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Political Culture and Nationalism in Malawi

Political Culture and Nationalism in Malawi: Building Kwacha

Joey Power
Volume: 43
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 350
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  • Book Info
    Political Culture and Nationalism in Malawi
    Book Description:

    Inspired by the events leading up to the overthrow of Doctor Hastings Kamuzu Banda's Life Presidency, this book explores the deep logic of Malawi's political culture as it emerged in the colonial and early post-colonial periods. It draws on archival sources from three continents and oral testimonies gathered over a ten-year period provided by those who lived these events. Power narrates how anti-colonial protest was made relevant to the African majority through the painstaking engagement of politicians in local grievances and struggles, which they then linked to the fight against white settler domination in the guise of the Central African Federation. She also explores how Doctor Banda (leader of independent Malawi for thirty years), the Nyasaland African Congress, and its successor, the Malawi Congress Party, functioned within this political culture, and how the MCP became a formidable political machine. Central to this process was the deployment of women and youth to cut across parochial politics and consolidate a broad base of support. No less important were the deliberate manipulation of history and the use of rumor and innuendo, symbol and pageantry, persecution and reward. It was this mix that made people both accept and reject the MCP regime, sometimes simultaneously. Joey Power is professor of history at Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-755-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Note on Proper Names, Spelling, and Geography
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    The riots began in early May 1992. They started at the David Whitehead Textile Factory in Ndirande, a densely populated township in Blantyre, the commercial capital of Malawi. When their demands for higher wages and better terms of service were ignored, workers resolved to occupy the plant until management would speak to them.¹ This began on the night of May 5, when the night shift remained in the factory as the graveyard shift arrived. In the morning, the managing director, an expatriate, refused to meet with workers. Instead he called the Malawi Young Pioneers (MYP), a kind of paramilitary arm...

  8. 1 Power and Authority in Early Colonial Malawi
    (pp. 8-28)

    Wracked by the ravages of the slave trade and Ngoni incursions from the south, Malawi’s precolonial political and economic systems were, to put it mildly, in a state of flux at the close of the nineteenth century. European colonization coincided with this period of local political instability. Europeans entered the region as traders, missionaries, and adventurers who, wittingly or not, found themselves caught up in webs of local intrigue and the shifting political and economic alliances born of them.¹ As McCracken observed: “Malawi by the 1870s was less a land of chaos than of fluidity, with confusion resulting not from...

  9. 2 From “Tribe” to Nation: Defending Indirect Rule
    (pp. 29-43)

    Colonial rule in Africa has been aptly characterized as a “working misunderstanding.”¹ On both sides of the divide, Europeans and Africans hammered out relationships that permitted them to live together in the colonial world. John Iliffe argued that the notion of “tribe” was essential to many of these relationships.² Vail and White convincingly demonstrated how true this was for colonial Malawi, and Chirwa argues for its continuing relevance today.³ And yet we still do not know much about the process by which colonial understandings of “tribe” shaped those of nation or nationalism. The tenacity of political ethnicity and regional or...

  10. 3 From “Tribe” to Nation: The Nyasaland African Congress
    (pp. 44-54)

    Elizabeth Schmidt recently wrote that the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain in Guinea was able to lead that colony to independence because, even though its leadership was drawn from the western educated elite, the “non-literate masses” drove “the nationalist agenda.”¹ This would eventually be true for the NAC in colonial Malawi, but it did not start out as a mass party. Rather it was transformed into one through struggle. Those who formed the Nyasaland African Congress in 1944 were drawn from the ranks of relative privilege derived from hereditary status, access to mission education, or, like Charles Chinula, Chief Mwase Kasungu, and...

  11. 4 The Federal Challenge: Noncooperation and the Crisis of Confidence in Elite Politics
    (pp. 55-74)

    If states survive according to their capacity to both “accumulate and legitimate,” and if this capacity is dependent on and mediated by historical relationships forged between and among interested individuals and groups,¹ then 1953 was a watershed in the history of colonial Malawi. This was so not simply because the Central African Federation, established in that year, called into question the future of the historical compromises and accommodations on which colonial rule rested; but also because the “politics of respectability” practiced up to that point had proven inadequate to prevent its imposition. This fractured the coalitions and alliances that had...

  12. 5 Building Urban Populism
    (pp. 75-93)

    Politics in colonial Malawi emphasized the local over the territorial, and this was in large measure a function of indirect rule. The challenge for nationalist politicians was to make the connection between the parochial issues and the “big picture.” After 1953, Nyasaland African Congress members went about doing precisely that, creating a populist political culture that was taken up and reshaped by Dr. Banda and the Malawi Congress Party machine. Both the NAC and the MCP utilized climates of crisis to justify calls for surrendering local political autonomy, first to the nationalist state and later to the autocratic one. Before...

  13. 6 Planting Populism in the Countryside
    (pp. 94-122)

    Outside the urban areas, politicians built networks and coalitions around rural discontent with state attempts to interfere in people’s daily lives, particularly government efforts to conserve natural resources and increase agricultural output. The “second colonial occupation”¹ of Nyasaland (by agricultural experts and conservationists) was marked by “an energy and conviction surpassed only in Kenya.”² Government had hoped to undertake agrarian reform in the 1930s, but economic recession made that impossible. This changed in the postwar period when a global oil and fat shortage, combined with Britain’s dollar gap and rising primary product prices, provided the incentive and the wherewithal to...

  14. 7 Bringing Back Banda
    (pp. 123-135)

    By the mid-1950s, Congress was successfully building (and in some cases repairing) bridges between itself, the grass roots, and the chiefs, so successfully that when in 1956 the provincial councils met to elect Africans to the Legislative Council, all five seats were won by Congress members.¹ Nevertheless, the question of party leadership remained fraught. And the need for strong leadership was ever more important after August 1956, when Federal Prime Minister Roy Welensky declared that in the 1960 federal review, he was going to push for dominion status for the Central African Federation, whose parliament was dominated by Southern Rhodesia....

  15. 8 Prelude to Crisis: Inventing a Malawian Political Culture
    (pp. 136-155)

    When Governor Armitage declared a State of Emergency, to begin on March 3, 1959, he did so ostensibly to forestall a “massacre plot” hatched by the Nyasaland African Congress, in which Europeans (mostly officials) and their African “stooges” would be killed in order to wipe out colonial authority in Nyasaland.¹ Of the ten people I interviewed who attended the fateful “Bush Meeting” of January 24–25, 1959, at which the plan was said to have been devised, not one spoke of an organized plan to murder, although many admitted to much fiery talk and discussion as to whether or not...

  16. 9 Du’s Challenge: Car Accident as Metaphor for Political Violence
    (pp. 156-176)

    The Malawi Congress Party was a necessity born out of the State of Emergency that proscribed the Nyasaland African Congress. Between August 1959 and April 1960, the MCP grew into a mass party fueled by youthful enthusiasm and the vindication provided by the Devlin Report.¹ With the release of Dr. Banda in April, the party and the nationalist movement took a critical turn. Kanyama Chiume, Dr. Banda, and others transformed the MCP into a political machine directly linked to the personality and authority of its leader. By 1962, Banda’s MCP had seized control of the Legislative Council and secured Nyasaland’s...

  17. 10 Crisis and Kuthana Politics
    (pp. 177-202)

    At the end of 1962, Dr. Banda announced that secession was imminent, and on Saturday, December 29, a procession of LMY members carried a coffin labeled “Federation” around Blantyre to celebrate its demise. Chipembere was freed on the “spur of the moment” on January 15 after two years in Zomba Prison, in time for Banda to be sworn in as prime minister on Friday, February 1. Dr. Banda held a cocktail party for Chipembere the next evening. On this occasion, Chipembere, now minister of local government, spoke at length of how the press had tried to drive a wedge between...

  18. Legacies
    (pp. 203-206)

    This book has explored the development of political culture and nationalism in Malawi during the colonial and early postcolonial period. While it would be a gross oversimplification to attribute all elements of Malawi’s politics today to these developments, there are some undeniable connections. First, the development of anticolonial politics involved people in an engagement between the local and the national to produce a particular type of populism rooted in the championing of local causes and linking these (sometimes erroneously) to a larger political project, specifically the end of federation and the attainment of self-government and independence. Once these things were...

  19. Notes
    (pp. 207-292)
  20. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 293-312)
  21. Index
    (pp. 313-332)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 333-336)