It is not very often that Malawi captures the limelight. When it comes to Olympic Medals or Nobel Prizes it is usually not at the races. But The Economist magazine has just named Malawi its “country of the year.”
The reasons are well-known to readers of this blog. During 2020 Malawi succeeded in overturning the result of a flawed Presidential election by peaceful and constitutional means. For the first time in African history, the result of a Presidential election was annulled by the courts and the opposition went on to win the subsequent election.
Among the first Scottish missionaries to come to Malawi in the 19th century was David Clement Scott, a highly perceptive observer. One thing he noticed about Malawian communities was that they were highly constitutional in the way they went about things. In their traditional communities they had a system of mlandu (case or hearing) for resolving differences. He was dismayed when the British arrived and very often resorted to force when, in Scott’s view, matters could have been resolved peacefully by using the constitutional means that were available.
The characteristics that Scott observed so long ago seem to have endured. The judges who were on the bench for the high-profile cases proved to be resistant to bribery and determined to impartially apply the law. The army refused to be politicised and steadfastly maintained its role as upholder of constitutional order. The people demonstrated peacefully but with clear determination to see justice prevail.
My only quarrel with The Economist is that it hailed Malawi for “reviving democracy in an authoritarian region”. It might have gone further to recognise that during 2020 democratic norms have been jeopardised in countries like the USA and the UK while it is Malawi that has emerged as their champion.
Malawi is still poor, but its people are citizens, not subjects. For reviving democracy in an authoritarian region, it is our country of the year.The Economist, 19 December 2020