If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14
On July 6, 1964, the dawn of our independent status Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II, handed the authority of power to Malawi’s first Prime Minister Hastings Kamuzu Banda. He would become president of the nation for the next 30 years, be conferred Life President in 1971. International and local pressures led to democratic change and the country has had five presidents. In all these years, despite differences in leadership styles and numerous natural and manmade challenges, a way was paved for the nation to enjoy peaceful co-existence.
It has been a long 57 years with massive development, numerous setbacks, and upsets. However, truth be told, Malawi is fortunate to have had a solid foundation that was laid by visionary leadership, with each of the six presidents contributing in their own ways, a powerful narrative that continues to amaze the country’s ardent critics. The other leaders were Bakili Muluzi (1994-2004), Bingu wa Mutharika (2004-2012), Joyce Banda (2012-2014), Arthur Peter Mutharika (2014-2020), and Lazarus Chakwera (2020-PRESENT).
I am here to praise these Malawi leaders. God has surely blessed our land.
Ngwazi Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda (1963-1991), the longest serving leaders, was a medical doctor and lived outside Malawi (then known as Nyasaland) for over 40 years; he was part of a large number of the pan-Africanists living in abroad that returned to their home countries and became leaders. He is also the leader that spent the longest prison term; he and other “dissidents” were jailed in Gweru and Khami detention camps in Southern Rhodesia for one year.
Among his massive record sheet includes being dubbed the Destroyer of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. But having destroyed the central African federation of Northern, Southern Rhodesia, and Nyasaland (current Malawi), Prime Minister Banda went on to unite the country as one. He achieved this with a strong voice, establishment of governing systems both in civil service and through political tools among them the Malawi Young Pioneers, the Youth League, and the Women’s League. Banda also guided and single-handedly commanded the path of national progress through his signature “three Gweru dreams.” These were reiterated again and again in his speeches.
“When I was in Gweru, I had three dreams, University (of Malawi) in Zomba, Lake Shore Road, and the capital moved from Zomba to Lilongwe,” he often said.
Through this commanding voice that was honed-in the sole government owned and controlled radio newspapers, Kamuzu changed the outlook of Malawi with development projects that bear his signature 27 years after he left office. Through his mentoring and voicing of his vision, he established the Press Corporation, Malawi Development Corporation, ADMARC, SUCOMA, Import and Export company, airline and other commercial enterprises; cottage industries evolved as did big job-creation industries. Among the job-creating companies were David Whitehead and Sons, Brown and Clapperton, Lonrho, Peoples Trading Center, WICO, and many more. Many of these were financed with money borrowed or given as grants from friends, many that were deemed as enemies of Africa and the move to independent rule. These were millionaire Tiny Roland, Apartheid South Africa and the republic of China on Taiwan. The traditional donors also continued to contribute to President Banda’s development agenda; however, when he met opposition, he turned to his friends, especially South Africa and his friend Tiny Roland.
Soon after taking over from British colonial rule, Dr. Banda had an uprising in his cabinet ranks. This led to an exodus of the majority of his ministers that included the group that had travelled to Ghana to beg him to come and help in the country’s efforts to break the federation. They included Orton Chirwa, Yatuta Chisiza, Willie Chokani, Kanyama Chiume, and Henry Chipembele; diplomats like David Rubadri also joined the departing ministers. Their departure created an alternative voice against Banda that was never heard in Malawi.
Following the departure of these dissenters, Banda moved in to buttress his rule. Those that opposed, challenged, or even doubted him were either eliminated, thrown into prison, or stripped of their positions; many lost their property too through the Forfeiture Act.
However bad, cruel, dictatorial President Banda may have been, Malawians must accept the magnanimous, principled and gallant role he played in ushering in democratic change in Malawi. When US Vice President Dan Quayle came to inform the former President that the US and its allies would no longer support his government, Banda informed the high-level visitor that he would take the matter to the Malawi people to decide for themselves.
Thus Malawi held campaigns for the Referendum vote. This afforded Malawians the choice between the single Malawi Congress Party, or the multi-party. Kamuzu was still in charge of the country; he allowed for the campaigns to take place, with him as the voice for retention of the single party. At any one of the way to the vote he could have called in the army, MYP, or police. But he had accepted. Contrary to the fanciful thought of his critics, it was not forced on him.
But the greatest move Banda made in his last year in office was to appoint Justice Msosa as Malawi Electoral Commission Chairperson, who guided the process. Since then she had raised the bar so high, no other MEC chair has inched near her; until 2020. This is another story.
When the MEC chair announced Bakili Muluzi as winner, Banda had already summoned MBC to the Palace to announce his defeat. Magnanimous. But Msosa and her team kept on counting, until the ballots in front of her showed who had won.
Banda congratulated President-elect Muluzi and wished him well. This was in 1994; since then, there has not been any transfer of power that was this cordial and polite Malawi witnessed from the outgoing president.
Next week, These Freedoms will discuss former Presidents Bakili Muluzi and Bingu wa Mutharika.