In times like these, it is imperative that as a nation, we should reflect deeply on the events in 1964 which led eventually to the flight of the six ministers of the Government of Malawi. The six (not to be confused with the conniving midnight six of 2012) opposed legislation put forward by Dr Kamuzu Banda as Prime Minister in Parliament in a mammoth session on 8/9 September 1964.
The issues involved included situating the University at Zomba, the location of the new capital at Lilongwe, government housing, civil service salaries, charges for hospital treatment, foreign policy (particularly recognition of Taiwan rather than the Peoples Republic of China), Dr Banda’s tending to regard Government as his personal property, failing to consult Ministers and nepotism favouring John Tembo, nephew of the official hostess, Cecilia Kadzamira; in other words, a range of issues on policy affecting democratic governance, social and fiscal management, major development projects affecting regional balance and distribution of power, and Malawi’s alignment in the Cold War; a not inconsiderable agenda facing a newly independent country.
The six ministers took a stand on principle and patriotism, and confronted Banda, telling him he was leading the country in the wrong direction and demanded change. They had no fear, nor were they concerned that in confronting the president, they would be dismissed as disloyal and compromise their own opportunities for attaining great wealth.
It is important to appreciate the parallels and the contrasts in this story and the character of these men as compared to the men of straw that call themselves cabinet ministers in Malawi today. Now more than ever, the story of the breach between a well-qualified group of Malawians who played leading roles in bringing an expatriate Malawian more than twice their age back, after over 40 years, to the country he left in his youth and in constructing for him the political base on which Malawi’s independence was achieved should be worth of close study.
Perhaps the subordinate issue of the crisis, that of Masauko Chipembere’s attempted coup in February 1965 is also relevant as a point from which we can draw some lessons for our present time.
Chipembere’s attempted coup was based on Mangochi. It was a forlorn attempt to rouse the country against Banda and it was defeated as much by the incompetence of the plotters (ferry on the wrong side of the Shire River) and lack of co-ordination with potential allies as by the lethargic counter measures of the security forces. The coup attempt, and especially its aftermath betrays the need an underlying sympathy from developing partners when a fledgling democracy is undergoing moments of turmoil.
The sympathy for Chipembere and his colleagues and the help and assistance given to them by the Government of the Unites states and the British Foreign Commonwealth Officewas justified when the Chirwas (Orton and Vera) were captured and imprisoned after their imprudent return to Malawi in 1982. It was also well rememberedwhen Banda’s authoritarian excesses began to overflow and became the principal causes of the revolt and of subsequent internal crises (eg the imprisonment of Aleke Banda in 1980 and the state murders of Dick Matenje, Aaron Gadama and others in 1983).
In preferring Banda the British Government backed stability and a degree of financial propriety, as well as the insulation of Malawi from communist influences; Banda was rewarded with preferential aid which he carefully protected from malversation while raiding the Treasury’s other resources when need arose for his own enterprises (the cause of the break with Aleke Banda).
In the end, the western support and the choice to look the other way created a demon that the west itself had to tame as fear of Banda became pervasive and deep. It was only when continued aid was made conditional on opening up democratic choice that Banda’s hold slipped; although even then he was protected from paying any substantial penalty for his excesses by a meek and surprisingly compassionate people that we are as Malawians.
The purpose of this brief history lesson is to remind everyone with an interest to see growth in Malawi that it takes love to grow a country. This is the love that comes in the form of patriotism for those that consider themselves to be Malawians, and in the form of a special kind of empathy from those development partners that are truly interested in seeing Malawi making progress as a country.
This desperate search for love of country is demonstrated clearly in the fact that the cause of the problems that Malawi is currently facing is epitomized and definitively summarized in the press conference that Home Affairs Minister Nicolas Dausi held in the aftermath of the riots that claimed the lives of two policemen in Msundwe last week.
It is hard to imagine that the nation’s founding fathers I have mentioned in the brief history above would have held press conferences to defend their Kamuzu had he displayed the kind of blatant leadership failure that we are seeing president Mutharika exhibit today. They loved their country more than they loved themselves and their own personal, political or economic well-being. It is because they loved the country more that they were prepared to stand up to a man 40 years their senior and tell him some important home truths about his leadership and political policy flaws.
In contrast, Dausi’s press conference was not about love of country but all about love of wealth and power- the kind that only is available through sycophancy.
The concentration of this country’s wealth in the hands of politicians, bourgeois elites in government and business means that the unqualified, the unemployed and the low income earners, who have quite little or no access to the wealth portfolio must find ways to survive. Sometimes, like Dausi, they even find themselves named as cabinet ministers!
However because they are unqualified and underserving due to such factors as illiteracy and ineptitude, they have to bank on god-fatherism, nepotism, religious and cultural affiliation, and tribe, among others. To get to the wealth pool or to catch some crumbs of the wealth, therefore, the only tool in their arsenal is sycophancy and a determination to make the president believe that he has support for his leadership even when by all accounts the leadership failures are so obvious that they quite simply cannot be defended.
What modern Malawi is desperately searching for then – something that the likes of Masauko Chipembere, Kanyama Chiume and Dunduzu Chisiza, as well as the martyrs of 1983 seemed not to have passed on to this generation- is love. Love of country.
Additionally, Malawi is also desperately seeking love from its developing partners. The love similar to that displayed by the Americans and the British in the sixties when they sympathized with Masauko Chipembere and his colleagues.
Modern Malawi might be democratic enough that no politicians are actually hunted down by state security agents and assassinated, but there is still a need for love that is deep enough to notice that those that are trying to develop this country are being thwarted at every turn by a system of nepotism and patronage that has developed a life of its own. As such, those trying to change Malawi cannot do it all alone with the help of developing partners. In the past, development partners were prepared to listen to their love for Malawi and help in strategic ways to keep it on track. That love needs to come back if Malawi is to survive as a country.
My fellow Malawians, the true Malawian hero today might not come from the opposition although this is a real possibility. I am inclined to submit, however that the real hero will be the one that is currently serving in the high echelons of the Mutharika administration, but who, like those heroic founding fathers of 1964, will find the courage to speak the truth to Mutharika about the problems created by his leadership. Who could that be?
Who is ready to be the modern Malawian hero?
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