Political Party Ownership, Meaningless Conventions & Lack of Party Membership in Malawi

Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Malawi’s oldest political party is reportedly facing bankruptcy if it fails to settle 3.6 million, Malawi Kwacha – substantial sum for a financially handicapped party. The contrast could never appear so stark with the countries youngest political party, People’s Party (PP), which has just emerged from its first ever convention.

Yet in the long run PP is not any different from MCP or any political party that has ruled Malawi, in terms how these parties function. Every ruling party in Malawi is capable and have usually done conventions at one point or another. Theoretically, a convention is crucial and necessary for intra-party democracy. Convention enables party members to choose their leadership and contribute to party policies. It is an ideal that if conducted properly could help the maturity of a country’s democracy.

This is as far as the theory goes – things are practically different in Malawi. Political parties in Malawi do not hold conventions if there is any genuine chance that its leader would lose their position. Current there is nothing to suggest that this situation would change in the foreseeable future. The recent PP convention saw its leader, Joyce Banda and her deputy, Khumbo Kachali ‘returning’ unopposed.

This is not to suggest that there was any conspiracy, far from it. But this defeats the purpose of the convention and it also denotes uncomfortable sign that no one in the party would dare challenge their leaders. Would anyone challenge these leaders if they feel something has gone wrong?

Likewise, the former ruling party, Democratic People’s Party (DPP) recently announced that anyone who wants to contest for presidency in the party would have to fund their own campaign for 2014’s elections. DPP has come up with this position to fend off anyone that would attempt to challenge the party’s acting leader, Peter Mutharika who happens to be the only within the party with financial muscle to fund his own campaign.

Intra-party democracy leaves a lot to be desired in Malawi. Party supporters who are wrongly called members have very little say in how political party’s work due to lack of political party membership fee. Political parties in Malawi are not owned by its followers but its leadership – only its president in most cases.

Membership fees empower party members to hold their leaders to account because these members have a stake in it. The party depend on its members to run and not the members depending on the party for survival, as it is currently the case in Malawi.

This is why political parties in the country lack royal support. It is not just members of parliament that change parties with regime change; party supporters do likewise, they go with a political party they believe can depend on – supporters depend on the party and not the other way round. Consequently, any party in power, which somehow tends to have resources, always appear popular than those in opposition. For instance, a recent political Afrobarometer Survey has established that barely five months in power, PP has taken over from its predecessor as the country’s most popular political party.

MCP is facing bankruptcy not because is cannot afford to pay 3.6 million Malawi kwacha but because the party is more or less a property of its leader, John Tembo. How many MCP supporters would be prepared to bailout out their party when they are aware that this tantamount to bailing out Tembo? Political parties in Malawi are seen as cash cows to be milked, yet those milking it ought realise that if you do not feed the animal you will one day eat with its carcasses.

About Jimmy Kainja

Academic | news media & communications | Blogger | Columnist | politica analyst | Patriot | Interested in political & socialchanges. Jimmy can be contacted through his email: j.kainja@gmail.com his twitter handle is: @jkainja

2 thoughts on “Political Party Ownership, Meaningless Conventions & Lack of Party Membership in Malawi

  1. Well said! But its very much about transforming organisational culture. The older generation are used to very traditional, hierarchical, paternal… And without accountability. In turn the leader dispenses various tyes of patronage to their groups. Its a chief/subject relationhip. That’s why we really need younger leaders who might have their problems but might also be able to replace the patronage model with a different ethos. The membership wont bale out MCP because the nature of the contract between leaders and followers does not accomodate that. Finally the problem happens everywhere. In families, your right to participate in decision making is often premised on your resources. Businesses sometimes are more amenable to change because there is a lot of studies and trends in management styles-good business practice is pubicised so others want to emulate what the succesful business has done. But the problems are also there in many companies. I think this topic on leadership and organisational cultures, how we handle authority are really worthwhile discussions to pursue. Nice one!

    • I fully agree. We need institutional re-organisation as well as social changes – this could take a whole generation. Any effective change cannot be mechanical, it has be organic – bottom-up rather than top-down.

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