Saulos Klaus Chilima: The Malawi economist who became Vice President

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Chilima, of Ngoni descent, was born on February 12, 1973, in Ntcheu District, central Malawi. He had a wife, Mary, and two children.

Malawi Vice President Saulos Klaus Chilima died on Monday alongside nine other people when their plane crashed in a dense forest, failing to make a scheduled landing at Mzuzu airport at 10.02 am.

President Lazarus Chakwera announced this in a televised address to the nation, saying there were no survivors following the crash in the Chikangawa Forest in Mzimba, in the northern part of the country.

The plane had been scheduled to land at Mzuzu airport at 10.02 am but was unable to land due to poor visibility and was ordered to return to the capital. However, aviation authorities failed to make contact with the aircraft since it went off the radar.

A view of the site where the military plane carrying Malawian Vice President Saulos Chilima crashed on Juen 10, 2024. (Photo: Handout)

Personal life

Chilima, of Ngoni descent, was born on February 12, 1973, in Ntcheu District, central Malawi. He had a wife, Mary, and two children named Sean and Elizabeth.

Chilima was a Roman Catholic who held various leadership roles within the church and served as the VP since his first swearing-in on May 30, 2014.

His second term officially began with another oath-taking on June 28, 2020.

Chilima had a PhD in Knowledge Management from the University of Bolton, a Master’s degree in Economics, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Sciences, Computer Science, and Economics from the University of Malawi.

Airtel Malawi tenure

According to the Malawi government, Chilema was at the helm of Airtel, the leading mobile telecommunications company in the country, serving as managing director from 2010 to 2014.

The government said he was instrumental in driving business growth and customer satisfaction and that he increased the customer base from 1.85 million in 2010 to 2.8 million in 2012, achieving a 64 per cent market share.

“Vice President Chilima is a performer and a workaholic and has been an achiever everywhere he has been. We highlight some of the notable ones: he drove business growth from 357,000 customers in 2006 to 2,800,000 customers in December 2012 and improved employee satisfaction from 50 per cent in 2006 to 80 per cent in 2012 for Airtel Malawi,” the government said.

“Chilima's leadership saw Airtel Malawi being awarded “OPCO of the Year 2008” and “Initiative of the Year” for the Quick Refill Centers (QRC) concept. His innovative strategies in outsourcing and network management further solidified the company's market position despite economic challenges.”

Chilima also successfully steered the implementation of a unique and innovative outsourcing model in the telecoms space for Airtel Malawi in its network, call centre and IT departments while also ensuring minimal or no disruption in business operations.

“He coordinated the successful rebranding of Celtel to Zain in 2008, as measured by total market awareness of 52 per cent (as of April 2010) and mobilisation of employee buy-in. Further, [he led the] successful transition from Zain to Airtel in November and left a positive impression on all stakeholders."

Before his telecommunications career, Chilima held senior marketing positions in the banking and fast-moving consumer goods sectors, including roles at Unilever Malawi, Coca-Cola, and Carlsberg.

Political life

Chilima had been in politics for years and launched the United Transformation Movement (UTM) on July 21, 2018, to establish a new political party to compete in the May 2019 elections.

The politician quit the former ruling Democratic Progressive Party under former President Arthur Peter Mutharika in 2018 and indicated he would run for president.

He said his administration would investigate alleged corruption among officials of the Mutharika government, of which he served as the number two in command, and anyone at fault "will not be spared."

On February 1, 2019, UTM engaged in discussions with two other political parties and an alliance of smaller parties to form a united opposition.

They initially agreed to present a single presidential candidate for the election, but two of the parties later withdrew, citing disagreements over the selection of a running mate. He later ran for president as the party's candidate and came in third.

During the 2020 election, Chilima ran as the vice presidential candidate alongside Chakwera for the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), forming part of the Tonse Alliance, a coalition of nine opposition parties. Chakwera was then an opposition leader and a former cleric.

Their union marked a significant moment as the first former ruling party in Malawi to stage a comeback. The MCP was the ruling party at independence in 1964 under Hastings Kamuzu Banda and was the only legal party in the nation from 1966 to 1993.

In the May 2019 presidential election, Chilima secured third place.

Following their respective unsuccessful bids in 2019, Chilima and Chakwera joined forces, forming an alliance that ultimately led to Mutharika's removal from office after the repeat election.

Chilima was in conflict with President Chakwera, whose administration has faced criticism for widespread corruption and economic decline despite promises made during the 2020 election campaign.

He was a prominent political figure in Malawi and was expected to run in the election set for September 2025, although he had not officially declared his candidature.

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