Kamuzu Day: A renewed opportunity to say ‘no’ to tyranny in Malawi

Introduction: The Two Faces of Kamuzu

The Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for Development of People (CEDEP) join President  Joyce Banda and the citizens of Republic of Malawi in commemorating Kamuzu Day on 14th May 2014. The fact that this year’s commemoration of Kamuzu Day falls barely 6 days to the historic Tripartite elections makes it even more significant in as far as drawing some remarkable lessons from his life and reign are concerned and also reflecting on some positive steps which as a country can take based on such a past mindful of forthcoming elections and post-may 20 Malawi.

As human rights , rule of law and good governance, we, the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation and Centre for Development of People (CEDEP) hold that the commemoration of this day every year, on one hand, accords the citizens a rare opportunity to celebrate the life of Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda who, apart from successfully resisting the colonial era, laid the foundation of our independent Malawi, and also helped the country register some considerable strides in development particularly in the area of agriculture and infrastructure. In the same breath, we at CHRR and CEDEP also recognize that at the heart of Banda’s 30 year rule are serious forms of human rights violations or abuses inflicted on the citizens of the land especially on the critics who were subjected to “mysterious deaths”, unlawful detention, execution, and still others exiled.

Kamuzu Banda
Kamuzu Banda

Kamuzu a heroe or villain; heroes policy as a solution

These two conflicting faces of Kamuzu Banda have consequently in the long run given impetus to unending debate amongst the general public on whether he qualifies the special recognition of a heroe worth sparing a day in a calendar as a public holiday to celebrate his life. In other words, while some section of our society regard him as a heroe based on the above mentioned positive accomplishments still others view him as the worst dictator to have so far graced Malawi’s political history based on the grave human rights violations that characterized his reign. This ambiguity in the legacy of Dr Kamuzu Banda makes it difficult to have a clear cut answer on whether he deserves to be a hero or not. As we have previously argued elsewhere, the solution to resolving this ambiguity, and still several past and forthcoming ones is to have in place a feasible hero’s policy which would set certain minimum standards to help the country or government in determining who deserves such  honour or not.

The absence of the heroes policy has shortchanged so many a great son and daughter of our land whose heroic deeds have gone into oblivion without subsequent due recognition. At the same time in the absence of a heroes policy a political leader may wake up one day to accord such honor to a person he or she adores purely on political grounds in order to woe perhaps political support hence the honour subjected to political abuse. Our renewed appeal to the post-may 20 2014 government therefore is to expedite the process of putting in place a heroes policy to guide the government on whom to accord the hero or heroine accolade.

The Significance of Remembering both faces of Kamuzu in View of the Tripartite Elections and Post-May 20 Malawi

With the tripartite elections just around the corner and Malawi attaining 50 years in a few weeks to come, the commemoration of Kamuzu day has a unique significance  especially in view of the tripartite elections and Post-May 20 Malawi. Whether Kamuzu was a heroe or not is an issue for another debate but, one fact stands out clearly that it was his bad record of human rights violations and a complete departure from democratic governance which towered over a few of his positives.

Kamuzu Banda graduated from the people’s darling to a ruthless dictator who did not care a hoot about the dignity and human rights of people especially his critics to the point of subjecting them to execution. So, in connection to the forthcoming elections and subsequent post-May 20 Malawi, this day provides us an opportunity to soberly and critically reflect on these human rights violations and abuse of public resources committed not only during the Kamuzu era but also during the Bingu Wa Mutharika, Bakili Muluzi and Joyce Banda respective reigns. The citizens should take a step further by identifying and examining the possible causes for such human rights violations and abuse of public resources and ponder on the best ways on how to avoid the repeat of such in the near or far future.

At the same time, informed by such a dark experience of human rights violations coupled by gross mismanagement and abuse of public resources instigated by those in the ruling tracing from Kamuzu era to the present, the citizens should demand all the 12 Presidential Aspirants to make their position clear on what measures they would put in place if either elected or re-elected in order to address the challenges bordering on gross mismanagement and abuse of public resources and human rights violations which have charaterised our country since independence. Only those presidential hopefuls who have sincerely committed themselves and demonstrated from their past and present track records to  respect, protect and promote human rights, democratic governance and rule of law should be given the opportunity serve this country through a ballot.

On the other hand, while it is a well-known fact that it was the external and internal pressure that forced Kamuzu to call for a referendum in 1993, giving Malawians a chance to choose whether they wanted to continue with his one party authoritarian rule or adopt multi-party democracy, his reaction to the 1994 general elections defeat is one great lesson that all 12 presidential hopefuls in the forthcoming Tripartite elections must emulate if we are to have a peaceful election.

Contrary to many’s people’s expectations, Kamuzu was gracious in his defeat; he congratulated Muluzi and wished him well before the vote count was over. Even before his death in November 1997, the first President of Republic of Malawi made a public statement asking Malawians who had suffered under his tyrannical leadership to forgive him. It is this humility, tolerance and ability to accept defeat as evident in these two scenarios by Kamuzu that all aspirants in the forthcoming tripartite elections must learn from him.


Lastly, we at CHRR and CEDEP wish all a great time as they reflect on the above. We also appeal to all those who registered to turn up in their large numbers to exercise their democratic right to vote for the candidates of their heart.


Timothy Mtambo                                                                          Gift Trapence

             Executive Director                                                                       Executive Director

Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation                       Centre for Development of People

   [email protected]                                                                  [email protected]                   

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