By Conleith Selenje
The Devlin Commission of Inquiry has been one of the most outstanding commissions set by the British administration in the history of Nyasaland. It was set to mainly investigate the operations of the ‘Operation Sunrise’ and the State of Emergency of 1959 and the continued resistance of the natives to the federation.
It also was tasked to inquire the land policy adopted by the British Administration in Nyasaland.
Set up in 1959 the Commission was headed by Mr. Justice Devlin.
The 1959 State of Emergency had resulted into the detention and imprisonment of approximately 1300 (locals, Nyasaland African Congress members and officials including the leader, Kamuzu Banda)
During the violent protests about 51 people were killed by the Nyasaland Police and several others injured.
The findings and the report of the Commission directly condemned the action of the Nyasaland Government on the locals.It condemned the use of excessive force,beatings,degrading treatment of detainees,burning of huts and property.
The Devlin Commission astonished the British Administration by condemning it’s action which amounted to Nyasaland becoming a ‘Police State’.
The Commission accepted that the declaration of the State of Emergency was necessary but not in the manner the operations of the police and army were executed on the locals. It also rejected the allegation that Kamuzu Banda, leader of the Nyasaland African Congress and it’s members hatched a ‘Murder Plot’ to assassinate all White Government officials including the Governor and all European adults.
The Commission also established that the Federation was in disfavor amongst the natives of Nyasaland and it’s recommendation was later used as a basis of the dissolution of the federation in 1960 and placed Nyasaland on the path to independence.
However Robert Armitage, the British serving Governor of that period felt that the Devlin Commission of Inquiry Report was a damage to the British Administration and he wrote and attacked the findings. The counter report was named ‘The Armitage Report.