My fellow Malawians, today is a very important day in the history of our country as we commemorate 50 years of independence under the theme: “Transforming our nation with a shared vision and renewed commitment to hard work and integrity for sustainable development.”
On 6th July, 1964 Malawi got its independence from Britain, signaling a new era for Malawi. This is an important day for all Malawians because we are celebrating that we have not only attained 50 years of independence but also 50 years of peace, stability, progress and prosperity. It is a day when, as a nation, we are reflecting on how we have performed over the past 50 years and how we would like to move forward together in the next 50 years and beyond.
Let us all celebrate this day because we have every reason to do so. We have to celebrate because of the remarkable progress we have achieved over the years. Indeed we need to celebrate because, among other things, 50 years ago, we did not have some of the hospitals we have today; 50 years ago we did not have some of the roads we have today; 50 years ago, we did not have a single public university, let alone private ones; and most importantly, 50 years ago we did not have the democracy we have today.
Standards of living have increased remarkably, and there has also been a notable drop in inequality. In terms of human development, using Millennium Development Goal (MDG) indicators, the country ranks among the top 20 performers, in relation to both absolute and relative progress. This is something worth celebrating.
Since Malawi became an independent state, the country has continued to be an island of peace and calm, law and order which have been essential for the country’s growth. The first President of Malawi, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, appealed to Malawians for hard work, peace and unity. We heeded his call and the country registered growth in various sectors of development. The country has also continued to be an island of peace in Africa.
Of course, my fellow Malawians, we owe the development we have registered over the years not only to ourselves, but also to our development partners. I, therefore, on behalf of all Malawians, thank all development partners who have helped us ever since we became independent and continue to help us, in the development of our country. I want them to know that Malawi is highly indebted to them.
Despite the many achievements we have registered, we are faced with as many challenges as one can imagine. Our country is still one of the least developed countries in the world. Our health and education systems are on the verge of collapse, HIV/AIDS continues to threaten our nations’ development. Our economy is in a sorry state and, in general, Malawians are on average poorer than they were in 1964.
We must, therefore, ask ourselves “what has gone wrong? What is it that we were supposed to do that we did not do properly or not done that resulted in our country sliding backwards?” One of our challenges has been the disconnect between policy and practice. We have had good policy documents gathering dust on shelves. This must stop. In fact, most of the policies were transitory and often brought short-term successes that could not bring about sustained growth and poverty reduction.
Fellow Malawians, we must take collective responsibility for our failures and shortfalls as a nation. However, these weaknesses should not make us despair because the future is not bleak. All we need to do is learn from our past mistakes and resolve to do better as we strive to take our country to greater heights. As I said in my inaugural speech last month, “today, we begin another leg of 50 years. My fellow Malawians, the next 50 years of our journey presents us with an opportunity to reset our priorities, rethink our strategic focus, redefine Malawi, and make it very progressive.”
My fellow Malawians, we need to transform our country from being a predominantly importing and consuming country to a predominantly producing and exporting country; we must create sufficient substantive jobs and new wealth for our people; our country must be food self-sufficient; our country must transform the agricultural primary commodities, other raw materials and minerals into value. At 50 today, we must strive for economic and development independence.
My fellow Malawians, the independence, freedom, peace and stability we are enjoying and celebrating today did not come on a silver platter. Some of our compatriots sacrificed their lives for it. It is that spirit of dedicated service and sincere sacrifice that we celebrate here, a spirit that likewise burned within our forefathers as they fought for our freedom 50 years ago.
Lest we forget: Malawi, Nyasaland then, was a British colony. In 1953, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was formed despite African opposition. This meant that the British Government had virtually transferred its protectorate responsibility over Nyasaland to white settlers of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). However, African resistance to the federation, spearheaded by the then Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) forced the British Government to shelve the idea of federation.
Eventually, Malawi received self-Governance in 1963 with Kamuzu Banda, who, in 1958 returned home from Ghana to lead in the struggle against colonialism, as Prime Minister, and on 6 July, 1964 Malawi became an independent state with Dr. Kamuzu Banda, as its first President. In 1966 Malawi became a Republic.
My fellow Malawians, whether one likes or not, Kamuzu Banda was a visionary leader who laid a solid foundation for the country’s social and economic development despite ruling with an iron fist.
In 1992 Malawians expressed dissatisfaction with the increasingly autocratic rule of the Malawi Congress Party under President Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda and in March 1992, the Catholic Bishops wrote a pastoral letter denouncing Kamuzu’s disregard for human rights. This led to struggle for political pluralism led by some key figures, including the late Chakufwa Chihana, who was jailed for speaking openly against Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda. Pressure for multiparty democracy mounted and Kamuzu consequently called for a referendum in June 1993, during which Malawians voted in favour of multiparty democracy.
And on 17 May 1994, Malawians went to the polls to vote in the first ever multi party Parliamentary and Presidential Elections and His Excellency, Dr. Bakili Muluzi, was elected president of the first multi-party government after 30 years of attaining our independence.
My fellow Malawians, the struggle did not end with the May 1994 elections. Malawians have been trying to perfect their independence through democratic elections that saw the country being led by Their Excellencies Dr. Bakili Muluzi from 1994 to 2004; Prof. Bingu Wa Mutharika from 2004 to 2012 (May His Soul Rest in Eternal Peace), Dr. Joyce Banda through the constitution from 2012 to 2014; and now you have me.
My fellow Malawians, from the history of the struggle for independence, then the introduction and experience of multiparty democracy; I want us now to draw a number of lessons, things which are necessary ingredients for the further social, economic and political development of our country:
First is patriotism. This is the love for one’s country to the extent that one is prepared to serve his/her country with complete devotion, diligence and complete sacrifice of personal comfort. From the struggle for independence through to the 1993 referendum it is evident that many people sacrificed their lives for the love of the country. We should have that same spirit of love for our country. We should learn to put our country first, and nothing else, for the country to forge ahead into greater prosperity.
My fellow Malawians, discipline is another virtue we should learn from our freedom fighters. This is the ability in a person to do the right thing, at the right place, at the right time and in the right manner. Discipline was high during the pre-multi party democracy era. However, once Malawi attained the multi party democracy, everyone thought they had the right to do things in the manner they pleased; as a result chaos and anarchy became the order of the day in the first years of democratic Malawi.
The culture of not respecting the rule of law has become the order of the day. We have become a nation where even simple traffic rules are being ignored, people are able to embezzle government resources including medicines in hospitals with little or virtually no regard to life. Therefore, as we embark on a journey of another 50 years or more, I wish to appeal for discipline because it is essential for the nation to achieve remarkable prosperity. We need discipline at every level of our society. The transformation journey is for all Malawians to embark on and the time is now.
My fellow Malawians, there is an old adage which says, “united we stand, divided we fall”. As individuals we cannot be strong and manage the difficult task that lies ahead of our country. Therefore, unity is a very important aspect that has seen this country move to what it is today. The freedom fighters managed to win independence for this country because they were united in the struggle against British rule. Unity of purpose is what we have learnt from the leaders who have ruled this country since independence.
Unity of purpose is undoubtedly a critical ingredient for the development of our country.
Fellow Malawians, we need to embark on a journey of transforming our country to greater prosperity in the next 50 years with absolute honesty and integrity. We should always place honesty and integrity before anything else. While we commemorate 50 years of independence we must learn to be decent, straightforward and sincere in whatever we say and in what we do.
Fellow Malawians, Courage is another important character we must learn today. As the freedom fighters played their part to win us independence from colonial bondage, we should play our part without any hesitation, whatsoever, even when undertaking our daily chores.
My fellow Malawians, a true Malawian should be able to offer self-sacrifice. The privileged must be able to offer themselves to undertake some selfless assignments on behalf of the less fortunate so that we move forward together as a united nation. That is what serving the country and our local communities is all about. Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, for instance, had to abandon his job as a medical doctor in Ghana to fight for the liberation of his country. We must all have the same spirit as we strive to take this country to greater prosperity. I therefore call on all those professionals in and outside Malawi to put the country’s interest first. Come back home and contribute to the development of mother Malawi.
Another character worth emulating from the history of Malawi and as we commit ourselves to transforming Malawi to sustainable development, is hard work. Hard work is the key to the development of the country. I would, therefore, like to encourage every Malawian to be hard working if we are to truly transform our country from poverty to prosperity. Democracy does not mean that everything that we want will fall on our heads like Manna from heaven. Development will come through hard work and involvement of everyone. Malawi is slowly becoming a country of high dependency. We need to abandon the culture of expecting Government to do everything for us. President Kennedy once said “think not for what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”. Indeed think nothing for me without me.
My fellow Malawians, as we commemorate 50 years of independence, we must first of all remember we are sons and daughters of Malawi. We must remember that Malawi is our motherland. We need to put the destiny of this country into our own hands. As I said during my State of the Nation Address, these celebrations have set our development agenda for the next fifty years and beyond. We need, as a nation, to realize that this is a befitting moment for us to look back and reflect on our successes and challenges so that we can reposition ourselves for a great future. I have no doubt that we will seize this moment to reassert ourselves and act with greater determination and vigour to achieve fundamental transformation of our country.
Fellow Malawians, it is sad to note that after 50 years of independence, a large proportion of our people still live in abject poverty. It is sad to note that the majority of our youth remain jobless and many of our people do not know where their next meal will come from; and our infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired. Our country will realize meaningful and sustainable development if, and only if, we rededicate ourselves to hard work, peace and unity.
It is the mission of the DPP-led government that we facilitate the instilling of self-confidence and sense of socio-economic independence of Malawians, by creating a conducive environment for hard work, creating more sustainable jobs, redistributing incomes and increasing the supply of quality goods and services for the domestic and international markets. If we do this, we will definitely take our country on a right track to greater prosperity.
My fellow Malawians, I will be failing in my duty as sitting Head of State and Government if I do not acknowledge the great contributions that my predecessors Excellencies late Ngwazi Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Dr. Bakili Muluzi, late Ngwazi Prof. Bingu Wa Mutharika, and Dr. Joyce Banda. These led our nation through different trying times. Today I call on you all to stand by me and support the DPP-led government as we take the nation on a new development path that will leave a mark for the next half century and beyond.
In conclusion, my fellow Malawians, let me once again confirm my government’s commitment to work with, and for, all people of Malawi regardless of their geographical regions, origin, race, creed or colour so as to develop one nation. We will work together for the common good of all our people. Let me also guarantee you that my government will work towards protecting the rights of our people by combating corruption and upholding the rule of law in every aspect of governance. This, I believe, is the greatest tribute we can give to the many who have fought for our freedom, ensuring that the Malawi people will have to rise from poverty, injustice and oppression.
While we know that much remains to be done, I believe our vision is within reach. Just as we have shown in the past that meaningful change can be achieved, that trust in government can be restored and that by treading the straight path to progress together we can overturn decades of neglect and mis-governance, I know that working together we can collectively achieve our shared inspirations for our nation.
I thank you for your attention and wish you happy 50th Independence Anniversary celebrations.
May the almighty God bless our Nation.
I thank you.
- His Excellency, President Prof. Peter Mutharika, Republic of Malawi