Tuesday, May 16, 2006

International Development: Poverty ridden Malawi unveils $620,000 mausoleum for torturer

Photo: Pomp and ceremony at the unveiling of the mausoleum

Somehow, I don't think the following report falls under the category of "Poverty Reduction In Africa".

LILONGWE, 15 May 2006 (IRIN) - The political rehabilitation of Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, reviled as a dictator and murderer when he was swept from office a decade ago, was completed at the weekend with the unveiling of a mausoleum honouring him as Malawi's first head of state.

At a ceremony attended by thousands on Sunday, President Bingu wa Mutharika proclaimed Banda a national hero, and vowed to "continue his work". There was no mention of the jailing and torturing of opponents, which helped keep Banda in power for 30 years until domestic and external pressure forced him to make democratic reforms.

Memories of those human rights violations have tended to fade, replaced by an image of Banda's rule as characterised by stability, food security and self-sufficiency - in stark contrast to Malawi's current plight.

"Mutharika has made no secret of his admiration for Dr Banda," said Rafiq Hajat, director of the Institute for Policy Interaction. "With extolling Dr Banda's memory becoming politically correct again, it raises fears that any comment to the contrary will be attacked."

Banda's legacy has become yet another cause of division between Mutharika and Bakili Muluzi, his predecessor and now political rival, who won Malawi's first multiparty elections in 1994. Whereas Muluzi erased the name of Banda from public buildings - including the international airport and national stadium - Mutharika has reverted to the original designations.

"Previous attempts were made to obliterate the name of Kamuzu Banda from the minds of the people of Malawi and from history. I disagreed with this policy and my government will continue to honour this true Malawi hero," Mutharika, an economist and former World Bank official, said at the unveiling of the US$620,000 mausoleum.

That commitment has won the appreciation of Banda's Malawi Congress Party (MCP), which holds the largest numbers of seats in parliament. Mutharika, who formed a new party after quitting Muluzi's United Democratic Front (UDF) last year, fought a bruising political battle against the UDF, which tried to impeach him.

"Obviously, having Dr Banda extolled in this manner swings MCP sympathy to Mutharika, and suddenly opposition unity is diluted," remarked Hajat, a former UDF executive member.

Political commentators have linked Mutharika's admiration for Banda to recent crackdowns on his perceived opponents. Vice-President Cassim Chilumpha, a UDF leader, was arrested earlier this month on the charge of treason for an alleged plot to kill the president, along with two businessmen also linked to Muluzi.

"For me, it's another sign that leads me to believe that we are on a very slippery slope downwards," said Hajat.

Banda, of the generation of African nationalist leaders that came to power at independence, died in November 1997 at a clinic in South Africa at the age of 101.

Reproduced with the kind permission of IRIN
IRIN 2006
Raphael Mweninguwe/IRIN
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies