Malawi’s first democratic president Bakili Muluzi has given an interview in the local press to chronicle 25 years journey of the country’s democracy after the nation commorated what used to be Freedom Day June 14, when citizens voted in 1993 referendum to adopt multiparty democracy.
Muluzi, a generally jovial happy-go-lucky fella who is fond of cracking jokes at every available opportunity, said in interview report published in The Nation newspaper that “there is nothing that can replace democracy in the modern world.”
He said: “When I hear some people say we have achieved nothing with democracy, it saddens me. Many institutions such as Malawi Human Rights Commission, Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Malawi Law Commission, the Ombudsman’s Office and the Malawi Electoral Commission and Judiciary came about after we gallantly fought for democracy.”
Muluzi, who governed from 1994 to 2004, recounts the high price for democracy.
The paper quoted him explaining: “I remember that immediately after 63 percent of Malawians voted in favour of multiparty during the 1993 referendum, over 500 000 people who had fled the country, including Kanyama Chiume, returned to Malawi. Others who had been detained without trial were released.”
The former Malawi leader recalled how the underground movement started around 1983 after the death of three Cabinet ministers Aaron Gadama, Dick Matenje, Twaibu Sangala and a parliamentarian David Chiwanga.
“They died two years after I left Cabinet. Patrick Mbewe, the late Dumbo Lemani, Brown Mpinganjira and myself met and asked ourselves; ‘should we really allow this to continue?’
“Our group later grew to 17 people. We were approaching one person at a time.
“We later started producing pamphlets denouncing the system and calling for change which we would distribute across the country,” he explained.
The former president said the late Chakufwa Chihana, who later became leader of Alliance for Democracy (Aford), had also started his agenda for change and challenging the president under the one-party dictatorship, Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
He recalled: “On two occasions police came to my residence in Naperi, which now houses Joy Radio, and told me they had information that I was rising against Banda.
“I denied the accusations. I was wearing a Kamuzu badge and I told them, how can I do that? They left and I immediately went around and alerted my friends.
“Kamuzu later announced during a public rally in Balaka that if anyone sees me they should arrest me. That time we were at Harry Thomson’s office at Ginnery Corner, holding one of our meetings.
“Lemani tipped us off and we verified it to be true. There was British High Commissioner’s residence in Blantyre, apart from the one in Lilongwe, and we agreed I should seek refuge there. That was the only safest place.”
He said police went to his house, searched everywhere, and went to his Kapoloma home village in Machinga without success. Muluzi said they took his son, young Atupele (now parliamentarian for the former ruling United Democratic Front -UDF and Minister of Health in President Peter Mutharika’s Cabinet) then and his mother to police station where they pressed them to disclose where he was, but they told police they had no idea and were let go.
“I spent three days at the British High Commissioner’s residence, the commissioner was not there. My friends late Collins Chizumira and Wenham Nakanga were lawyers, and they knew where I was hiding. So they came and asked: ‘Why don’t you surrender to police?’ and I accepted,” he said.
Muluzi said Nakanga drove him to Southern Region Police Headquarters and without charge, he was locked at Chichiri Prison where he spent five nights.
In the newspaper interview, Muluzi said the 1992 pastoral letter issued by Catholic bishops titled Living Our Faith, hit the nail on the head as it was considered a remarkable support to what they had been demanding.
He said the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) was born around that time, acting as a link between those calling for change and government.
“We were very happy that Malawians finally voted for referendum. We knew that would be the beginning of human dignity,” he said.
But Muluzi does not credit himself and his cronies for the change in Malawi politics.
He said: “It was all God’s grace. Sometimes I ask myself, how did it happen? It was almost impossible. Many people were killed and arrested. We had the support of people. People were yearning for change.”
The former president who retired active politics nowadays is visibly weak and walks with difficulties with the aid of a walking stick after he suffered slipped veterbral discs .
He can longer sit upright for a long time and has to be helped by aides to board vehicles.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :