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Is our independence practical?

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MALAWI’S FIRST LEADER —Banda

By Dickson Phiri :

Freedom is a complex term, understood differently from one setting to another. It may be a result of the liberation that was, or has been, endowed on a nation or individual but, sometimes, freedom tends to be analysed in its practicability sense. Thus, it has oftentimes been argued that freedom for mankind may just be illusory —a kind of freedom that exists in books only or it may indeed be practical; that is a kind of freedom that is seen in all its basic interpretations.

The aspect of many nations being under indirect rules of other nations has been taken onto the centre stage by some writers who argue it is high time African countries got ‘really’ free. It appears tentacles of the colonial system, in spite of the formal recognition of political independence, still exist in countries such as Malawi. Today, we are celebrating that we have been independent for 57 years.

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That independence came within the context of freedom. As a matter of fact, several previous commemorations were imbued with plenty of glamour. They have been rare occasions garnished with novel exhibitions that left some of us wondering whether spending so much money on the event is a ‘great necessity’. It may be worth noting that ever since Malawi broke away from the ‘stupid federation’, two types of governments have been experienced, namely the one-party system and the multiparty system. Now, over a half a century down the line, most people still believe our independence is not practical. They go on to argue that in fact there are many countries in the world whose independence is still tied to the ideals of others.

For Malawi, such lines of thought emanate from the fact that the country relies extensively on donor support in crucial areas such as healthcare service provision. Since some of the donations come in form of grants where there is an already defined purpose for the donation where the recipient only needs to implement it, we may indeed be forgiven for arguing that there are external forces in the governance of our affairs. Maybe indeed there is nothing peculiar about our freedom apart from the fact that we have a native Malawian as the country’s president and that we have our own national flag and Constitution.

Of course, there are those who argue that freedom must not be dismissed simply because a nation relies on the support of others to sustain its progress. Some nationalists and commentators see the independence gained from the withdrawing of colonial powers as only partial liberation. In other words, they argue that independence in its fullness is yet to dawn on Malawi, and most African states. Some call it ‘false freedom’.

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Full or real freedom, they believe, will come with economic independence, that is the time when Malawi will be able to fund its own development projects using its own money. In fact, there are rich countries in the world that in certain cases rely on donations even from poorer countries when they have been caught trapped in crises. It would be ridiculous to imagine that such rich countries are not independent. In 1992, the donor community threatened that it would pull out its support to Malawi if the one-party government did not improve on human rights issues and proper governance.

Some people see that as an underlying rule where foreign countries dictated our progress. Others maintain that “the fatalistic opinion that Malawi is stuck in ‘foreign hand ruling’ continues obstructing the growth of popular political movements for social and economic change in our country”. They go on to state that the claim that Malawi is not really free is the one which is theoretical, because it only exists in the minds of some people. The fact of the matter cannot be changed and it remains that we are a free nation, able to plan our own future.

When considering the economic conditions of nations in the world it is wise to think of them as belonging to different levels in the global pyramid. At the bottom are the poorest of the poor; while at the top is a tiny minority of some rich countries. And for the balance of the global market, there is need that some countries’ wealth is complimented by donor funds. Perhaps, here is where we may feel that we are not free until the day when we will finally be able to complement our own economy fully.

If donations mean the absence of independence, then not more than one percent of the world’s countries would be termed as free. Even if a nation relies extensively on external assistance, as long as it has its own leader elected by the natives, its own constitution designed by its own natives, it has its freedom and as a practical thing, it is ruling itself. There could indeed be nothing like theoretical freedom. As a matter of fact, there is no country in the world which is being ruled by another.

Perhaps, we also need to consider the fact that there are some brave individuals who fought relentlessly for Malawi to gain its independence, such as Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda is one. On the other hand, it has to be noted that freedom does not mean solitude. As a country, we cannot live in absolute solitude without any external influence. Just like any other state in the world, Malawi will continue interacting with other countries, and yet our independence will never cease to be.

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