o Peter, yes that Peter, has decided to finally get out of the shell and declare his hand by throwing his hat in the ring on the 2014 dash to the finish. Not that we didn’t know that Peter wanted to fill his brother's big shoes. It was no secret he wanted the job all along; did he not silently play along as people made fools of themselves endorsing a candidate who wasn’t speaking himself?
Peter will be 75 by the time we will be casting the vote in 2014, a bit old to run for such a taxing office in my book but not too old by Malawi standards. With hindsight, I think his big brother was too old for the challenges he had to grapple with. Maybe that is why the Big Kahuna viewed all of us as little cackling chicken.
One school of thought thinks Peter enters the race already damaged goods because of the sorry - some cynics would say soiled - record of his brother's latter years. Yet others say Peter isn’t Bingu; the two might have been blood brothers but that doesn’t make them similar in all departments.
Let us try to examine why being Bingu's brother may - or may not - matter in the younger Mutharika's rocky road to State House.
Peter left Malawi around 1964, about the same time Bingu left, and stayed away until his brother made a bid for State House. Peter was so disconnected with Malawi that he married a woman from the West Indies with whom - according to himself - he has three grown up children. I am not faulting Peter for burning his bridges with Malawi for a good three decades. He had good reasons. Most Malawians fled the country after the Cabinet Crisis, some even changed their nationality.
But it becomes interesting that he seemed not to have inculcated interest about Malawi in his children. I am not even sure whether they consider themselves Malawian at all. Look, it was understandable they couldn’t come to Malawi when their dad wasn’t coming to Malawi. But when their uncle became President, not once but twice, surely they should’ve made a showing in their ancestral land.
Granted, they could’ve been busy during all the seven years to put their feet on the soil whose leader shares their name. But, hey, when their beloved Uncle Bingu died, they should’ve created time to bury him.
These salient little details may put bumps into Peter's bid for the high office when the campaign heats up.
Again, Peter's connection to Bingu can’t - indeed shouldn’t - be dismissed. We all know he only came back to mamaland when big brother was in office. We also know he had no other super qualifications to make him heir-apparent apart from being his brother's brother. Get me right, he is as qualified as the next Malawian to run for the top job. After all you can’t fault him in both age and academic papers to run for office in any country.
But, if truth be told, were Bingu not president nobody could’ve proposed his name to run as a candidate of any Malawian political party. After all he couldn’t have been anywhere near Malawi.
To confirm that many people endorsed him because of his brother, go back to the chiefs who were cartooning themselves daily on state airwaves professing how Peter was the next big thing to ever happen to Malawi and find out what they think of him now that the train has left the station. To say nothing of those greedy politicians and pseudo-pastors; they all abandoned Peter even before his brother's body was cold.
Peter is some sort of a tragic boy. Look, for him the presidency was so near yet so far. Barely four months ago Peter was president-in-waiting, if not the de facto president. He could commandeer a convoy longer than that of the Vice-President and could scramble presidential jets to the air at the snap of a finger. His cabinet colleagues worshipped him as if he was nothing more than a mere minister.
Let me tell you a little story. One day I was invited with a colleague to inspect the controversial MHC house that gave the presumptive presidential candidate bad press the other day. We had in our company one Symon Vuwa Kaunda. When Peter's trusted aide, the clever youthful Ben Phiri, gave us a brief tour of the haunted house, for wont of a better word, he was about to call Peter out. Lo! You should have seen how Vuwa fretted, splattering "boss! boss!" with reckless abandon. I joked with Vuwa: "C'mon, Hon. Minister, he's only but your colleague! Both of you have Bingu as the boss."
That was how powerful - and fearful - Peter was.
Not that any of this was his fault, no. Accident of nature made him Bingu's brother and by the same fate he was a brother to a president.
Notwithstanding that, however, Peter must not be oblivious to these realities if he wants to make a serious bid for State House. Being Bingu's brother can be both a blessing and a curse depending on how he plays his cards.
To be brutally frank, Malawi became a sorry state towards the end of Bingu's reign. Those historic queues for everything from fuel, bread to sugar can’t easily be forgotten. The late president's abrasive style of leadership can make many cringe at the spectre of another Mutharika on the ballot so soon.
But Peter can wean himself from the Mutharika curse, as it were, if he makes a clean break from big brother. A tough task, some would even say a tall order, this one. I agree but that is the only way Peter can run as his own man. If he campaigns on the premise of continuing "my brother good works" he can as well kiss 2014 goodbye.
Of course Peter - and the DPP – shouldn’t be dismissed outright. The DPP still has a powerbase that can shore up Peter's chances if he manages his campaign well. His chances will also depend on who he competes with come 2014. As it is now, apart from Joyce Banda, there seems to be no other serious candidate. Atupele Muluzi and his 'change agenda' could’ve been a formidable opponent but Abiti slowed the young man's train down by taking him under her armpit. Atupele might pull a stunner by jumping ship close to the polling day but his campaign will need too much political aphrodisiac to be potent, if you see what I mean.
The MCP, too, may present a strong candidate. But John Tembo, who seems to be our oldest political party's life candidate, mellowed under the charm of Mama Joyce. After all, the old man will be a doddering 82-year-old granddad in 2014. And, oh, there is that Gwanda man. Well, forget him; he will be nothing more than a side-show if he makes good his "threat" to join the race.
Of course there will be other candidates. James Nyondo has resurfaced but he has a lot of proving to do. So too is Mark Katsonga Phiri but the PPM leader will be well advised to concentrate on winning back his parliamentary seat. And there is always my good old friend, Kamlepo Kalua. who has always been there without being there.