Last Wednesday, October 15 was Mother’s Day, Malawi Police Day as well as International Rural Women’s Day. Another public holiday in this land of public holidaying. On Mother’s Day in Malawi, many people choose to spare a thought about motherhood but forget to remember fatherhood. As gender activists have drummed unto us since 1994, motherhood relates to the biological endowment in women to bear children. As such, we, led our indomitable leader, the Most Venerable Excellency Chief Apostle Abiti Professor Dr Joyce Befu, reasoned that since Mother’s Day segregates against men and trivialises their parental role, we should not honour it. Thus, we agreed it was appropriate to go for a drink and the accompanying paraphernalia at the Coconut Hotel bar, located along Che Mbela Avenue in Balaka State, Federal Republic of Malawi.
As we sat there watching President Peter Mutharika inspecting the police parades in Lilongwe while mothers were celebrating their day, we started thinking about Malawi’s heroes, dead and alive. We mentioned Kanyama Chiume, Orton Chirwa, D.D. Phiri, Masauko Chipembere, Kamuzu Banda, Bingu wa Mutharika, Bakili Muluzi, Izeki ndi Jakobo, Lilian Patel, Patricia Kaliyati, Emmie Chanika, and of course, ourselves. We eventually decided to start profiling these heroes lest the world forgets them. So, this weekend is dedicated to the memory of Aleke Kadonaphani Banda, journalist, politician, parent and prisoner of conscience who died in April 2010 aged 70.
We agreed that the fact that Aleke Banda was selfless, humble and hard working is not an issue any sane person can dispute. That Aleke was respectful and loyal to his leaders in the MCP and UDF is a statement only a person robbed of sanity would dispute.
However, Aleke’s biggest achievements, we agreed, have not been nationally and universally acknowledged. Not many people in Malawi and abroad remember that without Aleke Kadonaphani Banda, Bakili Muluzi would not have been president of Malawi. Why? We know because we were there when Aleke argued during one of the many constitutional conferences Malawi held prior to the 1994 elections that despite having been jailed once upon a time for a misdemeanour, Muluzi had reformed and it would have been unfair to punish him twice. He frankly told one of the conferences then that the UDF was prepared to walk out of the meeting if the whole Constitution would centre on barring one person. The UDF reasoning won and Muluzi stood and won.
When Muluzi was being accused of plotting to Islamise Malawi, Aleke Banda cogently argued in The Nation in defence of Muluzi. The Islamisation dust settled and Malawians went back to their daily chores. Interestingly, it was Muluzi who effectively barred Aleke from succeeding him essentially because he was a Tonga from Nkhata Bay. Our great friend, Fedelis Edge Kanyongolo, once wrote that Aleke was barred from becoming president by “institutions”. One of those” institutions” we explain hic et hunc is tribalism or ethnicity.
Some senior employees at Nation Publications Limited say that Aleke cared very little about where an employee came from. What mattered to him was performance. Unfortunately, Aleke was a political loner in this philosophy and it is this naiveté that made him fail to become an MP or ascend to the Cashgate throne—the presidency. Good and affable as he was, Aleke failed twice to convince his own people that he was fit for Parliament. They told him, so we hear, he belonged to a wrong institution, the UDF, dominated by the Yao, the Lomwe (then) and Muslims. To prove that tribal and religious affiliations matter, Aleke Banda, won the Nkhata Bay South seat soon after he left the UDF and joined the PPM (Correction: He did not found it).
We also agreed that without Aleke Banda, Press Trust, yes the same Press Trust, would have been in the hands of the MCP because, we realised, it was Aleke Kadonaphani Banda, who provided irrefutable proof that Press Trust did not belong to the MCP or Dr Kamuzu Banda. He argued that Press Trust belonged to the people of Malawi. Press Trust belongs to all of us today because Aleke saved it from the jaws of the MCP, a fact the Press Trust itself does not openly acknowledge. Without Aleke Banda, the Malawi News, would not have been there because he founded it.
In short, AKB left a great legacy that politicians can live a humble life, retire when time comes, and be remembered for their great contributions. He is our Modern Hero, this week.