On 6 July 2017, Malawi will celebrate 53 years as an independent (sovereign) nation and 51 years as a Republic.
It has been a long ride, with numerous various difficulties, triumphs, and losses. However, one thing is certain: we are here and to our credit, have remained a peace-loving country, solid to preserve our identity.
As we prepare to pause and commemorate the day of gaining our freedom from the colonial master (Great Britain, now known as the United Kingdom), as a scholar of history, I find it is always refreshing to look back. This is “look back and take stock,” so that we may appreciate the present and better prepare for the future. What are we celebrating? How did we get here and what happened in the past?
This is a simple country-focus of this daughter of the soil of Malawi.
Kamuzu ndi Nkango, eeheeh, wakawina BOMA la Malawi eeheeh! BOMA lathu! Uyo, Uyo, Uyo Ngwazi! Uyo, Uyo, Uyo Ngwazi! Uyo Ngwazi! BOMA lathu! (Kamuzu is the Lion, eeheeh, he went and won the Government of Malawi eeheeh! He’s our Government! There he is, there he is, there the Ngwazi! Our Government!)
Amidst the sea of dancing women dressed in blue, red and green national outfits, one could see a flywhisk waving in the air like the orchestra director, was His Excellency Ngwazi Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda, the Life President of the Republic of Malawi. Members of the Malawi Women’s League ushered in the Ngwazi into the packed Kamuzu stadium, as all people stood and clapped their hands (Pooh pooh! Pooh pooh! Pooh pooh!). Such was the scene at every independence celebration for 31 years. It was also the picture at events calling on the Ngwazi out of Sanjika Palace of the New State House (now Kamuzu Palace).
The first time I saw (or heard. We were so small on the fields of Ndirande football ground and couldn’t see the speaker or his interpreter), was in 1958. As children of the great township of Ndirande, we accompanied our Grand Uncle Duncan Phoya to the playgrounds, where we learned the man who had come from Mangalande (England) was going to speak to us.
As shocked as I was to hear that there was a black person (mutu bii) was going to challenge the white people (whose children –students at St. Andrews Secondary School – used to spit at us as they rode on their horses and we were going to school), I was equally shocked to hear that as this man, Dr. Hastings Dr. Banda who; Kamuzu Banda spoke in English, his interpreter was my father.
In the midst of World War One, during which the British, French, US and Russia fought with Germany, Italy and Japan, where African colonies supplied men as part of the effort to defeat the Germany and Japan, political agitators in Nyasaland, formed the Nyasaland African Congress.
Settlers in Northern (Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia Zimbabwe), led by Roy Welensky on October 23, 1953, despite strong opposition from the Nyasaland African Congress and white liberal activists, formed the Federation of Northern and Southern Rhodesia wherein Britain combined Nyasaland with the two settler-rich colonies. A strong critic of this was Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, a practicing medical doctor in Britain.
Although the official narrative that ran through his reign as ruler of Malawi, claimed that Dr. Banda left his practice in the UK to go to Ghana, interviews in London reveal that Dr. Banda ran into a legal battle where divorce record of Mr. and Mrs. Merene French. But he had become involved with the Nyasaland African Congress. Thus he did not come to Nyasaland with the white woman.
Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, returned to Nyasaland on July 6, 1958 and labeled “the black messiah” who with his open denouncing of the federation to lead the Nyasaland African Congress. NAC members such as Henry Chipembere, Kanyama Chiume, Dunduzu Chisiza and T.D.T. Banda (no relation) pleaded with him to return to Nyasaland to take up leadership of their cause. He had been away for 42 years.
Chronology of events
1953 23 October – Despite strong opposition from the Nyasaland African Congress and white liberal activists, Britain combined Nyasaland with the Federation of Northern and Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe respectively). This became known as the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
1958 – Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, “the black messiah”, denounced the federation and returned from the US and the UK, where he had studied; he was practicing medicine in the UK. His return was to lead the Nyasaland African Congress.
1959 – Violent clashes between the Congress supporters and the colonial authorities led to the organization being banned. Many leaders, including Banda, were arrested and a state of emergency declared.
Malawi Congress Party was founded as a successor to the Nyasaland African Congress.
1960 – Banda was released from Gweru prison and attended talks in London with the British government on constitutional reform and the question of self-government.
1961 – Elections held for a new Legislative Assembly. Banda’s Malawi Congress Party won 94% of the vote.
1963 – Territory is granted self-government as Nyasaland and Banda was appointed prime minister.
1964 6 July – Nyasaland declared independence as Malawi.
1966 6 July – Banda became president of the Republic of Malawi. The constitution established a one-party state.
Within one year of gaining independence, the new Prime Minister Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda had a fierce disagreement with the people that invited him to come and help them fight the British to break the federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. The disagreement led to all of them fleeing the country, as Banda, now head of the government, held the reins of power.
The men – Henry Chipembere, Orton Chirwa, Kanyama Chiume, Yatuta Chisiza, Horace Phombeya, and Augustine Bwanausi, in Malawi fled. The 1965 cabinet crisis also affected Banda’s diplomats, who also resigned and went into exile; among these are David Rubadiri and Willie Chokani and others.
In the years that followed, Banda circulated himself with a strong corps comprised the women’s league, youth league, the para-military young pioneers, and local Party officials these provided a strong protection/buffer for Banda against these “dissidents who operated from Zambia or Tanzania.
In 1966, Dr. Banda became President of the Republic of Malawi.
1971 – Banda voted president-for-life in Parliament after the NEC declared Kamuzu Banda as the President for Life in the Convention.
1975 – Lilongwe replaced Zomba as the capital of Malawi.
1978 – First elections since independence. All potential candidates were to belong to the Malawi Congress Party and be approved by Banda. Many of them were excluded because they were required to take and pass an English test.
1980s – Three ministers and one Member of Parliament (Aaron Gadama, Dick Matenje, Twaibu Sangala and Dave Chiwanga) killed or charged with treason. Banda reshuffled his ministers regularly, preventing the emergence of a political rivalry.
1991 – Former minister Orton Chirwa and his wife Vera, members of the Queen’s Court, are abducted in Zambia, charge with treason and imprisoned. Orton Chirwa died three years later while in prison.
1992 – Catholic bishops publicly condemned Banda, in a missal that was read simultaneously in all Catholic churches) that sparked demonstrations. Many donor countries suspended aid over Malawi’s human rights record.
1993 – President Banda became seriously ill; underwent brain surgery at Garden City hospital in South Africa,
Voters in a referendum rejected the one-party state, paving the way for members of parties other than the Malawi Congress Party to hold office. won elections and replaced long-term leader Hastings Banda
1994 – Presidential and municipal elections: Bakili Muluzi, leader of the United Democratic Front, is elected president. He immediately frees political prisoners and re-establishes freedom of speech.
Banda announced his retirement from politics.
Prisoners of persons charged with treason include: (Kuntumanji, Albert Muwalo-Nyumayo, Focus Gwede, Gwanda Chakuamba, Orton and Vera Chirwa, Chief Mwase, Aleke Banda)
Following pressure from members of his party, President Bakili Muluzi, Dr. Banda, John Tembo and some police officers were brought to court to answer charges of the unexplained deaths of the three ministers and one Member of Parliament. Despite bringing in state witnesses and having all government information, the group of people was found not guilty.
1997 – Banda died in hospital in South Africa where he was being treated for pneumonia. (Captured and modified from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13881367 on June 25, 2017).
In the years Dr. Banda was leader of Malawi, he was autocratic, and ruled with an iron hand. From 1965, his rule over Malawi was done with little and really no opposition. Those who opposed him in any way were punished with prison term or some disappeared as he usually threatened “I’ll make you meat for crocodiles.”
He was a great orator, who kept his listeners attentively glued to their seats for long periods of time. His oratory did not only captivate Malawians, but also foreign governments that he dealt with. When the Americans and British refused to finance the move of Malawi’s capital from Zomba to Lilongwe, Banda took a deep dive into the deep end of the pool and befriended Malawi with Apartheid South Africa. For his friendship with the white Apartheid South Africa, Banda got his capital in Lilongwe. And when the donor community refused to move to Lilongwe, Banda ordered his ministers to request all meetings with donors to be done in Lilongwe and not in Zomba – they moved.
In 1980s when his cabinet was resistant in changes to the education system, he built his own school, the Kamuzu Academy. This also applies with the College of Medicine, which Kamuzu put under the direct supervision of Dr. John Chiphangwe.
It is in the area of economic policy and structure building that separated Banda from his counterparts. Banda was a staunch anti-communist/socialist and avid supporter of capitalism. For this he received a lot of supports from the Republic of Taiwan, the US, Ireland and the UK, Japan, and Germany, the Nordic countries. He was the darling of the Western countries (many of whom were in members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
This helped Malawi and led to thriving industrial sector. It is the creation of the Press Corporation that enhanced Malawi’s economic lifeline. The giant was involved in all sectors of economic activities – agriculture, finance, hospitality, local and foreign investments among others – helped keep Malawi afloat.
Through his voice, Kamuzu, he directed almost every aspect of lives in Malawi. While no one challenged Kamuzu for 31 years – no one that was inside Malawi – this was perfectly acceptable to the Western allies.
Three events changed this acceptance and the darling relation between Dr. Banda and his Western allies. A third even was part of the fact of life.
The first was the fall in 1989 of the Berlin Wall. This led to the unification of Germany – East Germany and West Germany became Germany.
The second was the 1991 disintegration of the Soviet Union that led to the rise of numerous East European states,
The two events, coupled with Malawians in the Diaspora calling for democratic rule, spelt the end of Dr. Banda’s autocracy. The Western allies did not need a strong-armed leader in Malawi or other African country; so they started calling for democratic rule and human rights.
The two events also spelt the end of limitless supply of money being poured into Africa (for the sake of keeping communism out. With the absence of the strong communist Soviet Union, the newly independent East European bloc would need the money usually reserved for African countries like Malawi.
The third event, attribute of the facts of life: Dr. Banda took ill twice and had to be flown to Garden City Clinic twice. The first was in 1993 for brain surgery. He survived, returned home and ran a presidential campaign in 1994, and lost to Bakili Muluzi.
It must be pointed out that Dr. Banda, despite being the autocrat, dictator and stubborn ruler that he is famous for, was the only Malawian President to accept the results of an election and congratulate his opponent. Thereafter, no Malawian has accepted the results of the presidential elections. In 1999, Muluzi was challenged; in 2004, Mutharika was challenged the results; 2009 again Mutharika was challenged; in 2014 Mutharika was challenged. The court cases showed the lack of confidence the contenders have in the electoral system, even though Dr. Banda paved the way and showed he could live with the results.
Dr. Banda took ill again in 1997 and had to be flow to Garden City Clinic. However this trip was his last. He died of respiratory insufficiency on November 25, 1997.
“The Lion sleeps tonight,” read the headline in The Independent.
Likulu kuLilongwe chifukwa cha Ngwazi, cheKamuzu! University ku Zomba chifukwa cha Ngwazi, cheKamuzu! CheKamuzu moto! Aye aye aye aye CheKamuzu! Kamuzu moto! (Moto) Kamuzu moto! (Moto) Kamuzu moto! (Moto) Kamuzu motoooooo! (Motoooooo!)
(Trans: Capital is in Lilongwe because of Kamuzu; University is in Zomba because of Kamuzu; Kamuzu is fire)