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“Malawi has a long history of mass protests”

21 July 2011

Contrary to stereotypes about the docility and peaceful nature of Malawians, Malawi has a long history of mass protests going back to the colonial era including the struggles against the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland that saw the demise of the federation and the country’s independence in 1964. In the early 1990s, mass protests culminated in the collapse of President Banda’s iron-fisted dictatorship in the multi-party elections of 1994.

That is from Malawi on the Brink: The July 20 Movement posted to the Zeleza Post and written by Paul Zeleza, who was trained as a historian and is currently the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Loyola Marymount University. I had the pleasure of meeting Paul when he visited Texas A&M late last year following the publication of his book, Barack Obama and African Diasporas: Dialogues and Dissensions. His discussion of the ideas in that book was so engaging (and the questions he raised so enticing) it almost made me start a new research agenda. Part of that is due to his gift with communicating his ideas. Not only is he frank about his opinions, but his opinions are so well informed by his rich understanding of history.

An example of his candor from Malawi on the Brink:

For someone who never received a PhD from an accredited institution and never taught at a university [President Mutharika] insists on being called His Excellence Ngwazi Dr. Professor Bingu wa Mutharika. He fancies himself an economist and mister-know-it-all. He has removed competent people from key economic ministries and institutions. He increasingly bases economic policy on his misguided understanding of Malawian, let alone African, economic and political history as is clear from his ill-written 700 page book, _The African Dream: From Poverty to Posterity_, published by his daughter and launched to great fanfare earlier this year.

Zeleza goes on to compare President Mutharika to the former Malawian dictator, Hastings Kamuzu Banda (a comparison that has become increasingly popular):

It is the president’s outdated fidelity to the nationalist politics of the 1960s that partly explains his myopic admiration for Malawi’s founding president, whose policies and even dress he tries hard to emulate. The two presidents also share another commonality: they came back to rule after decades spent in exile and exhibit deep disdain for their people. They represent the ugly face of diaspora politics, its modernist conceits, its superiority complexes. President Mutharika’s contempt for Malawians is evident in his condescending speeches and his shock that the people of Malawi are not grateful for his leadership. In a bizarre juxtaposition on July 20, while people were demonstrating around the country, the president was giving a rambling “public lecture” on the country’s political independence, sovereignty, good governance and the economy. The gods showed their wrath and ironic humor when power went off for thirty minutes as the professor president was pontificating.

As I sit and complain about the short shrift Malawi’s protests got in the international media (and the general lack of context and poor word choice used in most of the articles that were published), it’s refreshing to see such a bold piece rooted in historical context. Also pretty awesome that it’s written by a Malawian.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 July 2011 1:19 am

    There are plenty of comparisons that can be made between the Ngwazi and the Kangwazi. This has been helped along by the latter’s public adoration of Kamuzu, his ruling style and his legacy. He’s made a conscious effort to emulate the man, at least outwardly. The dictatorial tendencies have certainly taken root.

  2. Malawian Voter permalink
    23 July 2011 1:29 am

    Look at what Bingu and his police did to an innocent bystander at his own home. This is very sad.

  3. Malawian Voter permalink
    23 July 2011 4:19 am

    I just wonder why the president did not issue a statement against the behavior of his youth cadets causing terror with panga knives in Blantyre city a day before demonstrations and never issued condolence to the families who lost their loved ones as commented by the author in this article. Oh God bless Malawi, where do these type of leaders come from?

    • 24 July 2011 8:54 pm

      I also wonder why he did not come down on the DPP panga-wielding youths who were emboldened enough to take to a busy street in one of the largest cities in DPP-branded trucks.


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