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On past presidents, other matters

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I was listening to a radio station a few days ago in which Ken Kandodo, grandnephew of the late Ngwazi Dr H. Kamuzu Banda, said the Kamuzu family was going to hold a memorial in Mzuzu to mark Dr Banda’s 20th death anniversary. Hope was expressed that the government would give a helping hand as had been done in the past.

This surprised me since Kamuzu is the founding father of the nation. I thought this occasion would be official rather than a family matter. I am aware that the government is wrestling with budgetary constraints but still I feel the Kamuzu Day ought to be given greater official reverence.

Twenty years have passed since Dr. Banda died. Almost 60 years have gone since he landed at Chileka Airport in Blantyre from Ghana and England. He was coming back on the invitation of his compatriots to come and rescue Nyasaland from the teeth of the dragon called Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. After doing that, he was supposed to lead Nyasaland to an independent state of Malawi. He accomplished both missions.

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From 1964 to 1994, he was president of Malawi. During his reign, he tarmacked roads from Bangula in the South to Karonga in the North; he extended railway lines from Salima to Mchinji and a branch to Nayuchi to facilitate transmission of cargo to Mozambique’s port of Nacala (Nakala). He built secondary schools in every district, crowning his educational projects with the University of Malawi and the Kamuzu Academy.

The idea of transferring the capital from Zomba to either Blantyre or Lilongwe had been birthed by officials of the Nyasaland government. But the money that it would have cost the Nyasaland government and the colonial office frightened them into indefinite postponement.

Dr. Banda was a go-getter, Samuel Johnston, the 18th century English writer and man of brilliant expressions, had observed that nothing can be done if all objections must be eliminated first. Dr. Banda was aware of arguments against the capital transfer from Zomba to Lilongwe but he saw more benefits than costs. He particularly stressed the need to get rid of lopsided development.

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At that time, Lilongwe was a small provincial capital but now it is a national capital of continental stature, throbbing with development projects. Mzuzu that time was a mere homestead. Before he died, Dr. Banda transformed it into a city.

Interests differ.When some people remember the Kamuzu/ Malawi Congress Party era, I do not see what they miss now. Among the things I miss are bookshops. Those days, Malawi had well-stocked bookshops. In the Times Bookshop in Victoria Avenue in Blantyre, we could buy most of the quality newspapers from England such as London Times, The Economist, Observer and The Guardian. Non-fiction books in business management, law, economics and classics in literature were in abundance.

At the Ginnery Corner in Blantyre, there was the Malawi Book Service with books and magazines from USA, UK and India. Of the three main bookshops, only the Central Bookshop is still around, not where it used to be, but in Chichiri, occupying less space than it was occupying when it was in the city centre.

A nation and its people who are not in touch with the outside world through the printed media is in danger of being out of date in matters that lead to development, Malawi at present is less informed nation than during Kamuzu era.

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After Dr Banda, Bakili Muluzi became Malawi president. He was a man of great tolerance. He laid the foundation for the freedoms we now enjoy such as to question what a president and his or her government have done. His economic and social achievements are not as significant as those of Dr Banda. That is understandable. He held office for only 10 years as contrasted with Dr Banda’s 30 years. However, the Auction Holdings Limited in Mzuzu and University of Mzuzu should remind us of his efforts to carry on where Dr Banda had stopped.

It is not to the credit of the nation that for nearly 10 years Muluzi is being harassed with more litigation which apparently is difficult to conclude. There is a principle in English jurisprudence that where there is doubt, the judge should pronounce a verdict in favour of the accused. The nation is more interested in Cashgate cases than in Muluzi’s.

Our neighbours in Zambia also had a problem with their former president Frederick Chiluba but they settled the matter long ago. Let us not be seen as persecuting our former presidents bearing in mind that Dr Banda was also arraigned. Unless there is impeccable evidence, let us leave our presidents to enjoy their retirements like those of Tanzania and Ghana.

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The gruesome murder of a family from Rumphi that came to buy a car in Lilongwe as announced on the radio should make us wander whether the virtual abolish of the capital sentence was premature. Some criminals are greater enemies of humanity than lions and hyenas.

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