Hastings Banda

(1896?–1997) Malawian president

Dr. Hastings Banda was a physician and prime minister, founding president, and former dictator of the African country of Malawi. After leading the country’s independence movement against the British, Banda became prime minister in 1963. An authoritarian ruler, Banda became president in 1966 and president for life in 1971. In 1994 Banda authorized democratic elections. He was defeated. Banda died in a South African hospital in 1997; he was rumored to have been 101 years old.

The name “Malawi” was given to the country formerly named Nyasaland by Dr. Banda. Having read a French map that called the dominating lake of the country “Lake Maravi,” Banda decided he liked the sound and appearance of the name and chose a similar name.

Because of tribal migrations, several tribes make Malawi their home. The Tumbuka from the Congo and the Chewa from Zambia moved into Malawi during the 14th through the 16th centuries and remain there today. The Bantu peoples flourished in Malawi during the 18th century and the Yao moved into southern Malawi in the 19th century. It is thought that the Yao used firearms taken from Arabian traders to capture weaker tribes for the growing slave trade. Although slave trading had existed in Africa for centuries, the international transatlantic slave trade drastically increased the practice.

The first Europeans in Malawi were Portuguese explorers, but the most famous explorer was the Brit- ish Dr. David Livingstone in 1846. Dr. Livingstone would return to Malawi twice more to help establish trade routes and mission sites before his death in 1873. Livingstone’s Malawian legacy was the increased trade and missionary presence in Malawi, which eventually became a trade center. During the late 19th century, Malawi became a British protectorate. During the next few decades, the British government officials in Malawi battled slave traders, oversaw the growth of European settlers, constructed a postal system, and built a railway line.

Local Malawian peoples were dissatisfied under the British colonial system and in 1915, the Reverend John Chilembwe led a violent uprising against European settlers living on formerly Malawian farmlands. By 1944 the growing elite consisting of Europeans, Americans, and Africans organized the Nyasaland African Congress in order to protect their new holdings. Britain joined the Central African Federation, a whitedominated organization, in 1953.

When he was young, Hastings Banda left Malawi for Rhodesia and South Africa. The son of peasants, Banda went to work in the South African gold mines and by 1925 had enough money to head to America for college. He studied on a scholarship at the Wilberforce Institute in Ohio and then went to the University of Chicago. After graduation, Banda went to Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. Although he graduated in 1937, Banda was required to earn a second medical degree in order to practice medicine in the British Empire. In 1941 he graduated from the School of Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of the University of Edinburgh.

After World War II, Banda established his medical practice in Scotland and London. His office soon became a meeting place for exiled African leaders. However, in 1953 Dr. Banda chose to return to Africa, establishing a medical practice in Ghana. By 1958, Banda had returned to Malawi to campaign against the Central African Federation. In 1959 he spent time in prison for his political activities but was released in April 1960. In 1963, Banda and his Malawi Congress Party won the elections in a landslide victory. Dr. Hastings Banda became the prime minister on February 1, 1963.

The British still controlled all of Malawi’s financial, security, and judicial systems. In May 1963 a new constitution took effect, winning Malawi its independence from Britain. In 1966 Malawi became a republic with Banda as its president. Banda became increasingly autocratic, making himself president for life in 1971. Opponents were jailed, sent into exile, or killed. The foreign press was barred from entering the country. In addition to gaining almost total control of Malawi’s economics, Banda also made economic trade ties with South Africa. During apartheid in South Africa, Malawi was the country’s only African public trade partner.

Following rioting and the suspension of Western aid in 1992, Banda had no choice but to abandon the idea of one-party rule and even his life presidency in 1993. Open democratic elections were held in 1994, and Bakili Muluzi easily defeated Banda. Calculations report Banda accumulated over $320 million in personal assets during his rule. Another calculation reports that during his rule, over 250,000 people went missing or were murdered in connection with the government.

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