This is a continuation of an interview with Dr. Louis Nthenda which was conducted by Lost History Foundation (LHF) in May 2017.
LHF: So what happened next after you fled Malawi in early 1967, can you take me through?
LN: I lived in Zimbabwe 3 years. I lived in Zambia twice: once on the Copper belt working for Anglo-American Corporation. Immediately after fleeing Malawi in early 1967, I found employment at the University of Zambia (UNZA) as Research Assistant from March 1967 while figuring out my next move and discussing my situation with Oxford University since my PhD research had been disrupted upon fleeing Malawi.
By the end of August 1967, I got all the necessary papers from Oxford University to enable me to return to UK to start all over again as a PhD student.
I was regarded as a Zambian student and belonged to the Zambia Students Union (UK). Students from Malawi used to avoid me, too radioactive. I had once taught at Mtendere Secondary School and there were several ex-seminarians in the Immigration Department who were in subsequent years able to arrange Malawi passports for me and my family.
Originally I had gone to UK on a British passport. But I have had no interest in changing my nationality. So when the British passport expired, I was able to change to a Malawi passport.
In total, I spent 5 years in UK, 6 years in Nigeria, 5 years in Hong Kong and 36 years and counting in Japan. I have been based outside Malawi since February 1960.
LHF: What became of your first PhD thesis after you were denied further access to the national archives and fled the country?
LN: The thesis hadn’t been written yet. And I could not use the notes from materials in the Malawi Archives. Dr Paul Lihoma’s thesis explains why in the section on Rotbert I Rotberg where the Malawi Government tried to destroy his reputation throughout the world.
And one needed permission from Dr. Kamuzu Banda to publish anything based on Malawi archives. The easy way was simply to start all over again. I had the understanding of my teachers at Oxford University. And so that’s what I did. I ended up producing a more original thesis on an obscure subject of the role of the British Treasury Department in colonial affairs.
Actually, this idea (the role of the British Treasury in colonial affairs and in Nyasaland in particular), I discovered in the Malawi Archives. So in the end my time there wasn’t entirely wasted. I knew where to look when I returned to UK and I was able to persuade my teachers to allow me to live in London near my sources in Whitehall and Chancery Lane.
LHF: What else can you tell us about your life and experiences in exile having fled Malawi in 1967?
LN: In June 1970, I interviewed for a job at the Open University. The Head of the Department there had spent time teaching at Ibadan. While they were considering my application, he called to tell me that Ahmadu Bello University had sent an SOS.
They needed someone immediately to teach one of their compulsory subjects as the responsible American lecturer had resigned. I was recommended and told I would be happy there. I said okay. Within two weeks or so I received my appointment as Lecturer Grade I. I had a successful medical check up. That’s the key that eventually led me to Hong Kong and finally Japan.
Fetch in the national archives for my two articles on Vietnam (Malawi Times Jan 19 & 23 of 1967) which sealed my fate. Dr. Kamuzu Banda decided from reading the articles that I was a Communist.
These articles added fuel to the fire. The Information Chief at the US Embassy in Malawi sent in his own article to refute my conclusions. When I met Brian Roberts (Dr Kamuzu Banda’s cabinet secretary), that was all he was talking about and he wanted me to say I wasn’t a communist.
Of course I wasn’t but I couldn’t say so in the circumstances, especially when I personally wasn’t scared of communists and communism. So I said I wouldn’t make such a declaration.
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