For the first time in the history of an independent Malawi, the government will not be leading people in celebrating the usual July 6 independence celebrations.
Instead, there will only be national prayers. The reason behind this decision is that government says it wants to save money.
We all know how we struggled as a nation to get our independence. The British had colonized us for over six decades.
The British colonial government was led into Malawi, then Nyasaland, by the Christian missionaries. It established their rule across Malawi. Although it faced resistance from Chiefs M’mbelwa, Mwase, Mponda, Chikumbu, Makanjira and Gomani, it brutally crushed them down.
Nearly a decade later Rev. John Chilembwe led what is famously known as the 1915 uprising, the first of its kind in Malawi and Africa. He was not satisfied with how the British chose to involve the Black people in WWI and also the Thangata system, where people would work for free in the farms and estates of the White man. He unsuccessfully led an armed uprising which ended up with him being killed in Mulanje, as he was about to cross into Mozambique.
After this event, the beginning of the Native Associations was another attempt we made towards fighting the colonial government. The first of these were the North Nyasa Native Association, formed in 1912 and the West Nyasa Native Association, formed in 1914. These were formed for three reasons: First, to have the colonial government know the African opinion, second, to have the Africans know the laws introduced by the government, and last, to provide a platform where Africans could discuss their general and special interest.
It was on this existing platform that the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) was formed in 1944. Its formation can be credited to the Representative committee of the North Nyasa Native Association. The people had grown conscious of the need for political independence, a spirit that was present in other African countries as well. Some people, under NAC, later renamed to Malawi Congress Party (MCP), started actively discussing ways of how they can achieve this. It was from these discussions that it was decided that Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda be called back to lead the movement.
Thus he came on July 6, 1958 to fight for independence and challenge the imposed federation of Nyasaland and Rhodesia. The direct consequences of fighting the White colonial establishment were deaths of common people across the country, especially when a state of emergency was declared in March 1959, and the imprisonment of the leading political leaders like Dr. Banda himself, Orton Chirwa, Aleke Banda and Masauko Chipembere.
Space cannot be enough to expand on the brutality that happened then. But the people fought hard together with their leaders to end British rule that had dominated affairs in almost half of the world. Equipped with, probably, the best political minds, leaders and generation ever, independence became a reality on July 6, 1964 when Malawi became a republic and Dr. Banda as its first President under the MCP.
What happened for the next three decades after that is entirely another history. But when talking about our independence, the period that is much reflected on is between May, 1891 and July, 1964. This is the journey that can be described as ‘From Protectorate to Independence’. What characterized this period was a people who were willing to fight for their country and a British government that was ready to use any force to maintain its grip on power.
Lives were lost. These people were not doing it for their immediate benefit. They looked at the large picture, the independent Malawi. Thus in their present skull and bones state, in both marked and unmarked graves, in spirit, they are still with us. Our duty is to make sure that as they look down upon us, they should see our greatest use of their blood and flesh sacrifice they willingly gave.
But the Malawi story has greatly been shaped by other powerful political forces. A good example is the Cold War, the ideological fight between the USA and the USSR after WWII. The government of Dr. Banda was caught and shaped by it. His open anti-communist rhetoric made him friends with the West. Despite his poor human rights record, they continued providing him with financial, military and political support until December 1989, when the Cold War came to an end with the fall of the symbolic Berlin Wall.
Dr. Banda and his government had lost its relevance and were abandoned by its former allies. The exposure it had to endure after this led to it being defeated in the pro-multiparty democracy referendum in June 1993 and subsequently the first multiparty general elections a year later, May 1994. But the story of independence does not end there. Actually, its relevancy would start being questioned even more. [End of part one]
About the writer: Wonderful Mkhutche is a speech writer, a political scientist and a manuscript editor and developer.