EXPLAINER | Why Malawi can't celebrate 58 years of independence

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Malawi's leader Lazarus Chakwera.
Malawi's leader Lazarus Chakwera.
Amos Gumulira, AFP
  • Malawi at independence from Britain in 1966, maintained diplomatic relations with apartheid South Africa.
  • Since independence, there have been six presidents only falling behind Zambia with seven in the region.
  • Faced with corruption and record inflation, there will be no public celebrations as a cost-cutting measure.

In 1966, Malawi gained independence from Britain with then-president Hastings Kamuzu Banda, a historically divisive figure, being the only African leader having full diplomatic relations with apartheid South Africa.

Banda was voted out of office in 1994 having run down the country to make it one of the poorest on the continent.

Since Banda, there have been the late Bakili Muluzi, the late Bingu wa Mutharika, Joyce Banda, Arthur Peter Mutharika, and now Lazarus Chakwera.

Only Zambia, with seven, has had more presidents than Malawi, a country seen as a model example of the transition of power in the Southern African Development Community.

To mark 58 years of independence, Chakwera said "at 58 it's a chance for us to build ourselves and subsequent generations a self-reliant and inclusively wealthy Malawi".

However, political analyst Makhumbo Munthali, who is the secretary-general of the Malawi Political Science Association, said the change of leaders had not brought much joy to Malawi.

He added:

With several false starts since independence which promised Canaan, Malawi has suffered from a leadership deficit, with those coming to governing under transactional leadership - business as usual - instead of the much-touted transformational leadership.

Under Chakwera, the same problems faced by previous presidents are still there, if not more.

Munthali said he believed following the same trajectory, the country was headed for worse.

"While the present is appalling and the future bleak, the onus is on Malawians to define their own destiny by taking proactive steps to push for a transformational socio-economic agenda. This requires strengthening social accountability mechanisms from the grassroots level in order to keep those in leadership accountable," he added.

Another political analyst, James Phiri, said the 58 years of independence have been punctuated by corruption from the ruling elite who have no intention to improve the country.

"The various promises of transformational leadership that would deliver the much-needed socio-economic development in the medium and long term have been hijacked by narrow, vested political interests of the ruling elites and their business associates at the expense of public interest."

He added:

While Malawi's democracy has registered some gains such as an independent judiciary, constitutional bodies and peaceful elections, the prevalence of corruption, vestiges of nepotism, patronage, and the worsening economic conditions clearly attest to the fact that we are not where those who fought for independence desired us to be.

According to the Johns Hopkins University economics indicator, Malawi had the third-highest inflation rate in Africa behind Zimbabwe and Ghana.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), in its latest review of Malawi, said the country's debt had become unsustainable due to external and fiscal deficits with commercial banks being the highest holders of the domestic debt.

This, the IMF said was fore-grounded by "decades of fractured, uneven, and incomplete implementation" of policies.

Joyce banda
Joyce Banda (File: AFP)

Since the 2013 "Cashgate" scandal under Joyce Banda, where about R4 billion was lost through allegedly fraudulent payments to businessmen for services that were not rendered, development partners' target financing of government services remains low.

Still, the relatively few donor funds coming into the country are mostly directed at health services.  Last week, the US Agency for International Development announced the launch of the "Let Them Grow Healthy" project in support of the government's National Multi-Sector Nutrition Policy.

It will run for five years with a budget of about R736 million. 

Independence celebrations

Faced with internal fights in the Tonse Alliance that helped Chakwera to power, and the corruption that sucked in senior government officials, such as Vice President Saulos Klaus Chilima who allegedly received kickbacks from Malawian-born British businessman Zuneth Sattar, there is nothing to toast.

The minister of lands and organiser of previous celebrations, Sam Kawale, told the media there would be no celebrations and that would save the government about MK350 million.

He said instead of the traditional stadium fanfare, prayers would be held at the Bingu international square centre.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
The ANC's leadership race is heating up. Who do you think will be elected party president at Nasrec in December?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has got it in the bag
7% - 595 votes
I foresee a second term for Cyril Ramaphosa
83% - 7218 votes
Don’t discount a Zweli Mkhize win
10% - 907 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.