As Malawi nears 50 years as an independent nation, serious questions are being asked on how free the nation is in implementing its own economic social and political policies with minimum or no intervention of foreign elements, especially the British, who colonized the county for almost a century.
In this special report, I take the acceptable burden in analyzing and highlighting the country’s position in the international community and whether the colonizer’s departure five decades ago automatically meant the strings were detached.
Recalling our past
It came as a Fools Day joke when on April 1, 1960, British Colonial Secretary, Ian Macleod, ordered the release of nationalist Kamuzu Banda who had been confined to Gweru Prison in Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia).
The indigenous community breathed a sigh of relief upon realization that time had come for Nyasaland to part ways with the British rulers who had dominated the country’s administrative and political spectrum for close to a century.
Elsewhere, the British had also colonized numerous African countries which were also demanding their self-rule during the same period as Nyasaland.
Africans were rapidly itching to run the affairs of their own countries.
The painful reality of losing something they valued most dawned on the colonists, most of which were Europeans.
However, the colonizers were very cautious on their exit strategy, a thing many African leaders overlooked. The effects of that tactic can be seen in the affairs of modern Africa.
Analysts have pointed out several factors that prove the cunning nature of colonizers; a behavior of not letting go the cow they milked for over a century.
One of the strategies used was interfering with the political fibre of the colonized territories.
No wonder, it is believed that Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, was overthrown with the help of British and America’s intelligence elements.
His sin was that he was seen as the icon of the nationalist movement across the continent and that he was almost unlocking the clue on how Africa would use her resources to enhance her development.
Nkrumah’s humiliation created paranoia among a breed of African leaders. The message was clear; the colonizers might have left the territory but were hiding somewhere observing the affairs of Africans.
In trying to address the problem of unnecessary coup d'état, leaders restructured the political societies and limited civil freedoms. That was the birth of dictatorships across the continent.
Even Nkrumah had become a dictator before he was overthrown; he understood the mind of the colonizer better than many leaders.
Kamuzu was a scholar in Nkrumah’s political school of thought such that many of his political tendencies were a copy of Ghana’s social strata starting from the one party system, Young Pioneers, Youth League and the requirement for all citizens to be members of the ruling party.
In trying to impose indiscriminate membership, all citizens were supposed to buy party membership cards. All these mechanisms were meant to instill fear in the citizens who might have had intentions to overthrow the regime.
The plan worked for several decades as leaders held a firm grip on power with minimal or suppressed dissent.
Even though Nkrumah had become a dictator before he was overthrown; he understood the mind of the colonizer better than many African leaders.
Concurrently, the peak of Kamuzu’s dictatorship came with a number of factors on the international front attached to it.
The Cold War between US and Russia brought a defined division between world states which were forced to side with either of the two giants.
Kamuzu played his cards cleverly such that he found himself operating on the border of capitalism and socialism without many problems.
Since physically vacating the mineral rich lands, colonists have managed to maintain their footprint on the continent.
Sovereignty in the African context has come with so many strings attached to it.
In making sure that Africa remains encapsulated in imperialist ideals several mechanisms have been used. These are the economy, trade and commerce, education and to an extent; religion.
…too many economic strings attached
The reconstruction of the world economy soon after World War II did not favour Africa which at that time was going through an independence wave.
Unfortunately, several economies such as South Korea, Germany, Norway and Finland got a blessing through the Marshall Plan which heavily industrialized these countries.
Ironically, it was during the same period that Ghana’s president, Nkrumah, drafted a massive plan to industrialize his country. His proposals to construct a $70 million dollar hydro-electric dam were shunned while twice the same amount was being channeled to individual projects in South Korea and Malaysia.
After Nkrumah’s demise, his nationalist cronies across the continent became powerless at the hands of the colonizers hence they had to follow economic policies designed by Westerners.
Policies that were put in place solely to deal with the tremors of World War II have defined the world economy up to this day.
Institutions such as International Monetary Fund, World Bank and United Nations have become the core of world affairs in political, economic and social aspects.
However, these institutions have been blamed by poorer countries who view them as separatist in nature. No wonder, the world has been systematically divided into many blocs such as First World (Rich nations) Middle placed economies and Third World (poor countries).
Worrying to many critical observers is the fact that not much has been done to flatten the structure so as to move many poor economies into the middle bracket. This is where animosity between African countries and the developed world creeps in.
The functioning of these multilateral financial institutions leaves inadequate breathing space for small economies like Malawi.
It is rare for Malawi to develop or roll out economic policies without first seeking advice and intervention of the IMF and World Bank thus all the three regimes have forcibly been obliged to work hand in hand with the two institutions.
One contentious area between the country’s leadership and the two Bretton Woods institutions has been that of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) which call for privatization of public institutions and a cut in government’s spending on farm subsidies.
This phenomenon affected the regime of Bakili Muluzi under whose leadership many public entities were shed off to private owners hence creating massive retrenchments, adding to the already saturated unemployed base.
It was during this time that companies such as Shire Bus Lines, David Whitehead and Sons, Malawi Post and Telecommunications Limited, Import and Export, Chipiku, Maldeco, Grain and Milling Company, Malawi Pharmacies Limited, Portland Cement, Malawi Book Service, Malawi Dairy Industries, Cold Storage, National Seed Company, Oil Company of Malawi and Commercial Bank.
One entity that had public sympathy in the privatization process was Agricultural and Development Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) and the deal was put on hold. Instead, the agro-bent institution was commercialized.
The wave also caught big establishments like metal fabricators Brown and Clapperton (B & C) who wound up business and pushed hundreds of low income earners into the unemployment pit.
Critics have pointed out that the anomaly with the conditionalities attached to IMF and World Bank loans to poor countries retard social stability and hence inhibit the intended goals and lead to an increase in poverty in recipient countries.
The IMF sometimes advocates "austerity programmes," increasing taxes even when the economy is weak, in order to generate government revenue.
These policies were criticized by Joseph E. Stiglitz, former chief economist and Senior Vice President at the World Bank, in his book Globalization and Its Discontents
He argued that by converting to a more Monetarist approach, the IMF no longer had a valid purpose and that though it was not participating in a conspiracy; it was reflecting the interests and ideology of the Western financial community.
Several world leaders like Venezuelan Hugo Chavez have dubbed both the IMF and World Bank as "the tools of the empire" that "serve the interests of the North".
Another well defined conspiracy about the intentions of the West in denying Africa total independence is how the two Bretton Woods institutions are structured.
Historically the IMF's managing director has been European and the president of the World Bank has been from the United States. The First Deputy Managing Director of the IMF, the second-in-command, has traditionally been (and is today) an American.
One of the strongest criticisms of the World Bank has been the way in which it is governed. While the World Bank represents 186 countries, it is run by a small number of economically powerful countries. These countries choose the leadership and senior management of the World Bank, and so their interests dominate the bank.
Additionally, the Bank President has always been a US citizen nominated by the United States, the largest shareholder in the bank.
The two institutions have also been accused of being used by the rich nations to advocate for free market policies whereby the laws of supply and demand are the final- if not only determinants- on how world trade should be handled.
This is in total contrast to what the rich club did when their economies were young as most third world countries.
Writing in New African magazine, Osei Boateng reports that Britain with the help of its kings protected their textile industry against foreign imports for years. The same protectionism was used by economies such as America, Japan, Russia, Germany, South Korea, Malaysia, France, Singapore and Taiwan among others.
In contemporary affairs, China, which has become the world’s fastest growing economy, is still jealously protecting its industries against foreign competition. Despite outcries from America and Europe, the Eastern giant has proved that free market policies are not ideal for small economies.
Whether the West can allow African economies to protect their resources by adding value to them, is an issue for another day.
Mutharika also has on several occasions defied Western calls for him to phase out the Fertilize and Farm Input Subsidy programme which has become bedrock for the country’s food surplus in years passed.
His defiance was on cards again recently when the issue of independence and Western policies took a dizzying turn as he sent packing the British High Commissioner, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet, for remarking negatively on his political personality.
Soon after the decision was made, a cloud of uncertainty hang over the minds of government critics who anticipated the British wrath which would in turn affect the general population.
Britain supplements almost 40 percent of Malawi’s annual budget on top of other development interventions.
Mutharika, however, remained defiant and insisted that donor help should not replace sovereignty and respect for domestic authority.
Only time will tell whether the former president’s outbursts were meaningful in a situation where the country is still operating on a Western platform in almost all facets of social order.
Caught in the pangs of United Nations
Malawi’s affiliation to the United Nations has been minimal in the way world affairs have been set to operate.
It is only on rare occasions where Malawi has aired out her own voice in the chambers of the UN.
For example, at one UN General Assembly several years ago, Mutharika advocated for the admission of Taiwan into the world body. This was before Malawi switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Mainland China.
The late president has also advocated for the inclusion of Kosovo into the UN though he has not taken the issue on a larger forum as was the case with the Taiwan matter.
On the reverse, the New York based institution has also proved a thorn in Malawi’s political flesh.
Recently, the country’s civil society resorted to finding solace in international bodies, African Union and United Nations where they reported human rights abuses.
In contrast, it is rare or non existent to see a European or American civil society group reporting its government to the United Nations. No wonder the bureaucracy at the UN is that the US bulldozes its policies and agenda just because it is one of the largest contributors to the institution.
Patriotic observers have said that by becoming crybabies in the slightest human rights abuse, Malawi’s civil society unknowingly expose the sovereignty of their states, deeming them incapable of handling their own affairs amicably.
One wonders whether the essence of domesticity is respected by how the UN handles its affairs.
Furthermore, Malawi-with her African contingent- has surely been at the peripheral of things at the institution, mainly due to her poor financial standing. Ten powerful nations (no African nation here) provide 73 percent of funding to the UN while the remaining 182 members only cover the 27 percent.
Though Africa has voiced herself out through African Union, her decisions have been overridden by the powerful wave of Western influence.
No wonder, the Ivorian political deadlock was only put to rest when the UN and France took things in their own hands to force Laurent Gbagbo out of power. This happened some months after the AU- under Mutharika’s chairmanship – had failed to put things in order.
Thus far, one wonders whether the decision in 1945 to establish the UN was founded on the basis of an intention of continued domination of weaker states.
In that vein some branches within the UN have become dominated with super powers, for example the UN Security Council which still denies Africa any chance of vetoing its decisions, save for sympathy from Russia and China who use their permanent membership in trifling the selfish interests of America, Britain and inland European powers.
One of the United Nations’ eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG)s is that there should be a global partnership in development. The policy is found wanting in the wake of Western dominance on economic, social and political issues, making the partnership a pendulum stuck on one end.
Former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian national, planned to initiate some reforms in how the organisation is run but his efforts faded into obscurity up until he finished his tenure in 2007.
Annan is the best witness on how the West can bypass the UN when it wants to serve its interests. Without the legitimate mandate of the organisation, the US invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein under the guise of getting rid of weapons of mass destruction.
In the lifeline of the UN, over 80 colonies have attained independence but only just. The West still have other ways of determining the social, economic and political fabric of these so called independent nations.
Surely, independence has had its own setbacks in the face of foreign intervention in domestic policies.
…learn it my way or you are ignorant
The African education system has for many decades operated on Western syllabus so the continent’s human resource at any given point has been well-indoctrinated with foreign knowledge.
It seems late with the advent of globalization as a scapegoat for dominance. Some have queried why globalization should still have the West dominating the affairs of Africa instead of the system operating on equal leverage?
One weapon used to colonize Africans’ minds is the imparting of foreign languages mainly English and French. Take a cardboard and make a map of Africa, carefully cut out the countries that use the two as their official languages, and see what you remain with.
Technically, it is the West that has trained Malawian lawyers, economists, journalists, bankers. The resultant effect has become a determinant to the way life rolls on in Malawian society.
No wonder our lawyers put on regalia in a way many Malawians fail to understand and the etiquette of our own parliamentary proceedings seem foreign to most Malawians even though the issues discussed have a direct bearing on their lives.
One area which seems irreversible is that Africa can not get rid of Western knowledge from their academic fabric.
Education came on the same boats with religion by the early missionaries who established first conventional schools. Sandwiched between Western education and religion, Africa had no chance to remain authentic.
In the spirit of globalization, whenever the education system is being restructured it has to be tallied with foreign standards to ensure desirable and acceptable quality.
Upon realization that all fundamental institutions and social order are always attached to Western way of life, there is little proof to show that Malawi is totally sovereign; by the way, no country is.