Lazarus Chakwera has been sworn in as Malawi’s newly elected president. The former church leader wants to build a “new Malawi”.
The party color red was everywhere when Lazarus Chakwera was sworn in as President Malawi on Sunday: on his tie and that of his bodyguards, on his supporters’ T-shirts, on the judge’s robes and on the red carpet in the capital, Lilongwe.
Chakwera’s inauguration was not just, in his own words, the birth of a “new Malawi”. The takeover by the top candidate of the “Malawi Congress Party” (MCP) also marks the resurrection of one of the oldest African liberation movements, which had led her country to a sinister dictatorship for almost thirty years and then put itself out of the political arena for almost another thirty years.
It is not for nothing that Chakwera’s first name is Lazarus, after the Bible figure raised from the dead and to the delight of the Malawian headline writer on Sunday. He was born Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera on April 5, 1955 – his bitterly poor farming family had lost two sons before him. He became a teacher in the Pentecostal Church “Assemblies of God”, the largest in the world, rooted among migrant workers in southern Africa. Chakwera became President of this church in Malawi in 1989, later graduated in South Africa with a theology degree, and was a religious leader in Malawi when MCP single-party rule ended in 1993.
In 2013, MCP Chakwera, which had become de facto without leadership at the time, chose it as its new boss. He declared himself the heir of the long-time dictator Hastings Banda, but of the first MCP president Orton Chirwa. He had thrown himself into Banda after Malawi’s independence, ended up in solitary confinement, and died in prison in 1992, shortly after seeing his wife for the first time, who had been in the same torture center.
Chirwa, Chakwera said after taking over the MCP, was Malawi’s true “founding father” and it was time to recognize all freedom heroes and build a “new Malawi”.
Chakwera should have won the regular presidential election in 2019. But electoral falsification gave incumbent Peter Mutharika a narrow victory. The Chakwera opposition went to court, the 2019 election was canceled and rescheduled. Chakwera received support from Mutharika’s vice and now fetched 58 percent when the redial was carried out correctly.
The devout new president now leads a Malawi that is hailed as a beacon of democracy in Africa. In his inaugural speech, he recalled the dream of liberation from oppression during independence in 1964, the dream of liberation from tyranny during democratization in 1993, and the dream of the present day that Malawians can enjoy the wealth of their country.
“The time has come to get up from our sleep and make the dream come true,” he called into the crowd, promising to the 20 million Malawians “a government that serves and does not rule, that inspires and does not annoy that listens and does not scream that fight for you and not against you.”