Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Page - Defending the Dictators

In his deeply predictable piece on the Carol Thatcher controversy, our hero Robin Page strays into that oh-so-tempting territory for morons everywhere – the defence of the dictator:

When I first went to Malawi it was run by a “wicked dictator”, Dr Hastings Banda. The airport was efficient and the planes ran on time; the new capital showed vision with large plots of fast growing eucalyptus planted throughout the city for wood and charcoal; the roads were repaired and the streetlights worked. Outside the land was tended and for the first time for decades Malawi could feed itself. But oh, woe, pc Britain in the form of Tory Lynda Chalker, Baroness Wallasey, decided that Malawi was undemocratic.
Yet even the most basic internet research* presents a more sinister side to Banda than perhaps Page would like to admit to:

Within Malawi, views on him ranged from a cult-like devotion to fear. While he portrayed himself as a caring headmaster to his people, his government was rigidly authoritarian even by African standards of the time. Although the constitution guaranteed civil rights and liberties, they meant almost nothing in practice, and Malawi was essentially a police state. Mail was opened and often edited. Telephones were tapped. Needless to say, overt opposition was not tolerated. Banda actively encouraged the people to report those who criticized him, even if they were relatives. Telephone conversations were known to be cut off if anyone said a critical word about the government. Opponents were often arrested, exiled (like Kanyama Chiume) or died suspiciously (like Dick Matenje or Dr Attati Mpakati).

Banda was the subject of a very pervasive cult of personality. Every business building was required to have an official picture of Banda hanging on the wall, and no poster, clock or picture could be higher than his picture. Before every movie, a video of Banda waving to the people was shown while the anthem played. When Banda visited a city, a contingent of women were expected to greet him at the airport and dance for him. A special cloth, bearing the president’s picture, was the required attire for these performances. Churches had to be government sanctioned. All movies shown in theaters were first viewed by the Malawi Censorship Board and edited for content. Videotapes had to be sent to the Censorship Board to be viewed by censors. Once edited, the movie was given a sticker stating that it was now suitable for viewing, and sent back to the owner. Items to be sold in bookstores were also edited. Pages, or parts of pages, were cut out of magazines like Newsweek and Time. The press and radio were tightly controlled, and mainly served as outlets for government propaganda. Television was banned.

His government supervised the people's lives very closely. Early in his rule, Banda instituted a dress code which was rooted in his socially conservative predilections. For example, women were not allowed to bare their thighs or to wear trousers. Banda argued that the dress code was not instilled to oppress women but to encourage honour and respect for them. For men, long hair and beards were banned as a sign of dissent. Men could be seized and forced to have a haircut on the discretion of border officials or police. Kissing in public was not allowed, nor were movies which contained depictions of kissing. Pre-Banda history was discouraged, and many books on these subjects were burned. Banda also allegedly persecuted some of the northern tribes (particularly the Tumbuka), banning their language and books as well as teachers from certain tribes. Europeans who broke any of these rules were often "PI'ed" (declared Prohibited Immigrants and deported).

All adult citizens were required to be members of the MCP. Party cards had to be carried at all times, and had to be presented in random police inspections. The cards were sold, often by Banda's Malawi Youth Pioneers. In some cases, these youths even sold cards to unborn children.
So, Robin Page – champion of freedom and would-be leader of the new peasant’s revolt – is prepared to support a totalitarian dictator with a hideous cult of personality because, amongst other reasons, he made the planes run on time?

I really *cannot* think why Farage and Cameron would want to distance themselves as much as possible from this clichéd freak.

*The research constituted putting Banda’s name into Wikipedia.

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