By MichealÂ B Masache
First Â Lady Callista Mutharika would make the cut in any fair poll of the most powerful Malawian women. She is a politician first, evidently. She was introduced to us as a legislator before she made cabinet minister in a previous Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration. She is ambitious and within a short time moved from MP to minister to First Lady. If she wanted and played her cards right, she probably could be like the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez or simply Cristina, who was first lady before becoming president. Callista doesnâ€™t necessarily have to succeed her husband, whose second and final term ends in 2014, but at 51, age is on the side of this attractive woman and she can sit out one or two presidential cycles before throwing her hat in the ring.
A first born daughter in a family of six, Callista was born on May 24, 1959 to primary school headmistress Veronica Chipengule from Zomba and civil servant Emmanuel Chapola from Dedza.
Callista went to primary schools in Lilongwe, Zomba, Blantyre and for her secondary education she schooled at Ludzi Girls and Lilongwe Girls. Between 1976 and 1978, she went to the Polytechnic in Blantyre to study secretarial studies and secured her first job with Bunda College.
She later worked for USAID as secretary for the Director. Callista received a government scholarship to study Office Arts at Huddersfield Polytechnic in the UK and came back home in 1981 to take up a teaching post at Likuni Girls Secondary School. She also worked at the Polytechnic where she taught Office Arts for four years before before returning to the UK where she worked for different organisations, including the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme, the Royal Society of Arts, Shell UK and Coutts Bank.
After her stint in the UK, she hit the home trail and in 1999 started her own consultancy firm–Tawina Training Consultancy where she honed secretaries from the private and public sectors.
Later, she bought shares in the Achimota School of Business Studies where she later reached an agreement and became a majority shareholder to fully own it. In a rebranding exercise, Callista moved the school from the over-built Malangalanga area in Lilongwe -which was increasingly becoming a junkyard of sorts as there were many dead vehicles – to a more decent environment in the vigorous Lilongwe Old Town business district.
Drawing motivation from its Ghanaian namesake, Callista made Achimota, which offered classroom space in the Old Town’s storefronts for at least 50 trainees who acquired Pittman certification, a success.
In 2001, a new career beckoned, as director of Hunger Project, an international NGO. She later went into politics and became an MP in 2004 for Zomba Likangala â€“ she lost the seat in 2009 – and in 2007 was appointed minister of tourism by the administration of her future husband, Bingu wa Mutharika, who is 77 years old.
Callista married her high school sweetheart, Suta, in a church ceremony. She became a mother and was a supportive spouse. Suta later qualified as a chartered accountant and had a private practice. But Suta had a darker side. Folks familiar with the couple say he never hesitated to lay his hands on his wife and booze was his friend. His love for gin and tonic affected both his work and life at home. Suta, the numbers guy, is no longer in this world and going into details of his otherwise sad ending is more like beating a dead horse. So we will leave it at that.
Callista and Suta had two children–Brian, 26, who is in the UK, and Allan, 15, a secondary school student in Malawi.
In January, 2010 word got out that Callista she was in love again. She, of course, denied it. A popular weekend tabloid pressed hard and Callista, wearing her best mock serious straight face, giggled throughout the interview, inadvertently giving away important hints that she was indeed dating the first citizen who lost his wife of over 30 years to cancer in 2007.
People do say nice things about their partners, that is expected and thatâ€™s the way it ought to be. After the demise of her first husband, Callista picked up the pieces and moved on. She has said it was a dream come true to have found Bingu, a kind hearted husband. Callista and Bingu, christened Bingallista by MaraPost, got married in an elaborate wedding on April 17, 2010. It was wedding befitting royalty as Bingallista spared no expense at all. Why they splurged on their wedding as though it was the first time to walk down the aisle surprised many.
“I want to be a first lady who will care for the underprivileged,” Callista said. â€œMy particular emphasis will be on food security which was my area of work when I was working for Hunger Project.”
Callista once said she would remain a politician even as first lady because “first ladies are politicians.”
So it shouldnâ€™t come as a surprise that she is unlike other first ladies who didnâ€™t delve into politics. As an MP, Callista was a vocal supporter of Bingu. One time after parliament had passed the budget, she, and her good friend Symon Vuwa Kaunda, were seen holding hands and dancing. (Until last Friday before cabinet was dissolved, Vuwa was information minister). Vuwa and Callista provided the support Bingu needed when he led a minority government which had great difficulty getting anything done in parliament. Bingu who had come to power on a United Democratic Front ticket had ditched the party before forming his own DPP.
Political as ever, Callista has supported efforts by her husbandâ€™s younger brother who would like Binguâ€™s job when he leaves office in 2014. She tried to discredit Vice President Joyce Banda (JB) who would also like to contest for the presidency, saying she lacked the necessary experience.
According to Callista, a president of a country canâ€™t be one whose understanding of economics involved giving out small loans to women who made and sold fritters. An entrepreneur in her own right, JB was head of the National Association of Business Women which worked with rural women and the charismatic leader is believed to have massive grassroots support the type Callistaâ€™s brother-in-law, Peter, could do anything to have.
Since she became first lady, Callista has taken over JBâ€™s roles, the previlidge perhaps of being the presidentâ€™s wife. One such role given to her was that of Goodwill Ambassador for Safe Motherhood.
But there could be more to the bad blood between the two ladies who have a history. They both worked at Hunger Project (HP). Sources say their friendship soured in 2009 when JB used her popularity in Zomba and de-campaigned Callista. But there’s more. The sources also say Callista used HP to get projects going in her constituency, which didnâ€™t go down well with JB. When Callista got to the State House, it’s believed she played a role in having JB sacked as safemotherhood ambassador. She is also rumoured to have blocked a women empowerment project in JB’s constituency which a Danish NGO wanted to start.
After the JB assault – the one where Callista said JB isn’t qualified to be president – the First Lady took a chill pill. Her good husband is said to have given it to her. However, after the effects had worn off, “old” Callista was unleashed and while out in Mzimba on her Safe Motherhood chores just the other day, she went after civil society leaders.
Sounding like her sometimes tactless husband, she told civil society leaders who have been organising Malawians to express their dissatisfaction with the way her husband is handling the economy to go to hell. This was after the anti-government demonstrations had left 19 people dead and scores injured at the hands of the country’s police.
Callistaâ€™s son, Brian Gaudecia Chimombo, who is studying in the U.K., spoke out against the killings. He chose the social networking site Facebook to lambaste his step father, Pres Mutharika, calling him a â€˜tyrantâ€™.
In a poignant validation of his actions, Brian wondered if his own biological father Suta Chimombo would approve of the actions of the man who married his mother.
â€œAaaaaarrrrghhh!!! My mumâ€¦married a tyrant!!!,â€ charged Brian. In a juicy Facebook thread he instigated, Brian resisted family membersâ€™ calls on him to keep family matters within the family. â€œI don’t wanna get into an argument with you, I really don’t, but know this: Malawians the most peaceful country in Africa, and now people are dying in the streets, the press is being shut down and DPP thugs are sharpening machetes in the street,â€ said Brian days before his Facebook account was deactivated.
â€œI don’t want to get intensely personal over facebook which is something I could do, but i won’t, and i won’t bring up the sacrifices our real father made to help make malawi a healthy democracy!!! He would be shifting in his grave!!!â€
Suta reportedly contributed to Malawiâ€™s struggle to end the dictatorial rule of Hastings Banda who had been in power for 30 years by hosting the founding members of the former ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) whenever they visited the U.K. to seek support from Malawians in the Diaspora and British politicians.
If Callista thought the civil society leaders would cut her some slack because she is first lady, she had another think coming. She was told to back off and that it would be wise for her to keep in her prescribed laneâ€”charity work.
Talking of charity work, Bingallista redefined it. Callista receives a salary of a company CEO as a charity worker. Her remuneration is a subject of one of the demands civil society leaders presented to Pres Mutharika during the July 20 anti-government protests. Will Mutharika decide that indeed itâ€™s not just indecent but morally wrong for needy Malawi to be paying his wife for what was, has been and remains charity work while she is already well cared for as First Lady by the government?
After she became First Lady, Callista, who previously had good rapport with reporters, said: “I will influence good policies, if given a chance.”
*This article was posted on Maravi Post
Tags: Callista Mutharika