Sunday, February 2, 2014

Lest We Forget Aleke Kadonaphani Banda, A script of many lessons

Aleke Kadonaphani Banda is a Malawian script. On this script are written stories of politics and courage. In politics, where he begun at the age of 14, he furnished his life situation; courage and hard work provided the theme.

His story could be likened to the river Luo. Like most rivers with Ocean (big) connections, it starts small, but sure-footed, clawing from Mulanje Mountain. It then pours into the mighty Zambezi River (it is still Luo, somehow, because the waters still carry the scent and famed spirits of Mulanje).

In the big Indian Ocean, where Zambezi rids its chest of all our tears, Malawi begins to live and becomes part of the big story, the ocean. It is no longer Luo or Zambezi; it is a big, mighty, salty ocean.

So, too, with Aleke Banda. It started small in 1953 when, at the tender age of 14, he ascended to the position of district secretary for Nyasaland African Congress in Que-Que, Zimbabwe. His background might have been limited to the basic description of a young man from Tukombo.

No more.

Why? Because, at that age, he was not yet national, let alone regional. He might have been in a foreign land, Zimbabwe, but people still saw the ‘Tukombo’ in him, a community member. Like Luo on Mulanje Mountain.

It must have been difficult also, at that time, to say “Mr. Aleke Banda’. He was only 14. Is that why he was fondly referred to as ‘Aleke’ or AKB? Is that the reason Banda sounds so heavy in the mouth?

Love and admiration force us to define adorable figures in simple, digestible forms. And Aleke was one such individual; a man of courage, high integrity, so hard working, honest, transparent and easily accessible.

These attributes came handy whenever he was caught in the net of adverse circumstances, most of which orchestrated by people who imagined enemies where none existed, and created holes of mistrust in the smooth air. He was hard working, giving out his best at a time other people (ministers, public officials) were busy buying time in a world where there is no spare time.

For instance, in March 1973, he was dismissed from cabinet and banished into internal exile due a Zambian newspaper report that purported that he could be the next best person to replace first president, Ngwazi Dr. Hastings Banda. He paved his way out by asking for special consideration of his case. Men of integrity and courage
fear no reviews.

This was a time, between 1964 and 1980, when government and politics had dropped into a vacuum of objectives that there was no clear direction. Aleke might have realized that instances of courage on isolated and unimportant issues have no great significance, and so invoked that better title deed for real politicians: courage under fearful pressure.

Moral courage is great and admirable in itself; but it must be pointed out that it almost never appears except as part of that greater entity called character. In short, moral courage is allied with other traits which make up character: honesty, deep consciousness and seriousness, a firm sense of principle, candour, and resolution.

As Ernest Hemingway once said, “Courage is grace under pressure”.

Aleke’s heart remained home to all these. A man who knew that all conventions, conferences, and agreements are founded upon the principle of mutual concession. This is the spirit he wore when, in July 1960, he was secretary of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) delegation to the Lancaster House Constitutional Conference in London,
where the country’s first constitution was drafted.

In December of that same year, he was to become secretary of the MCP delegation to the Constitutional Conference at Marlborough House. This culminated into self-government for Nyasaland and secession of Nyasaland from the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

Not that Aleke, looking at the outcomes of the meetings he attended, did not value compromise. There is always need for compromise, but this compromise should always be on issues not principles. So he held on to the Honourable ship of principles, and held on to the end.

He had inherited these principles from the hours he was born in Zimbabwe, on September 19, 1939, nurtured them for over 50 years of political and public life, and went with them when the sun finally set on Friday, April 9, 2010. A giant star with humble beginnings had fallen in South Africa, and the clouds followed suit in Malawi- they turned black.

Everything, too, seemed to take the direction of black.

Aleke was a shining star because everything he founded lived. Nation Publications Limited and Malawi News are neighborly examples. Now that star has stopped shining, but its soft, gentle light will be felt for a long time to come. A hole now occupies the place he took for himself through hard work and dedication. What remains is an enormous hollow of blackness it scares.

At Tukombo, especially, where he served as Member of Parliament from 2004 to March 2009, it is all dark and gloom. Before that fateful Friday, Tukombo Girls Secondary School, Youth Development Centre and Agriculture Scheme, not forgetting a revolving fund he set up, were living examples of Aleke’s social spirit and forced smiles on people’s faces.

Now, they are a reminder of the Aleke who was, and will never be. At least in Physical form. He lives on in their minds.

These developments came about because Aleke knew that the essence of democracy is faith in the wisdom of the people and their views. But he realized, also, that politicians are not merely seismographic instruments, recording shifts in constituents’ opinion. Voters elect MPs because they have confidence in their (candidates’) judgements and their ability to exercise that judgement from a position where they would determine what their own interests are, as part of the nation’s

This means MPs should occasionally lead, inform, correct, and sometimes even ignore constituents’ opinion if they are to exercise fully that judgement for which they were elected, as John F. Kennedy rightly pointed out.

So Aleke, of his own accord, resorted to developing Tukombo during his tenure as People’s Progressive Movement (PPM) MP, and people are now happy with what he achieved. The tears that rolled down their cheeks were also tears of joy. Here was a life well lived.

We live our life well when we are, among other things, fit for exact ethical discussions, clear in seeing general truths, active in development, unrelenting in our pursuit of truth ,justice and human rights freedoms, fond of inquiry and constructive debate, penetrated and restrained by common values and a shrewd common sense.

We must also have a tenacity of purpose, a lofty and inflexible courage, an
unbending will that never flinches before antagonists.

Aleke Kadonaphani Banda: What a man to have all these! Contrast these with modern day politicians. Aleke’s characteristics are unhappily out of tune with politics being employed in the Democratic Progressive Party (where constructive criticism is dessent), United Democratic Front (where the will of the leader is supreme to the common will of party followers), Malawi Congress Party (where progress is determined
by how deep you stick your legs into the waters of yesteryears), and other small political parties (where the leader has been the leader forever, dragging their parties into one-man alliances, and party conventions are synonymous with selling power).

A politician in Malawi, it seems, must be the man or woman of the political party; never a man, or woman, of the whole country. The country is so totally given up to the spirit of partisanship that not to follow blindfolded is an expiable offense. Narrow partisanship is killing us.

But Aleke could stand firm, even if it meant giving rise to the term ‘Minority of oSne’. That is what he did when the UDF imposed Bingu wa Mutharika as the party’s torch-bearer. He simply resigned as UDF’s vice-president on May 18, 2003. He was not happy with the turn of events, which prompted the then State President Bakili Muluzi to sack him from cabinet.

The same old Aleke story: Compromise on issues; never on principles.

It is this same spirit which drove him, and others like the late Orton Chirwa, to found the MCP on September 30, 1959. It was a giant, courageous move. Visionary, too. That decision turned out to be the impetus for change.

Given an expanded base of public support, and blessed by a new brand of no-nonsense native leaders like Aleke and Chirwa, Nyasaland came close to setting- or up setting (the way you look at it), the national agenda.

It is like what Bertrand Russel, the eminent British philosopher and mathematician, said about real politics and power: “It is the production of intended effects”.

This means that many people in society have influence, but they do not exercise power unless they can actually change the course of events.

Using this definition, we see that Aleke had both influence and power, but, instead of clinging to it, he and Chirwa gave it freely to Dr. Banda.

The good thing about Aleke’s machinations was that Nyasalanders got inspiration and stopped acting like the ghosts they had become.

Instead, they started to act and behave like the warriors they had once been before the partition of Africa. That was when the Ngoni were Ngoni with the spear, the Lomwe could not be chased from a Kalongonda party, and the Chewa were simply unbeatable with their Alauli (traditional prophets). The Tonga were too dangerous on hill tops
while the Tumbuka could not be tempered with at their own backyard.

Everyone, a warrior.
What the colonialists and partitioners did was to break this invincible spirit and plant feeble seeds. Aleke saw through this and acted in the common interests of people. No outsider could now predict if they could recognize any limits to Nyasas’ lively sense of reparation. The refuddled politicians knew only one thing; that
nothing could stop the likes of Aleke.

It was a long struggle, one in which Aleke, Chirwa, among others, participated. Early European settlers and historians treated them as amorphous, out-of-focus beings, not far removed from local vegetation and animal life, and deserving of a similar fate.
Their aspiration to decide their own destinies became a rubric kept deliberately out of their reach.

Aleke and other nationalists saw where the rubric was hidden and wanted to reach it. They realized, also, the comforting belief that nothing which could be imagined was impossible. These were views shared by many who saw themselves becoming the ghosts in their own country’s history.

How could a majority people become aliens in their own country, displaced within their own homeland when settlers took prime land, and forced to live in fear under the rule of an intrusive minority of new ‘conquerors’.

People got so tired they needed redeemers. It was Aleke Banda and others who were the smiths!

In Blantyre’s Chirimba Township a smith of hope, accomplishment, courage, high integrity, and principles will now lie dead, but peaceful anyway, knowing he achieved what many people could only dream of. A nation, history and long script is now laid for our adoration, appreciation and politics good lessons. Like Luo, starting humbly from Mulanje, he is now part of the larger story, the story of Malawi.

His life might have been winding and long at times, like Zambezi, but it reached its destination in admirable order. It proceeds along a straight line of success. Those who take the same path may not stray.

That came clear after news of his passing on spread: there was an ominous silence- a silence of both mediation and shock.

To rise from an origin both humble and obscure, in 1953, and become the district secretary for Nyasaland African Congress in Que-Que, Zimbabwe; to organise Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia students in that political organization disguised as Bwafano Photographic Club, and edit the school magazine that was Ukuqolotsha Kwe Nyati; to found the Southern African Students Association as secretary general.

To co-found the Malawi Congress Party in 1959; to be part of the negotiating team with British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in Zomba, 1960, and fight for the abolition of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland; to found and become first editor for Malawi News.

To become Minister of Finance, Agriculture, Information and Tourism, Trade and Indu-
stry, Works and Supplies, Economic Planning, among others: to be part of the April 19
1960 landmark delegation to meet Ian Macleod, British Secretary of State, and be part of the July 1960 MCP delegation to Lancaster House Constitutional Conference in London.

To chair the 1972 annual conference of the Commonworth Parliamentary Association
held at Kwacha Conference Centre; between 1963 and 1973, to serve as League of
Malawi Youth and Commander of the Malawi Young Pioneers And then to be dismissed from cabinet in March 1973 by a mere foreign newspaper Report likening him to Kamuzu’s possible heir. To be detained, from January 1980, for 12-and-a-half years without trial at Mpyupyu and Mikuyu prisons; then, to rise again in December 1993 and become United Democratic Front’s first vice-president.

To become, in May 1994, Minister of Finance under the UDF regime, and
then resign from the party on May 18, 2003 to join the People’s Progressive Movement
(PPM) three days later.

To rise to the PPM presidency on January 9, 2004; to get diagnosed with lymphatic leukemia cancer in 2006, and then retire voluntarily from politics to concentrate on
raising awareness on cancer.

And then to die.

To die after suffering a stroke, at Morningside Medi Clinic in Johannesburg,
South Africa.

Thus ends the extraordinary career of a man who had made an indelible mark on the history of his, and our, times. So many things, including Malawi and democracy, first lived in the heart and mind of Aleke Banda before they wore the court of reality and took real form.

He saw a real Malawi in his mind during the colonial period, and patriotically loved his country when it could be pointed on paper. Now Malawi has grown, and will keep him in her heart in Chilimba.

History asks: Did the man have integrity? Did the man have unselfishness? Did the man have courage? Did the man have consistence? Aleke answers no more, but his works and a legacy he has left us with will do that for him.

Malawians only hope that Aleke’s grave will never become a lonely grave, forgotten and unknown.

But history will remember the September 2007 Media Institute of Southern Africa Press Freedom Award for his contribution to media freedom and development; our mouths will profess the Diversity Leader Lifetime Achiever Award of November 2008 as a manifestation of people who die to live in our hearts; while the November 14, 2009 Mzuzu University Doctor of Philosopher Degree (Honoris Causa) for great service to the nation will always remind us of a man from a small community (Tukombo) who influenced his nation.

Somewhere in Malawi, this great son of the soil lies.

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