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.


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