Muluzi, Bakili 1943–
Bakili Muluzi 1943–
President of Malawi
When the nation of Malawi gained its independence from Great Britain in 1964, Hastings Kamuzu Banda was seen as a hero of liberation. Bakili Muluzi’s victory over him in the country’s first free election thirty years later marked the beginning of a new phase in the history of Malawi. After three decades under the despotic rule of Banda, a classic third-world strongman, the 9.7 million people of Malawi voted to oust the 90-some year old dictator in favor of Muluzi, a former member of the Banda cabinet. The election of Muluzi, a successful businessman, brought hope to many that economic conditions in that country, one of the poorest in the world, might improve by the end of the 20th century.
Before gaining its independence from Britain, Malawi, located in a mountainous region of southeastern Africa, was known as Nyasaland. Muluzi was born in the village of Machinga, located in the southern part of the country. In a country where only 36 percent of the population is literate, Muluzi was fortunate enough to come from a family to whom education was available. After receiving his early schooling in his home country, Muluzi, like so many other future statesmen, went to Europe for his higher education. His interest from the start was in education itself. In England Muluzi attended the Bolton College of Education. He then transplanted to Denmark for additional study at the Thisted College of Further Education.
While Muluzi was receiving his training abroad, at home Banda was consolidating his power. Banda was trained as a doctor, and had practiced medicine for decades in England before returning to Malawi to join the struggle for independence. Banda’s Malawi Congress Party emerged victorious in Nyasaland’s 1961 general elections, and Banda himself was made prime minister two years later. He was among the leaders of the protests that led to the creation of the Republic of Malawi on July 5, 1964. Banda became president of the republic in 1966. Under Banda, Malawi became a one-party state, in which political dissent was handled harshly. Banda changed his title to president-for-life in 1971.
Muluzi, upon his return from academia in Europe, quickly ascended Banda’s Malawi Congress Party (MCP), the only game in town for somebody with political ambitions. In 1975 he was elected to parliament, where he was given a series of ministerial posts of increasing power and prestige. He was named Junior Minister for Youth and Culture in 1976. Later the same year, Muluzi was promoted to Minister of Education. He received the title Minister Without Portfolio in 1977, as well as Secretary General of the party. Muluzi held those posts through 1981. During this period, Muluzi became one of the most powerful individuals in Malawi, a member of Banda’s inner circle.
In 1982 Muluzi abruptly fell out of favor. That year his
At a Glance …
Born Elson Bakili Muluzi, March 17, 1943, Mach inga, Malawi (then Nyasaland); has two wives and seven children; Education : Malosa Secondary School; Boton College of Education, England; Thisted College of Further Education, Denmark. Politics : Leader of Malawi’s United Democratic Front (UDF) party. Religion : Muslim
National Assembly, member, 1975–1982; Junior Minister for Youth and Culture, 1976; Minister of Education, 1976-77; Minister without Portfolio, 1977-81; Minister of Transport and Communications, 1981-82; Malawe Congress Party (MCP), Secretary-General and Administrative Secretary 1977-81; founded United Democratic Front in 1992; elected president of Malawi, 1994.
Addresses: Office –Office of the President, Lilongwe, Malawi.
job was changed to Minister of Transport and Communications, clearly a demotion that sliced into his power. He left government for the private sector shortly after this shift in his title. There is disagreement among sources as to what led to his exit from public life. Muluzi asserted that he resigned from the MCP out of fear for his life. He believed that his growing power within the party made him a likely target for Banda’s wrath—wrath that had turned other such targets, according to prevalent rumors and the rhetoric of Banda’s own articulated threats, into “meat for crocodiles.” Given the mysterious deaths of numerous Banda opponents over the years, such fear would have been reasonable. Other accounts claimed that Muluzi simply left because he could make more money as a businessman or that he was pushed aside by other party leaders in the ongoing struggle for influence.
For much of the time he was out of government, Muluzi served as deputy head of Malawi’s national chamber of commerce. When startling changes began to take place in Malawi in the early 1990s, Muluzi felt prepared to reemerge as a force in national politics. In March of 1992, Malawi’s Roman Catholic bishops penned an open letter that sharply criticized the Banda regime’s terrible human rights record. The letter, which was read in churches throughout the predominantly Catholic country, called for an end to one-party rule and a general increase in political and personal freedoms.
The stir created by the pastoral letter had a huge ripple effect. Initially Banda reacted in his typical harsh manner, and wholesale arrests were made. Eventually, however, the demands for reform became too loud to ignore, especially when backed by the voices of Western democracies, whose aid accounted for a huge share of Malawi’s national budget. Under intense pressure, the government agreed to hold a referendum on one-party rule, and in June of 1993, a two-thirds majority approved the institution of a new multi-party system. In spite of arrests, intimidation, and even the murders of several activists, Banda and company allowed the transition to proceed.
Practically overnight, parties of every political ilk were organized. The two most important opposition parties to appear were founded in September of 1993. One was Muluzi’s United Democratic Front (UDF). The other major opposition party was the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD), led by popular labor leader Chakufwa Chihana.
The first general election of Malawi’s multi-party era took place on May 17, 1994, and by nearly all accounts it was free and fair. Muluzi was the winner, with his UDF capturing 1.2 million of the 3.7 million votes cast. Banda’s MCP collected 800,000 votes, thereby retaining a healthy number of seats in parliament. AFORD and Chihana received about 600,000 votes. Votes were cast very much along regional lines, with Muluzi controlling the heavily populated southern part of the country where he was born. Banda dominated in the central regional, while Chihana did well in the north. With this victory, Muluzi replaced the world’s oldest head of state.
The transition of power was remarkably peaceful. Banda was surprisingly gracious in defeat, expressing that he would fully support the Muluzi government. Muluzi, by the same token, vowed that there would be no retribution against former members of the Banda regime, some investigation of governmental abuses under Banda would take place. Muluzi announced that his priorities would be to boost Malawi’s floundering economy and alleviate the country’s desperate poverty. He also pledged to improve health care, education, and roads. Under Muluzi, there has also been a great deal of loosening of the strict rules of behavior that existed under Banda, such as the national dress code that forbade women to wear pants and nixed long hair on men.
After the election, many observers expected Muluzi to seek a coalition with AFORD, including an offer of a top cabinet post to Chihana. Instead, however, the two parties engaged in a lot of bickering. In a move that surprised even members of his own party, Muluzi named Justin Malewezi, a former secretary to Banda, vice president. While talks with AFORD floundered, Muluzi’s cabinet was filled by others, many of whom were old-time Banda personnel.
The UDF and Chihana’s AFORD officially united as one party in July of 1995 in a deal that made Chihana the country’s second vice-president. This pact also promised that 30 percent of all political appointees would be from AFORD’s ranks. Despite the political marriage and the unexpected end to a drought that had ravaged Malawi’s agriculture for three-years, tensions increased in December as accusations of favoritism and dishonesty were levied. Muluzi’s distribution of World Bank funds and his appointment of senior officials without consulting UDF leaders angered Chihana. Though AFORD claimed Muluzi had not kept his promises, the new president served notice that he would not tolerate the violence and human rights abuses of his predecessor’s government by immediately closing some of the country’s prisons, “a legacy of the total abuse of human rights,” according to Muluzi. In January of 1995 Banda was arrested in connection with the murders of four former rivals.
In addition to the obvious tasks of battling poverty and improving the living conditions of his countrymen, Muluzi faces a number of important challenges. He must sustain the momentum that has been gained on the human rights front since 1992 in a country that has grown accustomed to living at the mercy of an eccentric dictator’s whims. One of Muluzi’s most important chores, however, is even more trying: to create a democratic culture that neatly fits with the new, more democratic government they have managed to construct.
Africa Report, July/August 1994, pp. 49, 52; November/December 1994, pp. 56–59, 60–62.
Christian Science Monitor, May 20, 1994, p. 6.
Economist, May 21, 1994, p. 46.
Facts on File, May 26, 1994, p. 386.
Facts on File World News Digest, January 19, 1995, p. 39.
New York Times, May 20, 1994, p. A1.
Post (Zambia), January 25, 1996.
Washington Post, May 20, 1994, p. A27.
—Robert R. Jacobson
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