THE LANGUAGE OF POWER AND DOMINANCE IN CHAKWERA AND MUTHARIKA’S MEETING

"The two leaders share a long history of disposing political disdain against each other. Thrice, they settled their political superiority stunts on ballot," Focus Maganga writes.

In a rare gesture of statesmanship, President Dr. Lazarus Chakwera met his main political rival, former President, Prof Peter Mutharika, Sunday this week at the latter’s villa in Mangochi.

The two leaders share a long history of disposing political disdain against each other. Thrice, they settled their political superiority stunts on ballot.

Each time, it was Malawians who decided the fate of the contest—in elections whose results are usually contested, and mostly end up being settled by courts.

In their first political combat, it was Mutharika who smashed down Chakwera’s presidential ambitions.

But Chakwera never accepted the defeat and toured through the whole five years of Mutharika’s term of presidency not recognizing him as the president. In the first legal battle that was decided by Judge Kenyatta Nyirenda in 2014, Chakwera did not hide his discontentment with Malawian courts.

And In 2019, Chakwera was floored again by Mutharika, but this time the high court sitting as a constitutional court nullified Mutharika’s victory. Mutharika also rubbished the constitutional court branding it as a beckon of national embarrassment.

Later on, Chakwera would be joining forces with Mutharika’s second hand man, Saulos Kraus Chilima, who had fallen out of his [Mutharika] grace. Chakwera and Chilima formed a formidable battalion that pushed Mutharika out of the throne of glory.

And Mutharika never accepted the defeat. Of course, he peacefully stepped down saying he is the angel of democracy and peace.

Deeply, Mutharika believes Chakwera robbed him of his well-deserved presidency.

In the aftermath of his loss, Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau would go on to pounce on Mutharika, freezing his joint accounts with his wife, Gertrude, arguing the former first couple are being investigated on corruption related charges, a development Mutharika, through his lawyers, profusely deny and tag political witch-hunting.

It is against this background that when Mutharika and Chakwera finally meet, the content of their discussions is unequivocally and irrefutably of great public interest.

However, the narration of most of what they conversed would understandably be kept in their chests.

In the absence of such a narrative, the science of the body language and other nonverbal cues that manifest in the short video where Mutharika and his wife are seen welcoming the president and the first lady, in full view and company of their security details, help to signify the mood and attitude of the two power couples.

And the semiotic analysis of nonverbal cues in the video demonstrates acute display of dominance, power and wealth in the few minutes of their meeting.

Dressing is the very first thing that the leaders used to demonstrate their power.

However, while Chakwera and Mutharika vied demonstrated power over each other in different ways, their wives cooked their thoughts along the same logical ingredients.

Both Gertrude and Monica settled for a purple regalia, and they matched. In cultural and historic studies, purple is the color of royalty and wealth. Purple has long been associated with monarchs and power. Symbiotically, we can infer the two first ladies covered themselves in purple clothing to elaborate on their power, elegance and affluence.

Mutharika and Chakwera, however, chose different paths for nonverbally averring power.

President Chakwera settled for energy and dynamism, and so he was in short sleeved shirt. In it, Chakwera looked young and full of energy. Mutharika, on the other, put on a jacket to spell his maturity and experience.

He didn’t put on a necktie, because he was generally not after a formal dressing.

The other thing that stands out is the kinesics- the science of body language- in the seconds Mutharika is seen welcoming Chakwera.

First Chakwera, who is slightly shorter than Mutharika, and height is another symbol of dominance, is seen putting off his face mask.

Well, at that time Chakwera had just disembarked from his official vehicle and we know it is a rare odd the president would be in his vehicle wearing a face mask all the way.

The wearing of mask and putting it off could be seen as Chakwera’s gesture of respect to Mutharika—and he demonstrated that again when Chakwera was greeting Mutharika’s wife when he had to slightly stretch and pull himself to greet her.

Irrefutably, Chakwera’s putting on face mask had more to do with strengthening his rapport with Mutharika and booking their mutual trust— and less to do with COVID-19, because the two leaders walked into the house both not putting on face masks. And this could be the time face masks could be more appropriate.

Mayi Monica is also seen in the video bending her kneels when greeting both Mutharika and his wife.

In Malawian culture, that is a symbol of reverence and respect.

However, it could also, in other settings, be a metaphor of being well mannered and cultured.

But when it comes to stamping dominance, it is Mutharika who orchestrated more conspicuous moves. Immediately after welcoming Chakwera, Mutharika is seen patting Chakwera on his shoulders directing him to ‘go first’.

But in traditional Malawian society, it is the host who first enters into the house to show the visitor where to move.

However, when a ‘bodyguard’ beckoned Mutharika to walk the visitors into the house, Mutharika slowed down, and demonstrated his dominance by patting Chakwera on his shoulder and directing the ‘boy’ to go first.

“Mr. President!” he could be heard saying. “Madam!” he could also be heard saying, while gesturing to the current First Lady.

Mutharika would later been seen stopping just to watch Chakwera taking three steps forward before following him.

At the very end of it all, Chakwera gave Mutharika a moral support for his post-presidency life, and build a rare foundation for their cordial friendship that can significantly help to fortify Malawi’s national unity.

Mutharika also showed great patriotism, and Ubuntu spirit that goes ‘what unifies us as nation are much bigger than forces that divide us’.

And, of course, the quest to display power and dominance in the two leaders’ first meeting was just one part of the dynamics of their meeting.

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