BY BRIGHT MALOPA
On 1st August 1915, Patrick Pearse commandant general of the Irish republican brotherhood and member of the revolutionary fenian society, addressed his Irish country men at the funeral of O’Donovan Rosa, a youthful man and revolutionary pantheon who inspired his generation to pick up the baton in the cause of freedom against British dominance in Ireland.
“Life springs from death; and from the graves of patriot men and women spring living nations” he said. I agree with Patrick Pearse-““Life springs from death; and from the graves of patriot men and women spring living nations”
I am writing therefore not in mourning or grieving but in exaltation of this unrepentant progressive socialist of the pan African faith and my experience with him springing from four points of strength:
As my President, my Father, my Son and finally my Friend
So much has been said and written about The Ngwazi professor Bingu Wamutharika. It has brought unbelievable, unbearable grief to so many people and relief to others with narrow interests. To family and friends, they will always testify to his charm, generosity and affability as well as to his accurate judgment.
Those outside the firmly drawn circle saw a diminutive figure with a hooded expression and a conspiratorial manner coupled with a quite remarkable degree of self control under pressure.
An op-ed by a renowned Economist Jeffrey Sachs in New York Times with a catching phrase “let us not forget “An escort back home by the South African defense force on behalf of Africa, a nation in mourning and his epitaph inscribed “I Have fought a good fight” the unconquered and unconquerable man with unshakable purpose and unbreakable strength finally joined his wife gone long before him at mpumulo wabata on 23rd April 2012
I think of his death and the mourning thereafter and reflections of what became of his close associates and critics. I also think though, of the wonderful response of mankind to this terrible loss of a rare political thinker who more finely, honed his people and the continent at large, into vivid and intelligently articulated construct and or manifesto so they could realize a future in which many an African can finally begin to dream in audaciously bright colors of previously unimaginable possibilities without any mental constrain to perceive unlimited abundance.
In Myth, literature and the African world’ Wole Soyinka attempts to express a spiritual phenomenon based on rational human understanding of death and mourning when he observes thus”, Mourning is hateful and irksome to poor human nature. From suffering and sadness our spirits instinctively shrink. By nature we seek the society of the cheerful and joyous.
Echoing the same is Phumla Matjila who writing in the SA-Times commented thus: “It is not so much what we say about the dead, but what happens after they die that reveals, the true character of a man” Events after the death of our president makes it hard for me to disprove Matjila’s theory. Indeed it is not what we speak with our mouths that tells us about the person who has died but what happens after one has departed that paints the true picture of the life lost. Politics being the most divisive discipline ever invented by man, his work may have been forgotten or deliberately ignored by the political elite, former loyalists and opportunity bunters now lining themselves up for what seems to be a window of opportunity but surely Somewhere in Thyolo, earth is hiding the mortal remains of a valiant man whose selfless contributions to his country and continent made a huge difference. Bingu was not an ordinary person. Hopefully time will come when history will conserve all that is great and best in our national heritage and Bingu Wamutharika rightly belongs there.
I had heard about Bingu from my professor whilst studying in England and how great a man he was and later on read more about his views on Africa through a book I got from my friend Steve Sharra“ one Africa, one destiny” authored by Bingu but did not meet him till November 2005 in Scotland. Few months earlier, I had gotten message from his ADC Mr. John Chaika that the president was going back to Malawi from New-York via London and that he wanted to see me. I was a bit disturbed because I had just published a criticism of his administration then.
Unknown to me, Dr Ken Zikhale Ng’oma and Mr Chikumbutso Ntumodzi were intrigued by what I had written and somewhat shared it with their boss. to my surprise, he loved the construct and the manner in which arguments in the treatise were flowing.
Bingu was a different character. He strongly believed he was one of if not the most intelligent person in Malawi. If someone brings an idea or an angle he did not think about, he would be interested in the thinking even if it was a criticism. And so after reading my attack on his positions, he was on the phone and introduced himself as His Excellency Bingu.
I had never talked to a head of state since the beginning of time. I must admit, I dint know whether to bow or break dance or any of those formalities but we had a friendly talk in which he was trying to explain his position and thoughts on the matter i had raised. Attend the end of our conversation, he said “ I like the way you think” he then asked me to come up with a comprehensive assessment of his administration then ,alongside proposals on how to address challenges of the time. Owing to my marketing background, he was convinced of the role Marketing can play in political strategearing but he would also delve into lecturing me about the theory of monetarism, free market and just like a conversation I had with late Chakufwa Chihana in 2004, talked about how a marketer by the name Norman Strauss resigned his marketing post from lever brothers [uk] in the 70’s ended up drafting an ideological concept with his friend Keith Joseph, which led to the modern conservative party and later on became what is known as Thatcherism. He was looking for something similar albeit with a touch of Binguisim.
A year passed . During this time i was introduced to some of his ministers and at some point was offered a cabinet post and asked to run for a parliamentary seat on behalf of the party but refused to join his party the DPP purely because i’m not really a party person. I actually hate party politics.
later I got a call from state house that it had pleased his Excellency to appoint me as Deputy Director General –Malawi Broadcasting Corporation.
It was quite a tall order in that everything was quite the opposite of what I had been exposed to. Much to the chagrin of my wife and kids, I decided to accept the offer and made my way to Malawi in pursuit of what would become an exciting, frustrating and memorable journey of public life.
Life at MBC was funny. I had left the London life of glitz and glamour where what you see is what you get, to a life where broadcasting celebrities were held captive by gossip and politics.
First day at work was intriguing. I met my childhood heroes beginning with Samson Nkhono, Martin Chilimampunga,Steve Liwewe Banda , Geofrey Kazembe and Albert Mungomo to mention a few. These were the names i could remember in my youthful years yet serving at that time. Others whom i could remember like Dyson Mzumara and Bryson Kalilani were all gone. I went to pick my son thereafter, and passed through the office to pick my drivers license. The setup at MBC is not corporate at all. if anything, it is military in nature in the sense that the first people you or any visitor meet at the reception are armed people. So as I was approaching the reception with my son, these people bowed down and my observant son could not keep quite on seeing this.
Dad! he shouted, “ What’s wrong “ I asked him.” They just bowed down “ he responded. “ What’s wrong with that” I probed, “ But there’s no drama “ he wondered profusely “
He certainly must have been predicting some drama because before the day was over, several characters had trooped in and out of my office, leaving, in their wake, heap upon heap of gossip and self-praise Picture this: Day One, a seasoned broadcaster comes and introduces himself to me as a man of vast experience in broadcasting, saying he joined MBC in 1969 – years before I was born. Barely a few minutes into our discussion, the man starts sleeping and, before I know it, he is snoring, right in front of me!
Then, just a few minutes later, a junior officer comes in to warn me that one of the officers there was a known witch with a habit of putting spells on new administrators. Now, like most Malawians, I had grown up hearing stories of witchcraft at work places but this was the very first time I was being told I was, actually, on location.
I was known to be brave and sharp but this little gossip somewhat knocked the truncheons of my brevity into numbness.
To wade this off, I decided to take a preemptive strike by warning the known “Witch”in advance that I had heard of his applied sciences in the domain of witchcraft and that “I had come prepared and immuned by the Mongolian monk and should he dare to make one attempt to turn himself into a weird creature with protruding nose and ears and try to craw over me,he will be gone at once”
I had expected him to deny the allegations and refer to it as works of his detractors .
To my surprise, he looked straight in my eyes and said” don’t worry sir, it’s good that you’ve cleared the air. We will work together and welcome to MBC” I regretted my approach because at this point, I was now double frightened particularly so due the word” we will work together”
We parted ways and immediately after leaving my office, a cockroach crawled from one end to the other abeit innocently “Herrrrrrrrrrrr! I screamed.
My P.A came running “what is it boss” to which I responded: “nothing”
I went home early that day a frightened soul, locked all the doors, pushing mats and blankets at one go in case the cockroach might decide to follow me.
In the end, it dawned on me that Ken Bates might have been right when he said “Some people express their opinions with self-satisfied assurance born of complete ignorance.” this man was a simple controlling officer dealing with requisitions, claims and other administrative matters pertaining to people’s warfare. and because he could not process certain claims due to MBCs financial constraints, staff colleagues thought of him as heartless, cruel and and an outstanding bearded Witch . He was just being practical.
As my PRESIDENT, I had tough time to adjust to the formalities and decorum not least the aura surrounding his office. From the onset, he made it absolutely clear that he liked the way I think and conduct myself. He liked to be challenged and proved wrong. He also liked new ways of doing things. Our relationship was informal but many a times, the line could be crossed often by me when at times I could challenge him in a meeting much to the surprise of many. It sounded normal to me but strange to most.You simply never contradict a head of state. This thinking was strange to me.
I was naïve and somewhat insensitive to the culture of not differing with a head of state such that I was often cautioned by some politicians and public officers who strongly believed that a president is always right. I saw him as a person with a huge responsibility whilst others thought he was just a rank below God.
He was not. He got so many lies from people against other people but never acted without thorough investigations and warning to those he found to have error and often urged them to remain focus if they want to reach their destiny. “As Wiliam Jennings Bryan once said “Great men are often trained in the folly of others that might have been great. For it is only then, that, the dawn of destiny is honed into purpose and destiny”
As time went, I noted he had a soft spot on the poor and anything towards the marginalized often called the povos was an emotional thing to him. As such, I carefully skewed my business model to include social oriented programming reflecting on things that related to ordinary people.
when we introduced Reach Out and Touch, Our People Our pride and the Best of friends, we got his attention and support.
It soon became part of the turnaround strategy which at that time,saw MBC increasing market share to 72% from 43 and income by 46%.
As a FATHER, he often told me the importance of God fearing , sharing his earliest life as son of a missionary teacher, his time at Malamulo where i also did my secondary school .
Occasionally not often,we would pray for Gods wisdom on certain decisions.He gave me fatherly advice on many aspects of life. He allowed me not to work on Sabbath owing to my Adventist belief and inculcated the love of farming in me and even introduced me to sorghum farming –his favorite staple although I had difficulties to acknowledge it as a good meal to which he would laugh and say; you spoilt brits”.
We both loved classic music and although I had a bias in James Last, Elton John a Sarah Brightman and he Vadunican and Frank Sinatra in particular I DID IT MY WAY, we had common ground in Hendel Messiah and Verdi .When I performed a classical piece “Holy City” on late Ethel’s funeral and Panis Angelicus on his wedding, he on both occasion sent me a text “only my son can play Placido Domingo”
Whenever he ask me to travel with him for other assignments I would often carry on behalf of the state in particular brokering overseas live coverage’s and interviews with other major media houses only to see him handing me over $300 sometimes $400.00 notes for a job well-done. It was not necessary for him to do so although come to think of it, I needed the money.
2010 was one unique year during our entire relationship. He brought me into meetings i was not supposed to be by any stretch of imaginations because these involved mainly other heads of state. and they would be over dinner with less formalities particularly those held at regional, continental or global summits.
One memorable one was between him and late Gadafi. Gaddaf had been chairman of AU a one year term rotational position for the continental body which he did not want to relinquish because he wanted to turn the body into a federal state with him as the first president of the united states of africa. I listened carefully and mutely as he was unveiling his dream in flawless english until i could not hold my laughter when he turned to Bingu and said, if you can allow me to continue with this dream and waive your term as incoming chairman of African union, I will give you a powerful position in the federal state as Minister of Railways “ Bingus mild but stern response was
“do I look stupid “
As MY SON, I had a chat with him in September of 2010 during which he asked for my ideas on how best he could pitch a book he was writing-The African Dream –a representation of a seminal point of introspective reflection, which mirrors Africa’s new reality of hope whilst catalyzing and reframing Africa’s socio-economic and political dialogue. I was particularly attracted to the a quote in the book suggesting thus:
“The struggle of small nation-states for their mere survival has become more complex. Political reforms, multi-party democracy and good governance, essentially motivated from the outside, have now been firmly imposed by donors as the main prerequisites for assistance.”
I immediately suggested that he launches the book in Addiss –Ethiopia as he takes over the chairmanship of AU because it I was convinced that all of the conclusions drawn and the prescriptions offered in the book sprung from two points of strength:
1-As an observer of the process during his previous engagements as an international civil servant
2-As a participant in the process at the highest level as President of Malawi and Chair.
I then went flat-out building an international press coverage Bingu had never seen which saw him launching his book live in four languages namely English, French, Arabic and Aramaic live on a foreign state TV to the rest of the continent and beyond. He was so excited but became worried of the bill to which I replied-“O- thanks to your son’s network” It’s going to be free”
He, pulled back, look straight into my eyes and in front of Mr Sawerengela then Director General of state residences and other State house aides, he said: Bright, my father’s name was Brightson and you are Bright “so I am your son”
It was an emotional moment. Later on the former chief of staff would call me on 6th April today in 2012 only to say Bright, your son is gone. He still says that whenever we meet.
As A FRIEND
For some reason, Bingu was considered frightening, dictatorial, and heartless and all sorts of things people can ever imagine about people they consider serious and stubborn.
Like any person, he made errors of judgments but not out of evil. By nature, he was a quiet man who loved reading and writing and or fishing. He was often taxed with the art of talking and wanted to get out of it the quickest. His intellect and idealism made him to appear argumentative and unnecessarily combative .
indeed there were times he was unnecessary argumentative and when the debate was not going his way, he would just empty his chest and say the unpalatable yet behind this pantomime figure was a man with an incredible sense of humor.
He could be so funny such that one could wonder whether he was the same person telling parliament: “If you continue with those chicken debates, I will close that thing”
I remember in September 2010 whilst in New York, MBC together with BBC arranged for a global debate on MDGs and one of the sponsors wanted to meet Bingu but for some unknown reasons, he was referred to me. He did not this bit and was vividly appalled by this decision.
Nonetheless ,he got in touch with me but wanted to show me that he was not a mere man, so he invited me for a drink at New York’s posh club called club 21-on 52nd street opposite trump towers. At this white dominated club, membership is by invitation only and for one to be a member you must be worth a minimum $500 million.
As you can imagine, I was definitely there by default.
Whilst there, I met two Nigerians after I had been introduced as part of presidential delegation of a Malawian president .The two Nigerians became interested in me owing to their own idea and demeanor of presidential aides. Apparently, being close to the president is a big big thing in Nigeria certainly not in the same measure of respect and value in this part of the region.
The first gentleman introduced himself as Zeltin Jide managing a $20 Billion hedge fund on Wall Street. We got well with Zeltin such that in 2015 when APM hired me at state house, I made arrangement with him to organize APMs tour of the Wall street and have him hit the bell at the opening of the bounce but APM chickened out last minute because of protests around the UN buildings ( in itself a daily occurrence) I will never forgive APM on this trust me. Back to 21 club, Zeltin was being visited by Bayo full name Adebayo Ogunlesi from London.
I engaged the London based gentleman since we had a few things in common. We both had homes in north London but when he said he lives in Hampstead-Bishops avenue, he raised my attention . Bishops Avenue is the most expensive street in the united kingdom and Kwacha house is the next street. I think I must have made the most stupid mistake when I asked him, “ so,what do you do?
His response was rather interesting. in a deep nigerian accent, he said
“I have just come out of a stressful bid as such, I am here to relax” What stressed you that much to the point of flying over to New York? I asked. Well, I have just outbid Virgin Atlantic. I have bought Gatwick airport and I want to transform it into a modern airport like what I have done with London City Airport” He then turned to me and asked, “ SO WHAT DO YOU DO?
I was like mama mia.”Well I work for Malawi Broadcasting corporation as CEO.” “You work? He asked rather shockingly as if it was wrong to work .When I went back to president Bingu and told him of what had become of the meeting and my interaction with Bayo from London and the question he asked me thereafter, Bingu laughed and laughed and laughed uncontrollably.
Later on whenever was bored or stressed and perhaps wanted some light moments, he would call me and say, “Hello, is that Mr Malopa” obviously I would take note of his voice and respond “yes your Excellency” then he would continue : Iam his Excellency Bingu wamutharika, president of the republic of Malawi. So what do you do? And then he would burst into laughter.
Application of the full notion of democracy may be a challenge in Malawi.
Probably what others have said of Africa and leadership it deserves might be true that in Malawi and Africa in general, progress can only be achieved by way of heavy hand. Bingu might not be the kind of leader that everyone wanted or wished but for sure, he showed Malawi and Africa what needs to be done in order to make monumental progress.
With the degree of commitment I saw towards the edicts of his faith and respect for other people’s beliefs, I m also quite certain that on that wonderful resurrection morning when man will be changing in a twinkling of an eye in view of the oncoming king of kings and lord or lords, Jesu Christ will shout his name from a distant horizon and say” Bingu Wamutharika, I am Jesus Christ lord and savior, conqueror of death. What on earth are you doing six feet down there”