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Wednesday, June 26, 2024

private tribute to a Malawian chief who stood in opposition to starvation and poverty however courted controversy

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Saulos Klaus Chilima, the previous vice-president of Malawi who died lately in a airplane crash, dropped at Malawian politics a number of qualities that made him stand out. However he was additionally a controversial character.

He had a enterprise background and an uncommon mixture of social science and economics {qualifications}. Above all, he struck me as somebody who was deeply dedicated to decreasing starvation and poverty in Malawi.

I obtained to know Vice-President Chilima between 2016 and 2021 after I was chief of the Worldwide Meals Coverage Analysis Institute’s nation programme in Malawi. The organisation’s mission is to supply research-based options to scale back poverty and finish starvation and malnutrition.

In Malawi, we did this by engaged on meals markets, pricing and commerce, and conducting research on humanitarian and different social security insurance policies. We additionally investigated priorities for agricultural funding. We at all times labored intently with authorities ministries, civil society and improvement companions.

Throughout my five-year time period I engaged about 12 occasions with Chilima, who had by then turn into the nation’s vice-president. He spoke brazenly about corruption, starvation and poverty, and youth unemployment in Malawi, usually utilizing clear and easy language that didn’t win him associates.

In my opinion, Malawi has misplaced a politician many anticipated to win the 2025 presidential election. It has additionally misplaced an brisk, inspirational and progressive future chief. As he was solely 51 years outdated and in strong well being, he may need led Malawi for a few years to come back, and gone on to imagine essential regional or world management roles.

Early years

Saulos Chilima was born in 1973 in Ntcheu district in central Malawi, about half-way between the nation’s two largest cities, Lilongwe and Blantyre. He spent most of his formative years in Blantyre. He attended a Catholic secondary faculty in Dedza district.

After graduating from the College of Malawi’s Chancellor Faculty with a basic diploma in social sciences in 1994, he labored for Lever Brothers Ltd for a number of years. He resumed his research, graduating with a grasp’s in economics in 2005.

He went on to carry managerial positions in a lot of corporations, and have become recognized for his brutal work ethic however fun-loving character, and his love of basketball and soccer. He grew to become CEO of Airtel in Malawi in 2010.

He led the corporate by means of a number of notable improvements, together with the introduction of Airtel Cash and upgrading its community to 3G.

Outspoken and controversial

There have been a lot of events when Chilima spoke brazenly about corruption within the nation. For instance, in 2016-2017, when Malawi was going through a meals emergency, he acknowledged that each starvation and corruption had been endemic. The nation wanted each meals support and monetary help: by early 2017, 6.5 million Malawians had been receiving some sort of help and meals needed to be imported from neighbouring nations.

The disaster had begun in 2015 with late rains and flooding, and was compounded by coverage failures.

Chilima acknowledged that there was inefficiency and corruption within the Malawian authorities, together with the Division for Catastrophe Administration Aid, which he headed. On the similar time, he wasn’t afraid to criticise the United Nations and different donors, as soon as telling the performing UN consultant that she was being too defensive concerning the UN’s failings in the course of the humanitarian response.

One among his memorable statements was in Lilongwe, the Malawian capital, at the Compact 2025 Roundtable in October 2017, the place he mentioned that “maize just isn’t meals”. He was referring to the pressing must diversify Malawi’s closely maize-based food regimen.

Chilima was echoing what nutritionists and meals coverage analysts had been saying for years. However having somebody of his standing say this in a public assembly made an enormous distinction. Inside minutes everybody within the room, together with the ministers of finance and well being, a lot of ambassadors and the Worldwide Meals Coverage Analysis Institute director basic, had been repeating this phrase.

He then wrote an article for Malawi’s The Nation entitled “Shifting from aid to resilience”.

By mid-2018, Chilima’s political ambitions had obtained him embroiled in a number of bitter disputes with the ruling Democratic Progressive Celebration, after he had introduced that he would run for the presidency within the Could 2019 elections. President Peter Mutharika sacked him in a cupboard reshuffle in November 2018 however couldn’t take away him from the vice-presidency.

Chilima campaigned on financial improvement points, specifically youth unemployment. It is a big downside in Malawi. Round 43% of the inhabitants is beneath the age of 15, based on World Financial institution knowledge. When mixed with scarce land and pure assets and restricted funding in trade and providers, this implies there are merely not sufficient top quality jobs to go round.

Younger folks in Malawi, significantly these residing in rural areas who haven’t accomplished secondary schooling, have little different however to work in agriculture like their dad and mom.

In Could 2019, the Worldwide Meals Coverage Analysis Institute revealed a coverage temporary which questioned the feasibility of Chilima’s key election promise to create a million jobs in his first 12 months in workplace. He subsequently softened his pronouncements on fixing youth unemployment.

Chilima and plenty of others challenged the election consequence – he and his occasion had come third – alleging vote rigging and different electoral malpractices. The Constitutional Courtroom dominated in thier favour and mentioned the elections needed to be re-run inside six months.

Then adopted a interval of upheaval in Malawian politics throughout which the vice-presidency was briefly occupied by Democratic Progressive Celebration loyalist Everton Chimulirenji. Throughout this time, the previous vice-president solid the Tonse Alliance with the Malawi Congress Celebration and eight smaller opposition events. He grew to become the operating mate of Lazarus Chakwera, the Malawi Congress Celebration’s presidential candidate. They had been duly elected as president and vice-president of Malawi, respectively, with 59% of the favored vote.

Chilima additionally took on the position of financial planning and improvement minister, serving to steer the Malawian financial response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He was arrested in November 2022 on corruption expenses and suspended from authorities duties. It was alleged that he had accepted cash in return for awarding authorities contracts. The fees had been finally dropped in Could 2024, a number of weeks earlier than his premature and tragic demise, by which era he had resumed his official duties as vice-president.


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