Malawi: 1962 Local government election

Extracted from: "Malawi" IN Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa (2002), edited by Tom Lodge, Denis Kadima and David Pottie, EISA, 122-123.

As Minister of Local Government, Dr Banda initiated legislation providing for the election by universal adult suffrage of members of district councils. In British colonial territories this was the usual precursor to universal adult suffrage in general elections, but it also had the incidental effect of further weakening the position of traditional authorities. To some extent this erosion of their powers was deliberate. But, like other African leaders, and indeed more than most, Banda was later to devote much attention to the problem of how to weaken politicised ethnicity while retaining cultural continuity and traditional institutions. Statutory district councils were introduced in all rural districts and the majority of the members of these councils were to be popularly elected. Chiefs were not all to be members of these councils by right, and they would also loose their judicial powers. District commissioners were no longer to be chairs of district councils.

In 1962 the first real local government elections were held and the MCP easily gained control of the district councils. For the first time in the history of Nyasaland, district administration was now in the hands of Africans. For the next few years local government most closely approached an ideal situation. It was local because it was close to the people on the ground and their problems; it was democratic because, save for some of the chiefs, all councillors were elected; and it was probably reasonably efficient because local government officers and district commissioners still exercised fairly close supervision.