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Yesterday, prominent women rights activist Joyce Banda became the first female head of state in Southern Africa. Bulawayo24 wrote:

Malawian Vice-President Joyce Banda took over the running of the country on Saturday after the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika, and fears of a succession struggle receded as state institutions backed the constitutional handover.

The government only officially confirmed 78-year-old Mutharika's death earlier on Saturday, two days after he had died following a heart attack.

His body had been flown to a military hospital in South Africa.

The delay in the announcement had raised worries about a political crisis because Banda had been expelled from Mutharika's ruling DPP party in 2010 after an argument about the succession, though she retained her state position.

Many Malawians believed that Mutharika, who's rule had become increasingly dictatorial in recent years, was grooming is son to take over, which would have been a complete violation  of the constitutional process.

Last July, protests over high prices, devolving foreign relations and poor governance left 18 people dead and 44 others injured by gun shot wounds as Mutharika started emulating his old African Union rival, Mummar Qaddafi, in methods of protest suppression.  

Because of this history, before she was sworn in there was great concern that the constitutional process would be upstaged by something like a coup. The Guardian reported earlier:

The Malawian government's prolonged silence on the president's condition raised fears of an attempt to subvert the constitution in the southern African country, said to be sliding towards tyranny and economic disaster on Mutharika's watch.

"Malawi's constitution lays out a clear path for succession and we expect it to be observed. We are concerned about the delay in the transfer of power," the US state department said in a statement. "We trust that the vice president who is next in line will be sworn in shortly."

Joyce Banda, vice-president since 2009, is first in line to take over and become Malawi's first female president. The award-winning gender activist, who turns 62 next week, founded the National Association of Business Women of Malawi. Married to retired chief justice Richard Banda, she went into politics in 1999. As foreign minister she oversaw the severing of relations with Taiwan after 41 years to switch to China for "economic benefits".

But Banda was expelled from the ruling Democratic Progressive party in 2010 in a row over succession. She set up her own People's party and recently told the BBC she had not spoken to Mutharika for more than a year.

This tiny land-locked southern African country of 16 million is one of the poorest in the world. The economy is heavily based in agriculture, with a largely rural population. Far from the social media that helped spark the Arab Spring, less than 2% of the population has computers and only 6% even have electricity. From Wikipedia:
In 2007, Malawi established diplomatic ties with China, and Chinese investment in the country has continued to increase since then, despite concerns regarding treatment of workers by Chinese companies and competition of Chinese business with local companies. In 2011, relations between Malawi and the United Kingdom was damaged when a document was released in which the British ambassador to Malawi criticized President Mutharika. Mutharika expelled the ambassador from Malawi, and in July 2011, the UK announced that it was suspending all budgetary aid because of Mutharika's lack of response to criticisms of his government and economic mismanagement. On July 26, 2011, the United States followed suit, freezing a US$350 million grant, citing concerns regarding the government's suppression and intimidation of demonstrators and civic groups, as well as restriction of the press and police violence

Mummar Qaddafi's Influence

Yet even here, they have not been free of the detrimental influence of Libya's Colonel Qaddafi. After an earlier president who favored Qaddafi, Bakili Muluzi, established diplomatic relations with Libya in 2001, Qaddafi began building a string of roadside mosques. He had even promised to build a hospital but this project was stalled when Muluzi left office in 2004 and Mutharika, a former World Bank economist, took over and proved to be less enthusiastic about Qaddafi. That may be why, according to Nyasa Times:

There has been jubilation amongst Malawians after reports trickled in that Libya’s deposed dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi died after being captured with many people seeing it as a good omen for a hopeful Malawi which is undeniably reverting to dictatorship.
Malawians over the cyber sphere are eager to see what this means for Malawi. Already Zimbabweans are tweeting that Robert Mugabe should be next and some Malawians are saying that its president Bingu wa Mutharika should also be deposed since he has become a ‘mad dog’ of some reputation.

“It shows that the world is running out safe heavens for dictators. We have one in Malawi,” said Jimmy Kainja, a passionate academician and blogger.

“Gaddafi reportedly captured, Malawi’s Bingu wa Mutharika change your agenda for dictatorship or change will change you,” tweeted Nyasa Times editor Thom Chiumia from UK where he is coordinator of Malawi Diaspora Forum.

Former Malawi Defence Force brigadier Marcel Chirwa commented: “One by one dictators on the continent are being removed.”

There is good reason to believe that Malawi's succession would not have gone as smoothly as it did if Mummar Qaddafi was still in power because his record of interference with the internal politics of countries in Africa is well known.

It has been reported that the first president of Malawi, Hasting Banda, who established one party rule and is no relation to the current President Banda, once received $100,000 in a brown paper bag from Qaddafi.

Col. Gadhafi plotted coups and countercoups all over sub-Saharan Africa. Armed with petrodollars, he established himself as Africa's supremo. One great news photo shows him looking bored and reading a newspaper on a large couch in Tripoli with four African heads of state — two on each side — sitting with him,
writes Arnaud de Borchgrave, who interview Qaddafi six times in the past four decades.

They didn't always feel that way about the Colonel. In 2002, he flew to Malawi with a large entourage and several bullet proof vehicles on two 747s. As the Guardian reported:

As part of a bizarre, cross-continental crusade to promote his dream of a United States of Africa, the Libyan leader, in a 100-vehicle convoy, traversed the pot-holed roads of Malawi greeted by an estimated half a million peasants. His reception was described by officials as ecstatic.

The delight of the impoverished Malawian population, some cynics suggested, may have had more to do with the fact that Gaddafi's armed entourage was hurling bundles of US dollar bills from the windows of the bullet-proofed limousines than a desire to share his vision of leadership of a one-nation Africa.

Because of Qaddafi's dream of being crowned "King of all African Kings." A struggle broke out between Mutharika and Qaddafi when the time came for the later to relinquish the presidency of the AU.

The BBC wrote in 2010:

Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi has failed in his bid to stay on as president of the African Union for another year.

At the annual AU summit in Ethiopia, leaders from 53 African countries chose the president of Malawi, Bingu wa Mutharika, to take his place.

A BBC correspondent at the summit says Col Gaddafi was very reluctant to stand down, causing considerable resentment.
Libya has chaired the AU for the past year, and under the system of rotating regional blocs, the job was due to go to a southern African leader.

However, Mr Gaddafi wanted to extend the term. He had the support of Tunisia, and is said to have won over some smaller countries by paying their AU membership dues.

Mutharika was so strongly supported to replace Qaddafi because the other leaders were tired of Qaddafi pushing for them to adopt his United States of Africa plan immediately. After he replaced Qaddaf,i he said:
“Why should we create one Africa when in our countries and our regional groupings we are not united? Libya is pushing these matters too much,” said Mutharika when briefing the press upon arrival from the AU meeting in Ethiopia yesterday.

This follows Gaddafi’s call at the meeting for Africa to unite soon.

He added, “We all know why Gaddafi wants the formation of OAU now, it is because he wants to be the first leader. Some of us don’t like other things but we choose to be silent deliberately. We just look at other things when we know they are nonsense,”

This April, Malawi cut diplomatic ties with Qaddafi, expressing concerns about “the prevailing hostilities and armed violence in Libya which have caused grave loss of civilian life”.

The people of Malawi and it's new president, still have a great many hurdles to rise above to improve the situation in their country but with Mummar Qaddafi gone, they have a big boulder removed from their path.

My other recent writings on Africa:
People flex power in three African Countries.
BREAKING: Wade defeated in Senegal & other Africa Updates
Mali Coup is latest post-Qaddafi fallout
What the PSL got right & wrong about KONY 2012
African Spring continues in Senegal
Occupy Nigeria - 1st African fruits of Qaddafi gone?
Racism in Libya
Helter Skelter: Qaddafi's African Adventure

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (8+ / 0-)

    Remember history, Clay Claiborne, Director Vietnam: American Holocaust - narrated by Martin Sheen

    by Clay Claiborne on Sun Apr 08, 2012 at 09:30:04 AM PDT

  •  Arnaud de Borchgrave (0+ / 0-)

    such a reputable source.  If we like the Project for a New American Century, that is.

    The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges. ~ Anatole France

    by ActivistGuy on Sun Apr 08, 2012 at 10:47:12 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for keeping DK aware of African stories (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mariken, FG, Sky Net, killjoy

    We've disagreed in the past, but I hope you know I admire your posting about Africa.

    I would just add a bit of background.  Each country is different and when one writes that Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, it always raises how vastly different various kinds of poverty are.

    Some African countries are poor because they have experienced war and disruption (Angola, Congo, Liberia). Some are poor because they are underpopulated by conventional economic standards and have difficulty fully using agricultural resources (Angola, Mozambique).  

    I usually jump on Malthusian types who think that Africa is poor because it is over populated and lacks resources.

    But Malawi is one of the few countries in which this is true, and it is explained in part by its political history.  Malawi was ruled for 30 years by a dictator, Hastings Banda.  Banda was extremely conservative and was considered one of the only puppets of apartheid South Africa in the region.  

    His approach to development reminds me somewhat of the approach of the Portuguese dictatorship -- it was built on the idea that Malawi was naturally poor and underdeveloped.  Malawi under Banda never really tried to move beyond small scale agriculture.  On the one hand that's not a bad idea in a continent rich in agricultural resources and where the biggest challenge and failure has been pursuing policies that actually push farmers off the land and create urban slums while abundant farmland goes unused.

    Malawi is sort of the opposite.  It's a country that focused almost entirely on small farms and now it is fully demographically populated by small farmers living cheek by jowl in an overpopulated countryside -- rich agriculturally, but not rich enough to provide a decent living or surpluses for industrial development.  In other words, 30 years of stable, conservative, "let them grow crops" policy has left them in a poverty trap that makes some of the more ambitious industrial development failures elsewhere in Africa look more rational than they did at the time.

    •  And overpopulaton will just grow worse (0+ / 0-)

      I see the population is estimated to more than triple the next 40 year, to 50 million people in 2050. At that time the population density will be 420 per sq. km, which is higher than the current one in the Netherlands.

      "Walking into someone's diary is like walking into someone's home. You are a guest. Act accordingly." Kos

      by Mariken on Sun Apr 08, 2012 at 12:07:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Unless education and family planning is brought (0+ / 0-)

        to the people.

        I'd rather have a buntle afrota-me than a frottle a bunta-me.

        by David54 on Sun Apr 08, 2012 at 12:53:47 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  A lot of that is incalculated in the numbers (0+ / 0-)

          I am using the numbers from United Nations demographic forecast 2010, medium variant.

          For high-fertility countries, future fertility in the medium variant drops from 4.9 children per woman in 2005-2010 to 2.8 in 2045-2050
          account is taken of past fertility trends in a given country plus the past experience of all other countries in the world.
          Press Release.

          Malawi currently has a fertility level of 6 children pr. woman, so it is somewhat higher than the average for high-fertility countries.

          With constant fertility the Malawi population will grow to about 60 millions in 2050. In the low variant, population will be 44 millions.

          Country profiles.

          Of course, the future is always very difficult to foresee.

          "Walking into someone's diary is like walking into someone's home. You are a guest. Act accordingly." Kos

          by Mariken on Sun Apr 08, 2012 at 02:34:34 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  When the country develops, fertility rates slowly (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        decrease to about 2 or so. It has been true for many countries in Africa, Asia and elsewhere during the last 50 years.

        •  Are there any Sub-Saharian countries (0+ / 0-)

          with fertily rate around 2 ?

          I know it is around there in Algerie, Tunisia, etc.

          But in most Sub-Saharian countries the fertilily rate is currently very high (Malawi 5.5 - 6 children pr. woman), and even as a country develops it takes time to get from 5-6 children to 2 children.

          And even when you are down to 2, there will be so so many people in reproducing age that population will continue to grow for some time.

          65% of Malawi´s population is currently under 24.

          "Walking into someone's diary is like walking into someone's home. You are a guest. Act accordingly." Kos

          by Mariken on Sun Apr 08, 2012 at 02:13:48 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Other than South Africa and a few countries close (0+ / 0-)

            to it, no.


            But other countries are still poor and AIDS epidemic doesn't help. Look at Iran, Mexico and a lot of other countries. Fertility rate dropped from 5-6 to around 2 in about 30 years. Yeah, there is still an issue of very high population even if fertility rate drops.

          •  More than you would think (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            FG, Mariken

            It is easier to understand when you disaggregate within countries.  

            For example, most people think of Ethiopia as a country with high birth rates and a population problem.  But iirc, urban Ethiopia is already down to about replacement fertility (2).

            Most of Africa's problem is not high population, but lack of investment, especially in agriculture, and in many cases underpopulation.  

            Africa has had a baby boom in the last half century, but when you look at its demographic history, much of the last few centuries birth rates have been ravaged by colonialism, displacement and war.

            Angola is a great example.  It is a vast well endowed country with oil, agricultural land, forests, water resources.  It is about the size of Texas and its population is about 18 million.

            But as recently as 1960, its population was just 5 million.  That's pretty staggering for a country five times the size of the UK.

            It had been a Portuguese colony for centuries -- first suffering the slave trade.  When you consider how many Afro-Brazilians there are and that most of them trace their ancestry to Angola, you get an idea of the effect of Portuguese policy on the demographics of Africa.

            And after the abolition of slavery, the Portuguese implemented a system of forced labor in Angola that consistently killed off a significant portion of the population.  Then there was a war for independence then decades of civil war.

            Other very large African countries have had similar demographics -- Congo, Mozambique, Central African Republic.  

            When a rural, agricultural country is sparsely populated certain investments become difficult to impossible.  For example a road that connects villages to markets where the villages are separated by 30 miles of rain forest cannot be supported by agricultural revenue no matter how skillful and productive the farmers are.  There just isn't enough traffic.  So roads don't get built or are built and fall into disrepair, and farmers don't take their crops to market but remain self sufficient but subject to food crises if their crops fail because they aren't linked to markets.

            Liberia has extremely productive farmland, but a population of about 2 million scattered through tropical forests.  A "county" in Liberia, like Sinoe County, is about the 50 times the size of Brooklyn a county in New York, and although there are still roving mercenaries from the recently ended civil war, Sinoe county has two to four police officers, a truck with gas if they're lucky and their only weapons are batons and handcuffs.  The population is about 100,000 scattered in 4,000 square miles of forest and coast.

            It drives me crazy when Malthusians try to talk about Africa without having been there.  If Africa were overpopulated, would they really have game reserves the size of small American states?

            If they get their birth rates down, African countries could be among the few places on earth where human populations stabilize and begin to decline while preserving truly vast amounts of wild areas and wild life.

            •  Yes, but I did notice what you wrote yourself (0+ / 0-)

              that the African countries are different with different problems, and in Malawi (over) population may be a more real issue than in other African countries.

              So, my reply was specifically a comment on Malawi, even if I in a later comment noticed that almost all Sub-Saharan countries have high birthrates.

              The impression I get of the Malawi situation:

              1) It´s very much a traditional agricultural country; which probably means birthrates will be reduced more slowly there than in more urban African areas.

              2) While Africa generally is not overpopulated by most standards, Malawi is quite densely populated and will likely become among the more densely populated countries in the world.

              3) There are already too many "hands" in the countryside, meaning more hands than the agriculture needs. And agriculture in Malawi as elsewhere in Africa probably should and will be modernized, which will mean that the need for hands will be further reduced. So a lot of the children who now grow up at farms won´t find work there when they are grown-ups. Will there be work for them elsewhere? How qualified are they for other jobs?

              But I get the thing you say, that there are also infrastructural and other economic advantaged in being a relatively small and densely populated country. So hopefully that will help the situation.

              Aside from the overpopulation issue, having so many children, and children making up such a large prorportion of the population will in itself hold back economic productivity compared to countries with a more balanced population structure.

              "Walking into someone's diary is like walking into someone's home. You are a guest. Act accordingly." Kos

              by Mariken on Mon Apr 09, 2012 at 12:20:55 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

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