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, at the dawn of Malawi’s independent status Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband to 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, before being conferred life president in 1971.
However, international and local pressures led to democratic change in 1993, and the country has had five presidents after Kamuzu. Bakili Muluzi between 1994 and 2004, Bingu wa Mutharika from 2004 to 2012, Joyce Banda from 2012 to 2014, Arthur Peter Mutharika from 2014 to 2020, and currently, Lazarus Chakwera.
Despite differences in leadership styles and numerous natural and man-made challenges, a way was paved for the nation to enjoy peaceful co-existence. And it has been a long 57 years with massive development, numerous setbacks, and upsets.
However, Malawi is fortunate enough to have had a solid foundation that was laid by the visionary leadership of Kamuzu—and each of the five past presidents mentioned above contributing in their own ways.
Kamuzu, the longest serving leader, was a medical doctor and lived outside Malawi or Nyasaland at the time, for over 40 years. He was part of pan-Africanists in diaspora who returned to their home countries and became leaders. He also served time at Gweru and Khami detention camps in Southern Rhodesia now Zimbabwe for fighting against the federal system.
His massive record sheet is being dubbed the Destroyer of the ‘Stupid’ Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Having taken out Malawi from the federation, Banda went on to unite the people as one. He achieved this by establishing governing systems in the civil service and politically.
Banda single-handedly commanded the path of national progress through his signature “three Gweru dreams.” He would say: “When I was in Gweru, I had three dreams of building University of Malawi in Zomba, Lake Shore Road and moving the capital city from Zomba to Lilongwe.”
Through his mentoring and voicing of his vision, he fulfilled his ‘three Gweru dreams” and went on to establish the Press Corporation, Malawi Development Corporation, Agricultural Development Marketing Corporation, Sucoma, Import and Export, Air Malawi among many other commercial enterprises and ventures that evolved into big job-creation industries.
Thousands of people were employed by public companies such as David Whitehead and Sons, Brown and Clapperton, Lonrho, Peoples Trading Centre, Wico and Kasungu Flue Cured Tobacco Authority.
Some of these were financed with money borrowed or given as grants by Kamuzu’s friends, many that were deemed at the time as enemies of Africa and opposed self-rule. These were apartheid South Africa and Taiwan.
The traditional donors also continued to contribute to Kamuzu’s development agenda. However, when he met strong opposition in the region and from the West, he turned to his friends, especially South Africa and Roland Tiny Rowland.
However bad, cruel, dictatorial Kamuzu may have been, Malawians must accept the magnanimous, principled and gallant role he played in ushering in democratic change in Malawi.
But the greatest move Banda made was on May 19 1994—his last year in office— when he accepted defeat in the first multiparty general elections. Before Bakili Muluzi was even announced winner, Banda had already summoned State broadcaster MBC to Sanjika Palace to announce his acceptance of defeat and wish the President-elect well. n
Next week: I will discuss former presidents Bakili Muluzi and Bingu wa Mutharika.