Madonna rivals former president-for-life Banda as Malawian idol

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Madonna rivalise avec l'ancien président-à-vie Banda comme idole du Malawi.


The Irish Times - Monday, July 5, 2010
PETROC TRELAWNY

MALAWI LETTER: The exclusive Kamazu Academy is Hastings Banda’s legacy to education, but the grind of tough, poor Africa is just outside its walls.
IN THE shade of Lilongwe’s vast new parliament building stands an ugly white and blue pavilion. It’s a mausoleum, the final resting place of Hastings Banda.
Bowls of bougainvillea line the steps leading to the marble grave of Malawi’s founding father. On the wall behind, there is a huge picture of Dr Banda, wearing a well-tailored Savile Row suit, and clutching his trademark fly-whisk.
After 30 years in power, Banda stood down as Malawi’s self-appointed “president for life” in 1994. He then put himself forward as candidate in the democratic elections that followed and was soundly defeated.
He died three years later. For some he was a hero who kept his desperately poor country on a stable footing. He found favour from the West during the cold war by ensuring Malawi remained a bulwark against communism in Africa.
To others he was a corrupt tyrant who presided over a repressive regime that maintained relations with South Africa through the worst days of apartheid. Whatever his legacy, the personality cult he built around himself during his lifetime is still going strong.
Flowers cover his grave, brought daily by loyal supporters.
The original plan was that his embalmed corpse would be on display to the public. Behind a locked gate downstairs, there is a viewing window with a lift to gently raise Banda’s body to public view.
Alas his surviving family members decided that this would be in poor taste, so the plan was abandoned. It’s all a huge disappointment for the guard, who takes me to one side and tells me in a whisper that he is waiting for the relatives to die, so the ex-president for life can be properly displayed.
It was Banda who decided to make Lilongwe the capital city. In colonial times, the administration had been based further south in Zomba. The new metropolis is a pretty dull place. A parade square used for state celebrations is listed as one of its major sights. It turns out to be an eight-lane highway, surrounded by untouched scrub on all sides, leading to an ugly clock-tower, and a vast statue of Banda.
Once again he is besuited, fly-whisk high in the right hand, elegant cane in the left.
A group of students admire the statue; there is nothing false in the eagerness with which they read out the words around its base – unity, loyalty, obedience and discipline, Banda’s creed for a successful Malawi.
More pictures of the former life president are displayed at the Kamuzu Academy, a two-hour drive out of town. When Dr Banda opened the school in 1981, he proclaimed that he had realised a dream. “I did not want my boys and girls to do what I had to do,” he said, “to leave their homes and their families and go away from Malawi to get an education”.
A lifelong bachelor, he assumed paternal responsibility for the entire population. To his great delight, the academy was soon dubbed “the Eton of Africa”.
Honor Deo et Patriae is the motto over the school-gates; honour God and country. As I am shown around, I hear students practising piano and violin; a pair of prefects in green-striped ties bow as they pass us walking along a cloister.
Here pupils study Latin and Greek, put on Shakespeare plays, and work in a library modelled on the library of Congress in Washington DC. A quarter of the teaching staff are expatriate Europeans. It seems hard to believe the grind of tough, poor Africa is just the other side of the campus wall. A poster on a notice-board relates to uniform: “Decency is the main aim of this school. Don’t follow commercial fashions – be mindful of your own image.”
Banda’s aim was to educate new generations of African leaders – parliamentarians, lawyers, doctors and economists. The school now attracts fee-paying students from across Africa, but still offers free places to two pupils a year, a boy and a girl, from each of Malawi’s education districts. Competition is fierce; parents see a Kamuzu scholarship as one of the few ways of giving their children the chance of success.
Driving back into Lilongwe, I see a great patch of cleared land, near the international airport. The sign by the development lists a flashy New York firm of architects. Later I discover it’s the site of a vast new orphanage and school being built by the pop star Madonna. Perhaps Malawi has finally found a new idol to rival the iconic Dr Banda.

Source: The Irish Times.

Publié dans Life

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