Ten years ago, on July 6, 1964, the British African territory of Nyasaland became the 27th independent African state.
Ten years ago, on July 6, 1964, the British African territory of Nyasaland became the 27th independent African state. It was re-named Malawi and its first national leader was Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who was released from a British jail in time to take over his country.
A decade later, Banda is Life-President of a nation for which he has chosen a totally independent path, balancing his country between Black and White Africa.
Geography placed Malawi between the Portuguese colony of Mozambique and South Africa, and Banda has made full use of the geographic and economic ties which had traditionally tied his undeveloped and landlocked country to those two territories.
Inside his own country, President Banda retains absolute power and enjoys popular support. Soon after independence, he dismissed and outlawed those of his political lieutenants who advocated alliance with the rest of Black Africa and opposition to South Africa's apartheid regime. He makes frequent forays into the countryside, ramming home his message in simple and forthright language which seems to appeal to Malawi's five million people.
And the message is that Malawi must work for self-sufficiency and make its own decisions -- even if that means risking the criticism of the other African nations by keeping open the contacts with Portuguese and South African neighbours.
Thus far, the policy has paid off. The rumblings of African leaders over the visit to Malawi of South Africa's Prime Minister John Vorster in 1970, failed to ruffle President Banda. He concluded an aid deal with Vorster which subsidised the building of Malawi's new capital city at Lilongwe on what was virgin bushland.
He has also accepted aid from Taiwan, and much of Malawi's expanding agricultural production stems from this programme of help from Taiwan experts.
But if there is one African nation over whom the changes in Portuguese Africa hang as a question mark, it is Malawi. Malawi's access to the Indian Ocean depends on its rail link through Mozambique. Zambia shares the problem to some extent, and a recent visit to Malawi by Zambia's President Kaunda -- the first such visit in ten years -- indicates that a common interest has helped repair the breach between the two countries brought about by differences over White Africa policies.
Banda has said he will play a part in whatever changes may take place in Mozambique. There is no indication that he will alter his attitude towards South Africa, and at home, he has no opposition.
Largely remote from the issues which excite many of the other independent nations and free from internal unrest, Malawi and its Life-President seem unlikely to be deflected from its chosen path.
SYNOPSIS: July 6, 1964....and Dr. Hastings Kamuza Banda, released from a British jail to assume leadership of his country, presides over the celebrations which mark the independence of Africa's 27th self-governing state, Malawi.
A decade later, Banda is President for life. He has led Malawi on an independent path which has often clashed with the policies of other Black African states. But he remains unchallenged inside Malawi.
Shortly after independence, he dismissed all his political opponents and ran Malawi his way. He makes frequent forays across the land, punching home his views in forthright and theatrical speeches which seem to appeal to his five million countrymen. His small but efficient army is backed by national youth organisations which ensure support for the man they call The Kamuzu. If it is not democratic, it is effective -- and leaves Banda beyond criticism.
But if he has no critics at home, Banda does face hostility from other Black African nations over his co-operation with white South Africa. This visit by South African Prime Minister John Vorster in 1970 left Malawi on a lone path. But Banda has always taken full advantage of the two nations bordering Malawi -- South Africa, and the Portuguese colony of Mozambique... and has ridiculed his critics in other nations. In fact, Malawi's geographical position forces it into contact with its white neighbours. Malawi depends on access to the Indian Ocean via a rail link through Mozambique -- and on trade and aid on South Africa itself.
One result of Prime Minister Vorster's official visit was an aid agreement which enabled Malawi to begin work on the creation of a new capital city at Lilongwe, on what was formerly virgin bushland. President Banda has never made any apology for his policy of contact with South Africa and Portugal. His argument is that Malawi's self-interest has to come before the ideological attitudes of the rest of Black Africa.
Furthermore, unlike others, Malawi has never yielded to offers of aid from Peking. It has accepted considerable aid from Taiwan -- and much of Malawi's increasing agricultural production stems from aid agreements with Taiwan.
But recent events -- such as the first visit in ten years by President Kaunda of Zambia and the uncertainty over Portuguese territories in Africa -- suggest that Malawi will draw closer to its African neighbours in the future. But, with no opposition at home and with continuing benefits from his policy of contact abroad, it seems unlikely that President Banda and Malawi will be deflected from the path which they have followed in their first ten years.