Letter: Whether dictator or deliverer, Malawi is better off

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Sir: While we in the West congratulate ourselves on the defeat of yet another dictator and cheer the people of Malawi for their choice of democracy, we should remember two things: Dr Banda was supported and sustained by Western democrats for many years, when it suited the democracies. As to whether we used him, or he used us, history will judge.

Secondly, Africa's unhappy choice in the past was never between good governance and development. It was between bad government with some development and bad government with corruption destroying development.

I travelled widely in Central Africa 20 years ago and again last year. In the intervening years, Malawi, its people as friendly as ever, had made great strides, while its neighbours had slipped close to or into chaos. The 'life president' may not be our current idea of a suitable president, but wearing a Homburg hat and forcing women to wear skirts seem fairly low on the scale of abuses practised in the name of religion and politics.

Malawi is still, and probably always will be, desperately poor. That it is no longer the poorest country in Africa is a reflection of relative merits. There are no absolutes in African, nor in our, politics.

Yours faithfully,




20 May