Why did we become independent?

Author:Ankomah, Baffour

"The situation in Africa in terms of economic reform is not changing. There has been so much interference when we have tried to do something for our own good. 'Oh no, don't do that. We must tell you what to do.' The question I ask is: Why did we become independent?"

Baffour: Last year, you published a book, tided MauAnga. What does it mean?

Muluzi: Mau Anga means my words". It is a background to the democracy in this country. You know that Malawi went through a very, very autocratic rule for 31 years. So I wanted to tell the story of what we went through. The book, therefore, is more or less a narration of our history -- politically and otherwise.

Baffour: You say in the book that: "Even if the Western world may claim to be more democratic, there is no such thing as an ideal democracy. Like any cultural paradigm, democracy must fit into the cultural patterns of every society." Is that what we have in Malawi or in Africa in general? If not, why not?

Muluzi: First of all, let me mention that democracy, as the West understands it, is a new phenomenon in Africa. A new phenomenon in the sense that it is now being entrenched. In fact, Africa has always had its own democracy for centuries. It was there in the olden days. We had chiefs in the villages, and we still have them. The chiefs had councillors who advised them. And the councillors would consult the people in the villages where they stayed. That was part of democracy. So democracy was there, except that it was not like Western democracy in which elections are held. In our case, the councillors were appointed by the chief.

In Africa, the problem we have is trying to copy what Europe is doing now. It is a problem because it is not possible for us to copy Europe, which has been independent for centuries. You take America, 200 years of independence. Our democracy, in Malawi, is only nine years old. Now it is wrong to compare or say "let's be like what the Americans are". We have to go through a transition during which we have to educate our people to understand what democracy is. That is Point No. 1.

Point No. 2: I feel very strongly that democracy must be guided. You don't just say we have democracy without guiding the people. Then you will bring anarchy. It is a process. We must move forward with the process. That's why in Malawi we introduced free primary education, because it is an investment in democracy, to help our people understand the issues.

Baffour: You also say in your book "The best example of democracy is in our villages". So, then, why don't we have this "best example of democracy" at the national level. Why haven't we as a people and continent refined and elevated this "best example of democracy", which was practised by our ancestors, to the national level? America has its own unique democracy. They elect their presidents through a collegiate system, not first-past-the-post. In the UK, the prime minister is not even directly elected by the people. He becomes prime minister because he or she is the leader of the party that wins the most sears in parliament. So why can't we as Africans have our own unique democracy as the others have?

Muluzi: Ah, you see the problem my good friend. Africa is a poor continent. And we seem now to be guided by the principles of the Western world -- "Do what we want you to do, you must do it our way or we don't give you aid or money.

Uganda tried its own unique democracy. People were elected. It was not one parry but one system of government. The people elected their own leaders. Yet President [Yoweri] Museveni has been under pressure to do away with that system. They tell him: "That's not democracy. Democracy is when you have multiple parties, 10 or 16 parties, and then you can call that democracy."

I don't agree with that. I think democracy can mean the free choice of the society. Once they have that, that is democracy. And it happened when our forefathers practised the system that I have just described in the villages. But if you try to say we Africans must do whatever we want to do, believe me, at the end of the day you will get nothing [no Western aid]. That's what the world is all about.

Khalid: Malawi has something that people don't talk about -- peace and stability. Your army stays m the barracks, they don't interfere in politics. I think that the transition in Malawi was quick and you've done very well so far. I also think that sometimes Malawians do ask for too much, even more than the Europeans themselves. The people of Europe and America know how far they can go and where to stop, else they might destroy their societies and economies. Is that how you see it?

Muluzi: You know, we've got too many good things in Malawi that we don't talk about. Tourism is one of them. Such a beautiful country, beautiful lake. But nobody knows about it. I think we must take the blame for being too shy to tell the world what Malawi is all about.

I was the chairman of the SADC until August last year. In that capacity, I attended so many meetings on the conflicts in DRCongo, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and Angola. And I told the journalists covering these meetings: "You are painting a very bad picture of Africa, because you are only picking these countries in conflict, but Africa is not only Angola or Burundi or Rwanda or Congo. There is Malawi. There is Botswana, for instance - a very good example of democracy. Go to South Africa. Nobody wants to talk about the great strides achieved in South Africa."

The problem with our journalists or journalists in general is that they want to pick up sensational news. That's news. Malawi has enjoyed peace since independence in 1964. Yes, we went through a very autocratic rule under Dr [Kamuzu] Banda. But in terms of peace and stability, Malawi is the best...

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