Ras Chikomeni David Chirwa, the deadlocked Mzuzu-based Rastafarian, had everyone glued onto their television and radio sets as Malawians across the country watched and listened as he presented his nomination in a historic presidential bid.
But the excitement soon turned into disappointment as the Malawi Electoral Commission rejected Chikomeni’s papers on account that he had failed to meet two conditions: the K2 million nomination fee and that he had failed to submit 10 signatures from at least 19 districts.
But while a section of Malawians feel Chikomeni wasted everyone’s time, three leading thought leaders, political scientist Henry Chingaipe, veteran journalist Charles Simango and former Police Inspector General Lot Dzonzi, feel that there is sense amidst the rastaman’s perceived madness.
Explaining his decision to present his nomination paper despite not having the requisite documents, Chikomeni explained: “Ndinayesesa. Koma chandivuta ndi umphawi. This should be a lesson to Malawians. No matter how hard you try. No matter how much love you. But if you are poor, the system will always make sure you remain poor and the rich get richer. This is my story. Tomorrow it might be you. Not in the political field but maybe in the educational field, where you are intelligent but can't pay fees. Maybe in the health field where you can't get treatment. Don't laugh at me, let this be a lesson. We might all be Malawians in the eyes but we are divided. Some are poor like me and some are able to buy their way into everything. I still love those that supported me despite my financial state.”
An in his defense, Charles Simango wrote:
“An ordinary man who dared take on the system and won. Ras Chikomeni did not go to Comesa Hall to submit his nomination papers, he went there to take on the system head-on and put it to shame. Ras Chikomeni went there to use the platform to ask, for all of us, this one simple question: ‘You mean, I am good enough to vote in these elections but too poor to be allowed to contest?”
Dzonzi, who currently Malawi’s deputy ambassador to United Nations Mission, says he feels Chikomeni is a revolutionary who has brought to light inequalities in the country.
“Listen to his words, this are the words of a revolutionary and not a joker.
“He wore a shirt inscribed Ethiopia. This is not Ethiopia as we currently know it. It is Ethiopia the ancient, the true name of the continent known as Africa. Why did he put on that shirt? He was pronouncing his political philosophy. He was saying, ‘I am a Pan-Africanist, I believe in the total emancipation of the African people and I am committed to the decolonisation of the African mindset as it currently stands.
“He chose, note chose, because he later read in English with an above average fluency, to speak in Chichewa, a widely spoken and known language. He rejected to use the language of the oppressor. He used the language of the people. He was fully identifying with them. He used the language of inclusion.”
According to Dzonzi, Ras Chikomeni represents a community of people that feels marginalised and excluded from taking part in the mainstreams of Malawian life.
“It is a growing group. It meets in exclusive places mostly along rivers of squatter communities of our cities and in mountain areas of our rural areas. You might ask, why did he seems to be a sole sojourner? It is because he is a visionary who sees far ahead of his community. His action will open the eyes of his compatriots. In 10 to 15 years’ time, this will be a community to contend with. It is time the rest of us Malawians begun to listen to their voice,” he says.
He argues that his statement above, Chikomeni also belongs to the community of those that are called poor, and they make the majority of the population in Malawi.
“One day these will be mobilised, God forbid, not into a revolutionary movement that will be ready to die for a cause. The message from Ras Chikomeni Chirwa is simple: Pay attention to the plight of the poor, we will not be patient for ever, none of you are our representatives.”
Dzonzi then pauses the question: Didn't he know he will be rejected for lack of payment of the fee?
“The answer is, he knew very well. Why did he then come anyway? To demonstrate on a national platform that this is an exclusive society, we the poor remain the downtrodden and scum of the earth. This is not a simple message. Those who have studied Liberation Theology should understand this. This man is thinking at a higher plane that most of us see and conceptualise. He is no fool.
“Was Ras Chikomeni Chirwa a laughing matter? Fellow Malawians, do not laugh, this might be a brewing revolution whose fire we might fail to extinguish. I am not laughing. Ras Chikomeni Chirwa has communicated a serious message. It calls for meditation.”
On his part Chingaipe was a man on a mission.
“For me, key take home messages from both his act and words: one, in this country we gloss over the question of 'class'. Besides your usual politically divisive identities such as tribalism, religion and regionalism is 'social and economic class'. Two, we live in a context of deep-seated income inequalities. Oxfam spoke of a 'dangerous divide' and Ras Chikomeni brought this to life.”
Chingaipe added another of Ras Chikomeni’s messages is that while the Constitution gives all of us equality of opportunity at anything noble and lawful, there are lots among us that the constitutional guarantee of equality will forever be elusive in real life.
“Different categories of people need deliberate state/policy action to empower them to effectively take advantage of the equality of opportunity. We need to shift policy and programmatic attention to equality of outcomes.”
Another key message that Chikomeni communited was on political rights as part of human rights, are and should be free.
“An electoral process should not become a market for political rights for any category of citizens. Rather than using 'the ability to pay' principle to manage the number of candidates, we must find other requirements that make sense to democracy and do not result in unwarranted discrimination on the basis of cash poverty.”
As per the political scientist, Ras Chikomeni's acts and words provide the remaining candidates with value and policy issues on which basis to fight this election to make our political economy relevant to the majority of citizens whose poverty is deep, severe and widespread.