We commemorate Kamuzu Day today in honour of the founding father of this nation. Not only was Kamuzu a true Malawian, contrary to what some would have us believe, but he was the architect of the nation. There was no country called Malawi before Kamuzu came back home from a 40-year sojourn in the white man’s land.
He dag up the name from the ancient history of the land which had boasted a vast empire called Maravi, with its headquarters at Mankhamba near present day Mtakataka.
Maravi was a corruption of Malawi by the Portuguese. It was a name that had been derived from the lake which seemed to be characterised by flames of fire from the sun’s reflection. The local name for flames is malawi (singular lawi).
Having established himself as the supreme leader of the nation he founded, Kamuzu turned out to be a heavy handed leader. Many among us, spurred on by western commentators who initially praised Kamuzu but later diabolised him for his atrocities (real and imaginary), know nothing but darkness from the fallen leader.
Despite his poor record on human rights, Kamuzu had his positives. One of such was that he never gave up on anything he pursued and believed was good for his country. Rather than giving up when no donor came forward to finance his ambitious project to shift the administrative capital from Zomba to Lilongwe, he declared that he would go to the devil himself to get the assistance he needed. He ended up approaching the white South African Government as a result of which he fell out with his fellow African leaders. They saw him as a traitor who was associating with an ‘evil’ government that pedalled the hated apartheid policy.
On his part, Kamuzu accused his detractors of being dishonest as they were busy ‘shouting’ from Adis Ababa or from Cairo and telling everybody that they had nothing to do with South Africa, yet in their supermarkets they stocked South African butter and wine and a host of other South African products. Kamuzu wondered why they did not come out in the open, like he had done, and trade with South Africa in full view of everybody.
Closer to home, Kamuzu forged a working relation with the Portuguese administrators in Mozambique, again to the horror of other African heads of State. He understood that Malawi was a landlocked country that needed Mozambique, regardless of who ruled it, to gain access to the sea. It was with the cooperation of the Portuguese administrators that Kamuzu constructed a railway line from Nkaya via Nayuchi to Cuamba in Mozambique, where it joined an existing one from Lichinga to Nacala on the Indian Ocean.
Today the Nacala corridor holds a lot of promise for Malawian exports and imports. The Brazilian mining company, Vale, which exploits the abundant coal deposits at Moatize in Mozambique has built its own rail extension into Malawi to connect to the Nacala corridor. They haul loads of coal to Nacala and fuel from the port to Moatize using the corridor that Kamuzu developed.
In early 1980s Kamuzu built the Great Hall at Chancellor College. It was not made clear where the funding for the project came from, generating undercurrents of disapproval from a section of Malawians. He still went ahead and in 1982 gifted the university—and the nation— with the elegant edifice which is still utilised today.
He had established the University of Malawi (Unima) 17 years earlier using the Chichiri campus of a private school that used to admit white pupils. Prior to that, Malawian deserving students could only go to the University of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in Salisbury or to East or West Africa to pursue university education.
Kamuzu envisaged a national university that would absorb the Malawian intelligentsia without having to be sent abroad. That national university was Unima. It was part of the threefold dream Kamuzu had for this country prior to independence. The dream’s facets were shifting the capital to Lilongwe, establishing Unima and building the lakeshore road. All these were realised, albeit against many odds.
Of course Kamuzu’s style would not have been possible in the new dispensation, where anybody can put a stop to any project in exercise of the extensive democratic rights prevalent now. We probably would not have had the capital city or the Nacala Railway or Unima or indeed the Great Hall. We certainly would not have had Kamuzu Academy.
It is depressing to imagine what sort of country we would have had if we had gotten our democracy in the 1960s.
Source: Nation Online