"It's shameful that the UDF party wants to take us back to the dark days,"

Mr Gwanda Chakuamba (2003)

search antimuluzi.blogspot.com

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Kamuzu: Statesman par excellence

BY Tikhala Chibwana

14:46:34 - 14 May 2008

There is no shortage of reasons for remembering
the first president of the country, the father and founder of the
Malawi nation, Dr H. Kamuzu Banda. However, for me, it can all be
summed up in one speech.

Talking of speeches, Dr Banda was a fiery orator known to speak for
hours on end. Some of his speeches were motivational, some persuasive
and yet some were simply informative. Long speeches, short speeches and
even witty ones were all in his repertoire. He had just the speech for
the occasion.

Dr Banda’s speech that left an indelible impression on me though was
one of a kind. It was a speech that is hard to forget for its brevity,
content, perfect timing and its far reaching effect.

The country’s future was hanging in a balance. The man who held the key
was Malawi’s first president. As he had done so many times in his 31
years rule, he lived true to his claim that he was at his best when he
was being opposed. In just a few sentences, Dr Banda made the speech
that would become the point of no return for this country.

The impact of that speech continues to be felt even today. In fact,
that speech resonates with even bigger importance today than it did
then. I would like to think that this was pretty much the speech that
got us to where we are today.

It was in May, 1994. The results for the general elections had started
pouring in. Bakili Muluzi was leading in the presidential race. The
counting was still going on and it would take another two if not three
days before the electoral commission would announce the winner.

There was a lot of anxiety. What would the final results be? What if
the results were disputed by the contesting parties? The voting had
been peaceful but would there be peace after the results were
announced? Many stayed indoors and monitored the situation on radios.

Other than that, all one could do was to wait and see. Whatever the
case, one thing was for sure, Malawi would never be the same. The
expectancy was becoming unbearable for many.

Then came the announcement on the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC)
radio, on May 19 to be exact, that Dr Banda would address the nation at
9 am. What was he going to say? All the country’s radios were on the
dial this one time. No one wanted second hand news. The only radios not
switched on that day were the ones not working. Little did many suspect
that this would be the turning point.

At 9 am Dr Banda came on air and voluntarily conceded defeat. Just like
that. He acknowledged that the people of Malawi had spoken and that
Bakili Muluzi was the winner. He congratulated the president elect and
offered to work with him.

It was a very short speech by his standards lasting as it did for just
under 10 minutes. It started at 9 am and by 9:10am–-before people had
time to digest what had just happened–-Dr Banda had said his goodbyes
and signed off in his own inimitable way.

Coming from someone like Dr Banda after he had ruled the country for 31
years, his address left the world speechless. Foreign governments
praised Dr Banda “for having behaved in such a civilised manner,” as if
anything less would have been expected from a gentleman of his stature.

Even the then Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka
Anyauko, could not find the right words to describe Dr Banda’s action,
which paved the way for a peaceful transition on a continent where that
is an exception other than the rule.

Conceding defeat is difficult at the best of times. Many who have never
tasted power will threaten to go into the bush if things do not go
their way. But here was Dr Banda, sparing the entire nation the anxiety
of waiting any longer to know who had won.

At that important moment, when it mattered most, Dr Banda declared that
the future of the country mattered a lot more than his political
career. One would wish the current crop of politicians would see things
that way.

Dr Banda had all the state machinery on his side. All he needed was to
say the word and the rest would have been done for him. He just needed
to say he did not agree with the results. There were people ready to
fight for him but he brought the situation under control by bidding
farewell on his terms leaving everyone wondering what manner of a
person was this.

I shudder to think what would have become of the country had he shown
resistance. Obviously, there would have been bloodshed. But Dr Banda
truly had the welfare of the Malawi nation at heart. He left the stage
without grumbling and his reconciliatory speech ushered in the much
needed calmness. It just made things so much easier for everyone.

As a human being, he had his shortcomings but in this one action he
showed us what it meant to be a nationalist. In this one action he
showed what he was made of--if anyone was ever still in doubt.

In the euphoria of the new dispensation there were wholesale changes
being made in the country–-some good and some not so good. One can just
imagine how it must have felt for Dr Banda knowing that some things he
stood for were being changed. But being the gentleman that he was, he
never said a word in protest. Not once did he question the judgement of
the new president, although there were times when he would have been
justified to do so. As a nation we had made our choice. We had made our
bed and we would sleep on it.

There were many unpalatable things said about Dr Banda, this is despite
that he did not have the platform to answer back–-not that he needed
one anyway. He did not answer back or attempt to correct some of the
wrong assertions. Even in his silence, he spoke well.

You see, Dr Banda had done his part and he understood that when you
have done all you could do, you cannot do more. You need to make way
for others to try their luck. To quote State President Bingu wa
Mutharika, “leadership is more like a relay race”. Once you run your
part and pass on the baton stick, you are done. It doesn’t matter even
if you still have lots of energy in your reserve tank. There are no
medals for trying to overtake your teammate. That is how the race is
run for anyone with any regard to the rules.

A colleague called from Zimbabwe a few days ago (after waiting for a
month to get election results) to say, he now understands why Dr Banda
made history at his every turn. Even in his defeat, he displayed grace
and dignity. He was one of a kind--if not in the way he acted then
certainly in the way he bowed out.

This is eating humble pie for my Zimbabwean colleague who made you
regret being born a Malawian during Dr Banda’s rule. He has just
discovered what many knew all along that Dr Banda was not just another
political leader. He was a statesman par excellence.

This is the legacy which current and future leaders will be measured by
when it is time to bid farewell. So far, there is not much competition
in that league.

Today’s politicians in Malawi and indeed in the region could borrow a
leaf from the illustrious leader that God gave Malawi as its first

No comments: