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.
On 6 July 1964, Nyasaland became an independent, sovereign nation, changed its name to Malawi and former medical doctor Kamuzu Banda became the Prime Minister. Two years later, Malawi became a Republic and Prime Minister Banda became the first President, a title that through a constitutional provision changed to Life President.
His Royal Highness Duke of Edinburgh represented Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth at the Rangeley Stadium (changed to Kamuzu Stadium a few years later). It was a grand occasion seeing the change of hands of leadership from the while colonial rulers: Sir Glyn Jones, the former and Governor of Nyasaland, joined the Duke in handing over power to Dr. Banda. A Palace Banquet, prayers, dinner dances, stadium displays and traditional dances, and fireworks mounted by the Malawi Army, became the order of the day marking this special day for the land-locked central African country.
For 31 years, Malawian celebrated in color and high fashion; each year outdoing the last year in celebratory mode. A special council – the National Celebrations Council – was created, and chaired by Honorable John Tembo. To get the cards was task; but there was a system that worked well.
The Celebrations Council was housed in the Development House and was the place to be to get invitation cards for the various celebration events: National Day of Prayer, Banquet (at Sanjika Palace, and dinner dances at Mount Soche Hotel, Ryalls, Shire Highlands, Chisakalime and later Kudya Hotel), and dinner dances. The climax was always the youth displays, Army, Police, and Young Pioneer parades. Before Kamuzu spoke, north, central and southern region women’s leagues performed traditional dances from all the 26 districts. Listening to the women, it was a marvel to hear them roll out their liturgy of the progress that had taken place since Kamuzu freed them from colonialism. A football friendly match (usually with a foreign team) cupped the celebratory spirit.
This was only the national celebrations. From the national event that culminated on 6 July. From here, the celebrations went first to the regions, then the districts.
What was all that about? Why were we celebrating? Why all the pomp, preparations that took months? And why all the money thrown into these celebrations? Someone even called these years when there was a lot of lavishing for the feast of the 6th July as the wasted years. This year, 6th July 2017 will be marked by prayers. This is mainly since Government does not want to spend on lavish feast when the country is constrained with resources.
In response to the questions, as a scholar of history, I dug deep in the annals of our history. In my search, I found a BBC profile of Malawi’s history; I reproduce exerts of the chronology of events that propelled Nyasaland to what it became in 1964 and beyond all the way to 53 years of independent status.
1480 – Bantu tribes united several smaller political states to form the Maravi Confederacy, which at its height included large parts of present-day Zambia and Mozambique, plus the modern state of Malawi.
17th century – Portuguese explorers arrived from the east coast of present-day Mozambique.
1790-1860 – Slave trade increased dramatically.
1850 – Scottish missionary David Livingstone’s exploration of the region paved the way for missionaries, European adventurers, traders, who became the settlers.
1878 – Livingstonia Central African Mission Company from Scotland began work to develop a river route into Central Africa to enable trade.
1891 – Britain established the Nyasaland and District Protectorate.
1893 – Name changed to the British Central African Protectorate. White European settlers were offered land for coffee plantations at very low prices, with tax incentives; forced Africans to work on these plantations for several months a year, often in difficult conditions. The work was locally known as “thangata.”
1907 – British Central African Protectorate became Nyasaland.
1915 – Reverend John Chilembwe led a revolt against British rule, killing the white managers of a particularly brutal estate and displayed the head of one outside his church. He was shot dead by police within days.
1944 – Nationalists established the Nyasaland African Congress.
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 Gwelo 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. (Captured from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13881367 on June 25, 2017).
In the 31 years that Ngwazi Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda ruled Malawi, at every event that he went behind a microphone, he told people that while detained as a dissident along with other freedom fighters, he had three dreams:
Capital moved from Zomba to Lilongwe;
University in Zomba; and
The Lakeshore Road.
All the dreams were not an end in themselves; they had spill-over effects and created synergies that are still reverberating up to today. If truth be told, and every Malawian was asked to write one sentence on the benefits of any one of these dreams, there would be no less than ten volumes and more.
I hereto offer mine, which is the reason I celebrate Malawi; why I go back into the past and pick out developments that make me proud to be a Malawian; that make me leap for joy and sing with pride my national anthem or dance to “Ngwazi yathu inde lero!” Lastly, why I miss those days of sitting in Mercy’s office at the Reserve Bank with my friends Jane and Yakosa, waiting for two hours, to pick up our celebration invitation cards.
I am proud of our nation’s Capital moved from Zomba to Lilongwe because, many international people have told me how they admire the model of our Capital Hill – Government Buildings are all in one place. There are few capitals that are built this way. The move from Zomba to Lilongwe, created jobs and continues to create jobs in numerous sectors for professionals, skilled and semi-skilled workers, for profit and nonprofit enterprises.
University to Zomba for me, was Kamuzu’s best dream. On a personal note, I met my husband while we pursued our studies at Chancellor College in Zomba; various schools of the University of Malawi, are producing a cadre of professionals such as lawyers, judges, medical doctors and nurses, journalists, educators, vice presidents, cabinet ministers and members of parliament, and other political and corporate figures. In 1964 at the birth of our nation, Capitol Hill in Zomba was manned by expatriates from Britain. Today, Malawians are at the helm of the entire civil service; with the majority of the personnel having been educated at colleges in Malawi and mostly from the University of Malawi.
Kamuzu’s Lakeshore dream is a boon to both local and international tourism. It also links south, center, and northern regions.
On 6 July 2017 as Malawi clocks 53 years of age, it will be a time to celebrate the birth of our nation; I’ll reflect on the ways I can contribute with my skillsets, in making my country a better nation tomorrow than it was yesterday; I pray that in my speech and actions, I will impart to my children (as my mother and father did to me) the fear of God, unquestionable love of country, commitment to chosen convictions, and unwavering loyalty to national leadership.
I will be celebrating and thanking God for Malawi’s 53 years of no wars within or with its neighbors. Being part of a continent that has conflicts everywhere, Malawi is blessed to have been spared this. We may be starved of mineral resources, but we are not fighting any wars.
It is to be appreciated that Government has reduced independence celebrations for this year, to prayers. As a religious person, that is good enough celebratory fare. Let us meet at the Amen Corner, we are 53 years and going on!
Long live genuine democracy!