Policy decisions made in the open after clear public debate, open for review Policy decisions made in secret, no public involvement
Institutional authority with official roles Personal authority, vested in individuals
Rule of law, free and fair elections, majority rule Personal enrichment and personal aggrandizement
Shared power, accountable office holders Monopolized power, unaccountable office holders
Transparent relationship between leaders and followers, predictable Opaque relationship between leaders and followers, unpredictable
Procedures and decision making standards are transparent and explicit. Procedures and decision making standards are opaque, and unclear to the population
Power derived from providing collective benefits, earning support from large groups Power derived from personal favors, securing loyalty
Strong procedures for leaders’ replacement Unclear procedures for leaders’ replacement
Deep civil society with horizontal links Fragmented civil society with vertical links
Appointments are transparent, and made on merit Appointments are made for patronage reasons
Decisions guided by public interest Decisions guided by personal interest or supporters’ interest
Political parties revolve around ideology and program Political parties revolve around persons





The nation state is a 19th century European invention, which may have had some kind of 220px-pan_africanism_mural_in_tanzaniaapplication there at that time. But even in Europe it has been a bumpy ride. Northern Ireland, Basque Country, Yugoslavia. Many European countries are not Nation States: in Belgium half the population is French and half is Dutch. Switzerland is a kilt of languages and concomitant ethnicities (French, German, Italian). The Soviet Union was a Moloch of ethnicities, and even now Russia hosts many languages, cultures and ethnic groups. Two World Wars and many small wars have been the effect. And that is in the homeland of the “Nation State”.

africa-400x448African states have nothing like a nation identity: their borders were drawn up in Berlin in 1883 by Europeans according to the logic of European powers, without a single African present, or without any consideration of Africanity. If the Nation State is a risky undertaking in Europe, its homeland, in Africa it is a non-starter. We have no Nation States. For practical matters we have borders, and we will have to live with them for the foreseeable future. But we should not make too much of them. Patriotism, nationalism, all that is empty phrases in the African context. We should unite more and divide less.

Economically we have been disadvantaged by European colonialism, neo-colonialism and capitalism. Because of our history as well as our non-capitalist background, capitalism does not serve us well. But the capitalists keep coming. They are looking for our raw materials. The Europeans first, later (after the Second World War) joined by the Americans and to a lesser degree the Soviets. Most recently joined by the Chinese, who recently turned capitalist. All these capitalists have their agendas, and they are pursuing them with vigor unmatched by the African victims of the new scramble for Africa: us.

We need to resist these powers that take our resources after buying our rulers. They lay images_keytitleSAPs on us, now renamed “Extended Credit Facility”. They tell us how to run our economies, to privatise left right and centre all the way to public utilities like Escom. We don’t have a say, because we, as African peoples are divided. Divided by borders, in the 19th century drawn up by Europeans. Divided by rulers who defend their personal vested interests, and little kingdoms of patrimonialism, nepotism, Clientelism. Our rulers keep the borders closed, while the Americans united in the 18th century against the British colonialists. While the Europeans spent the second half of the 20th century to unite. While the Chinese have united many ethnicities and cultures for thousands of years. A small country like Malawi cannot defend itself against an onslaught of power from these giants like EU, US, and China. We need to unite with our neighbours, open our borders with them. Harmonise policies. (Bingu picked fights with our neighbours and that has not helped, but he has been dead for years now). Make bilateral and multilateral agreements, in Comesa, in SADC. Our trucks spend days at the border for useless formalities. This is not productive and keeps transports expensive and slow. This drives up prices, and lowers profitability of our businesses, who cannot be competitive this way. It keeps us down.

Huge levies of indirect taxes, import duties, you name it. All that from here  to another African country, and the same on the way back. This means we as Africans all lose out (except maybe the corrupt functionaries at the border!). We need to simplify travel, transport. We need to open up so we can prosper with the huge markets in Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique and beyond. So we can profit from skills from across the border to make our businesses more competitive. To make our job market more flexible, and to offer our skills to others, and use other people’s skills. To find employment in the huge economies around us. We need to stop thinking in small nation states (invented by Europeans!), and unite with our neighbours to be vibrant and to prosper. And simply cross the lines that Europeans drew on a map in Berlin in 1883.

Are Malawians ready for self organization?

A contribution by C. Companyero

I’ve been asked this question several times when I brought up the subject. I find the answer self evident, and the question self defeating. Let me begin with the second part:

Who would decide if anyone is ready for self organization. The concept defeats the whole point: for self organization we do not need anybody’s permission. Nobody has to think we are ready for it but ourselves. We decide, that is self organization. So it is totally beside the point whether anyone thinks Malawians are ready for self organization. Only we have to think so, and those who don’t think so can stay behind. We can organize, whether given the OK or not.


The first point is also interesting, because Malawians have proved beyond reasonable doubt that we are ready for self organization: we have been practicing it since times immemorial. Before the slave traders came we were self organized. When the slave traders came we resisted them, with variable success, through self organization. The whole point of a real indaba is that we get together, all of us, and self organize.

Then the Colonial Masters came and tried to take our self organization away. They pigeon holed us into tribes with their puppet rulers, who were being backed up by Colonial fire power. We retreated into secret cults like the Nyau, were the Colonial Masters could not reach.

When Colonialism lost its profitability (the costs of suppressing the population were plm-bottom-uphigher than the benefits) the Colonial Masters invented the scheme of neo colonialism, where their indirect ruler was a new, in name independent, but in reality very dependent puppet, in our case Dr HK Banda. With his westernized culture (think of his dress and his Victorian English prudishness) he supported the Western Capitalist block in the cold war. He oppressed us more than the Colonial Masters had ever done before. But the reach of his rule was limited, even though it went into our villages more than under the Colonials. Still, his control was not absolute: most of our dealings were left intact. We organized our villages ourselves and the government provided limited services. Education was limited to very small numbers of people, health care was very limited. He did provide services in the area of agriculture through the system of Admarc and extension workers, the way that was common in all African countries of those times.


With the end of the cold war, western need for Third World dictators waned and HK Banda was removed from power. Now came the days of international neo-liberalism. Admarc lost its influence, and extension work waned. Neo-liberalism means that government retreats from most areas of society except for supporting big companies. The population was noticeably less confronted with government, but our self organization skills are still intact. In the village we organize ourselves. The government system of justice is inaccessible for the villager it mostly deals with political disputes and cases concerning Big Men. In the village we organize our own justice system. The other government services, like health care and education are less and less functional as government cuts off funds and the President refuses to take responsibility. The government is so incompetent as to not reach into the village life, the most part of Malawi.

The only time when the villager meets a lot of government is when he/she is selling his/her tobacco. There is money there, so then government comes in big time. Heavy taxes, corrupt officials getting in the way of business, suddenly government is all over. Only to reap the benefits of the villagers sweat, not to organize goodies for us.

This government does not organize the country, the Malawians self organize it.


So are Malawians ready for self organization? Hahaha, we have been doing it all along!



Neo patrimonialism in Malawi

Modernization in Malawi is not done in the Western technocratic way, but in a Malawian way that combines modernization with Malawian cultural tradition in ways that combine in a peculiar way. Institutions and political actions are being shaped according to the existing Malawian situation. This has led to a specific form of political institutions and shaped actions in an informal, personalized way, along traditional Malawian practice.

The communal Malawian society was the way to keep the traditional village society running. Here is was functional. But first came the slave traders upsetting the balance, then the British Colonial Masters interfered. They brought indirect rule, they brought capitalism with its enhanced inequality. They brought fire arms. They brought mass society.

In this constellation it is both accepted and advantageous to operate according to logics of both capitalism and communal tradition in all areas of life including business and politics. Malawians are no more traditional (or backward) than other world citizens. To the contrary: it is justifiable and advantageous in Malawian conditions, to follow Malawian practices, built on both capitalism and Malawian tradition.

Cultural factors are no more or no less important in Malawi than they are anywhere else. It is the way these traditions combined with capitalism and are being turned into political tools.

The colonial indirect rule, which was supported by the British Army’s fire power, greatly increased inequality, and the reciprocity that goes with a communal society evolved, until it deformed into the current form: nepotism, corruption, inefficiency, allowance hunting, theft, procurement fraud and more.

Of course politics in Malawi is no more isolated from society as it is elsewhere. All political actors, from the ruling political class to the common Malawian like the smallholder farmer, organically combine the political and the personal; they act accordingly, employing the situation to their needs: chaos is utilized politically.

Inside these communal politics we should look beyond the individual: multi party democracy functions differently in Malawi than in Western countries.

A communal culture is inevitably based on reciprocity. Reciprocity influences all relationships, including the political. Political support to rulers is given in exchange for reciprocal support. The other way round: benefits are given out by the political ruling class in the understanding that they will be reciprocated with political support. Elections and patterns of voting are shaped by this reality.

Inequality dominates (almost) all post-colonial social relationships, especially between the population and the ruling political class. Political support thus becomes personalized and empty of political ideology. Rulers have an incentive to adopt the role of the Big Man, because they are expected to do so by the population, in order to keep the patrimonial status-quo stable. There is no political or social incentive to make personal political relations more formal.

In Malawi, success is equated with consumption, not with production. This standard opposes development. The Big Man is viewed as the standard of “Success”; “Success” is expressed in conspicuous consumption. This incentivises rulers to practice hand-outs to support their neo-patrimonial rule, instead of producing something useful.

Short term thinking takes precedence over long term development planning (for the country, the person or the business). This inhibits change (it prevents the often touted “business UN-usual”)

Chaos becomes a political instrument, used to perpetuate the dependency of the population on the person of the patron. Clientelism takes over, development never takes off.

Because chaos becomes a political resource, there is no incentive for the ruling political class to work for a more impersonal institutionalized just order of society. In the absence of any other viable way of obtaining the means needed to sustain neo-patrimonialism, there is inevitably a tendency to link politics to realms of increased disorder: corruption, inefficiency, ineffective policies, creation of an implementation gap, crime, legal arbitrariness. The common population is also caught in this trap: the best (often the only) way to survive is to go along with the neo-patrimonial (clientelistic) order. This feeds the hand-out mentality, thus sustaining the vicious cycle. Only when the common Malawian population finds an incentive to reject the system of personalized politics, to question the legitimacy of the present use of chaos as a political tool and to struggle for actual political accountability, systemic change will get a chance to take hold, and meaningful development can start taking off.




A contribution by Charlie Companyero

Before colonization, Africans lived in a village life. There were certain types of hierarchy, but no state. There usually was a village headperson, but there was no power of a state to back her up. She could only lead with the consent of the people: if the people would ignore her leadership, she could do nothing. This was a direct type of democracy.

The villages were spread out, and in different parts of Africa, there were different cultures. Partly decided by the land, which supported certain kinds of crops, or, like in the desert, supported hunter gatherer cultures. Cultures were different in different parts of the continent. But it was not a digital culture, where one village was Ngoni, and the next, a few miles down the road, suddenly Chewa. It was not like the language on one side of the border was Tonga, and on the other side Tumbuka. There was no border. The dialect spoken in one village was slightly different from the village in one direction, and the village in the other direction would have another, slightly different, dialect. Over larger distances the differences were bigger. But it was a fluid situation, where people could understand their neighbours, and only over long distances would the languages and cultures be very different.

Then came the colonial Masters. The British wanted to rule their colonies, to extract wealth from them, to feed the growing capitalist machine in their own land, with our raw materials. To rule, the British had a doctrine of “indirect rule”. They would choose a local person as the “chief” and rule over this person, who would then in turn rule over “his” people. To make this work, they divided us up in “tribes”. They British “anthropologists” started defining us in a European way. They did not want the fluid African situation, because that was harder to rule over, and consequently it did not fit in their European philosophy. So they defined us in their European way as either “Tonga” or “Tumbuka” or some other “tribe”. They would choose a ruler over us, and back up his rule with their power, if needed armed violence, fire arms. This way we could be divided and ruled, and our wealth could be extracted to enrich the British home country.

At some point after the second world war, this system became more costly, and our Colonial Masters invented a new neo-colonial system, where they would install a local ruler, to rule indirectly over us, and extract our wealth for the British. In our case this was Dr. Banda. He gave them cheap tobacco, and backed up their cold war policies, even to the point of backing apartheid, the only black African ruler to follow the neo-Colonial Masters in this. Now we have a State, armed with fire arms, ruling over us. They extract wealth for the neo-Colonial Masters, taking a maximum for themselves, and delivering the rest at give-away prices to the neo-Colonials. We as the population are ruled by our own rulers in a European way: with a State with armed violence, so our local rulers and the neo-Colonial Masters can extract wealth from us.

To make sure we are not capable of mounting effective resistance against this exploitation, they use the divide-and-rule tactic invented by the Roman (European) soldier and Emperor Julius Caesar. They keep the Colonial definition of “tribes” and when our ruler happens to be “Lhomwe” (as defined by the Colonial Masters), he will use support from other “Lhomwe” (as defined by the Colonial Masters) to back up his rule, if necessary with murderous violence. Remember that this whole “tribal” concept was introduced by Colonial “anthropologists”, it was not our own fluid African culture. The same goes for the “State”, a European invention, based on police and military violence, that is used to rule over the population. Now our Neo-Colonial indirect rulers are doing the neo-Colonial Masters’ bidding with Colonial concepts (“tribes”, “state”, violent rule) and we suffer the resulting poverty.

Hastings Kamuzu Banda did not develop Malawi

A contribution by C. Companyero


My argument hinges on two points:

  1. A lot of what was happening during HK Banda’s term in office was due to international developments, Banda was a puppet for the world powers
  2. The decisions that Banda took were not conducive for development.


  1. Kamuzu Banda was President of Malawi from 1964 to 1994. These were largely the days of the Cold War, which ended in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. After that it took five years for the World Powers to get rid of Banda, as they did with the Apartheid regime in South Africa and many of the other typical Cold War dictators.

During the Cold War, the capitalist block, the side that HK Banda chose, was afraid of insurgencies inspired by communism. To soften up the laboring class, both in their own countries and in their puppet states like Malawi, the ruling class made living conditions for the laborers bearable: in their own countries a welfare state with social security and bearable minimum wages. In puppet states mostly by stabilizing the prices of their export commodities at a reasonable level. The price of tobacco was better then, because of these policies (they did this for many other commodities like coffee, tea, copper). This allowed a better living standard in Malawi at that time, in spite of the bad economic policies of Banda’s command economy.

The decisions Banda took, like setting up Admarc and other State companies, were standard among newly independent African countries.

Banda went one further in his support for the capitalist block: he was the only black African leader who supported apartheid, like the capitalist block did. (Only later, in the late 70s and 80s when the Cold War was drawing to its conclusion, did some western countries change their policy and lessened support for the Apartheid regime.) Banda took the bribe from the Apartheid regime that allowed him to build his prestige project of Capital Hill in his home Central Region, even though there were government buildings in Zomba, Southern or Eastern Region, available. His own economic policies, even with stabilized international prices for raw commodities did not allow him to get the money together.

  1. Banda’s decisions: If HK Banda had wanted to develop Malawi, he would have heavily invested in education. But he limited education to a small group, destined to be ruling class under him, and kept most of the population undeveloped (uneducated). This did not allow for any development projects in the sense of industrialization or modernization: for these an educated population would be required. Smallholder farming did not bring in much money, but it could be done with an uneducated population. An educated population would have had the developed mind to organize for democracy and better living conditions, and this he avoided. His fourfold slogan clearly showed how top-down his philosophy was: Obedience (to Banda), Unity (under Banda, obeying Banda), Loyalty (to Banda), Discipline (in obeying Banda). This was clearly not the philosophy of someone looking to develop the population. Then his slogan (and policies) would have been more like: Education, Independence, Creativity, Responsibility, Honesty, Informed Choice, etc. That would have been the type of policy that sets a Nation on the track to development. A highly educated population can create meaningful economic development, participate in the World Economy on par with western countries. Look at the Asian Tigers: China and India are investing heavily in education, and they are powerhouses of high tech industries now. In the days of Banda, it was Japan, with its technology firms, that was growing big. Toyota, Sony, Mitsubishi, Nikon, Hitachi, many of the huge established tech companies are Japanese, because the Japanese invested in education. Banda did not: he kept the masses uneducated, so they would not have the skills to challenge his autocratic rule, but also we did not attain the skills to create development for our country.

Finally, let’s look at the International Measure for Development: the Human Development Index (HDI) we see that Malawi has not developed. The HDI uses three indicators:

  1. The number of years of formal education
  2. Life expectancy at birth
  3. Gross National Income per capita, corrected for inequality.

It is clear that:

On 1. education, Banda scores horribly, as I demonstrated before..

On 2. He did not do much better. (He ignored aids, he did not address the serious situation in maternal health)

On 3. In 1994 at the end of his reign, the income of the population in real terms was lower than at the start in 1964.

Hastings Kamuzu Banda did not develop Malawi.