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age and Malawi’s election

15 May 2014

Like yesterday, today’s newspaper had four full-page ads taken out by the leading presidential candidates. Only one candidate had a new ad: Atupele Muluzi.

Atupele Muluzi's full-page advertisement in The Nation, May 15, 2014. Taken by Kim Yi Dionne

Atupele Muluzi’s full-page advertisement in The Nation, May 15, 2014. Taken by Kim Yi Dionne

I direct your attention to the bottom of the ad, which reads, “ung’ono ung’ono“. I first heard this phrase last night when I asked a 25-year-old small businessman (operating a braai outside a few bars in Blantyre) who he was voting for in the election. He said “ung’ono ung’ono“, and meant Atupele Muluzi. I don’t know that the phrase has an exact translation, but it’s meant to signify youth. The 25-year-old at the bar said (translated from the Chichewa), “I’m young, I can’t vote for the old ones.” I’m translating his saying “ukulu ukulu” as “old ones”. He was referring to the other major candidates.

Consistent with his own message, Muluzi has been billed the “youth” candidate. Atupele Muluzi is only 35 years old. Compare that to his opponents: Peter Mutharika is 74 years old, Joyce Banda is 64 years old, and Lazarus Chakwera is 59 years old.

Earlier today, Matt Collin at Aid Thoughts wondered what “Generation Change” in Atupele Muluzi’s ad meant. To be clear, when Atupele is saying that Malawi needs a new generation of leadership, he means a younger generation. He hasn’t invoked the hippos vs. cheetahs analogy directly, but Muluzi is definitely trying to cast himself as a stark difference from the other candidates.

It’s not clear, however, that Atupele has been terribly successful with getting support from younger voters. In its recently released dispatch analyzing survey data collected in Malawi between March and April, the Afrobarometer broke down intended presidential vote choice by age group. The youngest age group seemed to greatly favor the DPP presidential candidate, Peter Mutharika; more than twice as many 18-25 year olds preferred Mutharika to Atupele Muluzi (the UDF candidate).

Figure 14 from Afrobarometer Dispatch No. 1.

Figure 14 from Afrobarometer Dispatch No. 1.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Martin permalink
    15 May 2014 7:00 pm

    The term [ulusi] ung’ono-ung’ono is slang for slim-fit suits (that Atupele Muluzi seems to like). So, it would seem that the term connotes youthfulness, but primariry from that perspective.
    Atupele’s candidature, as a ”youth”, seems to have influenced choice of running mate for MsBanda and MrMutharika, who have opted for Gwengwe(37) and Chilima(41), respectively.
    I have doubts, though, that age will be a significant factor in the outcome of these polls.

  2. Mzungu wa China permalink
    15 May 2014 11:15 pm

    Two things are hurting Atupele. Most of the youths I speak to say he is too young. For all their complaints about the older generations, the youths are unsure of themselves and hence unsure of giving the reins to one of their own. Second most youths I speak to believe him to be primarily a puppet of his father, so even if they were inclined to vote for a youth, they don’t believe him to actually be one. I have heard from people who went to school with Atupele that he was a “daddy’s boy.” Whatever the reailty (I am certainly not endorsing this view) it is a widespread perception. He also has never held a real job (failed his law school exams so I hear) which reinforces the view among youths (particular the upper-crust with foreign degrees or with high-paying jobs) that Atupele is a bit of a light-weight. If the poles are anywhere near correct it looks like he is going to secure the usual UDF bases but that his Obama-esque campaign for change has failed to convert anyone. Still I give him a “A” for effort.

  3. ryanvillagex permalink
    31 May 2014 1:07 pm

    In Chichewa -ng’ono is a suffix that means “small,” whereas -kulu means “large” or “big.” Speaking of their families, you will hear people say abambo akulu (big uncle, older than his sibling who is my parent) or abambo ang’ono (small uncle, younger than the sibling who is my parent). So, it’s not uncommon for Malawians to use these terms to refer to age.

    Mike Buckler, Peace Corps Malawi (’06-’08), CEO and General Counsel, Village X Inc

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