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Feature: Malawi-Politics Muluzi
Launches Re-Election Bid in Style
Africa News Service
BLANTYRE, Malawi (PANA, 03/29/99) - At least 50,000 people braved
rains Saturday to witness Malawi President Bakili Muluzi officially launch his
United Democratic Front (UDF) party's re-election bid ahead of the scheduled
25 May general election by making new promises on top of other unfulfilled
previous promises to the country's mainly illiterate and poor electorate.
Still smarting from his acrimonious separation from his wife Anne after 30 years
of marriage and his party's simmering in-fighting, an excited Muluzi told the
people his party deserved to be re-elected.
He said this was so since the UDF has, among other things, managed to keep a
clean human rights record, has respected press freedom by ordering the
withdrawal of state adverts to opposition newspapers and has worked hard to
provide for the day-to-day needs of Malawians suffering under his liberalised
"For instance, by 1994 the (former ruling Malawi Congress Party) MCP
government had sunk 9,600 boreholes in 30 years but my government has
managed to sink over 6,000 boreholes in under four years," he said.
(Ironically, Muluzi was one of the longest serving Secretary-Generals of the
MCP, only second in command to his mentor, the late Malawi president
Kamuzu Banda who died in 1997).
He said this means that over 54 percent of Malawians have access to clean
potable water. He said since water is an integral part of life, if re-elected his
government would ensure that 84 percent of Malawi's 10 million-plus people
have access to potable water by constructing three big dams and 130 small ones
across the country.
Muluzi also said he found the agriculture sector in a crisis with a collapsed
smallholder credit scheme. He said by 1994 Malawi used to only produce
800,000 metric tonnes of the country's staple food, maize.
He said since he took over Malawi's average maize output averaged 1.2 million
metric tonnes which is still not enough to feed the nation.
He also took a swipe at the MCP regime's carefully-controlled policy on
tobacco, the country's chief foreign exchange earner. He said the MCP used to
restrict burley growing but his government liberalised the industry, thereby
adding 200,000 more growers.
This move, hoever, depressed the quality of the crop, resulting in the poor prices
on the market which left angry farmers rioting at low prices paid for their
tobacco. On one occasion the Lilongwe tobacco auction floors had to be closed
for some days to let tempers cool down.
He did not, however, explain these anomalies in his speech that have occured
since he took over.
Muluzi, nonetheless, admitted that despite strides his government has made in
agriculture, 50 percent of Malawians do not have nutritious food with only 15
per cent able to have enough food daily.
High fertiliser prices since his government took over mainly explained the failure
of the country's inablity to grow enough food, observers noted, in the last few
"Clearly there are too many hungry people in our country," he said, promising
that the next UDF government would ensure food security by providing people
with more free fertilizer and develop small-scale irrigation.
He also said the country's central bank, the Reserve Bank of Malawi, would
open a foreign exchange account for the private sector to import fertilizer and
other farm imputs.
He admitted that Malawi's health indicators are less than impressive with the
country--at 200 deaths in every 1,000 babies born--having one of the highest
child mortality rates. He also said 30 per cent of the country's under-five children
having stunted growth due to lack of food.
He said his newly-launched Bakili Muluzi Initiative would ensure that every
village has a health centre. He said the programme would utilise retired medical
staff in the villlage clinics.
On education, where his government has performed dismally with failing
standards and a demoralised workforce characterising it, Muluzi said he was not
impressed with the 40 percent illiteracy rate Malawi has. He said his next
government would abolish fees for the whole system from primary, secondary to
tertiary education in order to correct the situation.
He added that his next government would continue with its privatisation drive
which has earned the state coffers some 840 million US dollars over the past
four years. He promised to restructure the 120,000 strong public service,
warning that all dead wood would be dismissed.
Although his speech cut across all issues concerning the country, Muluzi failed to
acknowledge his party's in-fighting. Internal sources said party bigwigs have
already started jockeying for positions ahead of the 2004 polls where Muluzi
would not be eligible to run again.
The party's first vice president Aleke Banda who, in normal circumstances is
entitled to take over the party presidency, has more enemies than he can handle.
Banda, like Muluzi, was also a veteran MCP leader under Kamuzu Banda. A
shrewd figure, a forceful and witty speaker, Aleke Banda is not liked by other
UDF bigwigs. Notable among his detractors is Muluzi's right-hand man Brown
Mpinganjira, the education minister.
Of late Mpinganjira's newspaper has been running a smeer campaign to discredit
Banda by highlighting alleged corruption scandals involving the minister.
The latest edition on the day of the Muluzi campaign launch Aleke Banda's
picture was conspicuosly missing from a list of UDF heavyweights despite his
being the chair for the UDF 1999 campaign.
The president, who appeared on the podium with his sister, also did not refer to
his separation with his wife who was reportedly banished to her home village
outside the Malawi capital, Lilongwe, where she is incommunicado (her phone
was cut off) and under tight security.
At the end of the rally Muluzi ordered that Sunday's Africa Cup Winners football
game between Malawi top side Bata Bullets and Kenya's Muthare football clubs
be free for all as part of his campaign.
Bata won 3-2 but failed to go through because Mathare, who beat Bata 0-2 in
the first leg in Kenya, has won on higher aggregate.
Like in Bata's unsuccessful bid to go into the next round, Muluzi's thunderous
campaign launch is not a guarantee for easy victory, either. The opposition has
since mended fences over their own power struggle and people are wary of
UDF promises which were never fulfilled.
In 1994, for instance, Muluzi promised to build 250 new secondary schools,
roughly one in each of the 177 constituencies. And civil servants were assured of
a better-than-hand to mouth salaries once UDF was in power. That has not
come to pass.
Added to that, the education standards have virtually collapsed under the UDF
leadership with too many entrants in the system since the introduction of free
primary school education but too few teachers, lowly paid and demoralised like
their counterparts in the civil service.
Most of the country's roads are in disrepair and high profile corruption in the
government is a daily theme. All this might conspire to make Muluzi and his UDF
run for their re-election under pressure from an opposition and an electorate
attuned to these problems.
By Raphael Tenthani, PANA Correspondent