Kamuzu Banda is a deep reservoir of lessons


Kamuzu is an enigma. He altered Malawi’s colonial history and literary wrote its post-colonial experience. While efforts have been made to obliterate his venerable name from history, the history of this country would cease to make sense minus 30 years of his dynamic leadership.

Kamuzu was a ruthless organiser. He was gifted with a dominating presence; a calm, sometimes intimidating personality and fierce clarity in his manner of communication.

Armed with extensive education, global exploration and the heart of a lion, he was fearless. In more ways than one Kamuzu was ahead of his political team, and this served him and Malawi very well.


As we honour the Lion of Malawi, what do we learn? Well to me Kamuzu is a complex curriculum. Only a few lessons can be drawn at a time:

The first lesson to be had is that way back in 1964 when systems were much more primitive, Kamuzu forged clear development policies and strategies in all sectors. He stuck to simple, technical, un-ideological policies which addressed basics of livelihood, notably food, water, housing and clothing for the people.

It was not a case of humanism, capitalism, socialism or other ideology; it was about what produced results; about what changed people’s lives and what kept the people of Malawi together as one nation.


From the outset, Kamuzu underlined agriculture for the dual reason of food security and economy. Reduced attention in the past 20 years has had dire effects on rural economies.

The second lesson relates to how Kamuzu rolled out policies. He was a political leader who also behaved like a chief executive, driving policies with uncompromising zeal, skill and consistency. Kamuzu was not just a leader he was a strict supervisor who visited public offices, inspected gardens and farms and visited ordinary homes.

Third, Kamuzu was a fearless pragmatist who did what he believed in and put his reputation on the line for Malawi and Malawians. So when it required visiting South Africa at the height of apartheid he did so not to endorse racial segregation, but because Malawi needed South Africa for her economy survival.

Kamuzu challenged the architects of apartheid in South and visited Malawians and black communities attacking racialism in the face of the host. Neither British pressure nor the goading of Organization of African Unity moved Kamuzu from the pragmatism that assured Malawi’s survival.

This is the quality of leadership that has confidence and commitment for the advancement of the people. Lesson four to learn from Kamuzu is therefore faith, strong self-belief and belief in the people of Malawi. When Kamuzu defined what his way was, he drove it almost single-handedly. Today well thought out programmes are marred by indecision.

As I said of Bingu in the last entry of Open Perspective Kamuzu was self-aware, confident in what he chose to do and made everything clear to those who worked closely with him. He was leader, teacher, instructor and supervisor all in one personality.

Kamuzu had no match in his generation for his mastery of freedom politics, regional geo-politics and grip over global trends. He had a fierce capacity for negotiation, regional networking and conflict resolution through what he christened ‘contact and dialogue’.

An international education, maturity and rare wisdom gave Kamuzu a stature larger than Africa and within the first decade since independence Malawi had already turned into a source of much knowledge for Africa.

And believe this or not effective international relations and prominence in stature saved Malawi from the threat of obliteration!

Lesson five to take from Kamuzu is the centrality of national unity to everything that Malawi is or wants to become. From 1964 Kamuzu declared war on ethnic divisions and was consistent with his message of unity to the end of life.

For thirty-some dynamic years of rule, Kamuzu reminded Malawians of the danger of tribalism, nepotism, gossip and the ever present risk of disintegration. In 1993 just prior to the referendum Kamuzu in his infinite wisdom advised ‘the greatness of a nation derives from the worthy actions of its people’.

He was asking Malawians to maintain peace and calm, law and order during the poll and true to his peaceful demeanour, he graciously accepted his loss. What a lesson in humility! Lesson number six to our leaders: when people decide they have decided for you. One should lead unwilling citizens.

Talking of leadership, becoming a leader is a wish to be different, to be set apart and to observe tougher standards of self-belief, character and discipline.

Kamuzu was an absolute master in this respect. He set himself high standards and you saw this in everything he did including what he built. You see taste and standards in the State Houses, establishments like the University of Malawi and the Kamuzu Academy.

The Four Cornerstones widely blamed for undermining human rights were the key to developing a national culture aligned to his own view of nation. Kamuzu was conservative yet elitist and perhaps even socially mean.

His language, instruction and emotional proximity with the people underscored values if modesty, politeness, friendliness. His principles were easy: children must respect adults; adults must be respectable; cultural values must be upheld; and everybody must love and develop Malawi. Kamuzu is perhaps the only leader who understood the real meaning of Malawi‘s National Anthem.

Even in high places Kamuzu insisted on discipline and exemplary behaviour. He valued happy marriage, fidelity and accountability. He was a perfectionist. If I may, his products in discipline and sensitivity to quality include Aleke Banda, John Ngwiri, Justin Malewezi, John Tembo and Kamphambe Nkhoma.

In Kamuzu’ s time the public service was outside politics, ruthlessly efficient, not because he was a dictator but his leadership demanded order, discipline and people-centered service delivery.

Finally: Malawians can develop Malawi learning from Malawi’s own sons and daughters. Given a chance to teach leadership Kamuzu, Bingu and Aleke would be my Level I Course.

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