JOHN CHIRWA engaged Kapote Mwakasungura to understand issues behind the recently launched book, Malawi’s Lost Years, which chronicles lives of “forsaken and forgotten heroes” who suffered under the iron-fist of DrKamuzu Banda’s 30-year-rule.
Q: Why did you settle for the title Malawi’s Lost Years?
A: Malawi has lost many things: friends, capital, finance etc. Enormous talent and skills were wasted as were human lives. In 1964, Malawi was in a great period of honeymoon. It was really a period of honeymoon. Everybody had heard the sufferings endured by Malawians [during the colonial rule] and, [after independence], we were out, willing to help poor Malawians. And we had able young men: Dunduzu Chisiza, Kanyama Chiume, Henry Masauko Chipembere who the world knew and the country which they represented.
So, many countries were willing to come and assist. But only three months after Independence, when people were mobilising resources to come and assist Malawi, it was a balloon. The balloon had exploded. We don’t know how much was lost because of that. Really, Malawi lost. And it was not just for one year or from one country. It was many years, for millions of Malawians. You will read in this book that at one time, 18 people at the [National] Statistical [Office] department in Zomba were all detained. Literally, shutting down the very efficiently run department. It meant starting all over again.
Lecturers at the University of Malawi, senior civil servants were also detained. Diplomats from the United Nations, Washington, UK were all recalled after being posted for only about two months. People took us for a joke. And we are still suffering the consequences. It’s up to you now. The ball is in your court, the young people of this country.
Q: What inspired you to come up with the book?
A: I am a writer myself. I have written a book I published in 1986 called The Political Economy of Rural Malawi: A Critical Analysis. It is a critique of government’s rural development policy funded by the World Bank. And, later, World Bank experts wondered at how I got all the statistics in it. But that is what it means to be a writer. And, when my book was published, I was told that the World Bank policy in Malawi had been withdrawn.
My second book was Government and Administration in Tanzania: From Germany times to Julius Nyerere.
That was between 1989 and 1990. The book helped the government of Tanzania to re-align its civil service from one-party state to multi-party state. So, the inspiration to write was because I was myself in exile for 30 years. Many of my friends, very good friends were detained in Malawi. And I felt we could bring these things up. I felt gratified to remember all these fellows and write what they themselves could not be able to.
Q: Is the book not out of bitterness for your 30-year exile in Tanzania?
A: My field is political science and I am a historian by association. I feel that history is only possible if it is documented. If we don’t write about it, no longer will history exist. Everything that is being done at a large scale must be documented so that it is not lost for those coming after us.
Q: As you already know that the past informs the present, what do you want to achieve after exposing Dr. Banda’s atrocities in your book?
A: If it was me [the reader or leader], I would have avoided many of the mistakes that I have seen because I know what happened in the past. I don’t think that many people know about what happened in the past. But if they know, as I said they are burying them, it’s good. Let’s keep the people ignorant. Blindfold the people, the populations. Let them keep on guessing and then you will be a free man to rule them.
Q: Are you not afraid to be in bad books with the MCP leadership or some government officials for exposing the negative side of Dr. Banda and his regime?
A: Fortunately, those fears were buried in the referendum of 1993. I was in exile for 30 years and came back. We played our politics to make sure that Dr. Banda finished his elected term of office. He took us for friends. Fear of detention or fear to speak my mind? No. after all I have no job to worry about. But I know that, maybe, certain officials in government may be hurt by these. But, well, they may also be suffering in silence as we did for 30 years too.
Q: How best do you want the book to be used by government?
A: If government feels that the book is good they can adopt it for teaching in schools. Or as some people are suggesting, it can be translated into Chichewa or Chitumbuka. Otherwise, I would really appreciate if it is adopted in schools by government.
Well, for us, we have just written the book. We have given birth. How the child grows it’s by God’s grace.
Q: Are there plans of writing another book?
A: One comes across many things that are worthy of writing. But when you get to that point of writing, one must be very sure that there is no return. Otherwise, you can’t just say ‘because I have written this book then I will write another one’. No. You need to be highly charged to compose a book.
Q: Briefly, tell us about yourself.
A: I was a student activist who fled Malawi for exile in Tanzania in October 1964 when Kamuzu installed his brutal dictatorship. I lived and studied in Dar es Salaam and later taught at the Mzumbe Institute of Development Management in Morogoro, now the University of Mzumbe. In 1974, I, together with four Malawians, founded the Socialist League of Malawi (Lesoma) and served as its highly respected secretary general. In the democratic dispensation in 1992-94, I became a key player as a member of the Transitional National Consultative Council (NCC) and helped draw up the New Malawi Constitution. Later, I served as High Commissioner to Zimbabwe from 1995 to 1998. I am now retired and still an active politician. I am the chairperson of the Uraha Foundation Malawi, which oversees the prestigious Cultural and Museum Centre Karonga. I am a group village headman in my village at Kasoba where my young brother is the Paramount Chief [Kyungu] of Karonga and Chitipa Districts.