Why asking interview candidates ‘Kodi kumudzi kwanu ndi kuti?’ should be outlawed in Malawi

Former President Peter Mutharika’s presidency was characterised by accusations of tribalism

Let’s be honest, there have been some unfair recruitment practices in Malawi the last few years.
For example, why is it the case that the first question some candidates were being asked in interviews was ‘Kodi kumudzi kwanu ndi kuti?’ (Where is your village?).
How is that question relevant to the position that is being advertised? How does where one comes from provide the interview panel with answers as to a candidates suitability for employment?
You might say such questions are ice breakers, merely small talk, but actually the anecdotal evidence shows that this question was often used with the intention of identifying where people came from, and filter out those who were deemed by some members of the interview panel, as coming from the “wrong regions” or of not being the preferred tribe, such that positions would often be awarded to people who were deemed as ‘ndi wathu uyu’ (they are one of us).
It is a pointedly tribalistic question, and there is little rationale to asking it during interviews, unless you are intentionally trying to find a way of marking down someone based on their tribe/ethnicity.
Our Labour Laws in Malawi (Section 5 (1) of Malawi’s Employment Act 2000) prohibits discrimiation on the basis of Race, Sex, Religion, Ethnicity, Marital status and Nationality among other characteristics. In particular, it states that No person shall discriminate against any employee or prospective employee on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, nationality, ethnic or social origin, disability, property, birth, marital or other status or family responsibilities

Subsection 3 prescribes a fine of K10,000 plus a 2 year prison sentence. So it’s incredible that questions that have a thinly veiled inquiry into one’s ethnicity or tribe continue to be asked 20 years on?

The practice of interview panels asking where one comes from, or where one’s village is needs to be stopped immediately. And it needs to be stopped via a stronger legislative framework – one that is actively enforced.

The Ministries of Labour, and the the Ministry of Civic Education & National Unity should work together in creating and backing legislation that can be introduced into parliament to explicitly prohibit employers from asking any questions that coerce a candidate to disclose their village, region of origin, language or family roots in interview questions, employment reviews, promotion interviews or other pre-appointment interviews . And if such questions are asked, candidates should have a recourse to redress, including compensation, with the state levying penalties to the offending company, institution or organisation.

If you are Malawian, you are Malawian. Full stop.

Asking kuti “Kumudzi kwanu ndi kuti” should be made an offence under new and stronger employment laws.
No longer should HR managers, General managers, Directors, Interview Panels and others who periodically interview candidates or are invoved in the interview process be allowed to ask such tribalistic questions.
Such legislation would prevent discrimination against some Malawians on the basis of their place of birth or family origin. It would open up opportunties for all Malawians to feel co-ownership of the nation, without regard to tribal affiliations. Isn’t that the meaning of Malawi was Tonse?
And if you are one of those people who objects to such a policy, claiming that the question is asked to prevent non-Malawians masquerading as Malwians in interviews. My answer to that is that there are several other better ways of ascertaining whether one is Malawian – without being caught up in tribalistic social engineering.

Economic Empowerment

mg2I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I’m not sorry to be the one that spoils the party. Especially this particular party…because while Malawi is currently heated with election campaign fervour, some of the events happening on the ground have caused one part of me to doubt whether much substance will in fact come out of the leadership that will be appointed after the 20 May elections.

Are we really going to see the transformation being excitedly predicted by each party’s honchos? What kind of transformation will we see? Are the parties really going to deliver what they have promised in their manifestos? Weren’t similar promises made during the election campaigns of 1994, 1999, 2004 and 2009? To what extent were those promises honoured? So then, what major transformation came out of the administrations who won those elections?

I think no matter who you choose to vote for, it would be wise to be cautious, and carefully examine each candidate on their merits, and what their track records in terms of actual achievements the last 5 – 10 years (not just the last year or two) have been…

Many a times I have waxed lyrical as if on a soapbox about economic empowerment of Africans, and many a time, I have not exactly got through to the right people. Which is okay. The right people are rarely in the right jobs, they are rarely listening.

But this is an issue that has to be addressed sooner or later, otherwise African countries will continue to struggle with poverty and other ills. Donors and foreign corporations will not tackle the issue of empowerment because it’s not always in their best interests, and they are not good at doing so [See this: Between the Elusive and the Illusionary: Donors’ Empowerment Agendas in the Middle East in Perspective – Mariz Tadros].

In Malawi most NGO’s do not have the power, nor are they sufficiently well resourced to influence the establishment of a nationwide empowerment initiatives that have a real chance to make a big enough impact. It’s all down to the government and MP’s, and for what it’s worth one part of me can’t see enough progress being done after the elections. Maybe I’m being unfair and prematurely judgemental, but I’m yet to be convinced whether any of the major parties truly can deliver what they promise. And this is not only because the practicality of what they promise in their manifestos is questionable but also because the vagueness of some of the promises render them useless.

But for those voters who are listening, and concerned, the important questions every Malawian should ask the candidates of the 20 May elections, before voting, are these:

What will they do differently to ensure that Malawians are economically empowered, and not taken advantage of? And why should we trust you?

This is important especially because it is clear to most Malawians that the tenures of the MCP, UDF, DPP and PP governments in the past have established very little for Malawians to show for. While countries like Kenya, Zambia, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Mozambique (where there was a debilitating 15 year long civil war) have powered forward with impressive results, Malawi, despite unsustainable blips of progress, is still languishing in the doldrums.

So, what will the candidates who vie for election to Parliament do which hasn’t been done already in the country’s 50-year-old history?

The reason that this question must be answered is that economic empowerment will not occur if the policies the new government institute turn out to be mediocre (like distributing cattle, chickens, houses or shoes) or the same as what has not worked in the past, and if corruption continues to be tolerated. In a country with 15 million people, the presidency would be best advised to think on a much larger scale, than wasting resources on mediocre projects.

Taking a simplistic general view, for people to be innovative and industrious they require one or more of the following:- an income, education, inspiration, tools/ building blocks (trucks, implements & equipment), and power (literally electricity). So, one would think that when a government articulates how they will provide these as part of a wider national transformation strategy, there will be a much higher chance of transforming Malawi than say distributing a million cows to villagers.

But that alone is not enough. Empowerment essentially means giving one power or authority to do something. So I’d like to see factories built, where young people can work, earn an income and develop transferable skills. And those factories, must be majority owned by Malawians, so that the profits made from Malawi stay within Malawi. Further, instead of giving a mining contract or power generation contract to a foreign corporation – which has its own interests, I’d like a government that promises, and implements a national  mining company, or power generation company, which is government owned, and whose profits are reinvested into Malawi.

That is precisely the kind of visionary leadership Malawians should seek and vote for.