Hastings Kamuzu Banda


Honorary Degree (1978)
Doctor of Laws
Location: Bloomington
Presenter: John W. Ryan


Hastings Kamuzu Banda's life mirrors the story of twentieth-century Africa and its emergence from colonialism to independence. Born in 1905 in a small village in the Kasungu district in the central province of Nyasaland, then a British colony, he was educated initially at a mission school run by the Church of Scotland. At the age of twelve, having exhausted all the educational opportunities available to black Africans at that time in Nyasaland, Kamuzu Banda walked the 1,000 miles from his home to Johannesburg, South Africa. His aim, he said later, was "to acquire an education, because today one does not fight with spears, one fights with knowledge." During his year-long journey, he stopped at a black African hospital near Salisbury in Rhodesia, where he worked as an orderly. The appalling conditions he saw there helped form his later ambition to become a physician.

Many more years were to pass and many more thousands of miles were travelled before that ambition was realized. After working in the Rand goldfields by day and studying by night, Dr. Banda, with the financial aid of an American Methodist bishop, was able to leave South Africa to pursue an education in the United States. In 1923 he entered Wilberforce Institute, a black high school in Zenia, Ohio, and following his graduation in 1928 attended Indiana University, majoring in history and political science. President Banda later transfered to the University of Chicago and took his bachelor's degree there in 1931. Having decided on a medical career, he entered Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, where he qualified as a doctor in 1937.

President Banda spent the next fifteen years in Great Britain. He continued his medical studies at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and became an Elder in the Church of Scotland. He practiced medicine in northern England and, from 1945 until 1953, in Kilburn, a suburb of London. Though far from his native land, he remained active in African affairs, becoming the chief spokesman for the Nyasaland African Congress, which opposed a planned white supremacist federation of Nyasaland and Northern and Southern Rhodesia. When federation was established in 1953, President Banda returned to Africa, but not to Nyasaland. Living in Ghana, he practiced medicine among the poverty-stricken Zongo people in Kasami and among the more prosperous Ashanti farmers.

When widespread black nationalism caused civil unrest, President Banda was invited to return to help in the negotiations. In August 1958 he was elected President-General of the Nyasaland African Congress party, the leading nationalist organization. His leadership of Malawi aspirations and endeavors for complete independence cost him a year in prison, but eventual success was inevitable. After his release from prison, he became Minister of Natural Resources and Local Government, and in December 1963 the Federation was broken up. In 1964 Malawi became an independent republic, with Dr. Banda as Prime Minister, and in 1966 he became President of the Republic.