Disease, The Clock, The Gods, Greed – And The Wisdom Of The People – Have Saved Africa (Reflection on Mkandawire’s Story)

Thandika Mkandawire....

In “Disease, The Clock, The Gods, Greed And Stupidity Have Helped To Change Africa As Much As Democrats, Generals (The Sequel)”  we speak of Malawi ruler Kamuzu Banda’s tyranny.

There is one case in Malawi that offers us remarkable insight into how Africans coped with dictatorship for years.

Professor Thandika Mkandawire is a friend – and one of Africa’s leading scholars. He is former Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development and the first person to take on the new position of Chair in African Development at the London School of Economics (LSE).

I first met him when he was  Director of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA). He’s also been Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Development Research in Copenhagen and has taught at the Universities of Stockholm and Zimbabwe.

He currently holds the Olof Palme Professor for Peace with the Institute for Future Studies in Stockholm.

Thandika was one of the first Malawians to run afoul of Banda, and to flee into exile. He lived in exile for 30 years, returning home only after Banda lost power.

I was visiting with Thandika in Geneva one time, when he told me the story of his father. When he was in exile, his father became a low-key member of Banda’s ruling Malawi Congress Party (MCP).

Thandika was both puzzled, and hurt by that. How could his father become a member of a party that exiled his

...his tormentor Kamuzu Banda.

son? In the communication he was occasionally able to have with the old man from his exile, he never really brought the matter up.

When he finally returned home, he asked the difficult question. His father looked at him in silence, got up, and told him; “follow me”.

He entered his house, went into his bedroom, pulled aside his bed, got a hoe, and started digging the floor. After a while, the hoe struck a tin suitcase.

He got the suitcase out, and opened it. In it were dozens of party MCP membership cards, party t-shirts, caps and memorabilia.

The old man turned and told Thandika, my vague recollection tells me, something like; “No, I never betrayed you. I never carried an  MCP party card. I buried them all. I never became a member. I just needed to survive. And I managed to remain alive for you to find me on your return”.

© cobbo@ke.nationmedia.com & twitter@cobbo3

    Comments 7

    1. Rose Aiko

      Indeed, what is seen on the surface can hardly tell a complete story of incentives and motivations behind what people do. What a smart survival strategy.

    2. Simekha JME

      Disease, The Clock, The Gods, Greed – And The Wisdom Of The People – Have Saved Africa! Thanks Charles Onyango Obbo. Now Malawi is the latest beneficiary; who next? UG? Zim? Gambia? Can you draw on your deep African spritual self and predict Charles? I would do it but now they can charge you for what you write on facebook!

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