A History of Malawi 1859-1966

Mzuzu Double Book Launch: Klaus Fiedler, Kenneth Ross, Kings Phiri, John Saka

Better late than never. Almost a year ago we embarked on a book tour, aiming to launch Politics, Christianity and Society in Malawi: Essays in Honour of John McCracken in Malawi’s four main cities – Zomba, Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu. It all went fine with the first three, but we were stopped in our tracks by a wave of covid that caused some tragic deaths and the temporary closure of Mzuzu University.

Mzuzu was not a good place to miss since John McCracken’s historical research had a special focus on Malawi’s northern region and his work has been particularly appreciated there. Hence there was a special welcome and a special atmosphere at Mzuzu University when the much-delayed event finally took place on 15 September.

There was also a silver lining to the delay in that two cognate developments added to the richness of the occasion. One was that after John’s death in 2017 his family decided to send a selected set of books from his library to Mzuzu University, which a few years earlier lost its entire library to fire. The launch event was the perfect opportunity for these books to be officially received by Vice-Chancellor John Saka.

The other was that, with perfect timing, the first copies of the Malawi edition of John’s magnum opus A History of Malawi 1859-1966 had just rolled off the press and could make their appearance. This is not only the authoritative account of the colonial period in Malawi but has been hailed as one of the finest history books to be written about any African country. John was always passionate about making his work available to Malawian readers, so the publication of this new edition was the icing on the cake at the event in Mzuzu.

One of the recurrent themes of the book is the resilience of ordinary Malawians, for whom economic conditions were remorselessly unfavourable right through the colonial period. This chimes with my experience today when, unfortunately, the macroeconomic picture has not noticeably improved. Nonetheless many Malawians meet adverse conditions with amazing resourcefulness and creativity. McCracken makes it clear that this has been their historical track record. On this and many other matters his book will reward the attention of anyone seeking a better understanding of Malawi.

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