Independence is a precious gift that our pre – 1964 forefathers handed down to us.
The very first of our ancestors lived in communities that had no rigid boundaries. Each community lived as an independent chiefdom, with some big enough to be called kingdoms. This setup was problematic as rules in one kingdom would encourage conflict with neighbouring chiefdoms, resulting in endless quarrels.
Credit should go to the British for establishing a State with defined boundaries and with one law that was applicable to everyone within its bounds. The problem, however was that Malawi was not Independent. All the laws were made in Britain, by the British and for the benefit of the British settlers, not the majority indigenous Malawians.
Malawians saw this as a problem early enough, but the British were much mightier than the Malawians, so independence had to wait an endlessly long period.
Some people have criticised John Chilembwe for taking up arms when he was a religious leader. In today’s Malawi, a religious leader is the last person one would expect to even contemplate killing. But there Chilembwe was, taking up arms and fighting.
They say there is time for everything. Chilembwe took up arms after his formal protests went unheeded. He protested Thangata, forced conscription and wanted guarantees for retired conscripts. Nobody took any of the issues that he raised as worth responding to. He felt there was gross disregard for his concerns.
Chilembwe took up arms in 1915. He and his forces were quickly neutralized. Fighting was no way to force the British to listen to weak people that Malawians were.
Malawians had formed native associations, to push for welfare of natives. There was little interaction among different groups of Malawians, so the associations were localised to tribes.
Each association had grievances specific to their area. The agenda for the associations were different, so it did not make sense to form one association at that time.
North Nyasa Native Association, for the Tumbukas, was the first to be formed in 1912. From 1919, other associations such as West Nyasa Native Association for the Tongas, Mombera Native Association for the Zwangendaba Ngonis, Angoni Native Association for the Gomani Ngonis and Blantyre Native Association for the Yaos were formed.
In 1943, these associations realised that there was strength in unity. They formed one national organisation, the Nyasaland African Congress. The first president was Levi Mumba, from the North Nyasa association. After Mumba, there came Charles Matinga from Blantyre Native Association. Some of the later presidents were James Frederick Sangala, TDT Banda and finally, Kamuzu Banda.
Kamuzu discouraged leaders from considering themselves as coming from associations. He encouraged them to think of themselves as Nyasas. Nyasaland African Congress was banned on 3 March, 1959 for being perceived to have proposed violence. Violence was no way to speak to the British. Against the British, violence was doomed to fail.
Nyasaland African Congress became Malawi Congress Party (MCP) in 1960. Through non-violent means, MCP achieved independence on July 6 1964.
From tribal groupings, the independence generation, under Kamuzu, founded a nation where everybody calls themselves Malawians. This is a precious gift Malawians got from the freedom fighters.
The British gave us a State on 14 May, 1891 and Kamuzu’s generation gave us a nation on July 6, 1964. Kamuzu, the leader of that generation, is referred to as Father and Founder of the Malawi Nation.
As we celebrate Independence, let us all do all we can to improve the State and help make each person feel that they belong to the nation. Our ancestors were right to observe that there is strength in unity. One Malawi, One Nation. n