The political economy of information: Malawi under Kamuzu Banda, 1964-1994

2005-11-01T15:02:27Z (GMT) by R. Paul Sturges
Among information professionals generally there is a kind of bright optimism about the power and potential of information. This says, in effect, 'only provide information sufficiently and that will be enough'. Students will study better, citizens will live in a more secure and happy way, businessmen will maximise the effect of their investments, and governments will plan and administer in a rational fashion. The optimism goes further, to the point of arguing that as libraries hold information, they are sources of the power that information can unleash. Bacon's dictum that 'Knowledge itself is power', is taken in a very literal sense by the promoters of libraries: as if there were few, or even no, serious obstacles to the operation of this principle.1 When forced to explain why libraries are not more obviously effective sources of power, lack of funds and indifference by government are most commonly cited. It is as if a little more money and a little more attention from those in authority would change everything. In fact, if the contention that information is power were reversed to say 'Power is information' it might better reflect reality. From this perspective, only what is generated by power relations has the status of information, and only through the exercise of power is the effect of information achieved. This draws attention to the underlying political economy of information: the ways in which power defines information, delimits it, governs its availability, pre-structures is effects. For the purposes of this essay, information is defined in a very broad way as: facts and ideas communicated. The term political economy is used in its more modern sense as: the study of the interrelation of economics, government and policy.2 Because the political economy of information can be seen in particularly stark outline in the context of developing countries, this essay concerns itself with Malawi under Kamuzu Banda.