Kamuzu Day and Malawi’s Festival of Forgetting

*By Jimmy Kainja*

Last week we had a public holiday in Malawi. May 14 is “Kamuzu Day,” when the nation celebrates the life of its founding president, Hastings Kamuzu Banda whose autocratic rule lasted between 1964 and 1994. The day has been there since Kamuzu’s reign, during which it was celebrated as his birthday. This despite the fact that Kamuzu himself may never have known his actual birthday, owing to the fact that such events were not recorded around the time he was born. (He told everyone he was born in 1906 but most people reckon he was actually born eight years earlier.) This year was especially interesting for me because I have not been in Malawi on May 14 for the last ten years or so. Social networks were buzzing with Kamuzu nostalgia, newspapers published thick supplements on him and radio stations were jostling to outdo each other with their Kamuzu “specials”. But is the annual bonanza of tributes to the self-styled “Lion of the Nation” really about Kamuzu, or does it instead reflect anxieties about the failure of leadership since the arrival of multi-party democracy in 1994? And why is there no discussion of the kind of dictator he was? Continue reading