Malawi: Two Cheers for Democracy

Nicholas Young looks at how tribalism and the dominance of Hastings Banda has marked Malawi history and future prospects.

After colonisation came independence; after independence, democracy, which may now bring a measure of prosperity. That is the optimist's view of Malawi, whose recent emergence from one of Africa's most enduring dictatorships was largely promoted and supervised by an international community shaping new policy to fit post Cold War realities.

The pessimist's view: released from repression, the country will increasingly divide on tribal lines, risking the bloodshed familiar elsewhere on the continent. On balance it seems that if the democratic model is to work it must be more fully 'owned' by Malawians, and it must create more evenly distributed wealth within a global economic context which gives the new government little room to manoeuvre. A glance at the recent past shows how hard a task this is, and how great are the modern pressures towards 'tribalism'.

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