Growers are not doing well in Malawi, that much is clear.
This is not so much due to local policies, these were as poor under Dr. Banda as they are now. It was the international situation: during the Cold War, capitalist countries had an interest in keeping the proletariat satisfied. So they stabilised prices of raw commodities like tobacco. By the same token they had an interest in keeping their own dictators in place in African countries just like in Latin America and Asia. When the cold war ended in 1989, it took a few years for these dictators to disappear, but most African countries got nominal democracy in the following decade, even up to South Africa, where the apartheid government was no longer kept standing by the capitalist countries.
When the power of the Soviet Union started waning, in the 1980s western countries already started preying more and more on developing countries like Malawi (under Reagan and Thatcher). Via the World Bank and IMF they imposed Structural Adjustment Plans on us. These meant that the structure of the state was changed in that the state should provide less services to the population and more services to the international capitalists. So the funding for education and health care was diminished, while things like copyrights on trade-marks, patents and even plants and animals was strengthened to service the transnational companies. This translated in low quality education and health care and higher profits for capitalist companies. It was not that the Banda Era auction system was better for the growers, it was the stabilisation of prices internationally that made farmers better off in those days.
If we look at the current situation, we see not much hope for the Malawian proletariat (the small holder farmer). Our politicians do not show democratic thinking, because that is not the type of government that our economic system generates. Remember: the super structure (culture, values, ethics etc) of the society is built on the base (economic power relations). A society of small holder farmers does not produce democracy, it produces feudal systems with absolute rulers. Our ruling class behaves as absolute rulers because they are ruling over a feudal society.
Democracy is the type of government that is produced by a society where the bourgeoisie is the most powerful class in society. This was for a long time the case in Europe and to a lesser extend in the US. Over the past decades, since roughly 1980, this has been slowly changing to a situation where the super rich transnational capitalists have become more powerful. They have instituted political ideologies like neo-liberalism (which is very distinct from classic liberalism) and neo-conservatism (which is very distinct from classic conservatism). These are ideologies that service the needs of the super-rich transnational capitalists (each their own group. The neo-liberals service mostly the ict industry, while the neo-conservatives service mostly the military industrial complex)
Neo-conservatism is mostly in the US, Trump is a clear exponent of it. (Some may argue that the Russian President Putin is also a neo-conservative). Neo-liberalism is more international: Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Angela Merkel, and even Deng Xiao Ping are clear exponents of it.
Neo-liberalism is being introduced piece meal in Malawi. Privatising Escom into Egenco, strengthening copyrights on plants (Monsanto is raking in on this), lowering allocations to education and health care, as well as social safety nets, and services like the agricultural extension workers are clear neo-liberal measures. Also the privatisation of land by Atupele Muluzi, the boy of Bakili, is a clear neo-liberal measure.
Now the question is: why is such a large part of the Malawian population supportive of the feudal rulers, who disrespect the constitution, the courts, the electorate and you name it? I think that we should respect the population, and not attribute this to false consciousness. I think the population understands the situation quite well, even though they may not voice it as explicitly as I do.
The alternative everyone seems to be proposing to the current feudal situation is a western style (neo) liberal capitalist democracy. This would serve the middle class (bourgeoisie) very well. The newspaper journalists and the newspaper buyers are both part of this small bourgeoisie. So they voice this opinion. But the large majority of Malawians are small holder farmers. For them a (neo) liberal capitalist democracy would be at least as bad as the current feudal situation. So they do not vote liberal capitalists into power.
What is the alternative?
The way to win elections in any democracy (as in Malawi) is to win the most votes. This is in Malawi only possible by serving the small holder farmer. Currently the small holder farmer does not support liberal capitalism and for good reason. If we want to improve on Malawian governance we need a party that supports the small holder farmer (which is the Malawian proletariat). We need a party that explicitly serves their needs. This means no liberal capitalism, no feudal rulers, but social democratic measures. A lot of these are being proposed in Manifesto’s but never implemented because they do not serve the interests of the current (feudal) ruling class. How can we convince the proletariat that we are different and that we do serve the needs of the proletariat better than the crop of self serving feudal rulers that have ruled Malawi so far?