In March this year, the Republic of South Africa concluded a Trade Agreement with Malawi—its first with an independent African state. Malawi ministers were flown down, feasted and accommodated in Pretoria’s leading all-white hotel. By the terms of the agreement, Malawi granted preferential tariffs for all South African goods imported into Malawi in exchange for a South African guarantee to admit, duty free, 500,000 lb. of Malawi tea each year. In September, official diplomatic relations were established, at chargé d’ affaires level.
This formalization of relations with Malawi has been the most striking achievement so far in the South African strategy of regional stabilization. There can be no doubt that it corresponds to an active choice by the present Malawi leadership. The dependence upon South Africa of the ‘decolonized’ High Commission territories is obvious, acknowledged and multiform; but Malawi’s situation vis-mvis the Republic is not comparable. Malawi policy towards Portugal is similarly accommodating, allegedly because of the importance to Malawi of the railway to Beira. Certainly, Malawi is landlocked; but so is Zambia. Banda has plans for a new outlet to the sea; not to Mtwara or Dar es Salaam, however, but to Naçala—in Mozambique! Banda, far from using the resources and attributes at his disposal to extend his margin of manoeuvre and independence, is integrating Malawi more firmly into the white-dominated zone whose northern buffer and promontory he now provides. In so far as independence is a national goal, it is independence from the oau which seems to preoccupy him.
Malawi’s eccentric position among independent African states clearly should not just be ascribed to the gerontocratic whims of one man. Yet there have been few attempts to define the nature of this régime or to situate it in any comparative perspective. The article which we publish in this issue is remarkable in trying seriously to identify and analyse the power base of the Banda régime. Andrew Ross observed and experienced at the local level the process of struggle which
The defeat, suppression or exile of the educated nationalist politicians and their active supporters among the diminutive intelligentsia had damaging consequences for the level of consciousness and competence in Malawi political life. In particular, it enabled expatriate civil servants and advisers to retain a quite disproportionate political importance (by comparative standards) since the incumbent ministers are in general singularly ill-equipped to initiate or supervise coherent, consequent developmental policies.
The third component of the peculiarly retrograde political configuration in Malawi is found in the structure of foreign capital operating in the country. Basically, this remains an untransformed colonial agrarian capitalism: its classic form is that of the locally-registered but foreign-(usually British-) based and capitalized plantation company (tea, sugar). The usual British and South African-owned banks back up this agrarian economy. There is almost no industry. This type of capital has little transformatory impetus and its politico-technical requirements are again quite different from those of foreign capital in Zambia.