A contribution by C Companyero
Hastings Kamuzu Banda was not such an unusual person, in most African countries at the time there were post-colonial dictators supported by either side of the Cold War: the USA/NATO capitalist block, and the Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact communist (or more precisely Stalinist) block. The reason the economy was better then, was that Hastings Kamuzu Banda got a lot of un-earmarked aid, part of which he took for himself (there was not distinction between National coffers and Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s personal property!) and part of which supported his failing economic policies.
When the Cold War was winding down in the 1980s (the Soviet Union could not keep up with the costs of the Cold War) the UK (Thatcher) and USA (Reagan) governments pushed worldwide for neo liberal policies which sharply increased inequality worldwide. Both between countries rich (Core countries) and poor (periphery countries), and between inhabitants of one country. So the poor in the UK and USA are worse off, and the poor in poor countries were even worse off. The rich in rich countries became filthy rich, and the rich in poor countries still got themselves huge fortunes.
In the 1980 also corruption in Malawi worsened (under Hastings Kamuzu Banda). This trend kept growing.
Then in 1989 the Cold War ended, and it took five years to get rid of the Cold War Relic Hastings Kamuzu Banda. (As it took five years to replace the Apartheid Regime in South Africa, another Cold War relic).
The international community was pushing for democracy, and using international aid now for a new purpose. In the days of the Cold War the International Aid was used to secure a position of power opposite the other party (USA/NATO vs. Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact). Now it was used by western powers to secure their economic position and to prevent failed states. Failed states are a problem: from Afghanistan the terrorists flew into the New York World Trade Center and the Washington Pentagon, for the coast of Somalia pirates are stealing ships, from Syria refugees are feeling into Europe, and more of such issues. So rich countries have an interest to prevent failed states; that is cheaper than dealing with the consequences.
On the other hand capitalists (including the new Chinese capitalists) need access to cheap raw materials, and therefore they want to open the markets worldwide. For this they use neo liberalism, and this they impose as donor conditionality. That is why they are giving aid: it is not pure goodness (though in the aid machinery there are a lot of people trying genuinely to improve the lot of the poor) but it is selfish interest.
We need to be careful with the conditionalities. Bingu during his first reign outmaneuvered the IMF on the FISP and this anti-liberal policy was successful. We see how the IMF has the interests of its donors in mind (the biggest donor is the capitalist USA) and not ours. For a long account on this kind of policies read “Confessions of an economic hit man by Perkins, free to download here).
So we see that there is much more into the international situation than into the personality of Hastings Kamuzu Banda as far as the Malawian economy is concerned. There is no way we can return to that type of policy because the international situation is dramatically different. By the same token we should not let the international donors play our economy, which is exactly what the current regime is doing (to our detriment). At the same time they are facilitating corruption through chaotic administration, which is in the interest of the corrupt, not in the interest of the donors (who are consequestly re-routing their aid), or the interest of the population who need a functioning economy and less inequality.
We need to fight the power, and insist on our rights. Here we need to strategically move to use the power of international donors to support our rights. Now capitalist donors tend to support Civil and Political Human Rights, but they are much less inclined to support our Economic Human Rights, which are of much more urgent concern for us (we need the Civil and Political Rights to claim our Economic Rights, though).