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Malawi - History - Independence

Malawi became an independent member of the British Commonwealth on 6 July 1964, following almost 75 years of British colonial administration. Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, leader of the independence movement, was named in the constitution as the first President. Dr. Banda headed the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), which was the only legal political party in Malawi. Two years after independence, Malawi became a republic on 6 July 1966. The constitution provided that the President of Malawi be selected every 5 years by officials of the MCP and tribal chiefs; however, by a unanimous resolution of the MCP, Banda was acclaimed President for Life in 1970. The National Assembly is a single-chamber legislative body with 96 elected members. According to the constitution, all legislative power is vested in the Parliament. However, such power had never been realized because of President Banda's predominance; a position based on control of the governmental structure and leadership of the MCP.

Malawi experienced nearly 20 years of improving economic conditions, relative to other black-ruled African countries. It a landlocked country with virtually no natural resources. Its only assets are fertile soil and adequate rainfall with a climate favorable to crop production. From independence in 1964 through 1979, real GDP grew at an average rate of 5.5 percent per year. Since the mid-19708 however, the country experienced mounting balance of payments problems and an interruption in economic growth, due to such factors as escalation in import prices of fuel and capital goods, cyclical swings in the prices of agricultural exports (tea, tobacco, and sugar), and interruptions intraditional rail routes to the Indian Ocean resulting in higher costs of transport.

With assistance from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the government embarked on an ambitious structural adjustment program aimed at restoring economic growth and achieving a sustainable balance of payments position. Economic growth declined, however, with GDP decreasing 2.8 percent and 2.6 percent in 1985 and 1986, respectively.

Despite the strides made since independence, Malawi remained one of the world's least developed and poorest countries. Per capita GDP in 1986 measured only $205, reflecting the absence of any appreciable mineral or manufacturing base in the economy. Malawi was heavily dependent upon South Africa for both investment and trade. South Africans made up a large percentage of the tourists who visited Malawi and when petroleum supplies from Mozambique were interrupted in 1980, South Africa airlifted petroleum products to Malawi. Malawi also exported and imports via Mozambique's rail and port systems, precariously balancing its economy between these two southern African foes.

Shortly after independence, some members of Bandas governing cabinet resigned in protest against his autocratic methods and his accommodation with South Africa and the Portuguese colonies. In 1965 a rebellion broke outled by Henry Chipembere, one of these former ministersbut it failed to take hold in the countryside.

President Banda enjoyed the affection and loyalty of the people. Although there are no indications that the people, the army, or the police would not remain loyal to him, the President was extremely wary of threats to his position and authority. This was reflected in May 1983, when three prominent cabinet ministers with large constituencies, and a member of parliarnent, died in an auto accident. Reports suggested that they may have been murdered by the police. In 1985, anticorruption purges took place beginning with the ouster of civil service chief John Ngwiri, who held one of the most powerful positions in the country. The departure of Ngwiri represented a shakeup in the power structure and the succession line-up in Malawi. President Banda tolerated no opposition, and anyone emerging as a political threat risks imprisonment or financial ruin.

Although there were known dissidents inside and outside the country, there did not appear to be an immediate threat to the political stability of Malawi. These dissidents were few in number, weak in capability, and without a major benefactor. The major opposition groups outside Malawi were the Socialist League of Malawi (LESOMA), the Congress of the Second Republic (CSR), and the Malawi Freedom Movement (MAFREMO). Past meetings of leaders of these groups held to discuss unification of the disparate anti-Banda movements ended in failure. In late December 1981, the Malawi Security Forces announced the capture of MAFREMO leader Orton Chirwa when he attempted to reenter Malawi to lead an anti-Banda coup. The capture of Chirwa and subsequent trial for treason by the traditional court system probably did not crushed the long-term ambitions of the other elements of the dissident community nor had it slackened their interest in coming to power in a post-Banda Malawi.

By 1990 President Banda's health appeared to be deteriorating. Reporting suggested that the transition of leadership in Malawi was slowly underway, even though Banda remained in power. His closest advisers were exerting increasing influence and making decisions for him, most notably in the foreign policy arena. For example, President Banda was unaware of Malawi's abstention on the United Nations Grenada resolution. Until recently, no one other than the President would attempt to take a position on foreign policy issues.

Whoever succeeded Banda seemed likely continue many of his basic policies, while trying to bring Malawi back into the mainstream of African thinking. However, despite occasional reports concerning the President's deteriorating health, he continued to be the major power in Malawi. Banda's demise or incapacitation could create a leadership vacuum. The Malawi Constitution provided for a Presidential Council of three MCP members to rule the country in the event of Banda 's death until a new president can be elected by the MCP. Reliable sources reported, however, that the concil would have five members, three from the MCP plus the Chief of Police and Commander of the Army. In such a situation, there might be a power struggle between the army, the young pioneers, and police. Although the army, under its present commander, was expected to uphold the constitutional process.

Toward the end, he suffered from senility, had brain surgery in 1993 and seemed very dependent on his longtime companion, Miss Cecelia Kadzamira and her uncle, John Tembo, the Minister of State. Banda was stripped of the life presidency in 1993 when a referendum ended his reign. In 1994, under pressure from Western nations who cut off aid to enforce demands for democratic reforms, he called elections. He was defeated by Bakili Muluzi, a former protege who had resigned from the Cabinet in 1982 suspecting he was about to be killed.

After Banda was removed from office, he was tried for the 1983 murder of three Cabinet minsters and a Member of Parliament who were beaten to death with crowbars and hammers by the police and stuffed into a blue Peugot that was then pushed over a cliff in a staged accident. He was excused from court because of sickness, and ultimately was acquitted.

Hastings Kamuzu Banda, a founding father in postcolonial Africa who led Malawi to independence in 1964 and then ruled it with a combination of caustic wit, eccentricity and cruelty for 30 years, died on 27 November 1997. The clinic gave his age as 99, but Government documents during his rule would have made him about 90.





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