I saw this image on a friend’s Facebook wall the other day. It shows a tattered Malawian flag suspended on a rusty pole outside Salima District Council, in what is Salima district.
And it got me wondering, whether there is a link between a country’s ‘perceived patriotism’ or shall we say national pride with its officials public responsibility (or responsibilities)?
I asked this question because I couldn’t help wondering just how much replacing that flag would cost. Surely it can’t possibly be that much? Or can it?
Okay, lets look at it a different way. Are the council officials, although not excessively paid, on a salary? They are not volunteers, so of cpourse they have to be paid. Also, as far as Malawian civil service salaries go, is it fair to say that they are paid the same or better than teachers or nurses? Being an ‘office job’, I’d imagine they are paid relatively decent wages for them to be able to support their families. I can also guess that they probably have some electronic equipment that enables them to undertake their duties? If they can create a Facebook page, they definitely have computers (or at least access to a computer). Which could mean their building has electricity, and someone pays for it.
So then, how much would it cost to replace a tattered flag? Something that should be a symbol of your nationhood. Something you should be proud of, flying at full mast outside your office. Shouldn’t this be a priority? I doubt it would cost much. I’d be surprised if it cost more than $300 -$400 to get the flag replaced. But even if it did cost that much, there are many relatively wealthy people in our societies who originally come from Salima, who if approached with such a request, I doubt would hesitate to donate something for the cause.
In the end, I think its down to diminishing public responsibility, on the part of public officials, in that a flag is not seen as important enough to maintain. Even asking for donations from the member of the public for such a cause has probably never been considered. I can also guess that if you dig beneath the surface, there will be further rot. Possibly toilets in a bad state, an air-condition system that’s either non-existent or has been broken for tens of years – and nobody has since bothered to report for fixing. There will probably be badly maintained if not dangerously under-maintained motor vehicles. And other examples of negligence. Funnily enough when you travel across Malawi, you see the same urban decay everywhere, not only in the public sector, even in the private sector. And its worrying to say the least.
Because what does it say, what message does it give? Why the detachment from keeping things in a relatively functional or at least ‘not dysfunctional’ order? Why can’t Malawians be bothered about these things? Or about anything for that matter?
Surely it’s not only down to poverty? Or is it? I don’t think so because even wealthy neighbourhoods in the capital Lilongwe have under-maintained roads, and poor public facilities. Could it be a low-self-esteem issue linked to lack of education as others have pointed out in the past? Or is it that an increasing number of Malawians have somehow ‘evolved’ to adopt a mental state where they always expect someone else to do things for them? What exactly is going on here?
I think we have to flush out this toxic mentality because it gives the wrong picture. I think we have to begin to be concerned about things other than one’s immediate family, because a society where people care for each other is a strong society. I think public officials must take another look as to what their responsibilities are towards those they serve, and ask whether they are fulfilling those commitments.