Theologian and Assemblies of God President Lazarus Chakwera Inaugurated as President of Malawi

Malawi’s newly elected President Lazarus Chakwera greets supporters after being sworn in in Lilongwe, Malawi, Sunday, June 28 2020. Chakwera is Malawi’s sixth president after winning the historic election held last week, the first time a court-overturned vote in Africa has resulted in the defeat of an incumbent leader. (AP Photo/Thoko Chikondi)

In the unmistakable cadence of a preacher, Malawi’s new President, Lazarus Chakwera, appealed for unity in his country shortly after he was sworn in on Sunday.

The day of the week seemed fitting as the former head of the Malawi Assemblies of God, one of the largest Christian denominations in the country, treated the stage like a pulpit to inspire fervour with his words.

The country is fractured after a divisive 13 months following the disputed 2019 election, the result of which was cancelled by the courts.

Speaking in a style and accent that had hints of US civil rights leader Martin Luther King, President Chakwera talked about the dream “that binds us together [which] is for us to enjoy shared prosperity, not just freedom”.

But he then said it was no good just having a dream.

“The time has come for us to go beyond dreaming.

“We all must wake up because this is a time to arise from slumber and make our dream come true.”

Mr Chakwera is a man of God in a deeply religious country.

The 65-year-old emerged as leader of the Malawi Congress Party in 2013 without having any previous political experience.

Fighting with God

He came to the job after leading the Assemblies of God for 24 years, but admitted, when he was first running for president in 2014, that making the decision to become a politician was not easy.

“I had to argue with God over a direction in life that didn’t seem natural to me,” he said in a video published by St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in California.

But after a lot of discussion “God was saying that: ‘I’m extending your ministry so that you’re able to pastor a whole nation'”.

In another interview, in 2017, he said that in the conversations with God he turned to chapter three of the book of Exodus in the Bible, in which God appears to Moses and says he should lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

This showed him how a leader can address both the spiritual and the social needs of the people, his adviser Sean Kampondeni told the BBC.

But he does not want to turn Malawi into a theocracy and neither does he want to proselytise, he added.

“The president believes that government is something that God subscribes to in nations in order to bring about order and progress in society, for the flourishing of human beings,” Mr Kampondeni explained.

“In Malawi, he feels that the government institutions have been deliberately crippled over the last 25 years to not provide that service and he is there as someone who is offering themself to do that.”

Standing at the apex of power and addressing the nation on Sunday, Mr Chakwera has come a long way from the boy who grew up in a village outside the capital, Lilongwe, who was, by his own admission, crippled by shyness.

The son of a preacher and evangelist who established several churches, his career as a pastor may have already seemed mapped out.

But at his prestigious secondary school, where he learned his accent by mimicking an American teacher, he initially had ambitions to be a doctor.

He thought that by being a medic he would not have to talk to large numbers of people, he told journalist Joab Chakhaza in an interview in 2017.

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Source: BBC