SARUA’s aim is thus to strengthen the leadership and institutions of higher education in the southern African region
The first real contact with Europeans was with David Livingstone as he travelled up the western shores of Lake Malawi. Livingstone wrung his hands in despair when he saw the extent to which the Yao enslaved the other tribes and marched them off to the coast for sale to the Arab traders. Following upon the heels of the missionaries, came traders, hunters and planters, and in 1891 the British Central Africa Protectorate, later renamed Nyasaland, was established.
After troubled involvement with the ill-fated Central African Federation that amalgamated Nyasaland with Southern and Northern Rhodesia, 36 Nyasaland was granted independence as Malawi in 1964. The first president was Dr Hastings Banda, who had returned to Nyasaland in 1958 from an extended stay abroad to play a leading role in the push for independence. By 1970, however, Dr Banda had made himself ‘president for life’, and during his autocratic reign a series of laws made it illegal for women to wear pants of any kind or skirts showing any part of the knee; and men were not allowed to grow their hair below the collar. Overseas mail was opened; telephone calls were monitored; and international magazines to be sold in bookstores were edited, literally, with a pair of scissors.
While Malawi languished as the tenth poorest country in the world, Banda was literally rolling in wealth – but increasing unrest and international pressure finally forced his hand. A referendum in 1993 decided overwhelmingly in favour of a multi-party democracy. Elections took place the following year and the United Democratic Front came to power.
The country’s economic woes were far from over, however. With an economy heavily dependent on agriculture, and agriculture practiced largely by subsistence farmers or by large estates producing crops like tobacco and cotton and tea, Malawi was dependent on substantial aid from international funding agencies. In 2000, many of these agencies stopped disbursements because of rampant corruption. Gradually, though, the country seems to be turning the corner.
In 2005, some aid packages were reinstated; and by 2007 agriculture’s contribution had dropped to 38 percent of a GDP of US $3,5-billion, with industry and services having become more significant players. Best of all, particularly for those involved in the country’s numerous anti-poverty programmes, the number of Malawians living below the poverty line – the landless estate workers, smallholders with less than one hectare of land, women, and the urban poor – has been reduced from 60 percent in the rural areas and 65 percent in the towns and cities in 1993 37 to 53 percent today.
In spite of endemic under-funding, the universities are playing their part in national development.