Kanyama Chiume (22 November 1929 – 21 November 2007), was born Murray William Kanyama Chiume, in Usisya village, Nkhata Bay District in Nyasaland (now Malawi) where he became a leading nationalist in the struggle for Malawi’s independence in the 1950s and 1960s. He was also one of the key leaders of the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) and served as the Minister of Education; Minister of Information and Independence Celebrations; and the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the 1960s before fleeing the country after the 1964 Malawi Cabinet Crisis.
Early Life and Education
Chiume described his given name, Kanyama, as meaning “another piece of meat for you,” a wry joke by parents who had grown wearily accustomed to death in their family. Chiume’s younger brother died at two months, and Chiume’s own mother died the following day, aged 37. After her funeral in 1938, Chiume went to live with his uncle in Morogoro Region, Tanganyika (now Tanzania). He later attended middle school in Dar es Salaam in the mid-1940s at Dar es Salaam Central School along Kichwele Street (now Uhuru Primary School), at a time when this coastal city was a hotbed of African nationalist political activity. At Kichwele, he was classmates with Rashid Mfaume Kawawa (who later became Tanganyika’s second Prime Minister and first Vice President), as well as notable figures such as Abdul Sykes, Ali Sykes, Hamza Aziz and Faraji Kilumanga. He was a school band member, playing triangle and side drum at Asian wedding gigs along with his cousin, late Henry Nyirenda. He went on to Tabora Upper School along with, among others, Oscar Kambona (later first Minister of Home Affairs, Defense and Foreign Affairs of Tanganyika), banker Amon Nsekela and trade unionist Brown Ngwilulupi. In his last year at Tabora, he became Secretary of the Debating Society, polishing rhetorical skills which would later be much admired when he entered politics in Nyasaland. At Tabora Upper School he reportedly invited Julius Nyerere, an alumnus and teacher from a neighboring St. Mary’s Secondary School, to debate his colleague Andrew Tibandebage, on political hot topics of the day against the wishes of white colonial teachers and administrators. According Chiume’s autobiography titled "Kanyama Chiume", they were so successful in this debate that the school threatened him with expulsion. On weekends, he would attend secret political meetings at Nyerere’s house. Nyerere would later became the first leader of independent Tanzania.
In 1949, Chiume went to Makerere College in Kampala, Uganda, the premier university in East Africa, and in 1951 he was admitted into Makerere College’s Medical School. He later changed his major to Education, after discovering that he “could not stand human dissection”. Among his contemporaries at Makerere were people who would in later life become some of Africa’s most accomplished scholars and public officials, including B. Ogot, Kenya’s celebrated historian and Chancellor of Moi University in Eldoret, and the current Kenyan President, Mwai Kibaki. He was president of the Makerere College Political Society, while Mwai Kibaki was a committee member. Later, he was joined at Makerere by other Nyasas - Vincent Gondwe, David Rubadiri (former Vice Chancellor of the University of Malawi), Augustine Bwanausi (former Malawi cabinet minister) as well as prominent Tanganyikans such as Job Lusinde, George Mwanukuzi and Swedi Abdallah Mwankemwa. Chiume was also chairperson of the Makerere College Education Society. Together with other students, they formed a chapter of Nyasaland Students Association at Makerere, an association that helped the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) by doing research, and by also linking up with fellow Nyasas at Fort Hare College, South Africa, where Henry Masauko Chipembere, a lifelong friend and political colleague of Chiume’s, went for his own university education. Another future leader of Nyasa nationalism, Dunduzu Chisiza, was also active in the Nyasaland Students Association at this time.
After graduating from college, Chiume taught Science and Mathematics at Alliance (now Mazengo) Secondary School in Dodoma, Tanganyika. He resigned after the white headmaster insinuated that the presence of a pre-adolescent girl in Chiume’s house might create immoral temptations. Chiume was extremely offended by the remark, which further gave him resolve to fight for the dignity of Africans. “I had made up my mind there and then to plunge myself into politics and to help remove the obstacles that lay before Africans who wished to have human dignity. I was determined to try and play my part, however small, to free Mother Africa” (from his autobiography). He then went to study Law, on a scholarship, at Ramjas College in Delhi, India. Upon being approached by the Nyasaland African Congress to stand in the country’s first general election in 1956, Chiume accepted, and decided not to further pursue his interest in Law.
In 1955, Nyasaland adopted a new Constitution designed to give more representation to Africans, and in the elections which followed, Chiume became one of first five African representatives in the Legislative Council (along with Henry Masauko Chipembere, Kwenje, Chinyama and Chijozi). He and Chipembere electrified the native population with their vigorous speeches and combative questions in the legislature, which had until then been a somewhat sedate body. As a result, Hansard, the official record of the Council's proceedings, became a bestseller among Nyasa Africans.
Along with Chipembere and Dunduzu Chisiza, Chiume became a driving force in organizing popular support in the mid to late 1950s for independence of Nyasaland and campaigned nationwide against the colonial Central Africa Federation. He was one of the central figures who selflessly persuaded Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda to return to Nyasaland from Ghana in order to lead the country to independence. He was given a senior post in the Congress (Publicity Secretary and head of foreign affairs) at the Nkhata Bay conference in August 1958 when it adopted Dr. Banda as its leader.
Chiume loved Malawi and Africa, and he dedicated his entire life to the struggle for the freedom of African people everywhere. He was steadfast in his belief for African unity, and often declared that, “The freedom of Malawi is absolutely meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation and eventual unity of Africa under one continental government.” For instance, while in Tanganyika, he was an active member of Tanganyika African Union (TAA) and later Tanganyika African National Union (TANU). According to records found at U.S. Library of Congress, in 1958 Chiume made one of the first donations in the amount of £50 to help Nyerere’s legal defense bill in a criminal libel case against him filed by two British commissioners in Tanganyika. From 1958, he also became actively involved in the PAFMECA (Pan African Freedom Movement of East and Central Africa). Along with Francis Khamis of Kenya, he was chosen by the organization to mediate the Zanzibari political crisis that pitted two independence movements against each other - the African-leaning Afro-Shiraz Party (ASP) on one side, and the Arab-leaning Zanzibar Nationalist Party (ZNP/Hizbu) on the other. That year, he also attended the All Africa People’s Conference in Accra, Ghana, and was a member of the conference’s Steering Committee. This was a historic conference that brought together African freedom fighters, trade unionists, cooperative and youth leaders from all over Africa and the Diaspora, including individuals such as Jomo Kenyatta, Kenneth Kaunda, Sekou Toure, Joshua Nkomo, Tom Mboya, Oginga Odinga, Abdulrahman Babu and Kamuzu Banda. At the conference, Chiume acted as an informal translator between his close friend, the French/Kiswahili-speaking Patrice Lumumba of Congo and other English speaking delegates.
In July 1960, he joined Dr. Banda, Orton Chirwa, Aleke Banda and other prominent Africans at the Nyasaland Constitutional Conference in London. It was here that British Government decided that Nyasaland (Malawi) should become self-governing by early 1963, and that Banda, should become Prime Minister. In 1961, Chiume was elected MP for Rumphi and was made Minister of Education. In 1962, Social Development was added to his existing portfolio. The following year, he was briefly made Minister of Information and Independence Celebrations, a capacity that saw him oversee the selection of new national symbols such as the flag and the national anthem. He also deputized the Health portfolio for the prime minister for three months while Banda was away on a personal trip. He went on to become Foreign Minister in the first government formed after Malawi's official independence in July 1964.
Chiume was a key leader in the 1964 Malawi Cabinet Crisis. He was labeled the leader of the crisis and an enemy of Banda after displeasing Banda with a speech in Cairo during a conference of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) where he reaffirmed Nyasaland’s support to other African liberation movements. On behalf of his colleagues in the cabinet, he penned the strongly worded letter to the Prime Minister highlighting the fundamental differences that existed between them - namely, Dr. Banda’s support for the Portuguese colonial rule in Mozambique; his friendly relations with the Apartheid regime of South Africa; his tacit support for settlerism in Southern Africa; and his proposal to adopt Detention Without Trial without consulting his cabinet. Chiume was subsequently fired from the cabinet, driven out of the (now renamed) Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and went into exiled in Tanzania from 1964 to 1994. It would take 30 years for Malawi to emerge out of the dictatorship that followed that Crisis.
While in exile, Chiume became active with Tanzania's "The Nationalist", "Daily News and Sunday News," and "Uhuru/Mzalendo" newspapers. He worked alongside newspaper editor Benjamin Mkapa, who would later became leader of Tanzania. He also became an author and publisher of numerous books though Pan-African Publishing Company, which he co-founded with his life-long friend, late Robert Makange. In 1975 he formed an exile political movement called Congress for the Second Republic (CSR), which infiltrated Malawi with anti-Banda propaganda demanding democracy and change, a cause that earned him the notorious title of “Public Enemy Number One”.
He returned to Malawi in 1994 after internal and international pressure on Dr. Banda. After his return, Chiume joined the Common Electoral Group, a united front of opposition parties against MCP in the first multi-party elections. He later briefly served as Chairman of Malawi National Library Service and the Malawi Book Service. He soon retired from active politics in 1996 with a sense of accomplishment in bringing down Dr. Banda’s dictatorship and witnessing a new era of multi-party democracy. He moved from Blantyre to Nkhata Bay to run a small family lake-side resort he called “Banana Grove.” As a senior citizen and statesman, he continued to educate through a local newspaper column called “From Nkhata Bay with Love,” and continued to speak out against tribalism, regional politics and corruption – denouncing a culture of leadership that depended on the “fatness of the financial carrot dangled before individuals.”
Due to health reasons, Chiume eventually moved to New York in 2002 to live with his family before his death on November 21, 2007. The remains of the veteran politician arrived back in Lilongwe, Malawi on November 29, 2007 and buried two days later in a State funeral accompanied with full military honors. President of Malawi, Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika was there to welcome the one time leading nationalist and former senior member of the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC). In his eulogy delivered at the funeral ceremony that was broadcasted live on TV and radio, Dr. Mutharika said, “Today is a sad day for Malawi because we have lost a true son of the soil. Indeed he was a brave man who called a spade a spade, and this is one aspect that earned him a great name.” He went on to declare Kanyama a national hero, and assured his place in the national honor roll.