Lecturer celebrates decade of freedom and flares in Malawi

May 14, 2004

Derby University law lecturer Kevin Bampton will be watching with special interest as Malawi citizens go to the polls next week on the tenth anniversary of democratic rule in their country.

A decade ago, while working in Malawi as a British Council legal adviser, he was appointed by the United Nations to help draft a new Malawian constitution.

The move followed the fall of dictator Hastings Kamuka Banda, who had been in power since the 1960s. The dictator banned flared trousers, Simon and Garfunkel records and men with long hair.

Mr Bampton heard tales from Malawian lawyers of how they had been tortured.

"There were rumours that Banda kept a crocodile pit at one of his prisons, into which some of his opponents were thrown," he said.

As secretary to the governing committee, Mr Bampton helped Malawians put together their democratic constitution, including free primary education and a shake-up of the legal system.

He said: "The first problem we faced was one of lack of knowledge and education. Having been a dictatorship for 31 years without any opposition, there was considerable political naivety and little realisation about the importance of democracy and human rights."

On May 18, Malawians will go to the polls without fear of intimidation as they vote for a successor to President Bakili Muluzi.

Mr Bampton said the new regime had "passed the acid test for African constitutions", having kept its multiparty system. "It is satisfying to know it has stood the test of time," he said.

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