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Letter: Whether dictator or deliverer, Malawi is better off

Sir: Richard Dowden describes Hastings Banda, the retiring President of Malawi, as a remarkable man (Africa File, 20 May). I agree though maybe not for the same reasons. I have known Dr Banda for 36 years, from the time he returned to Nyasaland where I was a serving officer. I was Minister of Finance in his first Cabinet. After the country became independent I have stayed in contact and was, until recently, a director of one of its commercial banks.

I can testify to the success of the President's policies. As a colonial power we were never able to mobilise a sufficiency of resources to introduce much needed developments. Dr Banda, by the force of his personality, succeeded in extracting loans and grants from many a foreign country; and these funds, together with continuing British aid, helped him to embark upon an ambitious programme of social and economic development.

Universal primary education, a network of secondary schools, and a university all figured among his early achievements. A countrywide programme, personally supervised, encouraged the production of maize and secured his people's basic food supplies. Medical facilities and roads have been improved, air and telecommunications expanded and private sector investment encouraged. While it is easy to brand the regime as repressive, it has, nevertheless, by and large kept the peace.

This is in striking contrast to neighbouring Mozambique where civil war not only cut off Malawi from direct access to the sea - with adverse effects on its economy - but also caused an influx of about one million refugees. Dr Banda did not hesitate to authorise this act of humanity despite the resultant burden on his food supplies.

These many and varied developments have greatly benefited the people of Malawi as a whole; and they are a happy people in a warm and welcoming country. It is against this background that we should consider the abuse of the human rights of a number of individuals. It should not be assumed that the president ordered the actions which have occasioned so much criticism; but he certainly made no effort to change the system that he inherited from us (we imprisoned him and his followers without tria1) until forced to do so by the withdrawal of overseas aid.

Then he moved quickly, and this was the beginning of the 'astonishing turnaround' to which your correspondent refers and which culminated in his defeat at the polls, which he gracefully acknowledged with a promise of full support for his successor.

Truly, he is a remarkable man.

Yours faithfully,


London, SW15

20 May

The writer was formerly Minister of Finance in Nyasaland, now Malawi, 1957-64.