Revisiting 43 years of independence
BY Auspicious Ndamuwa
07:11:16 - 12 July 2007
The 43rd independence anniversary has come hot on the heels of the interpretation of Section 65 which has overshadowed all public debate.
Even a person goes through several stages: from infancy to adolescence which in the long run culminates into full adulthood. Events surrounding Section 65 are a direct metamorphosis of a growing independent nation just in the same manner children grow into adulthood.
An independent nation that shook off the vestiges of colonialism in the same way a child may hit back at a domineering uncle. White settlers who owned the chaise would “drive” the breadth and width of the municipal town of Zomba stirring up dust for the natives in the process.
On the outset it didn’t occur to the natives that they too had the capacity to “drive” the much coveted chaise. The Whiteman’s empire started registering some cracks when Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, after 42 years in exile returned home to pursue the African dream. Then the Whiteman’s empire crumbled like a house of cards when Kamuzu was sworn in as de facto Prime Minister of Nyasaland- a title he assumed on February 1, 1963. A year later Nyasaland became independent on July 6, 1964.
Kamuzu then changed the name Nyasaland to Malawi. Apparently, he had seen Lake Maravi on an old French map in the land of the Bororos. The name tickled his fancy, for him it sounded like the word Malawi.
Barely a month after independence, Kamuzu’s administration came face to face with a cabinet uprising. The shrewd Banda came out unscathed. Kamuzu then became republican President on July 6, 1966. Afterwards the Malawi Congress Party was declared the only legal party in 1970 and made Banda its President.
Under his rule the country was known for its affability earning the accolade the warm heart of Africa. Under the four corner stones of unity, loyalty, obedience and discipline, grew the Malawi nation.
Cases of food scarcity were a rarity but in 1981 the country experienced a major famine. In 1992 Banda imported some yellow maize in order to feed his people. Through international pressure the Ngwazi called for a referendum in 1993 and the people’s desire for a multiparty system of government was fulfilled. Kamuzu paved way for Bakili Muluzi in the 1994 poll.
Muluzi started on an even keel but before long his style of leadership thrived on a culture of corruption and handouts. The Kwacha took a downward plunge against major foreign currencies. Inflation soared and people started moving with wads of banknotes for rather meaningless purchase. In 2002/3 one of the worst food shortages wrecked havoc in the country and this resulted into many people dying of hunger related diseases. Senior government officials allegedly sold 160,000 metric tones of reserve maize in 2000.
The introduction of free primary education created a need for more teachers as the enrolment rate doubled. The subsequent teacher recruitment exercise added chaos to an overburdened system because of their short induction courses. Government’s lack of foresight brought about delays in teachers’ salaries, inadequate teaching and learning materials and inability to provide more schools.
On the other hand, insecurity became a cancerous growth that resulted in the loss of many lives. The health sector was not spared either. Aspirin became the chief drug that people flocking to government hospitals with different ailments received. Roads became impassable as potholes evolved into drum holes. Muluzi pursued a failed third and open term bid and resultantly anointed economist Bingu wa Mutharika as his successor.
Mutharika’s anti-corruption drive upon assuming power in 2004 earned him more enemies than friends. The situation worsened when he ditched the party that sponsored him and formed the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). While serving as the secretary general of Preferential Trade Area of Eastern and Southern Africa, Bingu made the following assertion after his talks with Muluzi: We’re literally sitting on wealth. We’ve no business to be poor.”
But 43 years after independence, the process of meaningful development still drags. To date, there are no proper laws that guarantee equality for children with disabilities. They fail to have equal participation in areas like education and sports. Holding prisoners in congested cells seem to be part of the unofficial Malawian punishment code.
According to Blantyre Chief Resident Magistrate Jack N’riva the practice amounts to torture. “I wonder whether reform and rehabilitation can really take place under such living conditions.”
It is now nine years since Zomba maximum prison was condemned as inhabitable. Built in 1919, the prison provides a comic picture of how backward we are. After 43 years of self rule we have minimum achievements to show. The 43 years do not march the achievements gained. Achievements are dwarfed by years of economic malaise and corruption. The HIV/Aids infection further compounds problems in health delivery services. To have 1 million people infected out of an estimated population of 13 million is not a drop in the ocean.
Issues of child molestation continue to dominate the country’s newspapers. The premature rising of parliament signifies how politics has for the past 43 years overshadowed developmental overtures.
But for the sake of upholding the interpretation made by the Supreme Court on the legality of Section 65, let the injunction be vacated so that all the concerned parties should scamper for by elections.
As the debate of Section 65 continues to dominate in the country, it is also the right moment to reflect what gains have we made out of politics in the 43 years of self-rule.