A Democracy of Chameleons: Politics and Culture in the New Malawi

By Harri Englund | Go to book overview

Afterword
The Orality of Dictatorship: In Defence of My Country
Jack Mapanje

Muluzi should watch out for Tembo. Hetherwick Ntaba, Treasurer General of the Malawi Congress Party, November 2001.

When Bakili Muluzi was sworn in as the second president of the Republic of Malawi on 21 May 1994, the West did not know how to react. Muluzi and his United Democratic Front (UDF) were largely unknown. The brief announcement of an underground pressure group which appeared as “The Launch of the United Democratic Party” was not common knowledge. The US benefactor who allegedly sent Chakufwa Chihana a limousine in the hope that his political party Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) would sweep the country to democracy had to withdraw the vehicle.

But there was euphoria throughout Malawi. UDF and AFORD supporters could hardly believe that they had jointly beaten Life President Hastings Kamuzu Banda's invincible Malawi Congress Party (MCP) after 33 years of autocratic rule. The numerous daily and weekly papers which had appeared throughout the struggle against the dictator were ecstatic about the new freedom; most commentaries were ebullient to the point of being irresponsible—they criticised anything under the sun without proposing what might take its place.

It was understandable. Banda had not given the people the opportunity to talk and write without the shadow of detention, imprisonment, torture and exile looming over their heads. Now they were free to talk and write about pretty much anything that came to mind. Trade unions mushroomed everywhere; for once teachers, nurses, civil servants, factory workers, even market and street vendors, went on strike about their outstanding causes. No truth and reconciliation commission along the lines of the South African TRC was established in order to resolve the political problems of the past. Muluzi will probably regret this oversight; for he merely put Banda and his permanent mistress Cecilia Kadzamira under house arrest for a short period. Her notoriously crafty uncle John Tembo was also briefly imprisoned for allegedly planning the deaths of popular senior MPs Aaron Gadama, Dick Matenje, David Chiwanga and Twaibu Sangala, during Banda's regime.

Some Malawians at home and in the diaspora, however, were less hysterical. They wrote off Muluzi for being a Muslim and for having been Banda's MCP administrative secretary once; they did not expect him to radically change the legacy of brutality which Banda and his minions had left behind. Did Muluzi have the credentials to control Banda's Lady Macbeth and her extended family? Would Muluzi dismantle the infrastructure of hit squads, agents, spies and informers established primarily by the Banda-Tembo-Kadzamira triumvirate? The counter-campaign was launched by the MCP member and new recruit to the Kadzamiras' inner circle, Kate Kainja, who is said to have made a public, almost cavalier threat: Muluzi's cabinet would be finished one by one, by hook or by crook, until no one of consequence lived! People laughed at her implicit reference to death by witchcraft, noting the tone of sour grapes entailed in her threat. Muluzi confounded his critics; his first term of office was characterised by remarkable tolerance; people almost forgot he was Mus-

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