Malawi’s 3rd wind of change

This election is a rare opportunity for Malawians to plot a new course. Considering how the recycled politicians have wrought havoc since independence, we now have a real opportunity to elect a young leader to take Malawi on a different path.

Atupele Muluzi, 35, is the youngest among the presidential candidates and carries the approach and aspirations of a huge cohort of young Malawians whose perspective on politics is different from that of the recycled, older political candidates. Muluzi’s Agenda for Change proposes a much-needed overhaul of the structure and functioning of government to meet 21st century challenges and is part of a worldwide trend towards younger leadership. His historical candidacy evokes other watersheds of the past which brought new directions for Malawi and Africa.

In 1960, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan delivered a historic speech in the South African Parliament at Cape Town, famously speaking of a “wind of change” blowing through Africa as majority black colonies demanded political independence and universal adult suffrage. “Whether we like it or not,” he said, “this growth of national consciousness is a political fact … (and government should aim) … to create a society which respects the rights of individuals …”

Atupele and his wife showing the certificate of presidential candidacy
Atupele and his wife showing the certificate of presidential candidacy

Macmillan was as much describing the continent-wide independence movement as he was criticizing the apartheid system of his hosts. He delivered his address in the presence of the architect of apartheid, Prime Minister Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, and his Nationalist Party, in their Parliament. Their reaction was predictably frosty, but the speech has since taken its place as one of history’s most celebrated descriptions of political change on a continent-wide, if not global, scale.

Apartheid took another thirty-some years die but that continent-wide ‘wind of change’ he described was already in full bore even as Macmillan spoke. But he telegraphed the inevitability of the ongoing changes and the futility of resisting them. He was urging courage in embracing them and even challenging his audience to help bring them about. In Nyasaland, after some blood, sweat and tears, we, too, became independent in 1964. A new agenda for change described by our freedom fighters had borne fruit. Malawians had taken the courage to join the African wind of change and realised their aspirations.

The Struggle for Multi-Party Democracy

A generation later, Malawi was again caught up in a continent-wide gust of wind: the gale of multi-party democracy. The leaders at independence had by now entrenched themselves in one-party dictatorships; routinely abusing the human rights of their fellow citizens to stay in power. They had betrayed the very promise of independence.

And so when the Soviet Union imploded and the Cold War dissipated, pent-up frustration with one-party dictatorships erupted. Africans oppressed by fellow Africans demanded their democratic rights and freedoms.

Malawians, once again, joined that wind of change. Obdurate tyrant Kamuzu Banda and his Nazi-styled Malawi Congress Party (MCP) government met their Waterloo in the form of catholic bishops, Chakufwa Chihana, Bakili Muluzi and others whose campaigns resulted in a multi-party referendum in 1993. Malawians voted for multi-party democracy and Kamuzu Banda and his MCP were put out to pasture in elections the following year.

The episode, once again, demonstrated the courage of Malawians and their inclination to rise to the challenge of continent-wide currents of thought and political action. Malawians did not shrink from the task of demanding and regaining their basic rights when the wind of multi-party democracy swept the continent. They fought for it, won and embraced it lock, stock and barrel.

Malawi’s 3rd Wind of Change

There, however, remain challenges in governance and in trying to grow the economy fast enough to bring about real prosperity to the teeming millions of impoverished citizens and residents. There is also the ‘small’ matter of bringing a real end to Cashgates and effectively tackling corruption. Moreover, the state of our infrastructure remains the bane of many development efforts and our economy has been depleted razor-thin by the insouciance of the recycled, older leaders.

In this election, nevertheless, Malawians can decide to join a worldwide trend replacing old leadership with a young, Internet-connected generation of leaders. The existing generation views power and privilege as their natural entitlements and the results on our country are all too painfully obvious. It is time for a sea change in our perception of what a leader is and what they are suppose to be doing for us. It is not our elected politicians who are our bwanas and donas. It is us who are their bwanas and donas. But try telling that to the recycled politicians!

It is for this reason, among others, that there is a new wind of change blowing in the world and in Africa in favour of younger leadership.

A thirst for real change motivated Americans, for example, to elect then Senator Barack Obama, 45, President of the United States in 2008. As well in the United Kingdom in 2010, David Cameron, 43, became the youngest British Prime Minister since the Earl of Liverpool two centuries earlier. Later in 2010, the Labour Party chose Ed Miliband, 41, to lead it and thereby become Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. In Italy, Matteo Renzi, 39, is Prime Minister since February this year.

On the African continent, Rwanda’s President is below the age of 60 and both Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta and Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza are about 50. Joseph Kabila of the DRC is only about 43 and there are other examples of young leaders emerging on the continent.

In Malawi we similarly need to join this wind of change. After all, two-thirds of the population is under 20 and only 5% is older than 65. The older generation of leaders who, for years, over-promised and under delivered, needs to step aside and say to the Atupele Muluzis of this world, in the words of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s In Flanders Field;

To you, from failing hands, we throw the torch: be yours to hold it high.


  • This article was also published in the Malawi News

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