Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda did not mince words about the Central African Federation that sought to bring together the two Rhodesias and Nyasaland. He described it as “the stupid federation”. In his flowery and ornamental Chichewa, John Msonthi would translate it as “chitaganya chonunkha” (stinky federation).
The fact that the federation was being vehemently peddled by the white minority rather than the indigenous population was a cause of much detestation by Kamuzu and other educated Nyasas. Having been ejected from an examination hall by Cullen Young, on account of having stood in order to gain a clear view of the questions on the board in front of the hall, which act had been misconstrued as cheating, the youthful Kamuzu had decided to trek down to South Africa in search of education about 40 years earlier.
He walked as far as Southern Rhodesia and made a stopover at Hartley, where he got temporary employment in a hospital. Whatever little respect remained in Kamuzu after the Cullen Young experience must have evaporated when he saw the horrible manner in which the white doctors treated black patients in Southern Rhodesia. The mistreatment of blacks by white Rhodesian settlers left an indelible mark on Kamuzu’s mind.
He was later to say in connection with the proposed, Southern Rhodesia-dominated, federation: “……..of all the Europeans in Central Africa, those in Southern Rhodesia have the worst antipathy towards Africans. They are against giving the Africans any rights whether civil, political, industrial, commercial or cultural. They look upon Africans as inferior beings, with no right to a dignified and refined existence and fit only as hewers of wood and drawers of water for Europeans…..”
In a nutshell, those that opposed the federation feared that we, the indigenous Africans, would become “hewers of wood and drawers of water” for the European settlers.
Welensky’s stupid Central African Federation notwithstanding, the indigenous people of the Rhodesias (Southern and Northern Rhodesia, which today are Zimbabwe and Zambia, respectively) and Nyasaland probably missed out on the benefits that would otherwise have accrued to them had the federation been implemented in good faith.
The aggregate population of the three territories would have been a big enough market for some products. Motor vehicle assembly, for example, may not be feasible in Malawi because the size of the Malawian market is not big enough, but the three territories combined would probably provide a big enough market for such a venture.
One of the factors that draw investors to a country, or indeed keep them away, is the size of the market. The combined population of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe is roughly 45 million, a little over the population of Tokyo city (the Japanese capital) and decent enough for a market for medium sized industries.
I am sure that if the three territories were one country, we would still have BAT manufacturing cigarettes, Unilever producing Covo, Kazinga, Rexona and other products and perhaps Nzeru Radio Company producing hi-fi equipment by now.
Events like Lake of Stars would be really big, drawing patronage not just from Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu but also from Bulawayo, Lusaka, Harare, Kitwe, Gweru and other Central African cities. In primary school, I learnt a poem which went “If all the seas were one sea, what a great that would be!” Indeed if all the Central African countries were one country, what a great country that would be!
There is no reason why Africa cannot vigorously pursue regional integration. The benefits are there to be had by all and sundry. We need to search within our history, our culture, our aspirations and our politics to figure out how the dream of a great Central African state can be realised. n