In the early 1900s Nyasaland was awash with associations one of which was the “North Nyasa Native Association”, formed in 1912 with Levi Zililo Mumba as Secretary.
In 1943, James Frederick Sangala from Zomba proposed formation of a national organisation as opposed to the region-based North Nyasa Native Association and the “Nyasaland African Congress (NAC)” was born.
The NAC was to serve as an umbrella organisation for the Native Associations and other local organisations of indigenous people in the protectorate of Nyasaland. Each of the smaller groups had a seat on the executive committee.
At the inaugural meeting of the Nyasaland African Congress in Blantyre in October 1944, Mumba was elected President-General. In January 1945 Mumba died and was succeeded by Charles Matinga who was later (1950) forced to resign.
In August 1950 in Mzimba, James Chinyama from Mangochi was elected President, with Sangala elected as Vice-President.
Until the early 1950s, Sangala and other leaders Dr Hastings Banda included, assumed that Nyasaland would evolve towards self-government while remaining under the authority of the British Colonial Office.
Therefore when in 1953 the Colonial Office established the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, they were not pleased.
In January 1954 Sangala was elected President of the NAC and Thamar Dillion Thomas Banda Secretary-General of the Congress on 30 March 1956.
Sangala and TDT Banda were arrested by the colonial authorities and tried for sedition in May 1956. In January 1957, veteran Sangala stepped down and was replaced by TDT Banda.
In September–October 1957, Congress leaders met government representative to discuss constitutional changes. Shortly after, the government withdrew recognition of NAC as the official representatives of Africans.
In March 1957, TDT Banda went to Ghana to attend the independence celebrations. And that was where he met Dr Hastings Kamuzu and asked him, as per the resolution of the NAC’s convention, to return to Nyasaland to lead the nationalist movement.
In July 1958, Hastings Banda returned. TDT had been forced to resign and Hastings Banda was elected President of the NAC in his place.
Hastings Banda immediately embarked on a nationwide tour which set Nyasaland “on fire”. By February 1959, the situation was so bad that Rhodesian troops were flown in to help keep order, a state of emergency was declared and the NAC was banned.
On 3 March, Banda, along with hundreds of other Africans, was arrested in the course of “Operation Sunrise”.
While Kamuzu Banda was in prison Orton Chirwa and 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.
Orton Chirwa gave way to Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda after his release from Gwelo Prison and Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
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, and has withstood a myriad of challenges to remain the strongest and biggest opposition party in Malawi.
Its leadership from inception to date is as tabulated below:
|Term start||Term end||President|
|October 1944||January 1945||Levi Zililo Mumba|
|January 1945||January 1950||Charles Matinga|
|August 1950||January 1954||James Chinyama|
|January 1954||January 1957||James Frederick Sangala|
|January 1957||July 1958||Thamar Dillon Thomas Banda|
|August 1958||January 1993||Hastings Kamuzu Banda|
|January 1993||April 2003||Gwanda Chakuamba|
|April 2003||August 2013||John ZU Tembo|
|August 2013||Lazarus Chakwera|
MCP believes that the past is not for residence, but for reference and looks forward, to the future with great enthusiasm.
Acknowledging that some things went wrong during its 31 year long reign; the party realizes that what is important is to move on.
However, moving on before understanding the context that bred and led to the events and negative developments that – with hindsight – should have been avoided would be a mistake.
How did things go wrong?
To respond to this question, it is important to understand the situation as was then wherever nationalistic governments emerged.
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. Often times, consultations in the changing (manipulation is more accurate) of laws and constitutions were just symbolic.
There was little separation of powers and in many countries, the line between the party and the state was blurred.
To compound matters, 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 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 dictatorship;
- 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 after 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 begins to live 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.
Join the MCP and be the change you want to see.