I was, as some of you know, in Malawi in the winter.
In 1964, Malawi emerged from the British Protectorate and became a fully independent country. After years of protests, Dr Banda stepped into the role of President. My guide, Everlasting, worked for him at one stage - I think he was a mechanic looking after the Presidential vehicles and he was in a prime position to observe the machinations of the system. He told me at length about Dr Banda's diplomatic skills, notably his efforts to bring the apartheid regime in South Africa back into the international fold. Everlasting was, however, reticent if I raised the question of Dr Banda's abuses of power at home.
In 1994, under pressure from within and outside Malawi, Dr Banda agreed to a referendum to introduce a parliamentary democracy and this launched the current multi-party system. There is, now, a proliferation of parties - but rarely a transfer of power. If an election produces a surprising result, ministers simply change parties so they can stay in office. Roads leading to ministerial homes are maintained while others are full of potholes. Ministers' friend and family live in luxury while it is common for teachers and other public servants not to be paid. None of this is hidden; I heard people discuss is openly and read stories of mislaid funds and unpaid teachers in the newspapers.
'So,' I asked, 'was life better under Dr Banda - before the multi-party system?'
Everlasting thought for a long time.
'Now we have freedom of speech,' he said eventually.
And that's the point. Now he can complain about his government and its incompetences. Yet even now he can't talk about the atrocities of the Dr Banda years, though he must have known about them.
This is democracy. It's messy and imperfect and can expose deep divisions. But it's precious. So maybe we should celebrate our current chaos - it's what we have the privilege of voting for.