Socialist Worker

The West has backed Africa's dictators

by Mzimasi Makiniki
Issue No. 1959

Banda: backed by West

Banda: backed by West

In 1981 the World Bank produced a very important document on Africa called the Berg Report.

It said that a big problem was the policies of African states which, it was claimed, did not allow enough space for private capital and multinationals to operate.

This eventually led to the United Nation’s grand plan — Africa’s Priority Programme for Economic Recovery. African countries agreed to let private capital rip.

In return the “international community” said that rich states would take action to ease the crushing burden of Africa’s debt, and to stabilise and increase the prices paid for their exports — debt, trade and aid, you might say.

You may have noticed this didn’t happen. This led to a new emphasis on “good governance”.

I’m not one to ignore repression and corruption. I am 41 years old, which means I was born just when the dictator Hastings Banda took power here in Malawi.

To many in the West he was a bit of a figure of fun — banning mini-skirts for women, hair below the collar for men, flared trousers, and Simon and Garfunkel*.

But it wasn’t so funny when he arrested and tortured his opponents, crushed trade unions and murdered socialists.

At 18 I realised I was a trade unionist, a socialist and an opponent of Banda. It was tough and remained so right up to the end — Banda shuffled off in 1994.

No Western government ever raised much fuss about Banda. He was useful so he could do what he liked, just like Mobutu in Zaire and others.

Africans passionately want democracy. But if we fight for genuine democracy we find that the West is against us. Look at the Ethiopians who were massacred when they protested against the rigged election won by the party of Meles Zanawi.

That’s the same Mr Meles who sat with Bob Geldof and Tony Blair on the Commission for Africa.

Another commissioner was Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania. In 2001 Mkapa’s government shot and killed 60 of its opponents in Zanzibar who were protesting over rigged elections.

The US blamed the protesters. The British went ahead with a trade delegation representing 21 big companies.

British, Australian and Canadian gold mining firms flooded into the country.

Perhaps this is what good governance means—suck up to the West, and shoot demonstrators.

*Why Simon and Garfunkel? The reason was the song “Cecilia”. Cecilia was also the name of President Banda’s “official hostess” or mistress.

The banning apparently coincided with a rocky phase in their relationship.

The song’s lyric — “Cecilia/I’m down on my knees/I’m begging you please to come home” was disgracefully altered by Malawians to provide ribald versions.

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