Accounting in Malawi

January 27, 1995

Hastings Kamuzu Banda performed two great services for his country, Malawi. He led it to independence from Britain in 1964. ++ He lost an election and gracefully stepped down in 1994. In between, he did notable disservices, such as steal the national wealth and crush opposition.

Countrymen who treated him as a god, less out of true belief than fear of punishment, now see him as a prisoner facing justice. He is not in any fit state to stand trial. Aside from being in his upper 90s, he is in poor health and can plausibly fail to remember anything inconvenient.

Dr. Banda is accused of complicity in the execution of four high officials suspected of disloyalty in 1983, spuriously described at the time as victims of a road accident. If, somewhere in the world today, an unchallenged ruler refrains from acting on his worst instinct because of Dr. Banda's predicament, the charges will have been worth bringing.

Otherwise, it's not so clear. Bakili Muluzi took office as president last year committed to get on with national life, not wreak vengeance for past wrongs. A commission he set up to examine the four deaths produced 1,000 pages of testimony showing they were arrested and clubbed to death before being put in a car that was rolled over a cliff. The evidence linking the crime to Dr. Banda and his former chief aide died with the late police official whom they supposedly ordered to do it.

The rule of law is taking over in Malawi, which means that Dr.

Banda is being defended with great zeal by a skilled attorney, and may never stand trial or be found guilty. Meanwhile, families of countless other victims and disappeared persons demand an accounting of what happened during the Banda years. A true investigation and report by an impartial commission would be more important for healing the impoverished little nation's wounds than any sentence that might be imposed on Dr. Banda in Malawi.

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