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Writing about Kamuzu, other Malawian greats

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History, it has been noted, is a sum of the biographies of a country’s great people. Those people who forget their heroes forget at least half of their history. This is unwise since history is a repository of national experience and wisdom.

The greatest Malawian who ever lived is the late Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda who died nearly two decades ago. Memory is treacherous. As I write this piece, I cannot even remember the exact dates. Possibly most Malawians cannot remember either. And since the majority of our population is the youth, it is safe to say that most people do not know Dr. Banda very much. This is a pity and a shame.

Whenever I visit the Central Bookshop at Chichiri in Blantyre and peep through the window, I see biographies of Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, Barack Obama of the United States, John Kufour, ex-president of Ghana, Tony Blair, former prime minister of Britain, and so on. I look in vain for the biography of the father and founder of the new Malawi, the man who dedicated more than 60 years of his life first to the defence and later the development of our country.

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Dr. Banda lived for over 40 years in the United States, United Kingdom and then Ghana first acquiring degrees in the humanities and medicine and then engaging in private medical practice. He was a good example of what the Matchona, those who have stayed away from home for too long, should be doing. He never lost touch with this country but got involved in its political problems relentlessly.

Dr. Banda was a patriot out and out. He felt very strongly that having acquired better education than most of his compatriot which was bringing him more income than what the governor of Nyasaland was earning, he had a duty to use part of that wealth to assist his countrymen individually and collectively. He used to send money to his uncle Hannock Msokera Phiri of Kasungu and Charles Chidongo Chinula of Mzimba both of whom were operating private schools. He sent money to open farms in Kasungu to help develop the district in which he had known from his youthful days.

A worrisome period came to the African people of Nyasaland (Malawi) and the Rhodesia (Zimbabwe and Zambia) soon after World War II when leaders of white settlers in these countries intensified their campaign to persuade Britain to give them political supremacy in the form of federation modelled on South Africa and Australia in which the African people, the abongines, would exercise no political power.

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No single person worked harder than Dr. Banda to oppose the diabolic scheme. As a representative of the Nyasaland African Congress (Nac) in London, he actively spoke against the proposed scheme; wrote a pamphlet on the federation so that his views could reach a wider audience. He made friends with the Labour Party Members of Parliament in London who put forward his views in Parliament. He assisted delegates of Nac and the Nyasaland Chiefs Union to meet sympathetic people in Britain. As a leader of the Church of Scotland, he used his position to persuade leading personality in that church to oppose the federation.

The federation was imposed all the same. In 1957, younger leaders of Nac – Henry Chipembere, Kanyama Chiume, Dunduzu Chisiza, Rose Chibambo and a few others – appealed to Dr. Banda while he was in Ghana to return home and assume leadership of the NAC, extricate Nyasaland from the abominable federation. He arrived on 6 July, 1958. Due to his efforts, Malawi became independent on 6 July, 1964. Then he went on to transform the country’s physical and social infrastructures. How many young Malawians and even those not so young know these elements of Malawian history?

A comprehensive biography of Dr. Banda is overdue, who is to write it? We expect to find such a person among those who were closest to him singing “tidzafa naye tiri pambuyo pa Kamuzu” (“come what may, we shall die with him, we are behind Kamuzu”).

Writing biographies is not an easy task for everybody. But those who cherish his memory could sponsor an author or authors to do the job for them. They should persuade some benevolent millionaires to fund the project.

The history of a country cannot be adequately summarised in the biography of one person. There is a need to compile a dictionary or who is who of other people that played big role in the political and cultural development of Malawi. Among chiefs must be included Inkosi Gomani II of Ntcheu, M’mbelwa II of Mzimba, Chief Mwase of Kasungu and Chief Kuntaja of Blantyre. In the fight against the federation, they were courageous. Among commoners we must recall Levi Mumba, James Sangala, Chibambo, Lawrence Mapemba Manoah and Orton Chirwa, Masauko Chipembere, Rose Chibambo and Kanyama Chiume just to mention a few.

The dictionary should not be about politicians exclusively but also achievers in fields like literature, music, academics and religion. Those who generously donate funds to sports should not forget that it is knowledge that develop a country not leisure activities.

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