Malawi History

By | November 14, 2021

Part of the small country bordering Lake Malawi – formerly Nyassa – the kingdom of Kitwara, had integrated the set of states linked to the production of gold and ruled by the Monomotapa of Zimbabwe. The decline of that hegemony allowed the Chewa to expand their territory, only to see it shrink again when the Changamira Rotsis restored the dominance of Zimbabwe.

By 1835 Zulu expansion pushed the Ngoni-Ndwandé to the shores of the lake, giving rise to 60 years of protracted wars between the Ngoni and the Chewa and Yaó, allies. The country, which had been explored by Livingstone in 1859, suffered an attempted Portuguese occupation in 1890, which failed due to an ultimatum from the British government. He wanted to reserve the territory for himself based on his project to unite South Africa to Egypt with a continuous chain of colonies; and in 1891, through Cecil Rhodes’s British South African Company (BSA), they established the protectorate over what was renamed Nyassaland.

The British project was to build a Central African federation that would include present-day Malawi, Rhodesia and Zambia, based on their climatic similarity – they are countries of plateaus, savannas and dry forests – and ethnicity, since their population has a common Bantu origin. Politically this would have meant having extended to the entire federation the dominance of the racist white majority implanted in Southern Rhodesia.

The Malawi Congress Party (MCP), like the UNIP in Zambia, raised independence as an alternative and presented Hastings Kamuzu Banda, a medical graduate in the United States, as a “national savior.”

To avoid internal divisions, Banda’s demands for greater authority in the party were accepted. When the colony became independent in 1964, Banda came to exercise autocratic power over the MCP and the country. The president established close economic and diplomatic ties with the racist governments of South Africa and Rhodesia and the Portuguese colonial administration of Mozambique.

South Africa became the largest buyer of Malawian tea and tobacco, its investors building roads, railways, and the new capital, while South African executives ran the airline, information and development services, and much of the state apparatus.

In 1975, the independence of Mozambique radically changed the political landscape of Banda, who had actively collaborated with the Portuguese in the repression of FRELIMO. The closure of the borders of Mozambique and Rhodesia forced a drastic reduction in trade between the latter country and Malawi, also depriving the government of Ian Smith of one of its mechanisms to circumvent the international blockade.

In June 1978 the first elections in 17 years were held. All candidates had to belong to the MCP and first pass an English test, thus excluding 90% of the population, who do not speak it.

In 1980, Malawi’s economic and diplomatic situation changed with the independence of Zimbabwe. Banda lost direct communication with South Africa, with which Malawi had close economic relations. As a result, the Lilongwe government began to approach the Front Line countries, with which it partnered in the SADCC, due to the rail connections that pass through both Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Domestically, the independence of Mozambique and Zimbabwe strengthened the Socialist League of Malawi (LESOMA), a party favorable to the severing of economic and political ties with South Africa, the end of the Banda dictatorship and the redemocratization of the country. This party created a guerrilla nucleus in 1980. Simultaneously, the Malawi Freedom Movement (MAFREMO), led by Orton Chirwa, also gained strength. In 1983, both Chirwa and Attati Mpakati, the LESOMA leader, were sentenced to death in absentia on charges of conspiracy. Mpakati was assassinated by South African agents shortly after, while on a visit to Harare. Chirwa and his wife were kidnapped in Zambia, where they were living in exile and locked up in a prison in Blantyre.

Banda, advised by South Africa and Israel, created a secret police, called the Special Branch. In addition, the president for life personally controlled the country’s economy, since he was 33% of the companies.

Between 1987 and 1988, the country had to receive 600,000 refugees from Mozambique, in whose civil war Malawi supported the counterrevolutionaries of the National Resistance, which ceased after the visit that President Chissano of Mozambique made to Banda in 1988.

That same year Amnesty International denounced the imprisonment of prominent academics and writers for political reasons, including Jack Mapanje, the country’s most important poet. The United States announced in November 1989 the cancellation of 40 million dollars of foreign debt.

The implementation of the adjustment plan recommended by the IMF led to a reduction in inflation and the balance of payments deficit, as well as an increase in investment, but it aggravated the situation of the poorest sectors of the population.

In 1990 and 1991, natural disasters (earthquakes and floods) aggravated the food shortages of the rural population (90% of the total). The privatization of the corn market benefited only a few producers.

In September 1991, the Vice President of the United States, Dan Quayle, reaffirmed his government’s full support for the Banda regime, at a time when the human rights situation was deepening.

For the first time since the country’s independence, the Catholic Church criticized in February 1992, through a pastoral letter, the situation of human rights and demanded political freedoms. Blantyre later became the scene of popular uprisings, harshly repressed.

The opposition leader Chafuka Chihana, of the Alliance for Democracy, was imprisoned while trying to return to the country in April 1992. An intense international campaign prevented his execution.

During the cold war, Banda was a staunch ally of the West, but in the face of human rights violations by his government, several countries discontinued their assistance to Malawi.

In May, a brutal repression against a general strike promoted by textile workers, caused 38 deaths and a hundred injured. In retaliation, the World Bank froze some of the financial aid.

The ruling Congress of Malawi, the only one to attend the general elections in June, obtained 114 deputies to the General Assembly.

At the end of 1992, news broke of the death under torture of Orton Chirwa, of the Movement for the Liberation of Malawi (MAFREMO), in prison since 1983. To contain popular outrage, Banda announced the holding of a multi-party referendum.

In June 1993, the Public Affairs Committee (CAP) forced Banda to set the referendum for that month to choose between a one-party system and a multi-party system. About two-thirds of voters spoke out in favor of the change, unequivocally rejecting the regime. Banda released that month Vera Chirwa, wife of the murdered dissident, then the oldest political prisoner in Africa. Banda refused to resign, but promised presidential elections in 1994.

The 17 of maypole of 1994, 4 million Malawians went to the polls to elect a new president and 177 members of parliament in the first multiparty elections since the country’s independence in 1964.

The referendum took place in June 1993. Two-thirds of the voters voted for multipartism. That same month, Banda frees Vera Chirwa, widow of the murdered dissident, who was at the time the oldest political prisoner in Africa, and promised presidential elections in 1994.

In May of that year, the opposition Bakili Mukizi was elected president and his party, the United Democratic Front (United Democratic Front), won 84 of the 177 seats at stake in the legislative elections. In September, Banda, whose party had won only 55 seats, decided to abandon political activity.

Throughout the year, as a country located in Africa according to THERELIGIONFAQS, Malawi suffered the consequences of a major drought, which caused food shortages. In the midst of an increasingly difficult social situation, the government continued the reduction in public spending advocated by the IMF. In January 1995, former President Banda was arrested, charged with the murder of three former ministers. The alleged violation of human rights by the Muluzi government was denounced by opposition representatives on several occasions throughout the year.

In May 1996 the president significantly modified the composition of his government, by changing three important ministers and the second vice president of the country. Among other changes, Chancellor Edward Bwanali – appointed Minister of Irrigation – was replaced by the hitherto Minister of Transport George Ntafu.

Malawi History