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Malawi’s independence and modern democracy

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By Eunice M’biya:

AUTHOR—M’biya

Malawi’s attainment of political independence in 1964 was but a process triggered by several factors. The experiences of Malawians at the face of colonial domination were a misfortune. The colonial government imposed its political ideologies and institutions upon Malawi, spent all its energy collecting taxes and punishing defaulters, destroyed much traditional tribal authority, replacing it with the British colonial system of government, and through the missionaries, held African customs and traditions in contempt.

Consequently, colonialism was involved in the making of the collective and individual identities and ideologies of the colonised. Racial discrimination also largely affected the state-of-being of native populations.

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The natives were suppressed and exploited, lost their freedom of speech and action and virtually became slaves to the colonial masters. It is under these conditions that the nationalist movements were triggered, expressing the depth of African discontent, which in turn precipitated a revolution that would oust colonial rule and accord Malawians independence in 1964.

In view of this, I hasten to argue that these revolts, like the great Chilembwe Uprising of 1915, have had significant connections with contemporary protests for justice and, surely, instilled in Malawians, a pride and determination not to permit such an unfortunate chapter to be re-written in the nation’s history.

My view is that the political consciousness, expressed through protests must have brought national unity. The union, bought by the seams sewn by the natives, equally gave Malawians control over the political processes which had been taken away by the British government.

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This political unity gave birth to the native associations that took a leading role not only in giving Malawians a voice but also a nationalism they had longed for. Cultural nationalism successfully defeated the imperialist mentality that the whites had imposed on Malawians.

Equally in the modern era of globalisation, characterised by the continued tension between universal models and local exigencies, there is much room for Malawians tradition to excel by focusing on the importance of the state and national identity to ensure that we do not suffer a lack of independence perpetuated by the neo-colonialist ideas.

Further, the attainment of Malawi’s independence in 1964 did not come on a silver platter. It was a struggle against colonial tyranny. The uprisings by alienated members of the rural population who were unwilling to abandon their traditional land heightened political consciousness and disposed workers and peasants towards joining broader resistances.

It can therefore be argued that the transfer of power could not have occurred without the support of the major portion of the subject population. Therefore, I further argue that this 56th independence celebration is less meaningful if it forgets a huge portion of the rural population whose souls scream out in silence, mourning the political injustices, apathy, indignity and abject poverty experienced through the different regimes since 1964.

The participation of the rural masses in the decolonisation process can be argued to represent the key components of liberal democracy which today include key issues such as that of political participation of the citizens, not only in choosing their own leader, but also enjoying a host of civil and political liberties which include freedom of expression, association and press, sufficient to ensure the integrity of political competition and participation.

This was a force equally influential in ending the one-party rule in 1993 and has been influential in the most recent 2020 presidential election which has restored sanity towards the organisation of multiparty elections and the notion of independent electoral commissions, including the organisation of repeat elections that must be recognised as a critical indicator of democratic consolidation. These changes were designed to open up the political space and in so doing, allow for greater competition in the struggle for political power.

It must however be noted that remembering those who still suffer under independence deserves more than a refusal to celebrate. Independence implies the full enclosure of opportunities and the total reform of any systemic political, social, economic and gendered inequalities in order to level the playing field of imbalances that has existed for generations since 1964.

It is only relevant today that all of us must continue to fight every day, for liberation and justice for the sons and daughters of the slaves, the natives, and all others who paid a huge price for the freedom we enjoy today.

The revolts pioneered by Chilembwe and other fighters opened up spaces for the democratic spaces and revolutions that characterise Malawi today and are viewed as progressing towards the contemporary nation-state. The fight for freedom has been a process whose fruits have produced the contemporary democratic Malawi and deserves to be enjoyed by all.

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