Singh and her UIP which this guy wanted me to say to Singh directly. So I called Singh and noticed that she was already expecting my call because when I introduced myself, she was not surprised. I guessed that the guy had already tipped her about my call and appointment. She gave me the appointment and we met.
When I got into her office in Blantyre, she welcomed me warmly. After asking me a few questions about who I really was, my interests and what I did for a living, we quickly switched our talk to the political history of Malawi. I figured she was very eloquent, brilliant and critical. She remains one of the most brilliant women I have ever met.
We talked about John Chilembwe, the federation struggle of 1953 to 1963, the 31 years of the dictatorship of Dr. Banda, and the leaderships of all the presidents of the democratic epoch. We talked about what we thought about these leaders and I figured that of all leaders she had more issues with Pastor John Chilembwe and the late President Bingu wa Mutharika. So we had spent more time on Chilembwe and even more time on Bingu. And finally, we moved to her presidential ambitions and party.
When we analyzed all political leaders from John Chilembwe to Joyce Banda, we had areas where we agreed and differed. But when it came to analyzing her own ambitions for the presidency and what she needed to do, we had no point of agreement. We disagreed on everything.
My basic advice to her was that she was not going to win and she should therefore focus on building her infant party and that if at all she should proceed and contest for the presidency her approach and objective must be that of creating awareness about her party not chasing the presidency. I told her how it was impossible for her to win the elections without her party rural stronghold to give her majority loyal votes and worse still her personal brand as political leader did not exist in the country. I insisted that 6 months was too short a time for her and that she should try to give it a better shot in 2019 or even better in 2024 and use the 10 years for penetration and building of strategic national structures, and also establishing her personal political leadership profile and brand.
She refused and totally brushed aside everything I said. She told me I was wrong and did not understand anything about her or her party and what God had called her to do. She assured me in the name of God that she was going to win 2014 elections because God had showed her the victory and that embassies in Malawi had been in touch with her and were impressed. I told her that embassies do not vote but it’s the people of Malawi that do. But she emphasized that the people of Malawi were on her side because she had her team doing surveys across the country and her advisors had guaranteed her victory.
But what she did not know was that the person who had referred me to her and another person whom she had at some point used to mobilize people had told me the truth that her teams were giving false survey results and giving her false hope. They had told me that many were just interested in the money because she was handing out cash generously for surveys and mobilization of people for meetings and rallies.
I looked into her face and saw her blazing confidence and faith in God. But I felt sad knowing very well that her confidence and faith was built on lies of her advisors and fake surveys that people who were just interested in her money had doctored. They knew she was going to lose, but none of them wanted to tell her the truth. Perhaps they knew that if she abandoned the race, then they would not eat money on the road to 2014.
That is where I learned firsthand about how people destroy political parties and fool leaders. As a matter of fact, when I was leaving her office, Madame Singh told me that if at all I was right that she was going to lose based on arguments I raised, then she was no longer going to be the citizen of Malawi; she would close her businesses in Malawi and migrate to South Africa. That’s how sure she was about winning.
However, she told me that she liked my perspectives and arguments and assured me that when she gets the presidency in May 2014; I would be one of the first guests to meet her at State House in Lilongwe. Actually, when I stood to leave the office and we shook hands, she said, “Lyson, don’t forget, the next time you and I have a chat, it will be at State House. Please accept my invitation in advance.” I smiled and said, “Thanks for the invitation, see you at the State House mum.”