The other week President Peter Mutharika of Malawi said that Malawians should not bad-mouth Malawi. That people shouldn’t say negative things about the country.
Although I see his point, in that he would like a more positive message about Malawi to be visible, especially to foreigners, I was left wondering, how can one not comment on the things that are going wrong in the country when very little seems to be done to prevent against them; when those in power come across as either not caring, or are preoccupied with self-enrichment to take serious note of the needs of the populace.
For example, not too long ago, I read an article on Malawi 24 that said students at teacher training colleges were going hungry after the government stopped giving them allowances in April. The problem the article said was centred at Machinga Teacher’s training college where student’s had not been paid their allowances and did not have money to buy food. Yesterday another news report came out saying about 2.8 million people were at risk of starvation in Malawi. It quoted an assessment of the damage caused by the recent floods, by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (which only last year also warned of food shortages).
But as far as hunger goes, there is more bad news. At the beginning of the month, the Malawi Congress Party refused an invitation to a state banquet commemorating Malawi’s 51 years of independence on moral grounds, saying why would you want to celebrate when the majority of Malawians were starving.
“Even ambulances are not operating, how can we be dinning and wining at the state House, this is setting priorities upside down” said Dr Jessie Kabwila, MCP’s publicity secretary.
They questioned why instead of spending K300 million (£427,870.00) on the banquet, the money couldn’t be used on a necessary expenditure such as on paying civil servant salaries – which had been delayed.
On one level I understand why when commemorating an occasion in which dignitaries and a president of another country have been invited, it would be rude to send them back without some kind of a banquet. On another level though, desperate situations require wise measures. Spending on food and strong drink when salaries have not been paid is irresponsible.
Maybe they could have asked donors to chip in? But again, why can’t they ask donors to chip in to pay civil servants? And much more importantly, where is the ‘independence’ if you have to run to donors for every piece of expenditure?
But I digress, the reason people complain about what is happening in Malawi is not that they like complaining, or that they are anti-DPP. There may be some people who are just disgruntled moaners, but I think they are in the minority.
One of the most common reason why people complain about the situation in Malawi is because there appears to be way too many thoughtless decisions (which adversely affect Malawians) at the heart of government, and not enough thoughtful decisions to help the people on the ground. And frankly this trend has been the same with all previous multi-party governments since 1994. In my view, the only administration which tried harder (or appeared to be trying harder) than the rest to manage Malawi properly was Bingu Mutharika’s first government. That’s not to say that it didn’t have its ills. It did , and we can argue about that till the Chickens come home to roost. But the point is Bingu tried.
Which reminds me of my post last year here, titled 7 Essential Ingredients of Effective Political Leadership which many African Leaders lack.
When you can build on its past successes or rectify the short-comings of a thing, to make it better, more efficient, quicker, etc, why would you destroy it, and start all over again?
The noise is deafening, I’m sure we’ve all heard it by now: ‘Scotland must be free’ they say, ‘Scotland deserves more’ they huff. Across the road, not too far away from these quips, another discussion is developing: ‘Scotland can’t go it alone’, ‘Ofcourse they can!’ another protests, ‘We are stronger together, this is a 300 year old institution’, ‘ No we aren’t, we haven’t benefitted from it.’… ‘Why should Scottish people trust Alex Salmond?’, Scotland this, Scotland that, ‘Scotland must remain in the UK’,…. the Yes camp, the No Camp (which patronisingly is called the Better Together campaign)…bloody hell!
Can everybody please just take a step back and calm down for a second.
We know about all this, about all the arguments on both sides of the issue. We know. I’m not sure we really need everyone from rock-stars to celebrity footballers appealing religiously to the ‘undecideds’ because, then, the whole message becomes lost in the sheer numerousness of the hysteria, and to personalities. Sunken in an ocean of propagandist fervour. So, there will be some people who will vote ‘No’, because they don’t like Alex Salmond and the SNP. And there will be others who will vote ‘Yes’ because they are somewhat suspicious of Alistair Darling’s eyebrows. And think Cameron is a posh t**t.
C’mon. That’s not how you decide whether to form a new country or not? Surely, that can’t be the basis of such an important decision.
And I’ll tell you why, because if you go with knee-jerk impulses brought on by political hysteria and what is clearly propaganda, whatever decision you make, you could end up with a country that resembles Bosnia and Herzegovina, or something not too dissimilar to South Sudan. I mean, if Scotland votes for Independence, who should stop Shetland (a subarctic archipelago of Scotland), a few years down the line, maybe post-Salmond, to decide to do away with these pesky Scottish. And declare its own country? Or another likely outcome is that soon after a ‘Yes vote’, they decide to remain within the UK? Why can’t they do that?
Readers, that is precisely why when it came to the crunch, in February 1861, when the Confederate States of America tossed out their silly secessionist plan, the United States (the Union) rejected their scheme, and a war was declared a month later.
Because some ideas are idiotic, and must not be accepted.
A vote to decide Scotland’s future is not idiotic. And Scotland is no Confederacy. The UK is not the US, but, to break apart a union that has done so much for so many people, in so many ways, over a period of 3 centuries, may not be the best way to resolve what at the bare bones is a resource and power argument.
We know the merits of the union, the concerns, the scare-mongering, and even the unadulterated truth surrounding some of the issues. Any sensible 15-year-old will tell you what the deal is. But amongst those issues, are a few facts, which I believe must be spelt out again and again before tomorrow 18th of September, and even after that. By anybody who cares, even an alliance of rock-stars, politicians and celebrity footballers.
Fact 1: Scotland has benefitted from being part of the United Kingdom. Whether we can call that benefit proportionate, or whether the benefit has been ‘enough’, or indeed whether there is such a thing as proportionate benefit is a different story
Fact 2: Successive Westminster governments have not prioritized other parts of the country other than London in terms of ‘development’. It’s not only Scotland that has ‘suffered’, its pretty much everywhere from Hull to Swansea, from Ipswich to Derry that hasn’t seen the type of improvement which London has had. Everybody knows that. London has been the Garfield-like overfed, obese cat, gobbling on much of the cat food while the rest of the cats survived on crumbs that fell out of the fatcat’s plate. While they had just about enough to remain alive, yet the fatcat expected the rest of the cats to carry it around. Perfect servitude.
Too little has been done to rectify this. If more Scots are to treasure this union, this North- South imbalance has got to change.
Fact 3: A fully fledged Federal system of governance would work far better for the Welsh and Scottish economies than the current unitary system. Forget Devolution, if Scotland (and Wales) were to control taxes, the proceeds of their oil revenues, if they were given the mandate to legislate and decide on immigration policy, etc…who would be moaning? Why not just let them have what they wish to have? At some point Westminster politicians will realise that there has got to be a price to preserve this union, and from the look of things, anything other than significant control powers, whether you wish to call it Devo Max, or Mad Max, is unlikely to work. It will only postpone the problem.
Fact 4: Generally big rich countries, which are managed properly, carry more clout than poor small countries. Big countries can wield a lot more influence than smaller countries. Forget nuclear weapons, and the whole opposition to Trident, if you are big and rich, you’ll wield a lot more global influence than if you are small. More people will take notice of you, and it is easy to push one’s weight around.
Besides the US and Canada, think of Russia, India, China and Brazil. One of the main factors determining their influence on the global stage is their sheer size alone. There are a few exceptions (Switzerland, Israel), but not many.
If you don’t believe me, consider this: If what Russia is doing in Ukraine was being done by a country the size of Scotland, or the Size of Switzerland, how easy (even psychologically) would it have been for the international community to isolate it, and come down heavily on it with sanctions? A different example: China can pretty much get away with its behaviour in the South China sea because of its sheer size. Other than that, and the consequential military might, there’s little else that explains China’s actions. If a country such as Malaysia or Taiwan was throwing its weight around in the same way as China is currently doing, few would take notice. And sanctions would have been imposed by now.
Further, if we look back in History, what has been one of the major factors contributing to the fall of the world’s major empires, if not disunity and infighting? The Roman Empire, the Kingdom of Macedonia, The Persian Empires, even the Ottomans. In fact if it wasn’t for divisions and infighting over land, power and resource control in the Macedons, I’d probably be writing this article in Greek. Because instead of the respective ‘states’ of each of these ancient Kingdoms innovating and improving technologically, in medicine, commerce and in other areas, bitter conflicts and strife wasted their time. One brother fought against his mother’s son, killing a man who spoke his father’s language. Wars between tribes cost thousands of lives. Instead of improving, they were revolting against each other, and fighting amongst each other with the result that they became greatly weakened; falling behind other lesser countries, and kingdoms, who overtook them…
Had some of the disunited remained united, and focussed on improving and innovating, isn’t there a good chance that they could have weathered the test of time? And survived. Ending up greater than what we now know them to have been?
Fact 5: Westminster Politicians have used unconvincing arguments of Oil and resources in an attempt to scare Scotland. It won’t work. Similarly, the BBC and other news houses have tried to bully Alex Salmond, and have been biased against the Yes camp. Some of this has backfired. If only they were impartial.
Fact 6: If Scotland votes Yes tomorrow, there could be a period of uncertainty (and hardship) because some of the people who are against independence are going to try to create havoc for Scotland (or at least a level of unpleasantness), so that they can return and gloat, saying: ‘We told you so’.
The problem is, some of these organisations and institutions are very big and powerful. If in any doubt, ask Justin Welby will you.
Worryingly, a few of these institutions have leaders who are good chums with the top brass of the present Tory government. Salmond beware.
Fact 7: And, if there is to be hardship, no-one knows for sure, for how long and how bad it’s bite could be. The Conservatives and Labour governments of the past few decades have had to deal with demonstrations over issues ranging from closure of Mines to Imperialist Wars. At least one series of these strikes were so severe, it brought down Edward Heath’s Conservative government in 1974.
How will Alex Salmond and his SNP colleagues deal with strikes and civil disobedience if the price of oil drops below what they would need to maintain an ‘acceptable’ level of debt? How much will such unrest cause the new country? And if it transpires that the SNP can’t be trusted any more, who will be trusted?
Fact 8: Even if Alex Salmond says Scotland has a potential to be wealthy like Norway (which I hope is true), unfortunately he doesn’t control the neo-liberal outfits (IMF, World Bank) which lend money to smaller, poorer countries, and which may be instrumental to Scotland in its early years as a country. Often these institutions favour the kind of strict fiscal policy that would be in the briefcase of a chap such as George Osborne, and not some happy-go-lucky lets-spend-it all monetary policy which characterised Gordon Brown’s era as chancellor and Prime minister. And that is a huge cause of concern because then the questions which every sensible Scot will be asking will include: Are we going to end up like Greece which has instituted tough austerity measures and thus crippled its economy. Or are we going to end up like Ireland – which is still reeling from the effects of the Eurozone crisis? Or shall we be the new Iceland (whose currency has struggled to regain people’s trust since the credit crunch). Are we going to end up like Spain – with massive unemployment – or like Cyprus, where our government forcibly confiscates our hard-earned cash from our bank accounts?
Sorry chaps, but nobody knows for certain.
Fact 9: If you are tired of illegal wars, corporate tax evasion and an elite club running the show, what you have to do is group together, and make a lot of noise through demonstrations and other means until your cause is given the attention it deserves. Together with thousands of other disaffected working class people. The one thing you do not do is decimate your numbers. Because then you are doing what Karl Marx said was counter-intuitive to a revolution. In any case, who says in 100 years time the SNP would not have become an elitist party, and we’ll be back to square one? It’s happened before, most recently in the last century, in Mexico, where a revolutionary party, the National Revolutionary Party (NRP) that in 1929 had united the people, had by 1988 (barely 60 years later) morphed into an autocratic and brutal regime that would terrorise the opposition and neglect Mexicans. Their terror only came to an end in 1997 – when the NRP was ousted. Today, most Mexicans know that some of the negative effects of those 70 years of rule can still be felt in Mexican society.
As regards Scotland, already there has been a lot of arguments over who gets to keep what. A typical divorce scenario: Should we share the embassies? How much of the army and its equipment can Scotland keep? What about the British pound, can Scotland continue to use the pound? What about Debt, surely Scotland will need to be apportioned a part of the national debt – with few assets how will that affect its liquidity, a factor the institutions I mentioned above may need to consider before extending a line of credit? Can we share the queen? Can we share the overseas territories? All sorts of issues that need negotiating and resolving… but none of which have any concrete assurances.
Fact 10: The Race to the bottom scenario that has been preached by George Galloway is a certainty. Why would George Osborne (or indeed his successor – who is likely to be from the Labour party) allow Uk corporation taxes to be high, when just over the ‘border’ in Scotland, they are low? Already they want to appease corporations, and have been accused of being a soft touch on tax evasion by big businesses. So if Scotland cuts corporation tax, that right there would be a sizzling gift to the English exchequer. And sadly, it will be the working class in both countries who would suffer.
To me, it’s a misplaced issue that has been blown way out of proportion and dealt with in a shambolic manner by both sides. But again, I’m not Scottish so my opinion is probably irrelevant. Having said that, I happen to dislike many of the Westminster club, for pretty much the same reasons as I’ve listed above. Which makes me an outsider (with an outsider’s view) in so far as ideology is concerned. So, maybe, when it could be your last chance of doing so, and while Scotland remains in the UK, get yourself a bottle of Scotch then show your Scottish friends this article. Hopefully, some of the level headed ones in the Yes camp will reconsider their decisions.
Theres’s been another pastoral letter. This time in light of the events that have been unfolding in Malawi, especially since next year is Malawi’s fiftieth anniversary. Probably safe to say this marks the beginning of the end for Joyce Banda’s government (or at least the rampant corruption that has been the Cashgate) because it was a pastoral letter that echoed the message of independence and freedom in colonial Nyasaland, but also sparked the events that toppled the repressive regime of Kamuzu Banda – Malawi’s founding father. (See past Catholic Pastoral letters in Malawi here)
And while Bingu Wa Mutharika was in power, the church was also influential during his final days, with the CCAP issuing a pastoral letter that criticised the policies of Bingu’s government.
Trivia: My late father was a Catholic, so I’m told. His education made possible by their assistance. At some point, I should wish to explore that story in further detail…
Pastoral Letter of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ and all people of good will, we greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Considering that the forthcoming Tripartite Election will be conducted at the threshold of both the fiftieth anniversary (Golden Jubilee) of our country’s independence and the twentieth anniversary of the reintroduction of multiparty democracy in 1993, we, Catholic Bishops, cordially invite our fellow Catholics and all people of good will, to make the best of the said elections as they provide us with a golden opportunity to rediscover our national destiny. Like Joshua and his compatriots, we see Malawi to be at a crossroad: “If you will not serve the Lord, choose today whom you wish to serve . . As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). We are urged to rediscover our national destiny and commit ourselves to it following the footprints of our founding fathers and not opt for self-destruction. We are called to rediscover and build the Malawi our forefathers envisioned and not continue creating a Malawi that betrays what our forefathers fought and died for.
To underline the gravity of the forthcoming elections we present before you a brief assessment of our achievements and failures since independence. While we have made some progress in achieving our destiny it is evident from the brief assessment that follows that we are very far from achieving the Malawi our forefathers wanted. The forthcoming Tripartite Elections provide us with the best opportunity for strengthening the vision of our destiny. Essentially this entails conducting elections that are free, fair and credible and electing leaders that have the desire, commitment and capability of turning our country around. It also entails that the electorate can get out of the chronic abject poverty by electing leaders who can enable them to do so. Not holding such kind of elections, not voting and not electing this kind of leaders is in our case similar to opting to choose death instead of life.
This is the message of our letter which we present to our fellow Catholics and all people of good will. This is our appeal to all stakeholders in the forthcoming elections.
The Malawi we envisioned at independence
When we began the journey towards our independence, we dreamt of ushering in an era of an inclusive, human rights respecting, politically and legally enabling and economically developed society. Fighting against the “thangata system”, the imposition of the Federation and the social injustices, Malawians envisioned a country emancipated politically and economically. This is the vision that found its way and is clearly expressed in the National Anthem:
O God bless our land of Malawi,
Keep it a land of peace.
Put down each and every enemy,
Hunger, disease, envy.
Join together all our hearts as one,
That we be free from fear.
Bless our Leader, each and everyone,
And Mother Malawi
This vision, as is expressed in the National Anthem, was also clearly anchored on faith in God’s assistance. Our forefathers stressed that we are a God-fearing nation. Therefore our aspirations, ideals, dreams of the future and motivation for nationhood are all hinged on faith in God and inspired by the vision of God for a more humane society.
This vision and the wishes of the people resonated well with the vision of the Catholic Church at that time. In a Statement issued on 29 October 1960, the Episcopal Conference of Malawi said: Having so much at heart that this country of Nyasaland and its people be free, enlightened, prosperous and great, we fully encourage and support their legitimate desires for independence. However, we do not enter the field of mere politics. The Catholic Church should not be identified with any political party or type of Government but is willing to cooperate with any, provided it adheres to principles of charity and justice. But it is definitely our obligation to make known to all laws of God upon which every society must be built and to safeguard the human rights that have been given to all by God and which no ruler can take away from his people. Not only are we bound to advise on these laws and rights but we are also obliged to oppose any action contrary to them.
Therefore, while sharing and echoing the vision and wishes of the people and encouraging Catholics to take part in politics, our predecessors remained on a neutral and non-partisan path, only preferring that which adheres to principles of charity and justice. Continuing this same line of thought and advice, our predecessors published a Pastoral Letter, the first one of its kind, on 20thMarch, 1961, “How to Build a Happy Nation”, desiring that the country and its people should be free, enlightened, prosperous, great and happy. They outlined principles guiding people for the elections and towards the building of a happy nation. In the letter, among other things, the Bishops outlined the following
• True happiness is found in always acknowledging that we are created in the image of God and in acting as God’s children;
• The family, the state and the Church are designed to work together in harmony for the full development and happiness of the people;
• Honest difference of opinion is welcome but intolerance, hatred or violence is not;
• The movement for national independence is welcome but the means to obtain it are in the hands of the citizens;
• Lay Catholics may be members of any political party that is not anti-christian.
So it was that at the dawn of independence, we dreamed of a politically and legally enabling country which was also economically emancipated.
The sense of patriotism was strong and so was the unique role given to God to bring to completion our dreams and aspirations. It is also gratifying to note that the Church shared the dream of the people and guided this dream on the level of principles. The vision of democracy was obscured for some time and it took the bold step of our predecessors with the Pastoral letter of 1992, entitled Living our faith, to remind the nation of the need to stay on the right course. This Pastoral Letter reminded the nation of the need to uphold basic human rights.
The vision of our founding fathers is part of the story of the making of Malawi and will forcefully remain to challenge all of us to play our rightful roles.
Malawi Today: Achievements and Challenges
While we thank God for our independence and the strides made so far in the democratization and emancipation project for Malawi, we realistically note that there is still a long way to go for this project to reach maturation. This project has been nurtured by the tireless efforts of many stakeholders and leaders that include: state and non-state actors, local and international non- governmental organizations, political parties, the private sector, development cooperating partners and of course the general citizenry.
In this regard, with guarded appreciation, we note in particular that:
• We emerged into the independence era with multiparty politics and although this dream was eclipsed soon after independence, it resurfaced in 1993 ushering in the possibility of various political parties competing periodically for the leadership of the nation;
• Within the laws of the land, there is separation of powers and roles between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary thereby ensuring that there are checks and balances in the functions of the state;
• Our political and civic culture is being propelled, to an extent, by a constitution anchoring the ideals of democracy and respect of people’s rights;
• With the establishment of the office of the Ombudsman, the Human Rights Commission and the Anti-Corruption Bureau, Malawi is putting into practice the demanded good governance and human rights ideals of the constitution;
• The freedoms and corresponding responsibilities recognised in the Constitution such as those of association, assembly, speech, religion and political expression have progressively continued to anchor our journey in the democratization process;
• The emergence of meaningful and active citizen participation in the democratization and socio-economic development of our country, amplified by the ever-increasing rightful space for the participation of women and the youth, with the recognition of their human dignity and leadership skills continues to inspire many well-meaning Malawians;
• Development initiatives that have been undertaken over the years in such key areas as agriculture and infrastructure making strides in the improvement of the country.
However, as we have consistently highlighted in our previous pastoral letters, statements and guidelines, there are some worrisome trends in our democratization and emancipation project. To this extent, it is not surprising that we are hearing of voices labelling our democratization project as a change without transformation and a democracy without democrats.
For the sake of stock-taking and motivated by the desire to see a better Malawi for all whilst we are pulling our efforts together to make the democratization and emancipation project more meaningful and more people-centred, we note the following:
• Limited adherence to the rule of law and limited compliance to the practice of the separation of powers and lapses in the promotion and safeguarding of people’s rights;
• The continued occurrences of witch-hunting and arbitrary arrests of government critics without thorough investigation or recourse to natural justice and efforts to side-line and remove political competitors from the electoral race;
• The abuse of power by parties in government with much interest in centralized power than in creating an enabling environment for citizen participation in governance and development processes
that affect the future and destiny of our nation;
• Limited responsiveness, accountability and weak public goods delivery by government systems and structures;
• A growing culture of hand-clapping and praise-singing even when the ones being praised have merely done their duty;
• A weakening spirit of patriotism in the leadership, in most of our governance structures and in the citizens themselves;
• A growing spirit of fatalism coupled with a laid back attitude leading to failure by citizens to hold leaders to account for their actions and choices;
• The continued and systematic abuse and looting of public resources for selfish party and personal benefit to the detriment of the national good;
• The entrenchment of politics of poverty and exploitation where the poor are more and more lured into a culture of hand-outs than being empowered to become self- reliant;
• Political parties showing and practicing little intra-party democracy and minimizing the scope and space of genuine democratization of the nation;
• The enactment of repressive and immoral laws that legalise what is otherwise immoral, shrink the space for citizens’ voices and frustrate the ideals of an open, free and accountable society compounded further by a deliberate manipulation of the laws of the land to suit narrow partisan interests;
• Politicization of development initiatives and business opportunities coupled with seemingly lack of an agreed national vision and development agenda that cuts across the political divide;
• Failure to continue with best practices of preceding administrations worsened by limited consistency in quality and visionary leadership of the country;
• While the country has opportunities to move towards economic independence, Malawi sadly continues to over-depend on international donors and other multilateral development cooperating partners who are allowed to control the national development agenda;
• The social norms that ought to anchor the national development agenda seem to be overtaken and overrun by emerging cultural and religious trends that overemphasize the individualistic and materialistic gains at the expense of community and national concerns;
• There are worrisome tendencies amongst us that push for a worldview independent of and side-lining God and making human beings dependent on their own intellect and determining for themselves what is right and what is wrong. In spite of all these grey areas in our social, economic and political life, as people of faith, we have every reason to live in hope and trust in God’s providential care. The forthcoming Tripartite Elections provide us the opportune occasion to strengthen the vision of our destiny.
Strengthening Our Destiny
As we have mentioned above, we are not where we should be as a nation and, let us admit it, we are even lagging behind most African countries. We are far from achieving the vision that we conceived fifty years ago.
With the Golden Jubilee Celebrations and Tripartite Elections just around the corner, we have a golden opportunity to re-examine our national conscience, recover our original vision, re-define our destiny and forge ahead. Of paramount importance in this strengthening of our destiny are the issues of quality leadership, citizen participation, national development agenda and national values. It is to these that we now focus our attention.
3.1 Quality Leadership
Any leadership impacts on and determines the nature of a group, community and even the nation you have. In giving us the compelling figure of the good shepherd in the Bible, God is proposing to us a transformative leadership. A good Jewish shepherd led the sheep to good pasture, water and shelter and protected them against beasts of prey and bandits (Ps 23). A good shepherd was so caring of the sheep that he would do anything to look for even one lost sheep (Lk. 15: 3-7). The shepherd knew his flock and the latter knew even his voice.
Bad shepherds, however, failed to meet their responsibilities for they scattered and led the sheep astray and took advantage of them. They used the sheep to fatten themselves for they forgot that they were only custodians and the sheep were not theirs (Ezek 34:2-10). God, therefore, recommends leadership that is visionary, transformative, empowering, caring, serving, protective, people-centred and obedient to Him. Leadership among God’s people is service and not lordship (Mk 10:35-45).
3.2 National Development Agenda
It is not enough to have quality leadership if this is not inspired and anchored by a national development agenda. Some development initiatives and strategies are clearly national in form and transformative in nature and, therefore, need to be depoliticized and continued irrespective of whichever government is in place.
This calls for quality leadership that is capable of sacrificing self-interests for the common good.
3.3 Citizen Participation and a spirit of patriotism
We, Bishops, believe that “every institution is inspired, at least implicitly, by a vision of man and his destiny, from which it derives the point of reference for its judgement, its hierarchy of values and its line of conduct.”
Active participation in the building up of the nation is the responsibility of every citizen. We strongly believe that our nation today needs to rediscover the spirit of patriotism and active participation in the national development and emancipation agenda.
Today’s rampant plundering of the country’s resources and the growing trends of corruption reflect poorly on the quality of our love for the Motherland. Patriotism in our present circumstances also entails: exercising our democratic right to register and vote for quality leadership; actively taking part in shaping and implementing the developmental agenda of our country; and holding accountable the people we elect and put in positions of power.
3.4 National Values
If we want to build a nation that is prosperous, we propose that our national agenda should be inspired by values that are anchored by four key principles: the dignity of the human person; the common good; option for the poor; and empowerment.
3.4.1 The dignity of the human person
As we, observed recently, “the dignity of the human person is a fundamental value, always recognised as such by those who sincerely search for the truth.”2 The very first pages of the Scriptures in the story of creation point to humanity’s transcendental origin: ‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them’” (Gen. 1:27). Human beings are God’s creation. He created them in his own image. In that lies their incomparable value.
The environment, structures and conditions surrounding every human being must therefore be such that they serve and promote this dignity.
3.4.2 The Common Good
Every human person is, we believe, a social being and therefore connected to others. Though every person is entitled to enjoy his/her individuality, he/she is also to be constantly sensitive to other people’s equal entitlements. Each person is in solidarity and is bound to be committed to that which connects them to others. Societal arrangements should be evaluated and inspired by how much they serve the common good to the extent that they enable men and women, families, and associations more adequately (to) attain their perfection.3 So, all that happens in this country, whether trade or bilateral agreements, must be for the good of all Malawians and not only some individuals or some leaders.
3.4.3 Preferential Option for the Poor
Our independence and emancipation project will make sense if the poor and vulnerable are given special and preferential attention. In the Bible, God frequently reminded the Israelites about their duty to the alien, widows and orphans (Exod. 22:20-22). The prophetic tradition condemns fraud, usury, exploitation and gross injustice, especially when directed against the poor (cf. Is. 58:3-11).
Even today, people who are poor and vulnerable deserve special and preferential attention, for indeed, “How can it be that even today there are still people dying of hunger? Condemned to illiteracy? Lacking the most basic medical care? Without a roof over their head? ”4 Public policies should be pro-poor and should guard against the concentration of resources in the hands of a few.
Empowering people requires letting them do what they can do by themselves and helping them only for the things they cannot do on their own (principle of subsidiarity). No matter how poor people are, there are lots of things that they can do on their own. We need to encourage, support and supplement people’s initiatives without underrating their capabilities. All development efforts should start from and be directed towards people if they are to be sustainable.
By way of conclusion in this chapter, we your Bishops, call upon the nation to renew our original vision and re-discover our destiny. At the dawn of independence, we dreamed of quality leadership, a unifying national development agenda, full citizen participation, strong sense of patriotism anchored by God-given guiding principles. If we want to successfully meet the challenges that face us during the forthcoming Tripartite Elections next May and create the Malawi we need, we should honestly re-examine our national conscience and make some bold decisions.
2014 Tripartite Elections: an Opportunity and a Challenge
The forthcoming tripartite elections present to us Malawians, a critical moment. Depending on our seriousness and the commitment of those to be elected, we will either miss the opportunity to rediscover and shape our destiny or we will make the most of it. Elections offer us a unique opportunity to choose and confirm good leaders and replace those that have failed us. It is therefore imperative that we take time to examine what it will take to have successful elections.
4.1 Good Leaders
As we prepare for the presidential, parliamentary and local government elections in 2014, it is our view that we need to reflect deeply on leadership itself and how each one of us can play a part in creating and the kind of leadership worth our aspiration and trust.
In deciding who to vote for, we would like that every Malawian takes into account the leadership qualities we outlined in a number of pastoral letters5 on elections:
A Person of Vision: A leader must, together with the community, be able to set goals and objectives that are specific, achievable, and measurable reflecting people’s aspirations, hopes and dreams;
A Good Steward: Leadership is about good governance of the nation as well as the generation, use and custody of the resources therein;
Exemplary: A good leader leads by example and uses words that unite and heal and those that promote peaceful coexistence
Respect for the Constitution and Rule of Law: A good leader is supposed to be a role model, respecting the laws of the land and capable of creating legislation based on sound policies;
Accountability: As in the parable of the talents (Lk. 19:11-27, Mt. 25:14-30), good leaders must account for the resources and talents at their disposal and also for the exercise of their powers and duties as people’s representatives;
Democratic Person: A good leader must believe in the fundamental goodness, freedom and dignity of all people and each person. Genuine democratic leaders will consult and listen to others, will appropriately delegate, share power, make corporate decisions and give credit where
God-fearing Person: Being a God-fearing nation, Malawi needs leaders who are genuinely God-fearing respecting human and faith values including those of a moral order of the people they serve. Leaders should be honest, trustworthy, fair, truthful, with a good reputation and integrity;
In addition to these qualities, in our own times, good leaders must also
• Have clear ideas on how to respond to issues of contraception, population control, homosexual unions, abortion and secularism as Malawi is a God-fearing nation;
• Be transformative: A leader should be ready to make things new, bringing about changes with a positive difference not just for the sake of change;
4.2 Electoral Processes
Election of leaders should be done according to true democratic processes and institutions that are directly linked with these processes have a lot of responsibility in this regard.
4.2.1 The Electoral Commission
We believe that credible elections which are free and fair start with good preparations. It is with this in mind that we wish to ask the Malawi Electoral Commission to ensure that all processes from registration to the day of actual voting and beyond are properly and diligently managed in an open, transparent and fair manner. We urge all interested parties to monitor the processes and to ensure that the elections are done to the highest standard possible.
4.2.2 The Role of the Media
The media in whatever form is very important in the electoral processes. The media needs to take great care to relay the truth in a non-partisan way. Use of divisive, abusive and violent language should be discouraged. We invite all citizens to be more alert with regard to all that comes through the media.
Let the Gospel values and the Church teaching guide all in weighing what is written, spoken and seen in the media. We expect that all parties involved will be given adequate space and coverage so that a level platform is given to reach out to the people.
4.2.3 Campaigns and Manifestos
We advise political parties and candidates who wish to contest for various posts to hold clean campaigns and desist from making statements that may instigate their supporters to be involved in violent acts.
We urge political parties to base their campaigns on their manifestos. We expect that political parties will come up with manifestos that are realistic, capture national aspirations in setting up long term national development agenda and continue to build and sustain democratic principles.
4.2.4 Individual Electoral Responsibility
We would also like to remind Malawians to take their responsibility seriously before, during and after the elections. Both men and women candidates need equal and unbiased support from all the electorate.
We urge every Malawian legible to vote to exercise his or her democratic right to vote. The voter registration cards are important in this regard and the responsibility to take care of them lies with each individual; they should not be sold. This will ensure that right candidates who are the people’s own choice are elected to positions.
The choices and voting to be done should not be aligned to party, regional, ethnic or religious affiliation just for their sake but rather should be determined by the quality of the candidates and the good of the country.
We would like to remind all Catholic Clergy and Religious of their obligation not to engage and take part in party politics.
As we have said a number of times before, the role of the Catholic Church is not to make particular political choices for the people but to draw their attention towards what is compatible with Gospel values and the dignity of the human person.
While individual members of the clergy and religious have the right to hold their own personal political preferences, they should ensure that such preferences are in line with what respects their faith and what will ensure the dignity of the human person and especially that of the poor and the marginalised.
We exhort religious leaders as well as traditional leaders to desist from the temptation of succumbing to hand-outs and publicly aligning themselves with a particular party or a particular candidate.
4.2.5 Post-Election Responsibility
We would like to remind those that will emerge victorious after the elections of their enormous responsibility to turn around our national woes and take this nation forward. As such, they will celebrate their victory with a sense of humility.
They will do this nation a lot of good if they exercise servant leadership, being “last of all and servant of all” (Mk. 9:35, Mat. 20:24 -28), and not narrowly interested in serving people their own party or region or ethnicity.
Those who lose the elections should accept the results gracefully and quickly turn their energies towards building this country.
The Golden Jubilee celebration will challenge Malawians to earnestly reflect whether indeed what the nation has achieved so far tallies with the age 50. It is imperative that at 50, every Malawian should be enjoying the conditions of social life that are brought about by the quest for the common good. The challenge before us is to see how much we have cooperated with God in realizing our dreams. We began with a dream of a politically and economically independent Malawi with God’s help, we should not attempt to realize this dream independently from God himself.
It is with this in mind, that we expect that the coming tripartite elections be a moment of great reflection and an opportunity for every Malawian citizen to recommit oneself to the ideals of the country.
We urge all Malawians to exercise their democratic right by coming out in large numbers to vote.
Remember that ‘bad leaders are elected by good citizens who do not vote.’ The penalty that good people pay for not being interested in electoral processes is to be governed by people worse than themselves.
You must choose who is to govern you.
Consider the power of your vote.
We need to pray earnestly: before we vote, as we vote, and after we vote! Our prayers should be accompanied and fasting and abstinence.
May the Blessed Mary the Queen of Peace intercede for us and our Nation that in the coming months all electoral activities may be conducted peacefully for the betterment of people’s lives. May the Spirit of Christ our Redeemer guide and inspire us always.
Peace be with you all as we prepare for the elections and the Golden Jubilee.
Right Reverend Joseph M. Zuza Chairman and Bishop of Mzuzu
Most Reverend Thomas Msusa Vice-Chairman and Archbishop-designate
Most Reverend Tarcisius G. Ziyaye Archbishop of Lilongwe
Right Reverend Peter Musikuwa Bishop of Chikwawa
Right Reverend Emmanuel Kanyama Bishop of Dedza
Right Reverend Alessandro Pagani Bishop of Mangochi
Right Reverend Martin Mtumbuka Bishop of Karonga
Right Reverend Montfort Stima Auxiliary Bishop of Blantyre and
In my quest to find progressive views and forward-thinking ideas which if embraced could potentially improve Malawi’s economic situation, I found myself interviewing Sir Edward Clay, the former British Ambassador to Kenya, whose interview will be posted on this website soon. He spoke about some very interesting things, including introducing me to another individual, a British historian in the form of Nick Wright, who has spent several years in Africa, including some time in Malawi. It is my pleasure to share with the readership of this website his insightful observations:-
1. You’ve had some exposure to Malawi and Africa in general… if you were to summarise your experiences, what has been your African experience?
My wife spent several years as a physiotherapist in Mulago Hospital, [in] Kampala. We had several Ugandan friends from that experience. After leaving our jobs in Australia, we enrolled in the (British) Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO): I as teacher of English in Chimwankhunda Community Day Secondary School in Blantyre, Malawi; she as physiotherapist at Malawi Against Polio (MAP), also in Blantyre. We were there for two happy years. I became interested in Malawian politics at that time and started as Malawi correspondent for the London-based Africa Confidential. Journalism of this sort continued for several years after our departure from Malawi in 2001 and obliged me to make several return visits to Malawi in order to conduct interviews. I met the leaders of all major Malawian political parties and the heads of some government departments, foreign embassies, aid-agencies, newspapers and business enterprises.
2. Most of the African countries in which you spent time in gained their independence around early to mid-1960’s. And at the time, Pan-Africanism was probably at its peak, with a freedom fervour sweeping across the continent, something that can probably be compared to what we recently witnessed in North Africa with the so-called ‘Arab spring’; It’s now close to 50 years since those ‘glorious days’, but to what extent in your view have the goals or overarching expectations of ‘independence’ conceptualised by the founding fathers of African countries been realised for the majority of their citizens?
Nkrumah’s pan-African ideal of the 1960s was never adopted because arrogant African presidents, like Hastings Banda, were (and still are) too attached to the trappings of a threadbare sovereignty to be able to surrender all the flags, palaces, UN flummery, and motorcades. I think the Western powers had an interest in divide and rule, too.
I once wrote an article which mourned the collapse of the East African Federation for just such reasons: “Central Africa’s Sovereign Issues”. Regional federations, as stepping-stones to wider unions, make good sense for Africa – especially for land-locked, resource-poor, Malawi – and they must not be allowed to remain the modern taboo that Kamuzu Banda made them.
This is another example, I’m afraid, of too much power in the hands of Presidents who scorn institutions like Parliament, the Judiciary; the printed media; the Civil Service, the Constitution which are set up to be their “checks and balances”. Presidents are told by everybody around them (until they are toppled) that they are God Almighty, and they come to believe it. Only Nyerere came close to the ideal of a model, modest, president, and his modesty was treated with contempt by the others
I developed a healthy respect and liking for individual Malawians but a very strong feeling that Western aid policies were failing Malawi badly. Why? Because: (1)they fed complacency, idleness, irresponsibility and corruption within the Malawian elites; (2)they fed arrogance amongst the expatriate community who were forever in the company of grateful and respectful poor people; (3)they created passivity and feelings of helplessness in ordinary Malawian people, including those in government who had their responsibilities taken away from them. Whilst being aware of the many individual benefits brought to poor Malawians by individual aid- projects, I felt that the real beneficiaries of aid-money in Malawi were: (1)state-presidents and their family members, friends, and hangers-on; (2)the staff of a multitude of NGOs and aid-agencies, and (3)expatriate consultants expensively employed by DFID, the EU, the UN etc to write expert reports. Bingu wa Mutharika was on the right track with his angry denunciations of Western aid but his protestation was undermined by his own lavish personal spending and his grotesque toleration of corruption. How can a person who makes all the decisions in Malawi and whose immediately previous experience was in minibus driving and in the corrupt bureaucracy of COMESA(Bingu) or small business (Muluzi), be trusted to act solely in the public interest of Malawi? Bakili Muluzi was more likeable as a man than Bingu but identical in his failure to distinguish between personal and public.
3. And if such goals and expectations have largely not been met, what are the main reasons as to why they have not been met?
Far too much unchecked power is in the hands of individual Malawians, especially the President, because of the “Big Man” [similar link here] culture which prevails in the country and the weakness of public institutions. The independent national newspapers, like The Nation, do a reasonable investigative job but are easily intimidated by threats to their advertising revenues and by their own lack of resources; the MBC public broadcaster is entirely under government control and biased in favour of government; the Malawian churches retain a sporadic consciousness of their responsibility as “public conscience” of Malawi but are often distracted by their own factionalism. The Parliamentary committees occasionally exercise oversight on public spending but only when in session and they are often starved of vital evidence by government departments and tend to divide on party-lines. The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) is widely considered to be only for “small-fry” financial criminality, and firmly under presidential control where corruption itself is often centred. Western embassies, (individually and collectively), sometimes exercise a restraining hand on the presidency through their aid-policies, but their staffs are usually too comfortably entrenched in their own luxurious lifestyles, and too suspicious of each other and of China, to risk serious confrontation with the president. The Executive arm of government (effectively the President) is overwhelmingly powerful in Malawi, and this patrimonial model of government filters down to all levels of administration. “Letat cest moi”
4. While there has been visible progress in some parts of Africa, when one travels in other parts, especially the rural areas, the story of suffering is the same. If it’s not wars and ethnic violence, then it’s disease and poor healthcare, or famine and hunger, else it’s lack of resources, poverty, corruption…the list goes on. After over 50 years of foreign intervention and billions of dollars in aid, what in your view is preventing Africa from getting its act together?
Aid is ruining Malawians self-respect and their natural honesty and capacity for hard work. Its gradual removal will cause as much consternation in Western donor capitals (“What will Bob Geldof say about all the hungry people?”) as it will in some of the poorest households of Malawi (“See how our politicians cant provide “Development”). But it is a “bullet” that must be “bitten” for the greater long-term good of Malawi. The Fertiliser Subsidy (FISP) which absorbs most of the agricultural budget has become a millstone around the neck of Malawis agricultural development.
The subject of overseas aid is a very important one and for the reasons explained above. Why should the presidency take note of competing institutions when the Executive is virtually guaranteed free money from overseas? Why should government departments do their jobs properly when overseas experts with university degrees in International Development seem to know all the answers? Why should Presidents feel the necessity of proper financial accountability?
All aid should be phased out. The endless tinkering between “good” and “bad” aid will not do for Malawi any more. It is ALL bad! If its abolition means the collapse of Western-style democracy in Malawi, then let it go. It will return in a different, better, African, form!
5. One of the problems that has been cited as holding back the growth of African economies is the relatively low levels of Venture capital investment into Africa, when compared for example with the Venture capital investment that has been flowing into Asia or South America. Do you agree?
Venture capital is largely absent from Malawi, except in uranium-mining at Kayelekera, and in tourism (i.e where Malawian control and profit-taking is minimal)
Nick Wright has worked in the History Department at Adelaide University (1975-1991) and for Africa Confidential as its Malawi correspondent (2003-2010).
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.
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.
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.
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 where…the 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.
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.
My next guest describes himself as the proprietor of a recently opened media company(AGM Media).The company offers photography, audio and video services, amongst other services. He’s also undertaking International studies with the Open University. Mr MKOTAMA KATENGA-KAUNDA, thank you for doing the 100 Voices Interview!
As a Malawian, how important is Malawi’s Socio-Economic stability to you and your family?
It is important because as a human being, one always aspires to have a better life for one self and his/her family. Socio-economic stability gives a better chance for someone with a dream to have a better quality life in a developing country.
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? In view of those challenges, what do you think is the role of government and the people in tackling those challenges?
It is really difficult to pinpoint any visible progress Malawi has made since independence. It is the same scenario of ‘the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer’. It is sad that Malawi has not developed as it should have because the majority of visible structures in our country were built by Kamuzu Banda about twenty-plus years ago. It has been 19 years since we became a democratic country and not much has really changed in Malawi. In my view, I fail to register any visible progress that Malawi has made since independence because we have destroyed the very foundation which our nation once built (electricity and water supply is erratic, refuse collection is non-existent, our postal services are inefficient, Malawian-owned industries have been sold off etc). The most pressing challenge is ‘corruption’ at all levels of society in Malawi. For things to change, the government, starting with the executive, need to be exemplary by being tough on corruption at all levels in society. If the government is serious about such issues, then it is inevitable that citizens will follow suit.
3. As someone who lived(or has lived) outside Malawi for some time, and has been exposed to modern and progressive ideas, what symbols of development in the foreign country in which you lived have had the greatest impact on you, and why?
I lived in the UK for 12 years and there are a lot of symbols of development in the UK that have had the greatest impact on me. My view is that, anybody that works hard in the UK has the chance to live life above the poverty line. Their social welfare is admirable in that it manages to help those citizens who are unemployed, homeless, sick and disabled etc. The roads, universities, transnational corporations, manufacturing industries and many more are all symbols of development that are prevalent in the UK. These symbols of development have had the greatest impact on me simply because my country of origin, Malawi, is lagging behind as one of the poorest countries in the world.
4. What lessons do you think Malawians and the Malawian leadership can learn from those ideas?
As this is a globalised world, a lot of Malawians have travelled and are still travelling. When we travel, it broadens our horizons and whatever we see in developed countries, always inspires us that we can also develop to the level of western countries. The lesson to be learnt is that as a nation, we should be resilient and ambitious with our developmental plans, because it is possible for third world nations to become developed nations. We should study and analyse those countries that have developed and try to figure out where we have gone wrong to strengthen our weaknesses on our path to development.
5. When you last returned to Malawi, what struck you the most as the greatest sign of improvement or development since the last time you left?
I think the most clear sign of improvement that struck me was the number of better cars in Malawi.
6. What struck you the most as the biggest sign of stagnation or regression?
The biggest sign of stagnation was corruption because everywhere i went, people preferred to do things through the back door.
7. Malawians will be going to the polls in 2014, to elect a new president. In your view what kind of leader does Malawi NEED, considering the country’s current challenges? And specifically, how should that leader approach the top job in terms of creating sustainable development and foreignreducing aid dependency?
The biggest challenge Malawi has, is that we are dependent on foreign exchange for economic stability. As we approach the elections, Malawi needs an innovative leader that’s ready to initiate an ambitious blueprint to try to become self-sufficient. Malawi needs a frugal, transparent and incorruptible leader who is willing to make sacrifices for the future of our nation. This means that we need to utilise all our natural resources in a meaningful way where we get full returns that in turn spark developmental pathways for our nation.
8. As you know, Tobacco is Malawi’s biggest source of export revenue. Looking at the problems that have plagued the tobacco industry in recent times, what alternatives do you think Malawi has besides Tobacco, and why are they viable alternatives?
Malawi’s alternatives to acquiring foreign revenue apart from Tobacco, is through natural resources. We have uranium in the northern region which is a sought after mineral in nuclear energy physics. Lake Malawi is rumoured to have gas and oil deposits underneath its seabed, which is believed to have caused tension between Malawi and Tanzania. However if the prospect is true, the returns from natural resources are always rewarding to countries with natural resources.
9. Considering our troubled history with donors and funders such as the IMF and World Bank, most recently when Bingu Wa Mutharika was president, how do you see Malawi progressing from this relationship in view of the criticisms these organisations have received in the media across the world?
The only way to progress from such a relationship is by becoming self-sufficient. Countries like Malawi are in a vicious cycle where they have become used to being dependants of the IMF and the World Bank. To come out of the reach of the IMF or the World Bank, Malawi needs to utilise its natural resources by channelling monetary gains into improving our social welfare.
10. We know that Malawi has some precious minerals, including uranium, possibly oil and other natural resources. How do you think the present government is doing regarding managing Malawi’s natural resources?
The present government’s management of natural resources is poor. Rumours were rife in the previous administration that they signed a weak contract with Paladin an Australian company that was given concessions to mine uranium in Malawi. The current government has also kept the nation in the dark about the contract and no one really knows whether Malawi is gaining from it or not.
11. In your view, can the government do better to manage natural resources? If so, how can it do better?
Yes, the government can do better by becoming transparent in its dealings with foreign companies that are given concessions to extract minerals from Malawi. Contracts should be negotiated for the benefit of the nation and not for just a select elite few. There is need for our government to realise that natural resources are for the benefit of all the people of the country, and not just for the leaders in the executive.
12. What is your answer to increasing transparency and eradicating corruption which is plaguing most governments across Africa?
The answer is to have a strong constitution without any loopholes, a constitution that punishes anyone in contempt of the law. There is also a need to separate the police from the state so they can work independently without government interferences.
13. Any famous words?
Running a government is very serious business – Bakili Muluzi
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.
My next guest is a good friend and a brother who I have known for many years. Based in London, he is a true son of Malawi, and someone who I genuinely believe has a bright future ahead of him. Yet it was only recently that I discovered just how much passion and ‘fire’ he has for Africa. Mr James Woods-Nkhutabasa, thanks for doing the Global 100 Voices Interview!
[ Brief profile: James has several years’ of communications experience working for public and private organisations, in promoting achievement in African leadership, issues concerning global governance and development. He is also one of the founding members of Diaspora Capital LLP (dCAP), a members investment club which seeks to make socially impactful investments in Africa ]
As a Malawian, how important is Malawi’s Socio-Economic stability to you and your family?
I believe a socio-economic stable environment is beneficial not only for the nation only provided government can create an arena of good governance, accountability, transparency and no corruption. This is also attractive for investors.
After nearly 50 years since independence, what visible progress do you think Malawi has made since independence?
The visible progress for me is that Malawi is now a democratic nation, people have more access to goods and are also more connected due to the digital revolution. On the downside Malawi is still fighting the goals set at independence and poverty levels remain high. We still have a long way to go. Maybe regional integration is key to addressing this weakness through the delivery of wider social and economic benefits that would benefit the country and drive its development further. We need to stop thinking of Malawi as a single unit but think of it as a major part of the remaining 53 nations on the continent. Only then will we sing our success story. But we need to get our house in order first.
3. In your view, what pressing challenges remain and what should Malawi aspire towards?
Malawi, similarly to other African countries is facing major corruption issues and a lack of good governance. Our parliament is also filled with recycled politicians – what I aptly name – ‘The Kamuzu/Muluzi Giants’. It seems to me that our politicians change allegiances as much as they change suits. The political world, leading a nation, serving your people should be a vocation or ‘a calling’ but not a pension, as it currently seems to be for some.
Malawi should aim to be a success story in good governance.
In view of those challenges, what do you think is the role of government in tackling those challenges?
Create an environment of patriotism, transparency and competence. The government needs to remember that they are there to serve their people: men, women and children and thus to run the country accordingly as it is their responsibility. We need strong leadership and this can be achieved collectively, through government and civil society. Malawi needs an enlightened and dedicated sort of leadership that looks forward and not backward. Most importantly get the right sort of people involved in government.
As someone who has lived outside Malawi for several years and hopefully been exposed to modern and progressive ideas, what things in your country of residence have had the greatest impact on you, and why?
The competitive work ethic and drive that people have in London is absolutely brilliant. People have the desire and resilience to achieve the best possible outcome. This has taught me to continuously improve to keep up with this ‘rat race’ and be able to be significant in the growth and development of the nation.
What lessons do you think Malawians and the Malawian leadership can learn from those ideas?
Malawi has extremely bright individuals who can contribute great things for the nation. The leadership needs to promote an open society – welcoming of all and not based on ethnicity, tribe or social standing, but instead on what you can offer to drive forward development.
If you have recently visited Malawi, what struck you most as the greatest sign of improvement or development?
The amount of women and youth trying to make a living through a business; truly inspiring to see the entrepreneurial spirit and a can-do attitude, be it selling vegetables on the side of the road to managing small wholesalers. It is really amazing at how they have adopted technology such as the use of mobile phones to sell and place orders. This has inspired me.
What struck you most as the biggest sign of stagnation or regression?
I believe the lack of good educational standards and opportunities have really been under-played. Youth are the future of Malawi, the leaders of tomorrow; they are being frustrated by the lack of opportunities and a lack good of education. These youth can be a curse or a blessing and rather sadly it has been a curse on the nation with increased criminal activity. If we do not invest in the youth and create jobs how are we to have a good future? Without the right investment we will continue to face the same problems of corruption, poor leadership and bad governance.
Malawians will be going to the polls in 2014, to elect a president. In your view what kind of leader does Malawi NEED, considering the country’s current challenges?
I think we need a bit of the positive characteristics that our past and present leaders have shown but most importantly we need a leader who has an entrepreneurial spirit, a socio-entrepreneurial impactful spirit. We as African’s are natural-born entrepreneurs…we need a leader who will use an entrepreneurial approach to create sustainable development and leadership in so doing promoting a culture of hard-working, ambitious young people to drive forward development. A leader who has innovative ideas and simply not just focussing on what has been done, but looking at what can be done. We need a leader who will deal with disparities in wealth that exist between the poor, the middle class and the rich. High on their specification will be better business and financial acumen, infrastructure, education, employment and better health services.
Specifically, how should that leader approach the top job in terms of sustainable development and reducing aid dependency?
I believe aid is still vital to Malawi for the next few years at least, but our president needs to really focus on the fruit of a stronger regional economic integration across the continent; and build economies of scale to enable Malawi and Africa to better compete in the global economy. Malawi seems to be attracting a lot of investors to the vast minerals in the country ranging from bauxite, gold, limestone (marble), monazite, niobium and uranium…then we’ve got oil and agriculture. The key aspect to ensuring the leadership moves away from aid dependency is to create a strong and efficient financial system that could support high levels of investment…also the need to eliminate the tax breaks these foreign investors have in the country as we are losing millions of US dollars annually.
Malawi can have a wonderful future. By strengthening its financial and legal systems respectively, and focusing on regional integration, Malawi has the potential to become one of Africa’s fastest growing economy by the end of this decade provided that political stability, social protection, quality education, private sector and good governance are implemented.
Looking at the problems that have plagued the tobacco industry – which is our biggest source of export revenue– in recent times, what alternatives do you think Malawi has besides Tobacco, and why are they viable alternatives?
There is a major problem by relying on tobacco. Let us look at the bigger picture – tobacco farming is a major employer in Malawi where it employs 70% of the nations workforce – in terms of providing a living to the population it plays a big part.
The country does need to diversify and not only focus on tobacco as the international controls on tobacco are surely having or going to have an effect on the economy.
I think a strong emphasis should remain on agriculture produce such as tea, coffee, macadamia nuts, groundnuts, sugar, cotton, soya and timber. The potential for agribusiness is there but we need the right mentality in promoting good practice to increase efficiency and bring in investment and expertise to help scale up production but also go into agroprocessing, where higher prices for commodities can be achieved.
Infrastructure development is vital for Malawi’s economy to flourish. There is a need for better roads, airports and aviation, rail, ICT, water and sanitation.
Stronger focus on the extractive industries and corporate realisation of Malawi’s objectives in oil found in Lake Malawi. Mining currently accounts for only around 2% of GDP, with tobacco, sugar and tea remaining the main exports by value, but we all know the short and long-term potential of the mining industry if we play our cards right.
Tourism is another sector to focus on. This would bring the needed foreign exchange and foreign direct investment and importantly raise the profile of the nation as truly ‘the warm heart of Africa’. I do not know if you are aware but Malawi was recently crowned runners up in the 2012 Safari Awards “Best Africa Tourist Board” beaten by Kenya. This is definitely an important space.
12. Considering our troubled history with donors and funders such as the IMF and World Bank, how do you see Malawi progressing from this relationship in view of the criticisms these organisations have received in the media across the world?
Malawi, is still too fragile to sustain herself – as mentioned earlier I believe once the powers that be start developing the nation, attracting more investors and regional integration is in place Malawi will be on the right path to stand with the rest of Africa as partners and not rely on these international bodies.
13.How do you think the government is doing regarding managing Malawi’s natural resources?
Problems are there, such as issues to do with mining legislation. The main legislation governing mining is the Mines and Minerals Act 1981.
The Mines and Minerals Act 1981 states that companies operating in Malawi need to employ and train local staff but this is left at the discretion of the company, thus local workforce are often found to be losing out. There is lack of regulation, think of the people who are displaced by the mining companies? There is no protection for these people – regulatory framework for resettlement only requires compensation to be given for land, livestock etc…but nothing is in place to give those people back land of same quality. Most people living in villages where these mines are based do not own the land through purchase but through living there for generations thus when the mining companies come, these people are evicted and not titled to any compensation. Most importantly there is a lack of transparency – mining companies are not revealing their profits in line with expenditure and taxes. The mining companies are not required by Malawi government to reveal their spending in Malawi.
14. Can the government do better to manage natural resources? If so how?
Government needs to address the points I’ve just raised and ensure something is done to curb this behaviour of secrecy. They need to tighten legislation, this will be achieved by revising the Mines and Mineral Act 1981 – I understand that this is being done.
15. What is your answer to increasing transparency and eradicating corruption which is plaguing most governments across Africa?
African governments need to be accountable to their citizens. The responsibility for dealing with corruption and transparency falls equally on all parties from governments and donors, to civil society and citizens. We all have to fight to ensure we can develop better leadership with the tools of good governance.
We have to remember, when we the people have information; we have the power to hold our leaders and governments accountable to improve the systems, tackle corruption and have transparency.
16. Any famous last words?
Let’s continue driving our country and continent forward. In the words of Kwame Nkrumah ‘’We face neither East nor West: we face forward’’.
I wish Oprah Winfrey would read this. I really do. In fact not only Oprah, I wish everyone from Spike Lee and Russell Simmons to Jay-z and … lets just saw the whole Afro – Caribbean ‘fraternity’ ( if such a thing could be said to exist) from African-Americans, to those in Europe, Asia or indeed elsewhere (those of us who are fashionably termed the “diaspora”) would read this. Not because its grand or mind blowingly fancy in any fantastical way, no, instead, considering our common history, it represents a summary of a profound truth regarding some of the major problems Africans and African-Americans routinely encounter. A truth which over the years has been distorted by ‘culture’, ‘theories’ and ‘ism’ of one kind or another to the point few know a practical formula on how to resolve the problems. I believe there has been a massive misunderstanding, which unfortunately leads many people to put a lot of the blame on Africans; African-Americans + Afro-carribbeans (with some people not even realising that they are doing so), without carefully understanding how we even got to these problems.
Thankfully, the premise to this post has been handed to me on a golden platter. In a thousand years of inspiration, I could never have arrived at a factual story so farcical, entertaining and mind-boggling in almost equal measure:-
Two days ago we watched with disbelief on our TV screens as Luis Suarez, the Liverpool striker, was at it again. Probably only slightly less mad compared to Joey Barton, Suarez was caught biting another player’s arm, in the middle of a match; in broad daylight view of the HD cameras patrolling the pitch, in front of thousands of Liverpool and Chelsea supporters…?? It beggars belief. More surprising (this being besides his racist offence two years ago), is the fact that he’s bitten someone else before. At Ajax. Inevitably, most normal people are asking the same questions, why would a world-class player who is one of the top goal scorers of the Barclays Premier League this season bite another player out of the blue? Is this guy okay? What was going on in his mind? Now, we’ve seen bites in the Premiership before, like the one by Jermain Defoe on Javier Mascherano, but what exactly is going on in these peoples’ minds when they do these things? Is biting the same as headbutting which has also happened several times in football?
As someone whose Mother is a qualified counsellor, and who has known two other counsellors for well over 7 years, issues relating to counselling are not new to me. I’ve been hearing about them for years! In fact I have proof-read 2 Diploma theses on some counselling topics I cannot presently remember (Mother’s, and another for her friend). I have digitized one of the theses (word for word) including the case studies. I have been in proximity to the books on the subject often, and found myself once or twice browsing through a number of them. I’ve heard the stories too (obviously with anonymity as to the subjects concerned and their location), watched some videos, all of which have inevitably influenced my viewpoints on the subject, things which you don’t hear in the media very often.
So, the claim that the Liverpool player might need counseling is particularly interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, as one of my friends (who I doubt is a Liverpool fan) observed, does the law to which every ordinary human being in the UK is subject to, truly extend to football players (and one might add ‘celebrities’)? If so, why then haven’t charges been pressed by the police, or indeed the victim? Isn’t it hypocritical that cases of racism are hyped, and a big deal made about them, but when it’s a case of violence, the authorities appear coy about it? In any case, if a member of the public bit another stranger randomly, say on the bus (or on the train), under the ever watchful eyes of the CCTV, wouldn’t the attacker be instantly charged with violent conduct and summoned before a judge? If such is generally the case, isn’t the fact that Suarez has not been formerly charged by the police giving out the wrong signals, especially to young people? That it is infact okay to behave in such a wildly unruly manner in the sport? You may get a small fine and a couple of matches suspension, but your career will be intact, safe and dry. Another friend even drew comparisons with doping in athletics, where he cited Dwain Chambers. “Whats the difference?” he asked “Suarez has cheated at the World cup, bitten someone before — where apparently one newspaper nicknamed him the Cannibal of Ajax — he has been involved in a racist incident against a Manchester United player, and displayed bad behaviour several times, the sort of thing you would expect from Joey Barton, yet he gets to have his cake and eat it.”…
More importantly, it seems some of the people who require counselling will identify the roots of their problems way back in history, commonly in their childhood. These causes range from extreme poverty, abuse (commonly by a family member), rejection, bullying, drug or alcohol addictions, to death of a loved one and suchlike. Some people who have had such experiences don’t even know that they need help. Which is where Suarez’s case is relevant to this post because, in my view, there are many Africans and Afro-Carribean out there who have experienced devastating and traumatic events in their lives, which have affected them so gravely, psychologically, so much that it influences their behaviour later on in life, and negatively affects their career prospects and family life. It sounds like a tenuous excuse for wrongdoing, but it’s not. I’m not a Liverpool FC fan and if you told me that one day I would write this post, 10 years ago, I would have seriously doubted your sanity.
Let me explain further. Those who read my previous post here, will have noted that I referred to the “needs” of Black and Afro-carribean kids in schools.
According to the Self-enhancement theory, individuals with low self-esteem may seek to enhance their self-concepts through the use of aggression in order to boost their already low self evaluations [Rosenberg et al (1989) postulated that individuals with low self-esteem may engage in aggressive acts to boost their low self-evaluations (e.g. , lack of prosocial avenues for expressing self-esteem) ]. This has been used to explain some of the ‘problems’ black children cause in class rooms. Further, it has been stated that individuals with low self-esteem are more prone to engage in risk-taking behavior out of a need to find an available avenue for expressing their self-worth [“subculture of violence”, Long ,1990].
But, while theories such as these hold much validity in explaining some of the psychological problems young black people face (especially in schools), there’s another simpler way of appreciating the bigger picture. I must state at this point that I have not studied this topic extensively, my opinion is based primarily on observations (in my own family and in the lives of others) and private research studies (over the last 7 -8 years) using sources such as are listed below. I do not claim that my viewpoint is the only likely explanation or that the observations below are the only ‘Root causes’, although I’m willing to risk my credibility by suggesting that by far they are the most common root causes. Further, some of my views are influenced partly by my interaction with young people in a Youth group in Nottingham that is affiliated to a religious organisation ( and at which I volunteered as a Youth coordinator for several years, quite a number of years ago).
So, with this in mind, a summary:
(1) Children are born to black parents who have little or no savings. The parents are preoccupied with trying to earn a living – The child is not properly supervised (the TV is tasked with some of that), and there are few or no role models about towards which the child should aspire.
(2) The anger, frustrations and issues from parent’s work / lives sometimes overflow and pours over onto the children, tainting their childhood. (The sources of those frustrations numerous in number and possibly deserving a blog post of its own)
(3) Pressure of life can cause addictions in their parents & many a time marriage breakdowns. There is anger in the home. In the homes of almost all their relatives. And no financial cushion to iron out some of the problems. The child bears all this on their head. And, inevitably,eventually, it can give birth to one or more of anger, confusion, frustration and pain.
(4) For example, in some cases, parents cannot afford to take them out on holiday or buy them certain things as they are growing up, things which most of the white kids (or other black contemporaries) in school have, so the black child grows up in want. Further, comparatively, most of their white friends have a from of luxury, they take holidays, frequent trips to interactive or sight seeing excursions , whereas most of the black kids’ parents can’t afford to take them for a holiday. The feelings / emotions regarding things such as these are largely ‘bottled-up’, repressed, and the child does not get to express themselves. They just observe, confused, thinking it is normal. To an extent this lack of exposure can limit their frame of mind.
(5) Since the parents have to work (often juggling more than one job), or because of single parenthood, supervision is left to others (Friends, Aunties or parents’ siblings – who themselves have little training or fortitude to ensure that they provide the right upbringing), so bad company creeps in -> leading to bad habits. The child cannot excel academically if the parents are not pushing hard for it (i.e. Private tuition, careful demarcation of time for study and play, religious instruction…etc) or cannot afford to pay for private tuition.
(6) As was well articulated here, even in the western media (as is the case back on the motherland) the children are bombarded by negative connotations of Africa, of being black, or their skin colour of everything to do with them. Public figures saying the wrong things, and half the time getting away with it. Why has the servant, or guard in the Hollywood movie most of the times have to be black or of Latino ethnicity? Even if such is merely a factual reflection of reality, what other message does it send, potentially, especially to younger audiences? The children see positive role models only in few professions, only in sport, film and music. They see more successful people who look like them in videos such as this or this, most often with a message of ‘drugs, guns, bitches and bling’. Which is why if you ask any random group of black 9 -14 year olds to name you their favourite music artists, very few, if not none will cite music of a rock genre. Their minds are not wired to appreciate rock music, even when there exists some very good rock bands that appeal to younger audiences.
And whilst the likes of Einstein and Michael Faraday are referenced to in Physics enough times for even non-physicists in the school to know who they are, Martin Luther King, Shaka Zulu and other ‘African heroes’ are found neither in GCSE Science nor English, not even in the History of the French Revolution or the American War of Independence, which is the kind of history which these kids first encounter (both in schools in Africa and in the West). Their own history is visibly absent. Further, few of them are informed that in the times as those in which Galileo, Einstein and even Henry Ford lived, black people were not really considered human in the western world, not really. So comparatively few got a decent education to provide a foundation for mastery in technical subjects. A situation that can probably be summarised with a cartoon that parodies this issue:
In addition, few parents encourage their children to learn about their past. “It’s too painful” you hear. “Study to get a degree then get a job” is generally the advice that is given. So few will bother with history beyond elementary school, creating ‘critical’ gaps of knowledge regarding their own past – a factor that will have an effect much later in life. Even their parents don’t know anywhere near enough about African history (or historians) such as these – who have over the years toiled to reconstruct and teach about African history.
While a 13-year-old Jewish boy knows what Yom Kippur is, and will give you an accurate account of the Holocaust including how many people died and other encyclopedic knowledge, why those who died must always be remembered each year, yet the African child of the same age doesn’t even know the estimates of how many black people were displaced or died during slavery, and what the impact of that was. The answers to such questions will have to be solely and painfully mapped (source BBC) by very few of his kind through judicious study, much much later in life. [- – – – – > Burning Spear – Slavery days]
(7) If you visit the local library or a Museum, few or no Afro-carribbean kids about. How could there be any, their parents are busy or in work trying to earn enough to scrape a living.
The other day I took my 9 year old nephew to the Museum of Science and Industry which is the biggest in Manchester, and has quite a lot to see. But in a space of 3-4 hours on a Saturday morning, by conservative estimates I must have encountered maybe over 300 people, but I only saw one other black person with their child??Is this because of pressures of work or lack of interest? In any case, entry is free 🙂
(8) So by the time they get to highschool they are already troubled. Then comes the difficulty in managing them…the pain, confusion and trauma all the above factors may have caused, over many years, is alien to a teacher, who has not been properly trained in dealing with such deep and multi-faceted traumatic behaviour, and who must be wondering what is wrong with these black kids?? Add to this spoonfuls of racism.
(9) If they are lucky enough to make it to college or University it doesn’t get any easier. They are constantly broke, they can’t fully participate in the collegiate school’s offerings, let alone socialize because of financial constraints. They have to take up part-time job which can interfere with their studies. Throw in coursework, friends and girlfriends, and the whole picture couldn’t be fuzzier. At Nottingham University, I had a white friend (who identified with Christianity) who innocently and with bewilderment asked me how come I could afford to leave Britain and go to the US in the middle of the University term (my US-based sister was going through a very difficult period at the time) when I didn’t have a job. The insinuation, without a shadow of a doubt, was ‘where did you get the money from…I thought you guys are broke?’. It was one of the most uncomfortable moments of my undergraduate degree, and it was said in a room where there were 8 – 10 other white christians listening, no doubt everybody wanted to know. 8 years on, I still remember the name of the boy who said it (including the fact that his father was a reverend).
So if someone gets through all this, relatively unscathed, guess how they will view the world? My guess, not exactly optimistically.
For those that don’t make it through, difficulty and struggle is standard, they fail to get credit at banks, some get into drugs, theft, fraud, get imprisoned and such like. They are not necessarily bad people, in my view, much of it (although not always) is circumstantial and reactionary — similar to the Jewish resistance movements that mounted attacks against Hitler’s Nazis during the second world war. Reactionary. Most of the victims want to be good citizens, are raised up in families that have a Faith, they believe it is in their best interests to do the right things, but they can’t, not always, their circustances push them in the wrong direction. They are no worse, for example, than the barrister son of a judge who was found with cocaine, yet got to keep his job.
Plagued by deep, unresolved and complex psychological issues, these people will continue to suffer as society is not equipped (let alone sufficiently interested) to assist them overcome their troubles.
So, in view of the ‘surface problems’ (such as lack of finances or not having affluent relatives who are able to lend them considerably large sums of money to start businesses, or to bail them out of life’s tricky situations) which disproportionately affect minority communities more than white communities ; without a quality education – their schooling having been somewhat biased, it follows that gang culture, drugs and other evils have an easier job in taking over many a life, giving to some of them a sense of belonging, importance and identity they long for — and which mainstream society deprives them; while to a considerable number, taking all these away to the tune of a criminal record and several years behind bars.
(10) And even those who manage to get a degree or two are not spared. I know many people (including some Malawians) in the diaspora, who despite a decent education from western universities, some with postgraduate degrees, cannot get jobs or are in jobs that pay them significantly less than their white colleagues. In some cases, they are not given suitable jobs for which they are qualified for, and few have the entrepreneurial drive (nor essential experience) to create for themselves a job. But even those who do are not exempt from the ‘onslaught’. Yet in view of this, as if by mockery, there are many relatively less educated westerners operating in Africa, who being armed with sufficient capital, are reaping huge financial windfalls…
So, where do you think they go from here? How do you think they will look at the world?
The majority who can’t make it to university, and who therefore can’t get the good jobs will settle for the odd jobs, some of them are plagued by the criminal records they got when they were younger (and irresponsible). They get deeper into the wrong groups, waste time with alcohol, drugs, women ..and debt piles up, desperation kicks in leading to crime, and as they grow older the cycle repeats itself, in the lives of their children.
History has got its cruel and finely defined pathways.
Those who go to jail (some doing so for street cred) end up causing more hardships to their families (“Prison and the Poverty Trap”-New York Times ), for the women – unplanned pregnancies, many remain in abject poverty, some Christian young men convert to Islam, among those some end up radicalized. The others will be pushing drugs, credit-card fraud and survive on underground businesses, or via the charity of others. ‘Our Babylon’ some will say.
But how can this situation be rectified (not that it’s necessarily easy or straightforward to do so), assuming we somewhat can see more clearly where the problems lay? What’s the solution? Well, in my view, you can’t change the future when the systems of the past are still deeply rooted in the present. So that’s a big problem, as to borrow the biblical saying, old wineskins cannot carry new wine.
And then comes views from some of those who are enlightened and lucky to have ‘made it’, who will often blame the victims for being lazy, for not working hard, for not ceasing the moment, for living in the past…. etc, when it’s all a much complex maze tied to their past, and is beyond their control a lot of the times. And it’s not only in back communities. Even low-income white families in council estates are thwarted by such vicious circles.
To keep this post short, I have cut out the next section, which will form my next post. In it is a skeleton template for a workable solution that could accelerate the reversal of this terrible African tragedy that has affected all families of African descent in one way or another.