On May 15 2018, Mike Bamford, the Society of Malawi Treasurer, telephoned me to say that Professor Colin Baker had died at his home in Wales a couple of days before. I received the news with shock. Baker was a great friend of Malawi. His writings on the history of Malawi and leading personalities, both British and Malawi, will prove a treasure trove for future historiography.
Baker came in the service of the Colonial Office. He completed his career as the first principal of the Institute of Public Administration at Mpemba in Blantyre. Out of the first student intake emerged George Jaffu, the first Malawian secretary to the president and Cabinet as well as head of the civil service.
During his stay, obviously, he fell in love with Malawi and its people so much that he devoted his retirement days to editing the Society of Malawi Journal in which he also contributed articles, mostly on men who had distinguished themselves in the colonial office service.
His main interest centred on the politics of Malawi after World War II and up to the independence era. Among his general history books was Seeds of Trouble, a narrative on how chiefs sold tribal lands to white farmers who then introduced the vexing Thangata tenant system.
His massive Revolt of the Minister is a mine of information on the episode that nearly wrecked Malawi’s independence. I personally witnessed the revolt since I was one of the administrative officers working in the Ministry of Finance at that time. A good deal happened behind the scenes among expatriate officials like Governor Sir Glyn Jones, top police officers and the army which is revealed exclusively through Baker’s books He meticulously studied and pieced up facts.
He wrote biographies of Sir Geoffrey Taylor Colby, governor of Nyasaland from 1949 to 1956 and one of the best governors Nyasaland had; the biography of Sir Robert Armitage who succeeded Colby. His declaration of the state of emergency on March 3 1959 was followed by mass arrests and shooting of Malawian freedom seekers. Baker also wrote the biography of Sir Glyn Jones, the last pro-consul who left in 1966 when Malawi became republic.
Baker was well informed about Malawian leaders Henry Blasius Masauko Chipembere was writing an autobiography when he died in 1975. The unfished autobiography was published by a Harvard professor with the title Hero of the Nation. Baker wrote a sequel to the unfinished autobiography.
He was a prolific writer. What I have mentioned is only what I can remember. His energy and commitment to Malawi was astounding. Some of his books were sold in our bookshops but they were so highly priced that not many ordinary book buyers bought them. However, they can be found in libraries.
Writing non-fiction books is more expensive than writing fiction or poetry. The latter if you have a fertile imagination, a pen and a writing pad, you can complete a manuscript with hundreds of pages while incurring little expenses. Writing non-fiction involves doing research, buying or accessing writings already existing. Possibly, Baker was supported by a foundation or had ample private means.
Some people who came here either in the service of the colonial office or missionary societies personally did lot of good work. Most of it of continuing value. Among these was Baker. The Awards and Decorations Committee which was established by late president Bingu wa Mutharika of which I was a member submitted a recommendation that Baker be given an award for his literary services to Malawi. Unfortunately, Bingu died before he could act on the recommendations. However, Baker’s contributions to Malawi’s historiography should not be forgotten.
Anyone writing about the birth of the Malawi nation cannot skip references to Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda. As presiden, the good that he did outweighed the evils of his regime. It is unfortunate that, as Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar, the good that men do is interred with their bones while the evils live after them. No scholarly and impartial history of Dr Banda and his rule has yet been written for use in schools. Such monographs as have been published on his life paint Dr Banda either as faultless or egregious. Justice must be done to his memory. Next time, the Kamuzu Day should be accompanied with official arrangements, readings by historians and recitations by those who knew him closely. The nation must not only be grateful to its founding father but must demonstrate the gratitude.
I heard from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that a landmark judgment had taken place in Kenya on the distribution of property in a divorce case. Women’s organisations had advocated 50-50 sharing out.
The judge ruled that both parties should receive in proportion to their contribution he or she had made to the accumulation of that property. Women’s organisations are said to be dissatisfied with the judgment.
What does the law say in Malawi? Some time ago, a colleague of mine in the civil service told me in his tribe (matrilineal), property was divided 50-50. This property in a village contest involved what was accumulated through working in the field.
In the modern context, both a husband and wife may be working; the wife may be a nurse or teacher while the husband may be a doctor or lawyer.
They would not necessarily be earning the same salaries. Which is better that the property they have accumulated be shared 50-50 or in proportion to their contribution. Young people are marrying outside their tribal confines. Laws and customs accepted in one tribe may not satisfy someone from a different tribe. What do you say you members of the Law Commission?
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