The mighty Malawi Congress Party (MCP) is the mother of all political parties in Malawi. It succeeded the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC), which was banned by the federal government on 3rd March 1959 with most of its senior leadership arrested and incarcerated in prisons across Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (now Malawi).
In the same year, 1959 Orton Chirwa with other NAC leaders including Aleke Banda, and others established the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). Orton Chirwa, Nyasaland’s first African Barrister became the first MCP president according to The Nyasaland Times of October 2, 1959.
Later Orton Chirwa gave way to Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda after his release from Gwelo Prison. Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda then led the party to Independence and up until his death in 1997.
In the 1961 Nyasaland General Elections, the MCP won all of the seats in the legislature, and led the country to independence as Malawi in 1964.
When Malawi became a republic in 1966, the MCP was, a few years later, formally declared the only legal party until 1993 when a multiparty democracy referendum was conducted. MCP lost in the subsequent first multiparty elections in 1994.
Unlike many former liberation parties in Africa, the MCP has remained strong. It has withstood a myriad of challenges to remain the strongest and biggest opposition party in Malawi.
The MCP in 2013, having survived when its peers all died natural deaths on the continent, is a wise party. Just as Kwame Nkrumah said: “We face neither East nor West; we face forward”; the new MCP believes that the past is not for residence, but for reference and hence the party looks forward, to the future with great enthusiasm.
While it is important to acknowledge that some things did not go on very well during Malawi Congress Party’s 31 year long reign; and while denial, dismissal or trivialization will not help the “New” MCP perception; it is important that the party must move on.
But we cannot move before understanding the context that bred and led to the events and negative developments that – with hindsight – should have been avoided.
Understanding nationalistic governments: Nationalistic parties and the governments they formed were generally characterised by glorifying the leadership. This leadership glorification inevitably led to dictatorship, autocracy and neo-patrimonialism which invariably resulted in a one party state.
The post-colonial excitement and the brand new wave of nationalism saw most decisions made, influenced and championed by political cronies for self-preservation and advancement.
The systems created lacked and did not entertain broader consensus and there was only symbolic consultations in the changing (manipulation is more accurate) of laws and constitutions. There was little separation of powers and often the line between the party and the state was blurred.
To compound matters further, during this era 1950s to mid-1980s power was split between that East and the West with the East lead by Communist Russia and the west by the United States of America. The presence of the cold war between communist states and capitalist nations meant that external forces had little time or resources to take a closer look and hold African countries accountable to the conventions and instruments on respect for human rights that they endorsed/ratified/adopted on attaining independence.
Needless to say, low levels of illiteracy; state control over broadcasting and other factors locally militated against raising public and popular awareness.
As a result, new born nations – Malawi included – witnessed:
• The entrenchment of dictator ship; • Introduction and maintenance of one party state; and • Disregard for human and other rights
All of which caused pain and suffering for many.
The new MCP: Since the advent of multiparty democracy the MCP has evolved into a learning and modern institution and is among the few liberation parties in Africa that have remained relevant.
In Malawi following the change from one party to plural politics, several things happened:
• Registrations (and de-registrations) of many political parties; • Introduction of a new constitution – with more safeguards for human rights; • Sprouting and establishment of national watch dog institutions, rights and interest groups and civil society; • Former President Kamuzu Banda’s historic apology to the nation of the pain and suffering caused during the 31 years; • The setup of a national compensation tribunal intended to dully compensate those that suffered under the one party dictatorship and high profile trials.
One thing can however be said, despite all these and many other developments (both positive and negative) the challenges of the nationalistic parties still haunt not only the MCP but ironically the parties that were born with at the advent of multi-party.
Cronyism, lack of genuine succession policies, and failure to fight corruption when party cohorts are involved (which is almost always the case) have since eroded the economic foundation laid by the Malawi Congress Party. Parties ruling from 1994 to date have thrown away the baby with the water.
Whither rebranded MCP?
The MCP, forward ever backward never, wants to: • Open a conversation space and address any outstanding issues in a sincere manner. This will be done knowing that any matters not closed, will continue to haunt the party, taint its image and/or be used by the competition against the rebranded party. • Engage and inform the young generation about the truths or else they will only form choices based on biased rumours (propaganda) and not facts. • Strengthen respect of the constitution: promoting, respecting and upholding the rule of law at all times by strengthening the institutions, systems and instruments of justice and law enforcement • Reduce executive (presidential) powers.
The MCP believes that the presidency is too elevated to the clouds, placed beyond the reach of the people and distanced and isolated from real life; so much so that the president (whosoever is occupying that seat) quickly loses touch with the masses and start living in delusion.
One only has to watch the State Media and other State instruments of propaganda to see for themselves just how detached from Malawians’ suffering the current administration is.
The good news is: MCP, your government in waiting, is here for you.