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Independence, 58 years later

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Capital Hill

BY ELSON MANKHOMWA

Malawi is this year clocking 58 years of independence from British colonial rule but, counting from 1963, when the country attained self-government, we, as a nation, are celebrating nearly 60 sixty-years old as a sovereign African state.

Every year since 1964, these celebrations peak on July 6, the day when, in 1958, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Father and Founder of the Nation, returned home from Ghana after 40 years’ stay in the diaspora.

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He studied history and medicine at American and British universities before practising in Britain and Ghana.

On arrival, and thereafter, Dr Banda stressed that he had come to break ‘the stupid’ Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and bring self-rule to his people.

The Federation was imposed on Africans by colonialists for European interests on the pretext that Nyasaland was too poor to run on her own.

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According to Dr Banda, British settlers in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) wanted to muster the numbers to institutionalise racial segregation, then influence Britain to grant them dominion status following neighbouring South Africa.

Banda preached about genuine development like good roads and bridges, more hospitals and health facilities, good housing as well as more schools and colleges.

The British settlers, according to Banda, had concentrated on developing Southern Rhodesia, where most Europeans lived, neglecting Nyasaland (Malawi) and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia).

“Roy Welensky (Federal Prime Minister) and his fellow settlers had no time for Nyasaland or Malawi as they said the country could not develop on its own because there are no mines which was not true,” Banda said.

“The truth is they were busy with Salisbury and busy with Bulawayo because that is where most of them lived and did not care about the territories of Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia.

“It is true that we do not have mines but we have fertile soil which is good for agriculture”, Banda insisted.

And when the country attained independence, Dr Banda taught Malawians the virtues of hard work and honesty.

“Independence does not mean money falling from heaven like manna. It means working hard in the fields to have enough food and sell the surplus to buy decent clothes and build houses that do not leak when it is raining,” he said.

Following Dr Banda’s teaching, perhaps those three basic needs have, 58 years down the line, only partially been met but, certainly, not fully.

Malawians are generally better dressed today than they were sixty years ago when it was not uncommon to see wives of junior clerks and messengers walking in town without shoes.

Actually, for many years after independence, messengers and security guards in many organisations, including government offices, reported for work bare foot.

And in both public and mission schools, including those in urban areas, virtually all learners attended classes without shoes and, if a learner was seen wearing shoes, the general perception was that they had come from South Africa or Rhodesia.

On food self-sufficiency, there is apparently more awareness on modern agricultural methods.

All women today are aware of the six food groups necessary for good health, which has notably reduced cases of child and adult malnutrition.

The main challenge on food seems to be the huge dependence on rain-fed agriculture, other than irrigation methods, and knowledge and economic gaps among people.

Extension agricultural workers are not as visible as was the case during the first three decades following self-rule.

Many peasant farmers lack the means to provide for farm inputs such as imported fertilisers, which are also detrimental to the soil and, even when the will is there, the results, after harvesting, are not always very encouraging and enough to avert hunger.

And while many people these days live in “houses that do not leak”, there are many glaring signs of grinding poverty in both rural and semi-urban areas.

Additionally, many, if not most, of those “houses that do not leak” are generally substandard, considering our relatively small population.

Independence brought considerable development, including advances in the manufacturing industry Similarly, the transport system became vibrant before and after independence in both remote and urban areas.

There has been some improvement on road networks through application of bitumen and the broadening of some city and town highways though, for most of the time, there have not been many new roads constructed.

Modern bridges were constructed to replace ferries over the Shire River at several crossing points, including at Liwonde and on other rivers.

While at independence Malawi had only one international airport in Blantyre and several air strips in several parts of the country, Kamuzu International Airport was built in Lilongwe and opened in the early 1980s, becoming a busy terminal where passengers travelled on some of Europe’s elite airlines operating in the country.

The capital city was moved from Zomba to Lilongwe, with the government seat established and perched at Capital Hill.

The shifting of the capital to the Central Region facilitated transportation and communication to all regions of the country.

Apart from the inland waterway Port Herald (Nsanje), Malawi secured an own sea port at Nacala on the Indian Ocean coast in Mozambique, which complemented the dry ports at Balaka, Blantyre, Luchenza and, later, at Liwonde.

And some towns grew to city or municipality status in all regions.

Years later, Parliament buildings, presidential villas, Bingu International Convention Centre at City Centre face-lifted the Capital City, which has an ultra-modern sports facility, Bingu Stadium, two kilometres away.

In other cities, especially Blantyre and Mzuzu, infrastructural development has advanced to considerable measure, albeit in varying degrees.

Blantyre was once a sprawling commercial capital with a promising manufacturing industry that produced tasty powdered milk and quality cooking oil.

Maize and rice mills, plus beautiful bus bodies for export to neighbouring countries, were assembled in Blantyre at Makata industrial site.

Blantyre also boasted textile manufacturing for both domestic and export markets while clothes-making factories existed in all larger cities.

After independence, Kamuzu led, among other ministries, the Ministry of Agriculture, setting himself as an example of a progressive farmer and running several personal estates in his home district of Kasungu.

He urged Cabinet ministers to open their own farms and “work hard in the fields”.

Government also established THE Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation with depots and maize silos in all the regions of Malawi.

Agriculture got boosted by the introduction of rice and irrigation schemes, that also produced vegetables, maize and fruits all-year round within surrounding areas.

Healthcare services were extended to many rural sites by the construction of health centres which specialise on mother and childcare for a healthy nation— though public health facilities are generally open for medical attention to anyone.

Education was encouraged as the government built many schools and colleges, adding to the facilities initiated by missionaries and the colonial government.

Commerce was stepped up with the introduction of local departmental stores and vibrant retail and wholesale outlets.

Sixty years later, the market is dominated by multi-national retailers specialising in household appliances, electronics and imported goods plus some foodstuffs.

Those industrial gains got lost decades later and, now, we are back to importing almost everything, including fresh fruits and vegetables.

The manufacturing industry collapsed and the once reliable transport networks got besieged by setbacks, with rural communities suffering the most.

Additionally, standards in construction, especially those of roads, became compromised and huge potholes yawned right in the middle of main streets of major cities.

The need and aspiration for democratic reforms has led to attitude changes since the advent of multi-party democracy in 1994.

There appears to be some misunderstandings about the meaning of democracy and personal liberties, especially among the younger people, sometimes leading to rampant vandalism of natural and built resources.

Forest reserves and protected areas have been invaded and, sometimes, crowded with illegal and below standard structures.

Similarly, some government infrastructure has been left desolate, abandoned to fate in cities and, instead of the country moving forward, there are times we, as a nation, seem to be moving backwards.

Independence Day is time to reflect on whether we, as a patriotic nation, have all positively contributed in any way to the development of our beloved one and only Malawi.

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