During the 1950s, pressure for independence increased when Nyasaland was joined with Northern and Southern Rhodesia in 1953 to form the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. In July 1958, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda returned to the country after a long absence in the United States (where he had obtained his medical degree at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1937), the United Kingdom (where he practiced medicine), and Ghana. He assumed leadership of the NAC, which later became the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). In 1959, Banda was sent to Gwelo Prison for his political activities but was released in 1960 to participate in a constitutional conference in London.
On April 15, 1961, the MCP won an overwhelming victory in elections for a new Legislative Council. It also gained an important role in the new Executive Council and ruled Nyasaland in all but name a year later. In a second constitutional conference in London in November 1962, President Bnda the British Government agreed to give Nyasaland self-governing status the following year.
Dr. Banda became Prime Minister on February 1, 1963, although the British still controlled Malawi's financial, security, and judicial systems. A new constitution took effect in May 1963, providing for virtually complete internal self-government.
On July 6, 1964, Malawi, formerly known as Nyasaland, became a fully independent member of the British Commonwealth. Two years later, Malawi adopted a new constitution and became a one-party state with Dr. Hastings Banda as its first President.
In 1970 Dr. Banda was declared President for Life of his ruling political party, the MCP. After fully consolidating his power, Banda was named President for Life of Malawi itself in 1971. Malawi remained one of the only post colonial nations not to experience significant civil unrest, with the paramilitary wing of the MCP, the Young Pioneers, helping to keep Malawi under authoritarian control until the 1990s.
Under Banda’s regime there was significant censorship and all left wing books, from Orwell to Tolstoy were banned; with a new official history presented by the early 1970s (De Baets). There was a considerable British military presence in Malawi during the period of political unrest which engulfed the entire Sub-Saharan region, throughout the decades following the end of the colonial era.
The level of control exerted by Banda, while extremely dictatorial, nonetheless means Malawi is one of the only former African colonies not to have been devastated by Cold War influenced revolutions, coups and/or civil wars. He openly declared himself a Chewa, and he did persecute members of the Yao tribe, who were Muslim and identified as perpetrators in the slave trade with Arab traders. His political purges concentrated power amongst his Chewa allies. However, his authoritarian rule, which included a law that all adults be card carrying members of his MCP party, also had the effect of neutralising, to a great degree, any real tribal identities and traditions not already erased by British rule, creating a highly submissive homogenised society, diluting tribal identities, in favour of broader integration with the largest group; the Chewas. (Veil & White 1989:182) Speaking publically in 1970 Banda said, “So far as I am concerned, there is no Yao in this country; no Lomwe; no Sena; no Chewa; no Ngoni; no Nyakyusa; no Tonga; there are only 'Malawians'. That is all.” (Veil & White 1989:151)
Increasing domestic unrest and pressure from Malawian churches and from the international community led to a referendum on the continuation of the one-party state on June 14, 1993. The people of Malawi voted overwhelmingly in favour of a multi-party democratic system, using the first past the port electoral system.
Free and fair national elections were held on May 17, 1994 with Bakili Muluzi, leader of the United Democratic Front (UDF), elected President. The UDF won 82 of the 177 seats in the National Assembly and formed a coalition government with the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD). That coalition disbanded in June 1996, but some of its members remained in the government. Malawi's newly written constitution (1995) eliminated special powers previously reserved for the Malawi Congress Party. When Malawi held its second democratic elections in 1999, Dr. Muluzi was re-elected to serve a second 5-year term as President, despite MCP-AFORD uniting to enter a single candidate against him.
President Muluzi .
When open elections first took place in 1994, it was something the population had never experienced before. Malawi has a “notoriously passive citizenry”. (Cammack et al 2009:30) Much of the 85 percent rural population simply voted, en mass, for particular candidates, as instructed by chiefs, who are all powerful at local level. The voters, as individuals, did not, in most cases, have any real understanding of the political implications; rather their chiefs did, being well rewarded for their loyalty. Electioneering politicians put on particularly razzmatazz campaigns delivering bags of maize and campaign t-shirts which, with the chiefs’ support, provided large numbers of votes. However, Muluzi’s ten years of administration to 2004 was widely known, even among the poorest, to have been extremely corrupt and self serving. His largest vote share in the highly rural south, remained the worst off people in Malawi.
In May 2004, UDF presidential candidate Bingu wa Mutharika, a relative political novice and former World Bank economist, defeated MCP candidate John Tembo and Gwanda Chakuamba, who was backed by a grouping of opposition parties. European Union and Commonwealth observers said although the election passed peacefully, they were concerned about "serious inadequacies" in the poll. The UDF did not win a majority of seats in parliament, as it had done in 1994 and 1999 elections.
President Bingu wa Mutharika left the UDF on February 5, 2005, citing differences with the party leadership, particularly over his anti-corruption campaign. He formed the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), attracting a number of UDF, MCP, AFORD and independent members of parliament to his new party. Even though he had a minority government from 2004-09, Mutharika managed to sign up powerful politicians like Joyce Banda, now vice president, who joined the DPP in 2005.
In 2006, ex-leader Hasting Banda’s nephew, Ken Kandodo, a senior member of the MCP, joined the DPP and is now Finance Minister. Joyce Banda, an experienced politician and internationally recognised rights activist brought huge numbers of women’s votes to the party. Kandodo brings strong Chewa support from the midlands. Constant voting by the majority against Mutharika's policy reforms were turned to his own advantage when he blamed opposition parties for delays in economic and social reforms.
After the major success of annual national seed and fertilliser programme, initiated in 2005, on May 19, 2009, President Mutharika was re-elected to a second 5-year term, defeating MCP candidate John Tembo. Ex-President Muluzi attempted to run as a candidate as well, but was barred by constitutional term limits. Most recently, after five years of ongoing investigations, the former president pleaded not guilty to 12 counts of corruption, in relation to sums of money totalling 12million USD at the High Court in Blantyre in September 2010.Mutharika’s DPP won a majority in parliament, with Joyce Banda inaugurated as the first female vice president and the number of women in parliament increased from 27 to 41. VP Joyce Banda
Both Finance Minister Kandodo and Vice-President Banda are likely popular candidates for the next presidential election in 2014 and their DPP party may be split in two to accomadate both running for the job.