Sustainable Democracy Democracy Factfile - Supporting Democracy in Southern Africa
HISTORY
Archaeological evidence of settlements around Lake Malawi dates back to the late Stone and Iron ages. Arab and Portuguese literature of the 17th and 18th centuries mentions the area, once called Maravi or 'reflected light', in apparent reference to sunlight glittering off Lake Malawi.

The pre-colonial Maravi Empire was a loosely defined society of scattered groups of Chewa,Tumbuka, Tonga and Mang'anja who settled at different times during earlier southward migrations of the Bantu, in an area exceeding the boundaries of the present-day Malawi. With a pleasant climate and a large, scenic lake lying in the rift valley, migrating Bantu tribes found Malawi an attractive spot for permanent settlement. The significance of the lake in the lives of the people to the present day is reflected by the concentration around it, of the country's major ethnic groups: the Yao on the southern Lake shore, the Tonga, Tumbuka and Ngonde in the northern shores, and the Chewa in the central region. All are historically agriculturalists.

But the peoples lived under the constant threat of slave raiders and of migrating groups fleeing the wars sparked off by the birth of the Zulu empire in Natal in the 1820s. The Ngoni from the south and the Yao from the east, made some successful invasions, settled among them, trading in agricultural produce and occassionally in ivory and slaves. The territory tasted its first major dose of Christian and colonial influence on the arrival of the missionaries of the Scottish Presbyterian Livingstonia Mission who set up their first posts in the north in 1878.

David Livingstone had visited Lake Nyasa, as it was called then, earlier in 1859. Traders, farmers and settlers of all description followed the missionaries and instituted a policy of 'divide and rule' as their numbers grew. The warriors were pacified or overwhelmed, the slave traders banished, new missions were built and estates established. Colonialism had begun to take root.

THE COLONIAL PERIOD
The British government declared the territory the British Protectorate of Nyasaland in 1891 and established an economy based on agriculture in which the Africans were relegated to servitude, with few legal rights to land. The colonial system was unjust and in many ways cruel. It was not long, however, before African activists staged an uprising; in 1915 Reverend John Chilembwe, head of the Providence Industrial Mission in Chiradzulu district, led the first revolt. It was brutally repressed but the seeds of discord and nationalism had been sown.

Chilembwe was educated in America and his uprising was key to reinforcing British distrust of educated Africans, leading to the imposition of Indirect Rule, under which African chiefdoms were played against each other. By 1944, the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) was formed embracing independent churches, native associations and the small crop of newly educated Africans on a non-ethnic basis. In 1951, the British government endorsed proposals by white settlers for a federation with the territories of Northern and Southern Rhodesia. Fearful that the federation would prevent the attainment of independence, African nationalists voiced their opposition to the union- in futility. The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (FRN) was formally established in October 1953 but it lasted for only a decade.

ENDING SETTLER RULE
Meanwhile, a radical leadership emerged from the NAC led by Henry Chipembere and Kanyama Chiume, becoming more prominent in 1955. The group invited one of Africa's first qualified physicians, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, to head the fight for freedom. Banda, virtually an enigma at the time of his return, had emigrated to South Africa from Nyasaland, reportedly as a teenager (worked on the rand in 1918), made his way to America and subsequently Scotland to train and practice medicine. He relocated to Ghana before returning to Malawi. In July 1958, Dr Banda, who had retained close links with the NAC despite being resident abroad for nearly 40 years, returned to assume the leadership of the party. Banda was vigorous and articulate in his denunciations of the federation; his arrival fired up the campaign culminating in civil disorder in March 1959. The colonial authority declared a state of emergency, banned the NAC and arrested its leaders. Undaunted, the Africans formed the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) in September 1959, led by the incarcerated Dr Banda. The defiance campaign continued and the British, overwhelmed by sporadic incidents of disorder, acceded to demands for self-rule.

Dr Banda was released in April 1960. A series of constitutional conferences followed his release and elections were held in August 1961. The MCP won decisively. Full self-government was attained in January 1963; Dr Banda became Prime Minister in February. The hated Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was dissolved in December the same year, to the joy of the millions of African nationalists who had worked tirelessly to break free of the union.

THE REPUBLIC OF MALAWI
The independent state of Malawi was born on 6 July 1964, and became a full member of the Commonwealth. Banda became President of Malawi which officially became a republic and a one-party state on 6 July 1966. The constitution which came into force the same month and year of independence, gave the President, who was also Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, widespread powers. In 1971, Banda was voted President-for-Life.

THE CABINET CRISIS
In the post-colonial era, Malawian politics took a dramatic turn. Banda, once seen as a strong anti-colonial voice and expected to favour rapid Africanisation, did just the opposite. He awarded greater responsibilites to the white expatriates and elicited support from the least educated masses, moulding them into a strong support base. His reluctance to Africanise the economy drew much opposition from the educated Malawians, and prolific in resisting him was Henry Chipembere, the former leader of NAC.

Deep suspicions and Banda's own resentment of opposing views caused a split in the cabinet leading to the resignation of several of his ministers. Banda took the criticisms as an affront on his person and threat to his power base. Disaffection with Banda ignited revolt; in February 1965 Henry Chipembere led an unsuccessful but politically symbolic uprising. His life in apparent danger, Chimpembere fled into exile as Banda's political machinery began to purge the ranks of all dissidents. The MCP was structurally disorganised in the aftermath of the cabinet crisis. Unmoved by the prospect of failure, Banda ruled through the agency of traditional chiefs, in the same manner as the colonial master. By 1973, he had developed a highly personalised autocratic system centred around himself and the MCP. Many Malawians fled the country. The last attempt to challenge his authoritarianism came from his former Minister of Home Affairs Yatuta Chisiza, who led an "invasion" into Malawi in October 1967. Chisiza was killed in an exchange of fire with Malawian forces.

THE BANDA REGIME
Banda maintained tight control over his ministers by annually dissolving and reconstituting the cabinet. He held, in addition to life Presidency, the portfolios of four ministries: Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Public Works, Justice and Agriculture. The reality of Banda's scheme of things was that no elections took place between independence and 1977. From 1977, Banda would select candidates from lists submitted to him by party branches or simply impose his own preferred parliamentary candidate, declaring them "elected unopposed". The President was empowered to dismiss Members of Parliament on the basis of a petition by constituency members. This was interpreted by some analysts as a positive step as it appeared to vest power in the people to control their representatives. In this scenario, the opposition had no place. Banda's obsession with absolute power and with the total obliteration of all opposition, saw his secret police steal into foreign lands to eliminate dissidents. Press censorship became rife and a network of informers kept citizens in a state of silence, subservience and fear. The youth movement of the MCP, the Young Pioneer, became the reigning authority of the land, striking terror in the hearts of the citizenry. In 1977, secretary-general of the party Albert Nqumayo Muwalo and head of the special branch Focus Gwede were sentenced to death for allegedly plotting to assassinate Banda, the only two prominent persons to stand trial in a long time in Malawi.

In March 1979, Banda admitted that a letter-bomb which had injured the leader of LESOMA, Dr Attati Mpakati, had been sent under his instructions. Mpakati was later deported from his sanctuary in Zambia and found murdered in central Harare, Zimbabwe in 1983 while on a private visit. The Banda government denied any involvement in the killing. In May 1983 the leader of the Malawi Freedom Movement (MAFREMO), Orton Chirwa, and his wife Vera were sentenced to death for treason. Following appeals for clemency by international organisations and heads of state, Banda commuted the sentence to one of life imprisonment. (Orton Chirwa died in prison in October 1992 and Vera Chirwa was released in January 1993). In what observors saw as a blow to the opposition, Gwanda Chakuamba was sent to prison for 22 years for sedition in 1981. But it was the deaths, in 1983, of three prominent politicians that shocked political observers. Dick Matenje, the Secretary-General of MCP and two other senior politicians died in a mysterious car accident, their deaths coming at a time when they were being seen as possible successors to Banda.

Their passing seemed to leave room for John Tembo, Governor of the Central Bank to rise to the echelons of power. The government continued to deny reports by human rights monitors of detentions without trial, torture of opposition leaders and journalists, political assasinations, and in March 1990, the alleged shooting of 20 anti-government protestors. The general elections held in May 1987 (as in the previous elections of 1978 and 1983) were exclusive to MCP candidates. A total of 213 candidates contested 69 of the 112 seats in the National Assembly.

Malawi

President Bakili Muluzi and Malawi

INTERNATIONAL ISOLATION
On the international scene, Banda outraged the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) as far back as 1965 by refusing to condemn Apartheid South Africa. He did not mind, he said, "supping with the devil". Malawi established diplomatic and full trade ties with South Africa against the current of anti-apartheid activism amongst African states, and was isolated by neighbours as a result.

NEW WAVE OF OPPOSITION
Although no political leaders were allowed to sprout from within the country, a series of events in the 1990s internally and externally signalled the coming of change. A new opposition movement, the Malawi Socialist Labour Party was formed by exiles in 1991. Inside, open opposition to Banda's rule emerged. Student demonstrations led to arrests, political riots claimed 38 lives from Police action. Around Malawi, neighbouring countries such as Zambia had experienced dramatic transformation from the single party system to pluralism, driven by a new continental fervor. Activists exiled in Zambia and other neighbouring countries for over two decades, sprang to life and began to re-organise. In March 1992, the influential Roman Catholic Church lit the fuse with the publication by its bishops of an open letter criticising the state's alleged abuses of human rights. The Formation of the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), constituting religious and political groups, pointed to the birth of organised opposition inside Malawi.

Pressure on the government intensified later in the month, when about 80 Malawian political exiles gathered in Lusaka to devise a strategy to precipitate political reforms. In early April Chakufwa Chihana, a prominent trade union leader who had demanded multi-party elections, returned to Malawi from exile and was detained on arrival by the security forces. (He was finally released in 1993). Anti-government riots, industrial unrest in the commercial city of Blantyre, pro-multiparty campaigns engulfed the country. Donors suspended all non-humanitarian aid because of the government's appalling human rights record as police continued to arrest scores of people flashing anti-government literature.

Elections to an enlarged legislature took place in June 1992, at which 675 MCP candidates contested 141 elective seats, were held in June 1992. 45 candidates were retained unopposed, five seats were vacant, due to the disqualification of some candidates, and 62 former members of the National Assembly lost their seats. At the end of June the President nominated 10 additional members to the National Assembly.

The Alliance for Democracy (AFORD), a pressure group operating within Malawi under the chairmanship of Chihana, was formed in September 1992 with the aim of campaigning for democratic political reform. In the same month, the United Democratic Front (UDF) was born. Chaired by Bakili Muluzi, a businessman from the south and a former secretary-general of MCP. Both the UDF and AFORD joined the PAC. The government reacted by forming the President's Committee for Dialogue (PCD), and there began the shift toward a national referendum on the one-party state.

REFERENDUM and TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY
Hemmed-in by unprecedented rebellion to his iron-fisted rule, the aging Banda reluctantly agreed to a referendum by secret ballot on the introduction of multi-party democracy. In early January 1993, more than 100 000 anti-government demonstrators attended a rally in Blantyre. During that month LESOMA and another party, the Malawi Democratic Union, merged to form the United Front for Multi-party Democracy, based in Zambia. In March, MAFREMO dissolved itself and its membership joined AFORD.

Malawians voted against single-party politics with 63.2 percent opting for change. A total of 67 percent of the electorate participated. Malawi's region-based vote patterns became manifest during the referendum: the north and south strongly opposed one-party politics while the central region, where Banda hailed from, remained loyal to MCP. Immoveable over opposition demands to install a government of national unity, Banda nonetheless agreed to the establishment of a multi-party national executive council to over-see the transition to pluralism and a national consultative council to draft the new constitution.

A one-year interim constitution was introduced in May 1994 prior to elections. Ill-health haunted Banda and in 1993, he had surgery in South Africa. Banda resumed duties only to witness his vaunted Young Pioneer crushed and forcibly disarmed by the army. Banda's reign finally ended with the multi-party elections held on 17 May 1994. Afflicted by disease, Banda died of pneumonia on 25 November, 1997 in Johannesburg's Garden City Clinic reportedly at the age of 99. In the four-candidate presidential contest, Bakili Muluzi, leader of the UDF, obtained 47.3% of the vote and was sworn in as president on 21 May; Banda himself won 33.6 %, and Chakufwa Chihana (of AFORD) 18.6%. The UDF won 84 of the 177 parliamentary seats, the MCP 55 seats and AFORD 36 seats. The UDF dominated in the south, MCP central and AFORD swept all seats in the northern region. Results in two constituencies were invalidated. (Currently, UDF holds 85, MCP 56 and AFORD 36). Malawi emerged out of a one-party dictatorship with one of the most proportionally balanced parliaments in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The opposition was in pall position to influence change under the new dispensation.

With suspicions between MCP and the new parties still strong, it was expected that UDF-AFORD would forge an alliance. It did not materalise. AFORD instead chose to work with MCP, compelling the UDF to constitute a government without a parliamentary majority.

THE NEW GOVERNMENT
To ensure that the new government was able to get its legislation through parliament, Muluzi broadened his cabinet, appointing ministers from AFORD and other smaller parties. Significantly, Chihana was nominated to the new post of Second Vice President. The UDF government was hence able to garner the majority it needed to push legislation in the house. However, differences cropped up in 1996 and Chihana resigned accusing government of corruption. AFORD members were divided over the decision, some with ministerial posts resigning along with him while others opted to remain in office.

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
Opposition alliance and elections: The country's two leading opposition parties-AFORD and MCP- have forged an alliance in the hope of increasing the number of seats held. Although there are more than a dozen political parties, only three are likely to be represented in the National Assembly - the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) headed by President Bakili Muluzi; the MCP led by Gwanda Chakuamba; and AFORD headed by Chakufwa Chihana. Malawi has at present, one of the most proportionally balanced parliaments in the region. The country of 11.2 million people, uses the British First-Past-The-Post (FPTP), winner-take-all electoral system, which is often criticised for its tendency to introduce single-party dominance. In Malawi, however, the dynamics confound the critics: the non-proportional system yielded a parliament balanced on proportional lines in the 1994 elections. The balanced outlook of the legislature is due to region-based vote patterns, which makes the proportional outcome something of an "accident".

This pattern of regional conciousness, according to some political scientists, has its roots in the division of the country by the colonial power into the three regions-Central, Southern and Northern (the same is true for most of Africa). The demarcations were not entirely for administrative convenience but reflected different economic, social and intellectual experiences (Historians acknowledge, however, that ethnic thinking dates back before colonialism). Political analysts believe the country was further encouraged to fragment on ethnically defined lines by Banda's rearrangement of the political order; where Yao-speaking southerners and the peoples of the northern region were explicitly marginalised. At the same time, there was an affirmation of the special authenticity of the culture of the Chewa-speaking people of the central region. The effect of this is the unmistakeable sway toward regionalism in political-election loyalties.

THE MEDIA
The landmark in media development in Malawi this century is the introduction of television, which came on line on 1 April 1999. Malawians were denied television facilities throughout Banda's rule, apparently as a way of keeping them closed to the outside world.

MEDIA SCAN

DAILY NEWSPAPERS
DAILY TIMES
Contact:
Address:
Tel:
Fax:
Charles Simango, Editor-in-Chief
Scott Road, Private Bag 39, Blantyre
(265)671566
(265)671233/671114
NATION
Contact:
Address:
Tel:
Fax:
Email:
Alfred Ntonga, Editor-in-Chief
P O Box 30408, Chichiri, Blantyre 3
(265) 673611/673343/673703
(265) 673343/675186
nation@eo.wn.apc.org
WEEKLY NEWSPAPERS
MALAWI NEWS
Contact:
Address:
Tel:
Fax:
Vales Machila, Editor
Private Bag 39, Blantyre
(265) 671566/671455
(265) 671233
THE INDEPENDENT
Contact:
Address:
Tel:
Janet Karim, Editor
P O Box 2094, Blantyre
(265) 674314
THE STAR
Contact:
Address:
Tel:
Email:
Lance Ngulube
P O Box 1240, Blantyre
(265) 673470
star@eo.wn.apc.org
WEEKLY CHRONICLE
Contact:
Address:
Tel:
Fax:
Peter Kumwenda
Private Bag 77, Lilongwe
(265) 743086
(265) 743086
PERIODICALS
MONI MAGAZINE
Contact:
Address:
Tel:
Fax:
Prince Shonga, Editor
P O Box 5592, Limbe, Blantyre
(265) 651833
(265) 651171
THIS IS MALAWI (ENGLISH/CHICHEWA)
Contact:
Address:
Tel:
Fax:
Information Ministry
Private Bag 494, Blantyre
(265) 620266
(265) 620807
WASI MAGAZINE (ENGLISH/CHICHEWA)
Contact:
Address:
Tel:
Dr Steve Chimombo
P O Box 317, Zomba
(265) 523289
MOYO MAGAZINE (CHICHEWA)
Contact:
Address:
Tel:
Fax:
B Nkhoma, Editor
P O Box 30377, Lilongwe 3
(265) 783044
(265) 783109
BROADCASTING STATIONS
MALAWI BROADCASTING STATION
Contact:

Address:
Tel:
Fax:
Wilson Pankunko, Acting Director-General
P O Box 30133, Chichiri, Blantyre 3
(265) 671222
(265) 671353
TV MALAWI
Contact:
Address:
Tel:
Benson Tembo
P O Box 566, Blantyre
(265) 624751
NATIONAL NEWS AGENCY
MALAWI NEWS AGENCY (MANA)
Contact:
Address:
Tel:
Anthony Chamveka, Managing Editor
Private Bag 28, Blantyre
(265) 622122
MEDIA ASSOCIATIONS
MEDIA INSTITUTE OF SOUTHERN AFRICA (MALAWI CHAPTER)
Contact:
Address:
Tel:
Fax:
Email:
Bentry Mndhluli, National Director
P O Box 30463, Capital City, Lilongwe 3
(265) 721485/ 720471
(265) 720471
bentry@eo.wn.apc.org

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Beyond Inequalities: Women in Malawi, 1997, SARDC - WIDSAA
  2. Commonwealth Year Book 1997.
  3. Constitution of the Republic of Malawi.
  4. Church, Law and Political Transition in Malawi, 1992-1994, Matembo, S Nzundu, R Ross
  5. New African Yearbook, 1997/98, IC Publications
  6. Renaissance Vol. 1, Review of Democracy and Democracy and Governance in Southern Africa, SARDC
  7. Regional Surveys, Africa South of the Sahara, 24th Edition, Europa Publications
  8. Southern African News Features (SANF), SARDC
  9. Southern African Media Directory, 1998, MISA
  10. The Suppression of Dissent in Malawi, Africa Watch
  11. The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa, Leroy Vail
Malawi Factfile