The gaining of independence in Africa did not necessarily wean some African leaders from what they had cherished from colonial rulers, certainly not in matter of education and culture.
French colonial policy to try and assimilate African intellectuals into French culture and civilisation. For instance, African leaders were elected to the National Assembly (Parliament) in Paris to represent their countries. The future president of Senegal and Ivory Coast, Leopold Sedar Senghor and Felix Houphouet Boigny served in French cabinets.
Though Senghor was in the vanguard of Francophone writers who championed a self-asserting cultural trend called Negritude, he personally did not detach himself from French culture. After serving as president of his country for twenty years, he voluntarily retired and went to live in France with his French wife. A few years ago when the Senegalese were celebrating an anniversary of their independence, I saw and heard one man on Al Jazeera TV say that he had believed so much in things French.
Malawi’s first President Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda returned home in 1958 after spending forty-three years abroad, most of these were in United Kingdom (UK) where, among other things, he had practised medicine and served as an elder of the Church of Scotland. In the 1980s, he would go to the UK and spend more days in Scotland which he called his second home.
Perhaps the most enduring example of Banda’s love of things British was public school education. He built the Kamuzu Academy in imitation of Eton and directed the teaching of classics though these were irrelevant to developmental needs of Malawi.
There may be some people of my generation who for at least a quarter century lived under British rule and acculturation who now miss some of the things they once cherished.
There used to be two major British trading companies in Nyasaland (Malawi), the African Lakes Corporation was instrumental in getting this country declared a British protectorate in 1891. The other trading company was the London and Blantyre Supply Corporation (Kandodo). These two companies used to import a variety of British merchandise of high quality. Whenever we came across merchandise labelled ‘made in England’, we knew we were getting value for money. In the hardware field, there was Brown and Clapperton. All these have disappeared and have not been replaced by similar British firms.
Where there used to be Mandala, we see CFAO, a French firm; where there used to be Kandodo, we see Peoples. Before Peoples, there had briefly been a British trading company called Guthree followed by Malawian traders who did not stay around long enough.
In the field of passenger and goods transportation, there was the British owed Nyasaland Transport Co Ltd (NTC). This was nationalised at independence and became United Transport (Malawi) Ltd. Like most State owned firms, it did not prosper. A Scottish firm called Stage Coach appeared on the scene briefly with a lot of promise. But as soon as the government allowed fleets of minibuses to operate ,Stage Coach exited. The foreign bus company currently operating countrywide has a French name though ostensibly owned by a Malawian.
At the beginning of our independence there were three petroleum importing companies. BP, Caltex and Total. The last was much smaller than the other two. Now, Total, a French company is the most visible in the petroleum industry followed by Petroda and Puma, BP and Caltex have gone with the wind.
To those of us who value knowledge and culture the disappearance of British newspapers and magazines is traumatic. The only foreign magazines we see around are from a Southern African Development Community (Sadc) region country. They are mostly about romances and such other light stuff as cannot improve a person’s intellect.
The absence of British and American papers which we used to have during the Kamuzu MCP era is something inimical to the general progress of Malawi. We are being isolated from innovation in science and technology and we are in danger of perpetually stagnating. A country develops through contact with other people either physically or through books and magazines.
As a matter of urgency, the authority in Malawi should contact her counterpart in the UK and United States (US) and discuss what can be done to restore the presence of a few quality British and American magazines. If the prices have become prohibitive as part of their development aid to Malawi, USaid and UKaid should subsidise the purchase of these magazines in Malawi. This is the age of knowledge and knowledge is acquired though reading. n