Politics in Malawi is very limited in its ideological scope. A lot of politicians and political parties lack ideological ideas, so they just let things muddle along as they have for 51 years since independence. A lot of the government machinery, including civil service, is still in the Kamuzu Banda era in thinking of governance and economy. (think of the recent arrests for insulting the president).
The only alternative appears to be liberal: think of the Civil Service Reform Unit (initiated by the formerly hyper-active Vice President Chilima) with performance contracts and such, and the commentators in the newspapers commenting on corruption, nepotism, slowness and incompetence.
Then someone different came up! When Jessie Kabwila joined mainstream politics we were all excited: a declared Fanonian scholar with proven organizational capacity joins the world of politics that has let us down for so long. Remember how she countered the oppression from Bingu wa Mutharika so effectively. Organizing the Chancellor College staff and, against all odds, winning the 8 months fight against illegal oppression from the (then) President. This shows Fanon’s concept of “Praxis”: being a scholar is one thing, but the theory means little until it is put into practice. Kabwila showed this Praxis at Chancellor College and we were looking forward to her showing Praxis also in Malawian politics.
Question remained: how can a Fanonian and feminist scholar cooperate with a conservative capitalist Christian?
For those who are not familiar with the work of Frantz Fanon: he was a great writer about decolonization. He was involved in the Algerian freedom struggle. He wrote several highly influential books. His outlook on colonies and decolonization were essentially Marxist. (Marxism is the most important philosophy of anti-capitalism, so cooperating with a capitalist Christian looks difficult). The main difference between Marx and Fanon is this: Marx wrote about the overthrow of capitalism in developed countries, and he expected the strongest freedom fighters to be the industrial workers. He regarded the poorest of all (the “lumpenproletariat” of unemployed, criminals and beggars) as too deprived to be able to organize resistance against the capitalists. On the other hand Fanon wrote about the situation in colonies, and he expected the fiercest fighters to come from the ranks of the colonial “lumpenproletariat”: the smallholder farmers.
In an earlier book Fanon wrote also about the “colonization of the mind” (he was a psychiatrist.) This is where the colonized subject identifies with the colonizer to the point of internalizing the discrimination from the colonizer and feeling inferior, specifically culturally, to the colonizer and the colonizers culture.
Fanon felt that a violent struggle from the proletariat was needed to counter the systemic violence of the colonizer. In the case that the colonizer hands over power to the elite of the colonized nation, these will simply take over the role of the colonizer and keep representing the colonizer’s interests while taking the wealth of the country from the population.
In Malawi we did not have a violent struggle, and the history went exactly as Fanon expected: the ruling class collaborates with the (former) colonizer to extract wealth from the country’s population. The elite’s minds are colonized. They have adjusted to the western culture: they consume preferably imported products and culture, as exemplified in the continuous importation of wealth like luxury cars, and the clothing style of Hastings Kamuzu Banda. They take the wealth from the population. They have traded in the African ideals of communal well-being for the materialism of the western world, and bath themselves in opulent consumption. They deliver our wealth, in the form of tobacco, tea, sugar and such, to the former colonizer. And in case of problems “the national middle class will send out frenzied appeals for help to the former mother country.” (The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon) The ruling class in Malawi has an explicitly patriarchal attitude to the rural population. On the other hand they make sure the education and health care are of very low quality, to prevent the population from growing into an effective opponent.
In this situation, a Fanonian scholar joining politics is an exciting idea. The Fanonian will address the colonization of the ruling class mind as evidenced in their conspicuous consumption. This person will, finally, facilitate organize the smallholder farmer to organize against a ruling class that steals from the population left right and centre. The Fanonian scholar is militant, not afraid of violence if needed to counter systemic violence from the ruling class. Some fresh wind should be blowing in political circles.
Except for that one little problem: the MCP party leader, Mr Lazarus Chakwera, the capitalist Christian, educated in the USA, indoctrinated with US ideas of US Christian superiority, which colonized his mind. And there our worst nightmares were put into practice: the feminist did not speak about women’s rights (including abortion). The Fanonian did nothing to organize the masses against ruling class oppression. And recently she allowed herself to be demoted from party spokesperson to insignificant backbencher. Gone is the Fanonian influence, gone is the hope for a fresh breath of air in Malawian politics. And gone is the brilliant career of the brilliant academic….