You thought he was dead, right? Sorry folks, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda is still ruling Malawi. Really? Yes.
Just ask Leston Mulli, him of Mulli Brothers Holdings Limited (MBL). These days he is always in the media complaining how ‘this government’ has crowded him out of business.
Only three years ago, some entrepreneurs in the country were always in the media complaining how ‘that government’ favoured Mulli, thereby crowding them out of business.
Interestingly, before ‘that government’ came to power, there was another government. It also had entrepreneurs who crowded out previous government’s entrepreneurs. They too, after their government left power, were crowded out. Some cyclic behaviour, sort of!
But what is in ‘government’ that it can make or break the private sector which, ideally, is supposed to be operating independently of the State?
The answer lies in the nature of our State—and I strongly believe that this is also the answer to a number of questions why up to now Malawi is still moving in cycles.
Our current State—one headed by Joyce Banda—has its roots in a political culture that was developed and perfected long time ago by Kamuzu, Malawi first black president.
In the first place, I regard Kamuzu as ‘that man at Sanjika’, some mtchona catapulted into the presidency, one who does not provide the basis for proven leadership excellence, but a fluke of age, connection and exposure.
He knew his leadership shortfalls and to appear smart, he had to mask them. And what did he do? He purged every brain he feared, especially that of youthful radicals he knew were smarter than him in political thought.
What emerged—after the killings, the 1964 Cabinet Crisis and 1966 banning of other political parties—was a blank leadership cheque for Kamuzu, a man without proven leadership excellence, and the Malawi Congress Party (MCP).
MCP, led by Kamuzu, had unlimited powers to decide without detractions where to take Malawi and how to drive it there. It was a special historical moment of laying a strong foundation for Malawi’s future development. Because development begins in the minds of the people, that was a moment those with unlimited power could have used to stir, or even indoctrinate, a spirit of innovation in the minds of their people and expose them to various development alternatives driven by patriotism
Kamuzu and MCP, however, chose to concentrate on building their empire. They created a big government that centralised unlimited powers in a big president and his coterie.
In terms of development, all Malawians understood was a hoe, rains, a small piece of customary land they do not own, eight children, a grass-thatched mud house and subsistence farming.
Discuss the extractive industry—that there is Uranium in Karonga and Chitipa, that there is bauxite at Mulanje Mountain, that there is oil in Lake Malawi—was unacceptable and a symbol of being against Mchikumbe Number One, Kamuzu.
To discuss tourism was to expose Malawians to dangerous people from outside who would stir revolutions against Mchikumbe Number One, Kamuzu.
The private sector was there, of course, but, quite bafflingly, it was owned by government. The Press Trust, which was owned by Kamuzu and his coterie, controlled 50 percent of the economy. What it meant was that you could not be a successful entrepreneur if you were not close to Kamuzu and his small circle.
What emerged, after the 31 years of Kamuzu, was a big government—which styles itself as benevolent and omnipotent social guardian—ruling a small people with a mind paralysed by a political culture of too much fear of its leaders to reason straight.
Too entrenched this culture is in Malawians, both in those with power and those without, that even the winds of democracy in 1994 could not blow it away.
That is why we are still talking of government-owned private sector. Ask Mulli, if you think I am lying.
That is why until now those with power can primitively accumulate unexplained K1.7 billion, K61 billion, loot the Treasury and get away without facing the law. Will cashgate cases lead to anything substantial?
That is why we still have mysterious deaths of Kalonga Stambuli and Robert Chasowa and those who ordered the killings are going scoff-free.
That is why until now we have women and children lining up the streets of Balaka as early as 7am, clad in orange, waiting to greet a President who will cruise along the road at 11am.
That is why we still have a President who is wasting millions of kwacha everyday distributing cows and goats and maize when a police station in Blantyre does not have fuel to improve security in the city.
That is why we still have people vying for presidential positions just because they are sons or brothers of former presidents. That is why we still have leaders who talk little about mining or tourism or manufacturing but maize, hoes and cheap fertiliser. There is no party that wants to make mining its agenda despite the huge potential of the sector. They are all talking about maize and smallholder farmers. And you get surprised when I say Mchikumbe Number One is still alive?
All this adds up to one thing: Kamuzu Banda is still running Malawi. There may be some changes in his deep autocracy, of course. But the fundamentals of big government running small people remains intact. He chiseled and programmed our minds to think in a particular way. We are all, today, playing to that programme.
What happened in 1994 was a transition without transformation, partly because leaders who formed the new government were Kamuzu’s true descendants. That is why some perceptive analysts argue that Malawi needs a transformative leader. This means Malawi needs a leader who can emancipate the nation from the Kamuzu political culture.
Can May 20 help to give Malawi such a leader?
My immediate answer is NO. Why?
Not until we realise the power we ‘small’ people have that we can oust an unpopular government that is taking us where we do not want.
Until that happens, Kamuzu Banda—through one of his agents we will elect on May 20—will continue to rule Malawi. Long live Kamuzu!