Things fall apart in Malawi


Though some overseas people who visit Malawi such as Paul Theroux, ex-Peace Corps from the United States, write offensive things, they have always been well-disposed towards us and our country.

Among Europeans who deserve gratitude from Malawians are Professor Colin Baker from Wales, a former civil servant and head of the Mpemba Staff Training College. He has written comprehensive historical books and biographies of personalities who worked and lived in Malawi. David Stuart-Mogg, a former manager of a hotel in Blantyre has taken over as editor of the Society of Malawi Journal and has written extensively about our pioneer freedom fighter John Chilembwe and his family. Equally to be thanked is the late Father Matthew Schoffeleers of the Netherlands for this book on ethnic culture and In Search of Truth and Justice, a book that covered the story of the last struggle in the multi-party freedoms in Malawi.

The book that I want to talk about here is titled Malawi: A Place Apart by Asbjourn Eidhammer, who first came here to serve as ambassador of Norway in 1999. Having completed his tour of duty, he was away for only a few years and came back again in 2011. He is the only former ambassador that I know who has served two tours of duty in this country much to our benefit both as a nation and as an individual or groups.

His book is about Malawi in the past, in the present and in the future. In 251 pages, it contains information on the coming and achievement of missionaries, the coming of European farmers, the reluctant advent of British rule with its concomitant Chilembwe abortive revolt.

To try and summarise the contents is not easy. Enough to say that whoever wants to know what has happened in this country in the past and what is happening there now will find Malawi: A Place Apart an ample introduction. His intermittent quotation from anthologies of poetry and prose makes the book as delightful to read as a literary piece.

He refers to the fact that Malawi has always been one of the poorest countries in the world partly because from the beginning, the wrong policies were adopted as to how to develop the then colony. Harry Johnston, the first British governor though he had the title of commissioner and consul general had the view that the then British Central Africa or Nyasaland be ruled by Europeans developed by Asians and worked by Africans. What happened was that cash crops such as coffee, tea and tobacco were exclusively assigned to the European estate owners and according to John McCracker whom Eidhammer quotes, the whites did not prosper from farming despite free labour in the form of thangata.

In the British West Africa colony of the Gold Cost, cocoa growing was done by African smallholders in Uganda, coffee was grown by Africans. The two countries gave the British pride as their model colonies. There, Africans prospered enough to send their children to colleges overseas. Had coffee, tea as well as tobacco been the preserve of African smallholders, they would have been grown more cheaply and sold abroad at competitive prices. Instead the British preferred to arrange for Malawians to go and work on farms and mine in the Rhodesia and South Africa where they had made big investments.

In international trade, those countries which can export competitively priced commodities do best. In Malawi, the veritable landlocked country, transportation to the sea has been a major problem over a long period.

In 1924, there came to Malawi from America and Britain The Phelps Stokes Commission on African Education in Eastern Africa. It summarised what it had seen thus: “The inevitable conclusion of the fact concerning Nyasaland is first that the colony has great resources which have not been adequately developed and second that the million and a quarter native people with capabilities above the average have not been able to take full advantage of the unusually effective type of mission education provided for them almost entirely independent of government, and Nyasaland with greater possibilities than any African colony of equal size is, therefore, the lowest in output and the poorest colony in Africa.”n


Share This Post