When liberators promise eternity – and then lead transitions that never happen

The new liberators have outdone their colonial masters and became the real masters of oppression with absolute power. Absolute power corrupts and corrupts absolutely

By Joseph Busha

It was Independence Day in 1964, in Malawi and Zambia and in 1980 for Zimbabwe. Each of these countries declared the official day of independency to be celebrated yearly thereafter – when thousands of people would gather with copious joy chanting: “Thank God, we are free at last”.

The liberators take turns to the podium promising the people, their followers, of happy times to come until the return of Jesus Christ, and for eternity.

This happens across the African continent – from the north to the south, east to west. From Ghana to South Africa.

Political and government leadership transitions are happening – one country after another. A new dawn is always beckoning.

To put this into perspective, let’s start not from the colonialists’ arrival but from the 1960’s as the winds of political leadership change started blowing southwards to South Africa. The last to achieve independency.

We start with the Federation of Nyasaland – made up of the British Protectorate of Nyasaland, Northern and Southern Rhodesia now Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe respectively.

Hastings Kamuzu Banda

Malawi got its independency in 1964, becoming a Republic in 1966 under the leadership of Dr Kamuzu Banda. In no time, Dr Banda declared himself a Life President with the title “President” reserved only to be used in reference to him, and only him. Not even an elected student who headed a chess club would be addressed as President of the Chess Club.

Dr Banda was also Minister of External Affairs, Agriculture, Justice and Works. Malawi was a one-party state under Banda.

He was really one of Africa’s strongmen. This all changed in 1994 as people got tired of autocracy. The world was getting more plural with the globalisation phenomenon.

Since 1964, Malawi has had five Presidents: Dr Banda [1964-1994], Bakili Muluzi [1994-2004], Bingu Mutharika [2004-2012], Dr Joyce Banda [2012-2014], and Prof Peter Mutharika [2014-now]. Despite all these political leadership changes, Malawi remains under-developed.

Dr Kenneth Kaunda

Next – Zambia got its independence from Britain in 1964 with Dr Kenneth Kaunda as the President. Like Malawi, Zambia became a one-party state under Kaunda’s United National Independence Party (UNIP).

It was not until in 1991, when economic mismanagement, social unrest and living conditions became too unbearable that multi-party political activities were allowed culminating with the 1991 elections in which UNIP lost. Dr Fredrick Chiluba, a trade unionist leading MMD won.

Under Chiluba, Zambia did not get better. Things got worse and so unstable that there was even a failed coup in 1997. There was currency crisis and hyperinflation. Retail shops were empty. It was time for leadership change that became too regular for stability and real progress.

Zambia has had five Presidents since 1964: Dr Kaunda [1964-1991], Dr Chiluba [1991-2001], Levy Mwanawasa [2001-2008], Rupiya Banda [2008-2011], Michael Sata [2011-2014], Guy Scott [2014-2015] and Edgar Lungu [2015 – now].

Some liked the political transitions in Zambia, but for all the changes, the people of Zambia are still poor and poorer.

Robert Mugabe

Lastly, Zimbabwe got its independence from Ian Smith’s minority rule in 1980. In came Zanu led by the late Robert Mugabe. Zimbabwe descended straight into social unrest and unhappiness from 1982.

The evidence is the well-documented sad history of Gukurahundi. Through peace and unity talks, the merger of Zanu and Zapu to form Zanu-PF meant the birth of a one-party state.

Oppression, disappearances of individuals and the mismanagement of the economy started to show the ugly face at a larger scale from 1987. The Willowgate scandal revealed all, and Maurice Nyagumbo – a cabinet Minister then became the fatal casualty of the corruption in Zanu-PF Government. He committed suicide after the revelation of his involvement, it was reported.

In 1997, disgruntled members of the liberation struggle took to the streets crying for a share in the fruits of independence.

The result was the printing of money that ushered in the first phase of the economic collapse.

Morgan Tsvangirai

The first challenge to the one-party state was led by Edgar Tekere’s Zum in 1990, which fizzled out quickly. Fast forward, land redistribution and the formation of MDC of the late Morgan Tsvangirai took centre stage around the year 2000.

More repression, oppression and corruption ominously befell Zimbabwe. Hyperinflation, hunger, poverty and disease outbreaks became regular experiences. Retail grocery shops changed prices every hour.

Shop shelves were empty. The extractive political and economic institutions thrived whilst the majority citizens languished in seas of poverty.

Elections after elections – the one-party, police-cum-military state could not be rescued from the claws and jaws of Zanu-PF.

Like the late Banda of Malawi, the late Mugabe harboured the ambition of being a Life President.

Restore legacy

This was so until Zanu-PF re-shuffled itself through what it called Restore Legacy Project, elsewhere known as a “soft-coup” to remove the recalcitrant 93-year-old Mugabe as President.

In came his assistant for 54 years in all matters of deed and omission – Emmerson Mnangagwa – now President of Zimbabwe. The disaster worsened. The extractive, oppressive, inept and insensitive political system and government did not, and has not changed.

Dusk of the darker night

Destruction is continuing unabated.

In 40 years, Zimbabwe had two Presidents: Mugabe [1980-2017] and Mnangagwa [2017- to now]. Zimbabwean families are still living on a dollar per day, getting hopelessly poorer.

Citizens’ fears and uncertainty about tomorrow continue to escalate daily.

The history and path to self-destruction for Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe are strikingly and scarily similar. They became absolutist one-party states; strongmen serfdoms; politically and socially unstable, and economically rundown.

The new liberators outdid their colonial masters and became the real masters of oppression with absolute power. Absolute power corrupts and corrupts absolutely.

The transitions from colonial to post-independence governments have not changed for the better for the masses. Any faint hope of positive change is slowly fading away – fading away into the dusk of the darker night. What happens in the dark nobody knows – there are no witnesses. It’s like the transitions never happened.

President Busha




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