In 1964 we were excited: we got independence, and we were going to throw of the yoke of the colonizer’s oppression. Little did we realize: the British colonizer was being replaced with a stooge, a man who had spent most of his life in the West, the US but more recently in England. He had taken over the Victorian values of the colonizer. Look at his clothes: the three piece suits and the hat were totally outdated in England by that time. Look at the clothing he imposed on us: long skirts for women, and covering up. This was not Malawian or even African, it was Victorian British. Just when the British were throwing off this old fashioned morality of prudishness combined with sexual molestation (in Britain as much as here in the dance camps). Like the large majority of the first generation of post-independence African rulers, Kamuzu did not reform the state. The same oppressive institutions were unleashed on us as under the colonial rule.
The purpose of the post-colonial state is to serve the interests of the former colonizer, who needed cheap raw materials for his industry. And Kamuzu delivered for the former colonial power, mostly tobacco but also tea, coffee, ground nuts sugar and other agricultural produce. The ruling class lived in corrupt opulence at the cost of the population, who were kept uneducated and in abject poverty. In exchange for political support during the cold war, and cheap tobacco, Kamuzu got the backing of the former colonial state, which allowed him to murder democracy, and oppress the population with his thugs, the “Young Pioneers”.
We suffered under the double oppression of both political rights (democracy, freedom of expression and other political rights were heavily oppressed) as well as economic rights. We were kept poor and uneducated so we did not have the means to revolt against his (and the colonial masters’) oppression.
By the time the cold war was over, the early 90s, Kamuzu did no longer serve the interests of the colonial master, so he was no longer given their support. We got nominal democracy, but only insofar as this served the interests of the colonial master. The ruling elite stayed the same: Bingu and Muluzi had been in the government machine under Kamuzu and they followed the same policies.
Cheap labour gave cheap raw materials for the colonial masters and kept the population poor. Muluzi made primary education free, but made sure the quality suffered so much the population still did not have enough development in the thinking to revolt. Muluzi served the colonial masters by privatizing, which by then was the fashion for the ruling class to enrich itself at the cost of the population. (It took about ten year for the neo liberal fashion of Margaret Thatcher to reach Malawi). David Harvey calls this accumulation by dispossession.
The first term of Bingu brought some relief for the population: he had dumped the UDF which had sponsored him into power, so he had less interests to serve, and he could afford to do something for the population which was subsidizing agricultural inputs. The ruling class allowed this for one term, but he clearly felt the need to turn 180 degrees right after his reelection, and made sure that all gains were erased and the population suffered under corruption and oppression (bad laws and such). And when we exercised our constitutional right to assembly and expression, Bingu unleashed his fire power on us and had 20 unarmed demonstrators killed.
Nothing much has changed since then: the post-colonial state still serves the interests of the ruling class via a neo patrimonial set up: the rulers place themselves above the law, and democracy is no more than an election between different groups of ruling class thugs.
The neo patrimonial set up is this: the population has no recourse to the law when they have been done wrong. All they can do is beg for mercy or a favour. Favours are dished out only on condition of political support for the ruler in question, and the population remains dependent on the favours. The judiciary and the legislative are dependent on the executive, who are dependent on the President. There is an enormous personal power vested in the President, who appoints people in all key positions (head of police, head of ACB, head of judiciary, and a whole host of heads of para statals and such). This ensures that the President does not have to answer to the law, and shields his favorite friends from the law also. We do not even have the right to know: the President illegally stopped implementation of the Access to Information law!
On the other hand, the poor have no way to exercise their judicial rights: they can be on remand for unlimited time, when their file is kept away because they have no funds to bribe anyone to retrieve it.
The state sells cheap tobacco and other raw materials to the colonial masters, and there is constant bickering between international capitalists and the local ruling class over the amount stolen in the process. The local ruling class wants to take as big a chunk as possible, the international capitalists want everything for themselves. When the elephants fight, the grass is being trampled upon.
The set up of the post colonial state serves the ruling class and their international backers, it oppresses the population. The ruling class knows very well that a well educated and reasonably wealthy population is not in need of continuous favours, which would blow the bottom from under the neo patrimonial power they are imposing on us. So they make sure the funding for education is being lowered every year and that the economy does not take off (corruption, red tape, inefficiency, excessive import and export levies and restrictions, excessive regulation). This way they keep us poor and dependent on their favours, legal or illegal.
This creates a situation of a pressure cooker, with the pressure mounting and mounting, with no release valve. The ruling class (political elite, closely allied business community and top civil servants) does not allow the least relief from economic hardships for the population: on the contrary, they keep the inequality going up (see the GNIN coefficient). This means in practice that they get richer and we get poorer. This way, the top-down state (the ruling class) loses its ability to contain the justified rage of the population.
Before this explosion happens we need to change the state, form a state that serves at least a little of the needs of the population, for it to keep some semblance of legitimacy. Currently the State is quickly losing its legitimacy: it imposes taxes on us, exposes us to continuous extortion of bribes and delivers no meaningful services in return.
We need to deconstruct the neo patrimonial logic that keeps us oppressed, and demand a change towards a meaningful democracy. A form of the state that serves us all, and not only the foreign capitalists and their local henchmen.