Black Lives Matter: Scotland, Malawi and the fight against racism

11 June 2020

The SMP's statement on Black Lives Matter

A Joint Statement by:

- The Malawi Scotland Partnership (MaSP), the Malawi-owned and Malawi-led charity coordinating Malawi’s links with Scotland, and

- The Scotland Malawi Partnership (SMP), the Scottish Charity coordinating Scotland’s links with Malawi.

MaSP and the SMP are anti-racist and anti-prejudice: we stand in solidarity with those who fight racism, in all its forms, in both Scotland and Malawi.

We recognise that, in the fight against racism, silence is not acceptable and we are proud to make this joint statement to call-out and oppose racism.

We are confident there is more our two national networks can, must and will do to challenge racism and decolonise development. We continue to listen and learn, to help us in this mission.

We acknowledge and greatly regret that racism has been perpetrated in Scotland’s 161 year relationship with Malawi, while also appreciating that there are a great many examples of Scots and Malawians working together to fight prejudice. Scottish missionaries, particularly in the early twentieth century, were by no means free from the prevailing racist assumptions of their day. Many Scots became deeply identified with the black community in Malawi but Malawians were, quite rightly, alert to elements of paternalism and racism that they experienced even in the best of them.

The January 1915 Chilembwe uprising, for example, began in the Livingstone Bruce plantation, in part in response to the poor treatment of the workers and the alleged brutality of the managers in this Scottish business. MaSP and the SMP, like all in Malawi, celebrate the role of John Chilembwe in fighting the racism and prejudice of that time, including racism and prejudice from Scotland.

Malawian and Scottish historians have worked together in partnership, over many years, to highlight the injustice of this period and Malawi’s fight against it.

We also recognise, however, that Scottish Missions, Blantyre in particular, had a robustly critical relationship with the British colonial administration as it came into effect during the 1890s. On the crucial inter-linked issues of land, labour and taxation, the Blantyre missionaries consistently and appropriately took the side of African communities as they faced the pressure of the colonial regime on these fronts. As a settler dominated economy, and an accompanying racist ideology, came to hold sway, the Missions stood for African advancement and for appreciation of the positive qualities of African life and culture. The primary instrument through which they worked was the vast network of schools that they developed with Malawian partners. Through these schools, values were cultivated together which implicitly challenged racism and colonialism. Many of these Malawian students went on in due course to form the inspiring nationalist movement that led the country to independence.

Most Scottish missionaries entered into a respectful understanding of African life and community. Many being fluent in indigenous languages, they formed friendships that proved to be deep and enduring. From an early stage they also invited inspiring African leaders to spend time in Scotland, further cementing the distinctive connection between the two nations.

A growing number of families and communities, in both Nyasaland (as Malawi was known from 1907 to 1964) and Scotland, became aware of one another and of the particular history that united them. This came into focus when Nyasaland faced its political nemesis in 1953 when it was incorporated, against the clearly expressed wishes of its entire African population, into the racist Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. The British Government took the view that this new arrangement would be economically beneficial and that the African population would eventually come to recognise its advantages. Outside Nyasaland, it was only in Scotland that there was significant resistance, as the many personal connections brought it home to people how strong was the African resistance to the Federation. When the nationalist movement revived over the next few years to defeat the Federation and pave the way for independence, Scots were prominent among its members and supporters, with one – SMP member Colin Cameron – becoming the only European to be appointed to the Cabinet when self-government was achieved.

We recognise there have been a great many such instances: Malawians and Scots historically working together to actively fight racism, going right back to Dr Livingstone’s lifelong commitment to combatting the East African slave trade. However, for all this, we must also recognise that Scotland was indisputably an integral part of colonial rule across the globe, with all its appalling injustices. Glasgow was the second city of the British Empire and much of the historic built environment of Scotland’s major cities has associations with the slave trade. It is important we understand the historic harm done by the British Empire, its institutions and systems, the language and culture it imposed, and the legacy this damage continues to have today.

It is essential that we look to understand this history, to highlight the wrongs that have been done and learn from them, and use the contemporary Scotland-Malawi relationship as a powerful force for good, driven by both nations.

Since our two national networks were formed in 2004 we have worked together to champion an approach to international development which rejects the predominant one-way, donor-recipient paradigm which, too often, has cast Malawi as a passive recipient of aid. Rather, we have looked to develop and celebrate an approach defined by partnership, rather than pity.

Scots and Malawians stand in friendship and mutual solidarity, as partners and equals.

With joint Malawian and Scottish leadership, we look collectively to harness the awesome power of communities across both our nations: real people, working together in active, dignified, two-way partnership for mutual benefit. We hold ourselves and our members accountable to the 11 Partnership Principles which came, first and foremost, from listening to 200 Malawian organisations, then 200 Scottish organisations, about what respectful partnership-working really means.

We recognise that racism and prejudice continue to exist in contemporary Scotland and Malawi. Sadly, for too many Malawians resident in Scotland, this remains a fact of life. This is simply unacceptable.

We are deeply concerned at the recent Intercultural Youth Scotland ‘In sight’ report, which highlights racism experienced by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students in Scottish schools, and we support the call from The Black Curriculum, a youth-led social enterprise, calling for more Black history in the curriculum. We will, ourselves, look to increase the prominence of Malawian history in our own youth and schools work.

We value the essential role that diaspora communities have in the bilateral relationship: the SMP greatly benefits from diaspora leadership on its Board and across its Forums.

Together, MaSP and the SMP have looked and listened for examples of contemporary injustice in the bilateral relationship, and opportunities to redress these. This is why we continue to fight what we see as the unfair and inhumane way those from Malawi are treated as they apply for UK visas, why we continue to call for the unjust colonial-era UK-Malawi double taxation treaty to be updated, why we lobby CDC (formerly the Commonwealth Development Corporation) to further increase its ethical and sustainable investments in Malawi, and why we argue for increased bilateral and multilateral financial support for Malawi, not least during the COVID-19 crisis.

However, perhaps the greatest injustice we see, and together we fight, is the continuing extreme poverty which blights the lives of so many in Malawi: this remains an inexcusable moral outrage.

Black lives matter, in Scotland, Malawi and everywhere. It is important to keep saying this, but even more important to act. If Black lives matter, we cannot accept a world in which each Malawian earns, on average, 100 times less than each Scot ($389 GDP per capita, compared to $38,606).

As two networks, organisations and friends, there is much more we can do, and we hope to - led by this spirit of dignified, two-way, people-to-people partnerships.

“The power to stop the injustices against people across the world also lies in people; people who decide that they cannot stand on the side-lines and watch events as they unfold. We must all stand up to ensure that we put an end to racism. As we do with all other things, putting an end to racism must be part and parcel of our programming because it matters less where you are, in a different place you can and you will experience racists attacks. This is why we must all join hands to stop it, and there can never be a better time to do so than NOW!”

Vera Kamtukule

MaSP Chief Executive

We are hugely privileged in Scotland and have a role to challenge racism, discrimination and xenophobia. There is always more we can do in this space: fighting prejudice and injustice in all its forms. We respectfully, and with all due humility, look to continue to learn and improve our work: understanding the complexities of our past as we look to write a more just future. We are two nations, two friends, working together to champion a new type of global north-south relationship, fit for the 21st century. ”

David Hope-Jones

SMP Chief Executive

The SMP and MaSP are committed to listening to a range of voices and views. If you feel there is more our networks could be doing to fight racism, prejudice and injustice in the bilateral relationship, please email our Chief Executives, David [david(at)] and Vera [vera(at)].

IMAGE Credit: Malawi Scotland Partnership. MaSP staff in Lilongwe chose to take this image, symbolising mutual solidarity, to accompany this joint-statement.

N.B. This statement includes exerts on the history of Scotland-Malawi collaboration from ‘Friendship with a Purpose: Malawi and Scotland for Sustainable Development’

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