Problems Of Nation Building In Malawi Essay

, Research Paper

Problems of Nation Building in Malawi

The identity of pre-colonial Malawi centered on the Maravi Empire, a very loosely organized society covering a large expanse of territory. In the late 1800 the British colonized Malawi that was called then Nyasaland. The general process of Westernization during the colonial era – through Christianization, education, modern commercial practices, urbanization and so forth – facilitated the replacement of parochial affinities by a commitment and loyalty to a more inclusive societal entity. The creation of a feeling of nationhood was therefore less problematic than in other colonized African territories.

From the early 1920 s onwards a new political awareness became apparent. The so-called Native Associations – interest groups geared towards articulating African public opinion – continually focused on issues such as the inadequacy of educational facilities and the assault on African land rights. By the 1930 s it had become clear that the colonial policy of undermining the traditional authority of chiefs and headmen and of attempting to implement a form of direct rule in traditional administration was a failure. This problem was temporarily resolved by the introduction of a system of indirect rule.

After the Second World War, the nationalist movement not only questioned the legitimacy of the existing colonial system but also actively challenged it. The goal was the overthrow of the status quo, as manifested in the colonial system, and the establishment of a new social and political order. A campaign of civil disobedience – aimed especially at agricultural measures and land rights – was launched and strikes, disturbances and violence became everyday events. The nationalist movement, in particular, was to play a key role in fostering a sense of national consciousness throughout Nyasaland. The rapidly growing radicalization of the African population, and the general condition of unrest and violence precipitated the crisis of 1959, when a state of emergency had to be declared.

Following in the slipstream of the march toward decolonization elsewhere in Africa, two constitutional conferences were held in London in the early 1960s. First, the British government conceded representative government to Nyasaland; and in quick succession, the principle of African majority rule was confirmed with the introduction of responsible government, internal self-government and the granting of independence on 6 July 1964. Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda was appointed as the Prime Minister; two years later Malawi was a republic within the Commonwealth – and a de jure one-party state to boot – with Banda as Executive President. Within three months of independence, however, Banda was constitutionally challenged by a coalition of younger politicians who, besides differences on issues of policy, objected to the centralization of power in his hands. The security forces intervened decisively in his favor and, from this point until the early 1990s, the regime became progressively more authoritarian and dictatorial, with most important decision-making powers concentrated solely in the hands of Banda. Malawi was not even a one-party state, it was a one-man state, a political autocracy in which the state apparatus was answerable to only one man.

Until as recently as 1989, Western donor governments were comfortable with Banda s strict, paternalist, Protestant style, his cultural conservatism and his friendliness towards the West – when it still counted. Because of his pro-Western policies, Banda s regime got off rather lightly. But in the post-cold-war era, Malawi came under growing pressure from donor countries to follow the path of multi-party democracy. A five-person team of United Nations came to Malawi to advise the government on the modalities and logistics of conducting a referendum on multi-party democracy along internationally acceptable lines. It subsequently urged the government to scrap the referendum idea, to repeal Article 4 of the Malawi Constitution – which recognized the ruling Malawi Congress Party as the sole legal party – to unban all other political groups and to hold fresh elections under a revised constitution.

In a New Year s Eve address to the nation, Dr. Banda eventually set 15 March 1993 as the date for the referendum. Although he directed the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation to report news and events on both sides of referendum campaign, he also prohibited the corporation to make partisan political broadcasts and to accept paid political advertisement. The ban on radio advertising hit the multi-party groups hard, because less than half of the population is literate and the radio is the only was the only medium in which they could communicate and present their case with the general population. The opposition alliance of the United Democratic Front and the Alliance for Democracy won the referendum with an almost landslide 63.5 percent majority vote and immediately demanded that Dr. Banda step aside for a coalition government of national unity to prepare for multi-party elections before the end of the year.

For over a quarter of a century, the country was under Dr. Banda s authoritarian rule. The former Life President s influence was present in virtually all aspects of life – social, economic, and political. His departure from the scene is more than the demise of just another African dictator in the wake of multi-party democracy that has swept across the continent. It marks the end of the most extraordinary of all men who have ruled African countries in the first three decades of their independence. But the result of Banda s autocracy is that Malawi now lacks a strong civil society and a tradition of competitive politics, the two cornerstones of political democracy. It will take some time, therefore, for most ordinary Malawians to come to grips with the significant social and political change.


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