It had been three decades. But it was coming to an end. In what has gone down as one of Africa’s most brutal regimes, Dr. Kamuzu Banda and the Malawi Congress (MCP) controlled Malawi with fear and oppression. After getting independence in 1964 and starting off as a multiparty democracy, the system did not last as Kamuzu Banda outlawed all opposition parties and declared MCP the only legal party.
When years were rolling into the 1990s, wind of political change blew across the world, and Malawi was not spared. After surviving with the support of the West for his clear anti-communist rhetoric, communism was defeated and Kamuzu Banda had lost his major shield. They left him in the open where he failed to stand calls for change from Malawians.
Thus demonstrations demanding change were all over Malawi with the Church taking the lead. It left Kamuzu Banda with no choice but to call for a referendum in June 1993 where his no to multiparty democracy was defeated. This forced for multiparty general elections in May of the following year where he lost to Bakili Muluzi under the United Democratic Front (UDF) party.
Music was gagged during the time of Dr. Banda. Any sign of opposition invited brutal response from the agents of the regime. Due to that all the music that was released during the three decade period was pro-Banda. But now that he was out, and lost his aura of invisibility, he became subject of music, for the first time in his entire presidency.
One 23 year old young man from Balaka, Lucius Banda, was about to start a career in music. In his early 20s, and part of the future of Malawi, he took time to celebrate the end of oppression and the dawn of freedom in a song that defined the mood of the moment. In a song titled Mabala, Lucius used symbols that explained the situation.
The song did not mention Dr, Banda, MCP or even any of his henchmen. The great artistry showed up when Lucius Banda used four important symbols to summarize the past, the present and the future. The use of Malume, Amayi, Nyali and Nkhuku contained the whole history and communicated how frustrated he was that the two most powerful people in the former regime failed to look after the nation. But again, he did not forget to remind the people that light had finally come and that has chased away the black cock, party symbol for MCP.
1993 was still too early for someone to think Malawi was done with Dr. Banda. He still had power and ground structures. The situation was tense and volatile. There was no way a 30 year period could be replaced in a one year. It was risky for Lucius Banda to come up with a song like Mabala. But he did, and helped the nation sing and celebrate the end of the man once called the Lion of Malawi.
Ali Ndi Njira Zawo
Kamuzu Banda was now gone. The nation was filled with hope for the future with the new leadership doing all it could to liberalize the country in a way of fulfilling the promise that led to the ousting of Kamuzu Banda. But democracy came with its own ills. Malawians were still dependent on political leadership, as Kamuzu Banda trained us to be. Although the new system implied political, social as well as survival freedom, there was more to handle on individual level than it was with MCP. The State was no longer responsible for the means of production and that left people in the mercy of private traders who controlled the economy.
And worse enough, politics and politicians were the same. Almost the entire government was made up of people who were with Kamuzu Banda or has fallen out of favor with his dictatorial tendencies. They came as democrats, but as time went, they came out as the same man they ousted from power a few years back.
Malawi was a democracy that had no democrats. One cannot rule out the role of the West in the regime change that happened in 1993 – 94. The gap Kamuzu Banda left acted like an advert from the West that they were looking for politicians in Malawi who would take up the role of democrats. The same ones that flourished under the one party went for the job and resulted in no change.
In the song Ali Ndi Njira Zawo in 1996, Lucius Banda, again, captured the feelings of the nation over the system they had hopes for. It went, partly;
Dzana ndi dzulo takhalira kuphedwa (We were being killed)
Lero tikhalira kunamizidwa (And now we are being lied to)
Nanga titani poti anthu ndi omwewa? (What can we do? These men are the same ones)
Angosintha njira zotizunzira (They have just changed their ways of making us suffer)
Ndikuthokoza pondipatsa ufulu (Thank you for giving me freedom)
Koma ufulu ndi njala sumakoma (But freedom and being hungry do not go together)
Kapolo okhuta aposa Mfumu ya njala (A well fed slave is better than a hungry king)
Mwanawe usalimbane nawo (My child, do not fight them)
Ali ndi njira zawo (They have their own ways)
The economy was biting and there were more lies from the government on how it was trying to brave the situation. Poverty levels had soared, the population was increasing and piling even more pressure on public service delivery and corruption was worsening, just to mention a few challenges that defined democracy for Malawi.
Lucius Banda gave out a hands-off message to the people. The system favored the elite and the poor simply had to accept their situation and live with it, he sung. People had finally come to realize that they had trusted wrong people with power and started gearing up, once again, for change. The song further sent a warning to politicians that they may look upon the people as passive but one day they will react and create a situation they will no longer be able to control. And that was in 19996. 6 years later, the warning that he gave to politicians happened.
President Bakili Muluzi was the poster boy of failure in Malawi. He was more of politics as his social development agenda failed to re-distribute the wealth as it intended to. Whenever he tried to put the agenda in practice, it was always out of political calculations and gains. After close to 10 years in power, he felt he had done the country enough favors for people to think of having him beyond his two terms. But he was wrong.
After sending his men to campaign for a third term and then an open term office, it became clear that he was for it as well and flamboyantly responded to Ayimanso! chants from his supporters. But what he had done to Kamuzu Banda a decade earlier, came back for him. The Church once again led the country in sending a strong message to the dictator-wannabe that Malawi had enough of him and wanted to see itself beyond his rule, emotions captured in Ali Ndi Njira Zawo.
And one 30 year old young man from Blantyre rose up for the occasion. Billy Kaunda had sounded politically neutral in his career as a musician. But he could no longer hold his feelings and emptied them in a song that defined the moment, titled Mwataya Chipangano (Agalatiya).
The song is partly derived from the Biblical passage where Paul the Apostle was calling Galatians stupid for their bad ending. Billy Kaunda took that expression to the president. He felt President Muluzi had started on a good note and had turned himself into a foolish Galatian by choosing to stay on. And then he went on to ask President Muluzi one of the toughest question he ever had to answer:
Kodi ndi zoona, dziko lonseli, a nzeru ndinu nokha? (Are you sure, the whole of Malawi, you are the only wise person to lead us?)
President Muluzi had simply not lived to expectations and was lied to into believing he will secure another term in office. The resolve was to block all his intentions to stay on, and also for those that benefitted when President Muluzi was in power. But it was not personal. The nation had sacrificed a lot to make sure multiparty democracy was achieved and there was no way a few individuals could be allowed to take that away. A song was needed to lead the match for democracy. Mwataya Chipangano stepped in and made sure that the promise of democracy was kept alive.
President Muluzi was narrowly defeated in the national assembly where Members voted for continual of two consecutive term limits for president. That meant that he had to go back to his party and lead the process of who was to take over from him. But instead of leading the process, the president imposed the candidate of his choice, Dr, Bingu wa Mutharika, fuelling a mass exodus of potentials from UDF into other parties or forming their own in readiness for the impending 2004 general elections.
The mass action against President Muluzi revived the nation politically. Before it politics was being led by three parties, MCP, UDF and the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD). Since multiparty democracy in 1994, the latter had been characterized with swings from MCP to UDF and then back. That made it to lose its footing. When anti-third term was building new parties, AFORD was being destroyed by the situation, and never to recover again.
It was confusing. The opposition felt that although President Muluzi would no longer be on the ballot, the man he had chosen was simply his other version and had to be defeated as well. Thus a coalition was proposed and started taking shape. But their camp was again filled with people who were hungry for power. As much as they had fought for democracy just two years earlier, there were no democrats in them. And as it has always been, it is hard to make a political coalition in Malawi when political parties do not operate on ideologies, only the wish to get into power.
One would have expected a breather and a united force from the opposition. But as soon as they said they were united, some of them walked out of the coalition and appeared on the ballot in their own parties. The opposition was not ready to lead, and that prompted musician Charles Nsaku, in early 2004, to come up with a song that defined the 2004 general elections. Tidalire Ndani? (Whom should we depend on now? It went on the chorus:
Malawi kulira sikudzatha (Malawi, we will always be crying)
Anthuwa ndi amodzi (These people are the same)
Tikachotsa UDF m’mboma kulira sikudzatha (If we vote out UDF, we will always cry)
Kugalukiraku mukuti chani? (What do you think about the division in the coalition?)
Akufuna mpando chabe (They simply want power)
Ambuye dzetsani kuwala chisankho cha ku Malawi (Lord, bring some light upon Malawi)
Chizindikiro chakubwera kwa Mpulumutsi (The signs that the Messiah is about to come)
Aneneri onyenga (False prophets)
Ndi ine Mfumu, ndi ine Mfumu (Claiming to be kings)
Anthu adzathamangira (People will rush for them)
Nkutheka kudzachotsa mfulu (We may end up ignoring a good man)
Nkuponya Chimbalangondo (And vote for bears to lead us)
Charles Nsaku simply gave a realistic proposition to the general public that it is better to remain with UDF than the divided opposition. The intra-coalition differences was simply a sign that they were aiming for power and not for the country. Although MCP distanced itself from the coalition and decided to take the then strong ruling UDF on its own, all eyes were on the coalition which was being led by the once strong man under Kamuzu Banda, Gwanda Chakuamba.
Change from UDF seemed attractive. But MCP had not gained the attractiveness it is enjoying now. The only sign of hope people had was the coalition which was rocked with divisions. It was easy for a person, especially the neutral, to opt for UDF, after all, President Muluzi was no longer in the party. Who should we depend on now? Charles Nsaku provided the question and the answer as well. Facing a divided and a weak opposition, in May 2004, Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika won the general election under the UDF ticket.
Mose wa Lero
In the next four years after the third multiparty elections, politics embraced new heroes and villains. The same leaders who were praised for blocking ambitions of President Muluzi started acting strong with President Mutharika. But they failed to realize that President Mutharika had changed the battle ground.
For President Muluzi, it was a political battle. But with emphasis on developmental projects that resonated well with most people, President Mutharika had won the public to his side leaving the opposition with no support against him. When the opposition, in early 2005, were cooking up a plan to impeach the President, Malawi stood by their leader and left the opposition in a vacuum. Who were they representing? Surprisingly, the man who led the motion to have President Mutharika impeached was the same who had sung against Kamuzu Banda and later on complained the failed promise of democracy; Lucius Banda.
For once, n President Mutharika, Malawi had a president who could stipulate where he wanted the country to be and defended his decisions with some sense. He was bold enough in his choices and change started coming. For example, during his first years, Malawi was the second fastest rising economy in the world. Although this was yet to represent itself on the ground, it was just a matter of time before re-distribution started.
He stroke the right chord for Malawians. Although he had went out of UDF just months after winning the presidency, citing interference, he did not lose support and managed to soar his popularity with his new formed party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). When 2004 general elections were done and dusted, and as we were heading for 2009 general elections, President Mutharika was assured of victory.
Joseph Nkasa, a man who had curved his career six years earlier and had himself risen to the apex of music ladder in Malawi from his ability to compose songs that reasoned well with masses, came in with a song that defined the election and the man that was about to win it. In a song titled Mose wa Lero, Nkasa likened President Mutharika to the Israelite leader during their Exodus, Moses. He sung that, just like Moses had taken the Jews from the Egyptian bondage, President Mutharika had as well taken Malawi to development.
The song was popular not because it resonated well with most people, but the beat as well as its lyrical masterly. The ruling party had little choice. They took the song as their election theme song and used it to drum up support that ensured them a landslide victory, the first since 1994.