Celebrate Kamuzu Banda without forgetting his ‘Autocratic leadership style’

Women Dancing for Kamuzu
Mbumba of malawi women dance for kamuzu Banda

Kamuzu Banda’s authority was sorely tested by a cabinet crisis that began in September of 1964. Ministers demanded the immediate Africanization of Malawi’s white-dominated economy and urged Banda to take a hostile stance toward colonialist South Africa and Mozambique (an African province of Portugal). They also questioned Banda’s refusal to recognize Communist China, even though China had offered the impoverished African country first $6 million, then $18 million in sorely needed aid. Most of all, the ministers objected to their own hollow political status; they held no real power against the imposing Banda–a truth the prime minister often emphasized by referring to them as his “boys.”

 

But Banda refused to replace white expatriates serving in government posts with Malawians. Furthermore, he stated that Malawi’s economic dependence on the territories to its south forced him to maintain a policy of friendliness toward colonial regions: Mozambique owned landlocked Malawi’s only access to the sea, so Banda saw no choice but to remain on good terms with the Portuguese province. As for South Africa, it would be nothing short of foolish to oppose its considerable military strength. In addition, approximately 80,000 Malawians employed in South African mines brought $1 million annually in foreign exchange to Malawi. Banda also proved immovable on Red China. The amount of aid the nation offered was immaterial, he announced; he was not going to be bribed to recognize their communist regime.

 

Stung by his ministers’ charges of paternalism, he fired the three instigators. In February of 1965, Chipembere, a sympathizer, led an unsuccessful revolt against Banda’s government before being placed under house arrest; he later escaped permanently into a densely wooded area inhabited by protective supporters. Malawi became a republic the next year, and Banda was named its president. In 1971, he was voted president for life.

 

Struggled with Malawi Economy

 

Despite Britain’s aid of about $25 million, independence revealed a Malawi economy so stagnant that it yielded an individual annual income of only $17.50 for a large segment of the black population. The few available manufacturing jobs were hotly contested, and there was little domestic mining activity outside of lime quarrying for cement.

 

Banda constructed foundations to shore up his teetering economy, establishing parastatal organizations, or state-run corporations. The Malawi Development Corporation, formed in 1964, promotes manufacturing operations and keeps a close watch on all foreign companies by means of obligatory government partnerships. ADMARC, founded in April 1971, is an agricultural cooperative with a national monopoly on fertilizer and seeds. Partly a price-setter, the organization also handles export crops of tobacco, peanuts, cotton, and maize; by the early 1980s it had burgeoned enough to boast shares in such profit-spinners as the Bata Shoe Company, Lever Brothers, and the Portland Cement Company. A third important organization, regarded as a quasi- parastatal, is President Banda’s own Press Holding. Initially set up in 1969 to print the party newspaper and finance the MCP, Press Holding also finances tobacco-farming estates.

 

Profits from Press Holding and ADMARC often mingle to finance the president’s pet schemes. One big beneficiary is the elite Kamuzu Academy, founded in 1981 to provide a liberal arts education for the country’s top students. Still, so little money was allocated for other education that a random survey of southern schools, completed at about the same time, showed that classes could only seat 12 percent of their students.

 

Overseen by an aged president, damaged by poor management, and savaged by persistent drought, the Malawi economy was at a low ebb in the early 1980s. In 1985, the World Bank worked out a restructuring plan and encouraged the government to form the Mining Investment and Development Corporation (MIDCOR). Slender resources have since benefited considerably by exploration of uranium, bauxite, asbestos, and graphite deposits, and manufacturing ventures have grown to include a match factory, a brewery, a gin distillery, and two tire retreading plants.

 

As Banda approached his mid-90s, his iron fist still ruled over the world’s fifth-poorest country. (Per capita annual income was $160 in 1992.) There were whispers of political prisoners, the country’s lone neurosurgeon among them, who had been held since the 1980s. Studies from international relief workers noted that one in three children under five died of starvation, and 55 percent of the survivors are stunted. But change was on the horizon. In mid-1992, longtime donors threatened to cut off more than $74 million in nonhumanitarian aid unless Banda moved toward democracy.

 

Democracy Led to Downfall

 

On June 14, 1993, 63 percent of Malawi’s voters showed their support for democratization, choosing to replace the republic’s one-party system with a multi-party government. According to Africa Report, Banda accepted the results without threats of retaliation, proclaiming in a radio address, “This is what politics and democracy are all about.” Initial action toward democracy seemed promising, with legalization of political parties set for July and a multi-party election to follow.

 

But the democratic transition was stalled by mid-summer. Banda had failed to sign a constitutional amendment legalizing opposition parties and furthermore refused to allow newly formed joint commissions—composed of government and opposition representatives—to manage political affairs until a multi-party election could take place. Opposition leader Chakufwa Chihana of the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) summarized the situation in Malawi for Africa Report: “We have given the government an ultimatum: Stop delaying the transition or we’re prepared to call a mass action campaign of civil disobedience across the country.” Tensions grew throughout the year.

 

Ill health threatened Banda’s hold on Malawian politics in the fall of 1993. According to Africa Report, Banda “was flown to South Africa for emergency brain surgery on October 2.” Following the dictates of Malawi’s constitution, executive power shifted to the presidential council, led by MCP secretary-general Gwanda Chakuamba, in mid-October, when it was determined that Banda was no longer able to govern. Shortly thereafter, however, a still-ailing Banda was declared well enough to resume power. The postponed general election occurred in mid-1994 and Banda lost control of the country to Bakili Muluzi, his former political protégé who had withdrawn from his Cabinet position in 1982 out of fear for his life.

 

Although the newly elected government pressed charges against Banda for the atrocities committed under his cruel leadership of Malawi—specifically for the murder of three Cabinet ministers and a member of Parliament in 1983—he was ultimately acquitted. For the last years of his life Banda lived in relative obscurity surrounded by personal servants calling him “Your Excellency,” as described in the London Voice. He never married and claimed no children. He died of complications of pneumonia in South Africa on November 25, 1997. Having always kept his exact age a secret, Banda was believed to be between 90 and 101 years of age. His body was returned to Malawi where a state funeral was held on December 3, 1997.

 

 

Contemporary Black Biography | 2006

COPYRIGHT 2005 Thomson Gale.

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