Some Malawians are joining Politics for the wrong reasons

The 20th May general elections of Malawi consisted of three major political families all vying for the seat of the presidency. On one side there were the Mutharikas, on the other side there were the Muluzis and somewhere in the other corner were the Bandas. Distinctly different from this family centric crowd and very much an outsider was  Lazarus Chakwera and the Malawi Congress Party (MCP).

The three political parties, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the United Democratic From (UDF), and the Peoples Party (PP) all promised prosperity for the people of Malawi. However, the structure of Malawian political parties looks increasingly to be made up of political families who are chosen because of affiliation rather than merit. This sort of political selection leaves questions as to the credibility of some of the politicians, because a good number of them are only employed because their relatives hold senior positions in and around the executive.

Politicians are like modern-day pastors in that the prevailing ideology has entrusted them with a job which in theory can be likened to bringing salvation to the people of the world. Politics is about bringing change for countries and helping those that are helpless and living in abject poverty. Whether for good or ill, Politics has also been about ensuring that those who hold power and resources, get to keep that power, and those resources. But all good Politicians have to be patriotic, strong-willed, selfless, truthful and compassionate in the face of global societal problems. Michael Ignatieff , Edward R. Murrow Professor of Practice at Harvard’s Kennedy School writes,

All the best reasons for going into politics never really change: the desire for glory and fame and the chance to do something that really matters, that will make life better for a lot of people. You have to be one of those people with outsized, even laughable ambition, who want their convictions to mean something more than smart conversation at dinner tables. You have to have a sense of vocation, a belief that something must be done and that you’re the person to do it.

The problem we have with Malawian politicians is that most of them never had a calling to become politician. Most of them just became politicians because of circumstances and opportunities that came their way. Most of all, some people in Malawi take politics as a means to an end of all their financial problems. Some Malawian politicians think more of the perks that come with the job than the job they were entrusted with by the electorate – who are always seeking the right individuals to govern them. Further, most of our politicians who are in power or in the opposition parties are usually handed the opportunity to become a politician on a silver platter.

hand-634689_640In an article titled ‘Barack Obama: how an unkown senator became president of USA‘, Robert McGuigan Burns details how Obama from an early age at Harvard embodied leadership qualities. An excerpt from the article describing Obama’s early achievement at Harvard University and how he turned down a high-paying job to work with the community.

After finishing High School he would study at Columbia University in New York before later going to gain a law degree from Harvard University. It was at Harvard that, somewhat portentously, Obama became the first African American President of the Harvard Review. Moreover, Obama’s co-workers, notably John Owens, were already noting Obama’s presence and power early in his career. In a Boston Globe article from 1990, Owens described: “…this guy (Obama) sounds like he’s president of the country already…” (Matchan, 1990). Obama chose to decline a high paying corporate law job in favour of a small civil rights firm and continue his work in the community, later entering politics (Bacon, 2005: pp 60).

In contrast to our politicians, how many Malawian politicians have such backgrounds where they dedicate years of their lives to work with the community from an early age? How many Malawian politicians can claim to have turned down a life-changing opportunity to work with people for a meagre salary? To understand the needs of those at the bottom. To build an informed picture of what the country truly needs?

Let us talk of our current president Peter Mutharika. Professor Mutharika worked at the prestigious Washington University for about 40 years where he was a professor at law. One of the colleagues at the Washington University had this to say about Professor Mutharika when they heard he was involved in politics in Malawi,

“I guess what’s surprising is he was a quiet man in class,” said attorney John Kozyak, one of Mutharika’s first law students at Washington University in 1971, and now a friend. “So it was surprising to me a couple of years ago when I was looking on the news and saw that he had thousands of people come out to rallies for him and he was dressed in some sort of (ceremonial) garb. I never saw him in anything other than a black or gray or blue suit. I never thought of him as a real African politician.”

Indeed Mutharika today is the president of Malawi at 74 years of age. Peter Mutharika was drummed up to be the leader of DPP through his brother’s presidency. I would strongly argue that had Bingu Wa Mutharika, Peter’s brother had failed to win the 2004 general elections, It is highly doubtful whether Peter Mutharika would have seen the light of day as President of Malawi. The argument is that Peter Mutharika became a politician by chance. Primarily because his brother was handpicked as UDF’s candidate, and subsequently became the president of Malawi. Peter Mutharika did not join politics of his own conviction and drive. I don’t believe that for the 40 years that he was in the USA he at any point seriously planned to become a politician in Malawi at the age of 65. If he did, then the evidence is nowhere to be seen. No political articles written, no evidence of serious participation in Malawian or other political Pan African organisations in the diaspora. Nothing.

A similar scenario applies to Atupele Muluzi whose father Bakili Muluzi was the first democratically elected president of Malawi in 1995. The young Muluzi, having little political experience in the form of a parliamentary seat, came out of nowhere, to head the United Democratic Front, when there were other senior individuals with substantially more experience, and who had been in the party for many years, some since its inception in 1992. This incident splintered the party, and saw the exit of some bigwigs, the likes of Brown Mpinganjira. Others claimed Atupele would be used as a puppet by his father Bakili, who Malawians will remember failed to change the constitution of Malawi to allow him to serve for a third presidential term. The senior Muluzi rejected this allegation.

Similarly, the current member of parliament for Zomba Malosa  Roy Kachale Banda, whose mother Joyce Banda took over the reins of power after Bingu Wa Mutharika’s sudden death, arguably joined politics only because his mother became president. It’s probable that his parliamentary campaign was financed by funds which only became available due to his mother’s elevated profile. In any case, Joyce Banda has been active in politics since 1999, winning the same Zomba Malosa constituency Roy now represents. Why didn’t Roy join politics earlier?

There have been several other examples.

Therefore, it is not rash to conclude that a considerable number of individuals that join politics in Malawi, do it for the wrong reasons. If a member of a family joins politics, it is common that cousins, sons, daughters, uncles or aunts, all suddenly have the conviction to help serve in an official capacity, under the totally convenient pretext that they want to ‘develop the country together with their relative’ who happens to be in power. Consequently, these become helpers, assistants and other officials around the corridors of power. And while one may argue that if the rules or constitution does not explicitly prohibit employment of  family or relatives then it shouldn’t be a problem, but what about a conflict of interests? What does it say of our politics? Further, when Malawi has suffered from tribalism and neopatrimonialism for many years, how justifiable is such behaviour?

cardsI believe that political and leadership skills in general are skills that either have to be learned, and or have to be honed over the years of someone’s life. One cannot just wake up one day and decide to become a politician. The awakening of politicians usually happens earlier in life where one decides to dedicate his/her life to help others through politics. It is delusional if not dangerous for anyone to consider themselves a politician just because a father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, sister, brother, aunt or uncle has or had a position in the government at some point.

As things stand in Malawi at the moment, cronyism is the biggest recruiter of politicians, when it should have been patriotism and a desire to improve people’s lives inspiring selfless individuals to be a part of change. This is why political parties in Malawi are run as if they are family entities, complete with wedding receptions of relatives at State House almost every year.

DPP has had two Mutharikas at the helm. UDF has had two Muluzi’s at the helm. AFORD has had two Chihanas at the helm and we are yet to see the next leader of PP after Joyce Banda. My guess is he or she will be dynastically linked to Joyce Banda. Even MCP in John Tembo had a leader who was arguably connected by a dynastic ‘family’ tie to Dr Kamuzu Banda via Cecilia Kadzamira.

However this is not to argue that one cannot become a politician when a relative or family member has been in top government positions. The intentions are the issue here. My argument lies in the manner in which politically affiliated individuals ascend to roles of power when their lives previously had nothing to do with politics.

(Edited by S Nkhwazi)

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One killed and many injured in land resettlement fracas involving Mota Engil

Barely a week after the Times run a story about Mota Engil’s proposed 5-star hotel in Monkey Bay in Mangochi, the newspaper has reported that a man has died and several others were injured on Tuesday in a fracas over the issue:

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Nyasa Times put the dead toll at two people. Malawi News 24 reported that nine people had been injured.

The dispute (also mentioned on the Times Facebook page here) concerns the resettlement of villagers from land (said to be in the region of 100 hectares) to make way for a the construction of the hotel and golf course. The villagers claim the government didn’t consult them when selling the land to Mota Engil, and that their rights have been breached. Further they claim that the chief, Nankumba, is corruptly implicated in the scheme.

Land grabbing and forced eviction disputes are common across Africa (see the following links: Brazil’s big landowners have far too much power | Who Owns the Land? Cameroon’s Large-Scale Land-Grabs | Tanzania evicting 40,000 people from homeland to make room for Dubai royal family – Salon.com | Villagers, the big losers as land is ‘grabbed’ for development | Ethiopia’s land grab nightmare of the Suri People ~ Horn Affairs), and usually they follow a similar pattern that pits the power of the government in concert with rich corporations against defenceless and voiceless communities.

A government will decide to commercialize a large chunk of land for a project, be it agricultural (e.g. a sugarcane plantation) or industrial in nature. They approach the villagers, but because there is very little incentive to adequately compensate them, or not enough effort to explain how the sale of the land will benefit the villagers, and because of the corruption involved, the villagers will refuse to be resettled. Thus after varying degrees of negotiations or coercion, the military, police and sometimes armed militia are recruited to forcibly remove the people. Bulldozers move in, buildings are demolished, sometimes burnt, those who resist are arrested and sometimes imprisoned, and very little is done to help the people whose land has been forcibly taken. Often the communities never get to receive any material benefit from the sale of their land. Talk of taking advantage of defenceless people.

But there are ways of doing things constructively. For example, looking at the floods that have recently devastated the southern part of Malawi, it makes sense to resettle most of the people from the areas that are most at risk of flooding; indefinitely, or until effective permanent solutions are found to the flooding problem in these areas. It’s in their best interest.

If I were in charge of a project of resettlement, the following is a rough outline of what I would insist to be done. To me it’s common sense, at least if the dignity of the people affected is to be preserved:-

(1) The government and land developer involved would need to identify suitable land for the villagers to be resettled to, and begin building decent accommodation (homes and flats) for them to live in. In order to utilise space efficiently, they would need to consider energy-efficient flats or even communal living spaces for those who opt for it. Although it would entail some cost, if you are taking land away from people, they need to be remunerated properly. And just because they are poor doesn’t mean that they must be ill-treated or taken advantage of.

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And it doesn’t have to be overly expensive. Bamboo roofed houses like the one below, made of treated bamboo, with solar water heaters, solar lamps could go some way in providing accommodation for a few years, before something permanent is built :-

bamboo-house(2) The government would need to develop employment options for the community, by bringing in some kind of work. A factory to make soap, to assemble bicycles, to produce eco-friendly building materials, or an integrated commercial agricultural interest would do. This is important to provide the working population amongst the villagers with jobs, and a means to earn a living, so as to reduce poverty and desperation.

employment(3) Similarly, an administration office, a police depot, some schools, a technical college to provide skills training would need to be built. A library, a market, a hospital, some shops, possibly even a small shopping mall with a Cinema, and other important infrastructure would also be necessary, to provide amusement and entertainment, and to cater to the new settlement.

Students-Africa(4) The roads and transport links from the new settlement to the nearest city would need to be updated, to enable seamless travel, and encourage transfer of skills to the area.

road(5) Communication:- The government would need to be transparent and invite the villagers to relocate to the new town. Each family would be provided with a home depending on the size of the family and its earning potential. The ownership of the house would be 50% owned by the government and the other 50% by each household. Further, depending on their earnings, they would be asked to contribute a small amount each month towards buying the house, although alternative arrangements would be found for those who are old and can’t work, and those who are poor and have no income source. A relocation stipend to each household would also be provided to help them start their new life.

(6) A promise to preserve grave sites and religious or sacred sites at their old settlements would be necessary. Further, within reason, the villagers would need to be allowed access to the religious and sacred areas.

(7) Finally, Ownership. A trust fund would be created to be administered by representatives of the villagers ( and not the chiefs) whereby at least 20% of the hotel and golf-course’s pre-tax profits would be invested in to help developing the community, including creatint employment, to be invested in education and healthcare, and to maintain the housing estates or build additional settlements. This must be fixed contractually for the present hotel operator, and any future operators. Why? Because that’s the true meaning of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Only then would it be equitable and right to hand over the vacated land to the hotel developer. These people have to ask the question, how they would want the government to handle the matter had it been them who were being asked to move, and leave their land behind? Any developer who doesn’t agree to a deal that includes such considerations definitely does not have the people’s interests to heart.

Satan’s Neonazi conmen: The Institutional Discrimination and Racism hidden within Immigration (part 1)

racism

“Institutions can behave in ways that are overtly racist (i.e., specifically excluding people-of-color from services) or inherently racist (i.e., adopting policies that while not specifically directed at excluding people-of-color, nevertheless result in their exclusion). Therefore, institutions can respond to people-of-color and whites differently. Institutional behavior can injure people-of-color; and, when it does, it is nonetheless racist in outcome if not in intent.”  via http://racism.org/

“Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and happy to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.” Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

“I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.”  ― Martin Luther King Jr., I Have A Dream

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” —Malcolm S. Forbes.

“Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.”   Muhammad Ali

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” – Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

I was going to subtitle title this post as ‘Stupid & Repressive laws from Stupid & Repressive institutions’, but that subtitle was too long, sounded angry and would have messed up the layout of this article.

A more moderate subtitle would definitely be more effective in getting the important message across. Then I thought of calling it ‘A radical experiment on Immigration’ in a similar fashion to Sam Richard’s brilliant video ‘A radical experiment in empathy’, but that subtitle didn’t explicitly specify the Racism and Discrimination aspects…

A few months ago, I read an article on the Guardian website, in which the writer wrote that “Unless universities realise that merely paying lip service to equality will not eliminate society’s prejudices from their campuses, racism will continue to flourish” [posted on Guardian blogging Students website by one Conrad Landin].

As a migrant who is proud to have come out of two British Universities with two good degrees, I couldn’t agree more. I was racially abused in University (not once or twice), my first encounter with the practice on British soil, but even then I recognised that it was a part of a much bigger and wider problem. A problem that in other forms extended to double gold medallist Mo Farah being stopped and questioned by US customs, over his Somali origins.

Up to the time I began writing this article, I had been asked to write something on immigration and racism by three of my closest friends, and up until recently I gently resisted their requests. Not that I didn’t want to write about the subject or that I didn’t care so much about their requests, nor that it hasn’t affected my own family, no, not because of all that. Instead, it’s quite a painful subject to write about when one’s experiences have been hellish in this regard, and when the institutions involved have caused one’s family members (especially my mother) a lot of grief and hardship. Extremely painful, in more ways than words can describe, so to an extent I was shunning the topic because of the inevitable pain writing about it would cause…..

To put it into perspective, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) has been described as Cruel (Roseline’s journey: a kidney transplant patient meets UK Border Agency contractors , Child refugees harmed by ‘cruel’ detention systemState-sponsored cruelty  , Medical Justice : “‘State Sponsored Cruelty’: Children in immigration detention” and here: Child detention is ‘state sponsored cruelty’- report finds); they have been accused of Harrassment; described as Oppressive (The UK Border Agency’s long, punitive campaign against children (helped by G4S and Serco), Not fit for PurposeRacist (Indians to pay £3,000 cash bond deposit for U.K. visa ) , (Why Is the UK Border Agency Racially Profiling People On the Tube?), (Exclusive: Doreen Lawrence pledges to condemn ‘racial profiling’ spot checks in the House of Lords) and (CABIN CRUELTY: MORE TROUBLE AT THE UK BORDERS AGENCY – via Liberty ) which contains the paragraph:

Predictably the UKBA refused to disclose its policy in full. But even what we were shown set alarm bells ringing. There was no provision whatsoever for training staff for aircraft removals – all scenarios related solely to prisons. The approach towards medical care was inconsistent at best, and little or no attention had been paid to de-escalation techniques. It’s not hard to work out that dealing with a distressed deportee on a long flight, confined inside a claustrophobic cabin, might pose particular challenges and health risks. But there was absolutely nothing to suggest the UKBA appreciated this

IncompetentDamning report says practically all UK LGBT asylum claims are being refused; Border Agency “cruel and discriminatory” ) , a law unto itself – a link that contains the paragraph:

“The hearings at the Home Affairs Select Committee enquiring into the running of the UK Border Agency were hard to credit. Keith Vaz, the Chairman of the committee, asked the Head of The UK Border Authority for information about their operations, and the Head of the UKBA replied that he was unwilling to provide said information. It was entirely obvious that the UKBA has become a law unto itself. “

and even Murderous (Jackie Nanyonjo, Jimmy Mubenga and Joy Gardner: all killed by Britain’s racist deportation regime)

The issue has become politicised with people separated from their families ( My battle with Britain’s mean, ineffective immigration system:  ‘Controlling immigration’ means being rude to foreigners — as I found out ); genuine weddings have been wrecked:-

“We travelled down to the venue from Nottingham, only to find that the Bride had been arrested by the Police upon arrival at the Church. It was stated it was due to an Immigration matter. They detained her over night and released her on Sunday without charge. They claimed she had indicated in her application that she was married in the USA and that it was a sham wedding. The girls father had travelled all the way from Malawi, they had friends and guests from all over the country and everything was ruined. The Bride is Malawian who has a USA Green card and lives in America. The groom is a Malawian student who has finished his studies and is waiting for his passport which is with UKBA so that he can leave.They had done all the necessary paperwork to enable them to get married here, gone to the registrar etc and all was in order.”

Even those who served in the armed forces are being harassed.

Another source told me:

“My own sister and niece, who obviously are black – and now American citizens have been denied a visitor visa once, even when they are fully settled in the US, and have no intention of moving to the UK, they have a good life there…much better than what I have here, and at the time of making the application, they supplied all the material that was required for the application…and paid a lot of money, only to have a visa denied, after all that money!”

And all this is just scratching the surface. Indeed the sad stories (that includes staff at UKBA slamming the phone down on nervous applicants) are many and heart wrenching and we don’t have time or room to list them all here.

But how can this kind of treatment of other countries’ nationals be fair game? And why hasn’t the coalition government done something decisive to end the harassment? Do they approve of such heavy-handedness? How many people must die before the UKBA is finally brought to book, and its officers prosecuted? In case you didn’t know, the guardian reported here that detainees at Yarl’s Wood immigration centre were ‘facing sexual abuse’, with guards preying on isolated women at the institution (which is run by Serco), and orchestrating a cover-up. How bad can it get?

Nelson Mandela once said that “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity. To impose on them a wretched life of hunger and deprivation is to dehumanise them.”  In other words, such treatment simply means the victims are being stripped of their humanity; deeply ingrained in the persecutor’s head is the notion that the persecuted are not humans (or are lesser humans). Precisely the very same type of racist ideology that was partially responsible for apartheid, slavery and the holocaust.

Just because it’s happening to a non-white non-British national, does it mean that abuse, cruelty, force, harassment, mental torture, murder and other evils are justified?

Would the British authorities (let alone the officers responsible for these crimes) be happy or content if in quid pro quo fashion, British nationals abroad (there are 5 million of them living outside the UK) were treated inhumanely in the same manner that the UKBA (and its associate agencies) treats migrants here in the UK?

I think not. I think if you showed the majority of British subjects living abroad how migrants are treated by the UKBA, and asked them what they think of the practices, and whether it would be fair game for the authorities in the country in which they are living in to treat them in a similar or identical manner, most would be appalled by the UKBA’s conduct and would not be happy to be treated anything like it.

Someone needs to inject some common sense into this madness…

To some christians in pentecostal and other churches, the UK Border Agency is the very embodiment of Satan, his machinery, the officers – employees of organisations such as Serco and G4S (which have been implicated in numerous heinous scandals [see here, here, here and here]), possessed by his demons.

To aggrieved intellectuals, the UKBA are Neo Nazis, similar in manner to the Gestapo; they are the 21st century’s version of the Ku klux Klan. If their behaviour is anything to go by, there is certainly a case that they have crossed the line, especially with reports (After Serco, what rights do asylum seekers have in detention?) that a manual that authorised guards to use force to incapacitate detainees (including to kick, punch and target pressure points on detainees)  was as recently as last year still in use.

Some say the UKBA is just a money-making scheme (see here , here and here[UK Border agency accused of charging excessive fees for visas – made £225 million PROFIT in 2012]); a profiteering scam with government blessings designed to suck money from already impoverished foreigners (and from wealthy ones); an institutional conduit of funds and a modern-day servitude for the deprivation of foreign nationals. As someone who has had to dish out over £10,000 (a sum that at the time would have completely wiped away all my family’s debts) for one visa or another (including exorbitant solicitors fees), I agree with this allegation to a great extent, and to be honest I’m a little bitter about having had to pay so much. Especially since a lot of that money was paid by my mother, a single parent who at over 60 years of age still had to work (while I was unemployed).

But if you are prepared to use force and even go as far as kill innocent people, to enforce your oppressive laws, what’s a mere low-level scam that causes untold financial hardship?

And this ‘scam’ didn’t start just yesterday. As far back as 2006, some rational people were already questioning the UKBA visa fees policy, with one account in the Financial Times here, stating:

“Students who need visas will already be paying much higher tuition fees than British and other European Union students. If it is argued that if you can afford the tuition fees you can afford the visa fees, a thoroughly incorrect attitude is revealed.

Are we trying to drive away students in need of visas? The visa service is said to be largely self-financing, a typically short-sighted arrangement that ignores the external benefits of accessible visa fees.”

And somehow, despite the complaints against the UKBA, there is nothing wrong with all this, apparently….??

Further, you rarely hear any of their ill-treatment of innocent people in the mainstream media, especially on Tv, which to me is highly suspicious. With the exception of a few bold publications (see Guardian report here) and specialist publications such as New Statesman, which has a story (published March 2013) titled “The UK Border Agency: after four years, a car crash in slow motion finally comes to a stop“, that includes the paragraphs:

“..But incompetence is one thing – cruelty quite another. The fact the new body was kept at arm’s length lead Theresa May to conclude it had created a “closed, secretive and defensive” culture. Staff from sub-contractor Reliance were transporting Roseline Akhalu when she ended up pissing all over herself because she wasn’t allowed to use a toilet. Staff from Tascor – which superceded Reliance – allegedly beat Marius Betondi and broke his nose during a failed deportation attempt. That was one of thousands of distressing cases, the product of a system in chaos.

The failure to prosecute G4S staff over the death of Jimmy Mubenga has been described as “perverse” by the former Chief Inspector of Prisons. Just as it failed to protect victims of torture, so the system failed to protect victims of slavery. The right-wing Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) found a litany of flaws in UKBA’s procedures and concluded that “too often the CSJ has been told that UKBA involvement in the . . .  process acts as a major barrier to victims [of slavery] to make a referral.”…

When a reckless banker misuses the funds of his bank, leading to loss of millions of pounds, it is reported as news, often with glee. When a sea creature is washed up on a beach, the story is reported, even the polar bear cub Knut (who sadly died 2 years ago) received so much publicity!

Is the media saying that such ill-treatment of innocent people (who are HUMANS) as reported in the articles above is not newsworthy?? Or is something more sinister going on?

The way I see it, the silence of large media houses suggests either an indifference (in the same way as Hitler was initially tolerated before everybody realised [rather late] he was pure filth and evil) by the media to atrocious treatment of migrant by UKBA (i.e. we don’t think it’s news) – a massive miscalculation and a failure of judgement; or the silence suggests complicity (i.e. let them get on with it, somebody has got to do it).

In addition, you rarely hear of anyone white, especially from non-EU countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the US or even countries such as Israel being mistreated or harassed?? In the 11 years that I have been living in Britain, and following these issues, I’ve never read a single report of people from these countries being a victim. Instead by far the majority of those who are victimized by what is by all appearances a Neo Nazi fascist organisation are Black Africans, Afro-Caribbeans, Arabs or Asians, which is appalling and quite shameful in a post-apartheid post-slavery 21st century.

It doesn’t speak well at all of Britain’s race relations, or indeed its Human Rights record.

So, given the material I possessed, part of the reason I hesitated in writing this article is because I was still trying to resolve my thoughts and feelings regarding what my true position on the topic was.

And since its pretty clear that there was nothing positive about the Nazi’s, I’m struggling to find anything positive about the UK Border Agency.

Also, the fact that the topic was too broad and requiring formal research didn’t make it easy. Add to that the many facets deserving consideration, the history, multiple implications for the lives of tens of people I know and thousands I don’t know, and the picture couldn’t be fuzzier. That was until a couple of months ago, when a friend told me of his ordeal, which although not as heart wrenching as some of the above cases, demonstrates that the problem is not only in the UK, and even when you have legal status, if you are an ethnic minority, discrimination is everywhere.

Good friend A lives in England with his family (a wife and 3 young kids – the oldest is 6), and has a good job. ‘Good job’ meaning he’s in a managerial position with 8 people below him and earns a good salary. He lives in a 4 bedroom house, and has some savings. Good friend A regularly supports at least 5 relatives back in Africa from his salary (almost every month). I know all this because he told me. He holds a Malawian passport and has travelled extensively over the last 10 years or so, to Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria and other European countries. Recently he wanted to attend a 2 day music festival in a European country with his family. Having made his visa application, showing the festival tickets which costed him around €200 in total, the officials at this country’s embassy in London told him to book his hotel, which he did, spending an additional €200 even when he didn’t know when they would issue the visa, and therefore when he would travel. Then, just before the weekend of the event (and too late for him to cancel his hotel) they requested that he submit additional documents, even when he had supplied everything that was stipulated on both their website and their application forms. Then he went for the interview at the embassy, to find staff who were so haughty, condescending and disparaging, he came out feeling disgusted.  Suffice to say, he missed his festival, and €500 (including the cost of the visa and trip to the embassy) went down the drain.

I’d love to say that there is no racial discrimination in the immigration system, but I’m afraid as all the above demonstrates I can’t. There are too many stories like those above – whose victims are ethnic minorities – which suggests otherwise.

If you look across Europe, just as its undeniable that there has been an increase in ‘hostilities’ against muslims (another type of largely baseless discrimination), there’s an ‘anti-immigrant wave’ blowing across the continent, in France, Sweden, and other countries, and a large part of that wave is directed towards non-white, non-european migrants from outside the EU.

But I’m not saying that there are no other aspects of immigration worth considering. It is perfectly clear that not everybody can live in Europe, or America, or Canada or Australia, for all sorts of reasons (and I’m going to outline them in my next post), but to exclude and discriminate against people robotically on the basis of their race and nationality is in my view simply wrong. To use force to wreck lives without a basis is inexcusable, to harass people who have a genuine case is atrocious, to kill innocent people or separate families is a criminal act.

In addition, I’m concerned that very few people are prepared to ask, why are all these people wanting to live here, and not in their own countries, what is happening in their own countries that’s causing them to want to live here?

And predictably with such pressure and harassment some people get desperate, and in an attempt to stay in the country from which they are being threatened with removal utilise every means possible, from fake passports to shady lawyers. The effect, it diminishes the credibility in the genuine cases of other migrants such that everyone is viewed with suspicion.

And because usually with such stories, people have had some extremely bad and painful experiences, emotions run high, and some can be dismissive. One friend recently declared:- “the west pillaged resources from other continents, and then created a ‘apartheid’ immigration system, a walled fortress to keep out everyone from the wealth that was built on the proceeds of the plunder. You see it in Canada, in Australia, in the US, in Britain and most western economies.” 

And in countries which have non-white ‘native populations’ such as Australia and the US, the parodies are never in short supply:

grg

Many years ago, I used to wonder, why some people fail to forgive. Why some people get hardened. What exactly is happening in their hearts? Why can’t they just let things go? For example why is retaliation the song of the day between Israel and Palestine? Why can’t one of them say,

Look we’ve caused each other too much pain already, enough lives have been lost, enough is enough, this has got to stop. This ends now.”

I couldn’t understand it. Then recently, while doing research for this article, that led me to places where I heard views from many people who have been affected by the Immigration system in the UK, I began to see it, I began to realise that sometimes, undue persecution, institutional harassment and violation can run so deep, and the unhealed wounds can continue to be painful after so many years, and be so many of them, such that forgiveness is impossible. It appears like one can literally lose the capacity to forgive. In such out of control circumstances, I can imagine why an eye truly and only calls for another eye.

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Global 100 Voices: No 7 (Part 1)

My next guest is a true son of Malawi and a businessman who has done remarkably well for himself and his family. Based in South Africa, he is the founder and CEO of the Ulalo Group of companies, who have operations in South Africa, Malawi and China. He has a great desire to see Malawi and Malawians advance, grow and become economically independent, and I must say his experience in this regard is something we can all learn from. Mr Joshua Chisa Mbele, thank you for doing the 100 Voices interview.

[Note- this particular interview is a transcription of an audio file which will be available from this website soon]

Thank you very much for having me, my name is Joshua, Joshua Mbele, a Malawian by birth, I come from Salima, I’ve stayed in South Africa for almost 24 years, I’m married here, I have got kids, here, I have got businesses here and also in Malawi, I also have operations in China. I came to South Africa in 1989 or somewhere there, to seek I’d say I was an ‘economic refugee’; I was looking for greener pastures. Coming in 1980’s early 90’s it was not easy to settle in South Africa as you can imagine, it was a white South Africa, but I tried my luck, and persisted, buried my ways and settled, that’s the background. In terms of Malawi, I went to Robert Blake sec school, I went to Malawi Polytechnic to do Mechanical Engineering, and then I came here both to work and to pursue education. Today I am a fully fledged business person. As I indicated, I do have businesses in Malawi, I think if I’m not mistaken, I was the first Malawian who took hard-cash in terms of US$4 million then to invest in Malawian telecommunication industry, I have also invested in other sectors of the economy, we hold shares in Sunbird hotels, we hold shares in Mpico, we also hold shares in other sectors of interest and are still looking for opportunities in Malawi. Thank you.

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1.     As a Malawian, how important is Malawi’s Socio-Economic stability to you and your family?

The socio-economic stability of Malawi to me is of paramount importance. As you know that the building blocks of the society is a family, that’s the root. Now, where there is economic havoc, you have unstable family structures. To have a stable economy also stabilises family lifestyles. A family which is skilled, which has got a father and a mother as professionals, which can send their kids to school and educate them adequately, which can put food at the table every evening, it means that it has got a more meaningful role to play in the economy, an active family is a productive family. A productive family is part of a productive community, it’s part of a productive society, and the two, the productive society and social economic environment of the country, the stability of it are integral to each other, so it is very important that we stabilise both the social and political environment in Malawi. For me as a family person and as a business person those are fundamentals that we need most.

2.     After nearly 50 years since independence, what visible progress do you think Malawi has made since independence, and in your view, what pressing challenges remain?

Well, that’s very true…in chatting with my friends; I normally refer to myself as a founding father, to the amusement of many, what I mean by that, not that I founded the Malawi nation,  but I try to say that I was born just before the dawn of independent Malawi, because I was born in 1964, I’m as old as Malawi itself. Now, I know for sure that I have grown up seeing Malawi, we’ve grown up together I’d say so, from the dawn of the independence, Malawi made quite a lot of significant inroads, or there was significant tangible development so to speak, just to give you brief outline of that, since 1964, Malawi embarked on to be an agricultural country and Dr Banda established so many farms, tobacco, maize, cotton. We already had the established tea industries in Thyolo and Mulanje, and he went on to plant the forestry, you remember the Chikangawa forestry in the North, and not only that, he revamped what was then Farmers Marketing Board (FMB), into a corporate commercial ‘ADMARC’, which was there to serve both the growers and the market. It was the meeting point. And in terms of the infrastructure, things do speak for themselves. We upgraded what was the colonial rail from Luchenza, Nsanje, Blantyre, Salima, and later on, it was extended from Salima to Lilongwe and Mchinji under the Malawi Canada project. And also from Machinga, going out to Mozambique to Nacala port. We also had the development of the lakeshore road, not forgetting the Kamuzu International Airport. We should also not forget that Malawi established its own University of Malawi with the constituencies of Chancellor College, Bunda College, Kamuzu college of Nursing, Malawi Polytechnic  and he also planned for school of Medicine; those were Dr. Banda’s plans, not to mention the movement of the capital from Zomba to Lilongwe, to centralise administration. But, after 1994, the advent of the multiparty democracy, which I welcomed so much, to some extent we downplayed the development that we had, we did not insist to maintain the momentum of development, it seems that we threw away the bucket together with the dirty water, because we slowed down, from 94 to-date, very small tangible infrastructure projects that have taken place, compared to what Malawi achieved, from 64 to 1994, so there was progress during the era of the Dr. Banda and we have slowed down in development, even the quality of education has gone down, so  those are some of the areas that we need to look at very carefully; we can look at the congestion on the roads, roads with potholes, we can look at the dilapidated universities and schools, we can talk of the empty hospitals without medications, the clinics … up to now Malawians do not have continuous supply of electricity, not everybody has got access to clean running water. These are the basics that we should have had by now 50 years down the line, but we are still struggling, even worse we have fallen behind with our agricultural outputs, we are now a begging nation, no longer self-sufficient.

3. In view of those challenges, what do you think is the role of government and the people in tackling those challenges?

That’s a good question. I would start by saying that first, I’m not a public administrator but I would try as much as I can to define the role of the government from my personal perspective, experience as a citizen, and also experience as a business person. The government is there to take care of the social welfare of anybody that lives in the land, take care of the environment, okay; Now with that in mind, we need to bear that the first and foremost the duty of the government is to uplift the lives of its citizens; how can the government do that? That is by putting economic policies, okay, based on stable political environment, to make sure that there is tangible progress in the economy, because economy governs everybody, it also governs politics of the day; if we’ve got policies that are conducive for economic growth, the multiply effect is shared benefits for everybody, now the government role in this regard is to facilitate progress, prosperity and development; in our case to make sure that policies are in place that invites and ‘water’ the development of businesses from ‘nobody’ into ‘smaller businesses’, ‘smaller businesses’ into ‘medium businesses’, ‘medium businesses’ into bigger businesses’, that should be the trick; Private public partnership another aspect, where the government invites the private sector and say: look, these are the sectors that we would like to develop, it’s not the duty of the government alone, we want the private sector to come and join hands, here is an axe, lets join hands, so that we mobilise resources jointly and tackle the challenge together, so that we realise the benefit as a nation.

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4. As someone who has lived outside Malawi for a few years and has been exposed to modern and progressive ideas, what things in your present country of residence have had the greatest impact on you, and why?

Yes, that is very true, just a bit of a background; That as much as I’ve stayed in South Africa for so long, but I’ve reached South Africa as a spring-board. My profession took me from working for one big company to another big company; with this I had an opportunity in my areas where I worked with BHP Billiton, BHP Billiton is the largest mining company under the sun. And with them I travelled to countries and worked in those countries, for example I worked in Belgium and France, to master the aluminium technology with the Pechney company for their latest technologies, and I worked in Kwazulu-Natal for that. After that I left South Africa and went to the US to pursue some of my ambitions, so I know what life looks like in the US, I was in Miami for some time, and I commuted between Miami and Atlanta, Georgia.  But when I delved into my private business, I did consulting, in my consulting field I worked for telecommunication industries; I worked for companies like MTN South Africa, MTN Nigeria and I also worked for companies that develop the software, I happen to also work with that company in Athens, to do the Application developments for telecommunication industries, so I have seen quite a lot, I have absorbed a lot, to observe how ‘catchers’, and ordinary citizens behaviour to influence the economic development. Today I am in China, I understand where China is coming from. In 1949 it was the poorest, today it is the second largest economy under the sun. What is it that other nations are doing that we are not doing?  First and foremost is the access to skills, if we cannot develop our own skills, forget about any development, secondly innovation, creativity, skills development as a priority in whatever we do. We must re-align our educational curriculum to our prerogatives as to where we want to take the country in the next 20, 30 years; science and technology, very important; we cannot do anything without such skills.  Now, my observation is that we are lacking behind because we still believe in the ‘I am going to school so that I can be employed as a manager, as a supervisor, I’m hoping to be appointed as a CEO’ No! Each one of us, every Malawian is a CEO in his or her own right. If anybody [among] us has a hunger to succeed, we should be able to create our own jobs, and employ others. Examples are there in China, China is a thriving economy, it is solidly built on small businesses, of course there are big businesses [in china]; look at Brazil, look at India, you know, there is no major intellectual difference between them and us, it’s simply the attitude, we can be just like any other nation, which was once the poorest and today is one of the most successful. Just in History, just to compare Apples with Apples, Malawi and Singapore in 1964 were in the same basket; President Lee and President Banda were friends. Actually Lee visited Dr Banda in Malawi, in his book he (Lee) said [something in the lines of]: ‘One of my best friends which I visited was a country that was also under the British rule, Malawi’…the difference between Singapore and Malawi was the attitude of the citizens and commitment to develop themselves, long-term plans, long –term strategies, today Singapore is a first world [country], Malawi still remains the poorest under the sun, so the attitude, the drive from the government, skills development, access to resources, partnership, those things are key to take the country forward.

more-art golf early days

5.  When you last visited Malawi, what struck you the most as the greatest sign of improvement or development?

I go to Malawi very often, as I indicated that I do have businesses in Malawi so almost every year; in the recent past I used to go to Malawi almost every other month. I’ve seen the change of guards from the UDF government, 2004, to Dr Bingu Wa Mutharika, I must say I recommended him, he started very well, he did quite a lot of good work, he improved the road networks in the country, he had his own vision and I recommended him, I complimented him, you might be interested to know that I had a meeting with Dr Bingu Wa Mutharika on the 20th August 2007 at the state house, where he narrated his vision for Malawi by heart, which road will be linking which one, what building will be wherethe expanding of  Lilongwe capital city reaching the frontiers of the Kamuzu Central Hospital, creating the five-star hotels, building the new stadia,  the highways, I was very impressed, and true to that word, when you go to Malawi today, the skyline of Lilongwe has changed, you cannot miss the Malawi parliament, you cannot miss the five-star hotels, you cannot miss the convention centre, you cannot miss the road, the presidential drive that takes you from the city centre to area 18, the roundabout, it’s quite beautiful. And the roads connecting the other rural areas, Chitipa, Karonga road is there, in the south there are a number of roads going from Blantyre to Mulanje…, those are developments that happened under his first term of office. But as usual, things changed, things changed for the worse, apparently he decided also to reward himself, so what was intended for Malawi became for himself, and things went wrong I must say and its only today that we realise to what extent things went wrong, but he started very well, there is evidence to that, but unfortunately, it wasn’t like that at the end.

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5b. I note that in your description of your encounter with the late Bingu Wa Mutharika, you haven’t touched on anything to do with industrialisation – did Bingu’s plan have anything to do with increasing Malawi’s industrial output?]

I’m here to make an honest and objective assessment. If Dr Bingu drove his vision, the way he articulated everything, in the earlier days of his presidency, he was on the road to achieve that. What happened later on is that when things started going wrong, companies that were supposed to expand or small businesses that were supposed to grow were wiped out, one, It was difficult for people to have access to Forex to import machinery or to import raw materials, but most importantly, he played a cronyism card such that only those connected to his regime were developing; Now, you cannot develop a country based on family framework, or friends framework, it doesn’t work.

[Part B coming soon]

100 Voices is a collection of reflections, views, opinions, ideas and thoughts by Malawians across the world, regarding the past, present and future of Malawi.