Many people have different views about the leadership style of Malawi’s founding president Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
Some brand him as a hero who initiated many national developments while others describe him as dictator who notoriously abused power during his reign.
Both his admirers and critics may be right depending on the facts they cite to back up their positions.
If one considers a hero as someone whose qualities include sacrifice, determination, loyalty, courage, dedication, valour, selflessness, conviction, gallantry and perseverance, then Kamuzu was a hero because throughout his leadership he demonstrated those attributes.
Leaving his professional practice as a medical doctor in Ghana to lead resistance against colonial rule in Malawi, a move that saw him arrested and jailed; demonstrated that he was a hero who valued freedom and national independence. With support from many Malawians, he was able to lead the country to independence.
Through his visionary leadership he was able to lay foundation of national development and managed to create political stability, unity and peace. While civil wars broke out in many African countries soon after independence, Kamuzu created systems that made it impossible for civil war to tear apart the nation. Attempts by some of his rivals to resort to civil war in this country were nipped in the bud.
His achievements stand out up to this day. Even those who brand him a dictator have benefitted from his achievements in one way or another. It is interesting that some of his predecessors spend lots of time criticizing him.
Besides the politicians, other critics of the founding president are also beneficiaries of his achievements. After being educated in institutions which are in existence because of his visionary leadership, his critics emerge from the same institutions.
Sometimes the critics tend even to ignore the fact that a lot of public infrastructure in Malawi – be it roads, schools, hospitals, colleges, airports, railway lines and government offices – was built during Kamuzu’s reign.
Here at home, it is almost impossible for most of us to claim that we cannot associate ourselves with anything that had to do with Kamuzu regime. If you want to travel, chances are high that you will use a road constructed during Kamuzu regime, if you want public services, you will go to offices built during Kamuzu regime. So regardless how we may hate Kamuzu, we benefit from his legacy.
It is important for all of us to appreciate that during his reign, Kamuzu pre-occupied himself with national development. Perhaps this explains why he never tolerated dissent. He was ruthless when it came to suppressing dissent and no wonder, some branded him a dictator.
Dictators are paranoid, narcissistic, compassionless, sadistic, grandiose, vain, power-hungry and vengeful. It is obvious that those who call Kamuzu a dictator have evidence of how he displayed those attributes during his reign.
As the debate whether Kamuzu was a hero or a dictator continues; given the sweep of his life, and the adoration that he earned from some quarters, one remembers what former global freedom hero Nelson Mandela once said when someone asked him if he was a saint.
“I’m not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying,” said Mandela.
What Mandela meant was that as human beings we all have our strengths and shortfalls. There is nothing absolutely wrong in celebrating achievements of our heroes. By celebrating their achievements, it does not necessarily mean that they have no weaknesses.
In the name of freedom of opinion and expression, we have all the freedoms to criticize anything and anyone, but constructive criticisms also entails acknowledging and highlighting achievements of others.
Simply put, let’s celebrate the life and achievements of Malawi’s founding president instead of simply focusing on his shortfalls. Likewise let’s learn to celebrate the achievements of all our past presidents and even the incumbent one.
I recently travelled to Mangochi and I was amazed to see the road wearing a new face. And just yesterday as I drove past the Polytechnic and I saw a grand promising infrastructure in progress.
The heart of the matter is that once in a while we should even be applauding the current president for the positive achievements his administration is chalking.
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