Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

There is not much sweeter than seeing the year 2008 come to an end and welcome the New Year of 2009. It has been a busy year at several levels.

Personally, I have grown to appreciate that my work is not to sympathise with anyone but to work for the good of Malawi and the world. I have grown to love the environment and want to see people care for our country. I do believe in the proverb that “We do not inherit the earth from our forefathers, we borrow it from our grandchildren.” This means we must leave the world better than we found it.

This is crucial because he who returns exactly what he got is cursed. Remember the parable of talents given to servants? It is our duty to use the environment to optimum productivity without degrading the environment. The environment, I am sure, is the biggest story of our time.

This blog will continue to serve you in the best way possible. This being an election year, I will do my professional best to give you great writing. I am committed to synthesis, analysis and reporting beyond imagination.

Thank you for visiting this blog. Thank you for your comments. Keep them coming. I need your comments. Let us walk into the New Year together. Happy New Year, dearest.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I Have Turned 32

I have turned 32 today. Just remembered that I was born on December 22, 1976. So, for me it is not just end of year. It is also a birthday anniversary. Now averages. The average life expectancy for men in Malawi is at 37, meaning I have five more years to live. But this is just an average and I hope I am above average because I have 60 more years to live and 60 more years of writing.

Polytechnic Has a Casual Approach?

I am happy Peter Mitunda, until December 4, Dr Peter Mitunda, did not teach me at any stage of my academic life. Mitunda left Malawi for University of Salford in Manchester where he was supposed to study for a PhD in journalism and something related to journalism but, according to an enquiry at Poly, his registration was cancelled because of nonpayment of fees.

So, the conclusion of the principal of Polytechnic, Dr Charles Mataya and his team, was that Mitunda did not complete his PhD. Now, this is a faulty conclusion. You cannot register before paying fees or at best the two happen together. Universities in the UK are not like in Malawi where you can negotiate. If he did not pay fees, it means he did not register and if he did not register he did not study an inch. So, there is no question of not completing his studies because he did not start the studies.

This means during the about 15 months he was away, which is too short for a credible PhD, Mitunda was absconding from work, yet he was being paid as if he was on study leave. I pay tax every month and almost everyday I pay surtax and this money, part of it, was used to pay Mitunda while he was absconding from work. His case is different from a person who attempts a PhD and does not complete successfully.

It is not for sure the reason for Mitunda’s failure to study was nonpayment of fees. One cannot tell until we are really sure. But all this raises serious questions about the Polytechnic in particular and the University of Malawi in general.

How come an academic institution like Poly accepted that he had a PhD before seeing his papers? Chancellor College does not recognise one as Dr or as holding an MA, MSc or M Phil before seeing the paper. Why was the case different at Poly? Beyond this, how did he get a job at Malawi Institute of Journalism on the basis of his PhD yet he did not have one? Every interview, even within the university system, requires one to bring their papers. Academic staff who want to become directors of centres within the University of Malawi bring their papers to interviews whose panel is full of colleagues. What happened to Mitunda and Poly?

Once Mitunda was back, he became president of Polytechnic academic staff committee on welfare (Pascaw). By then Pascaw was working towards a 200 percent salary increment that resulted into a long strike at a time government was working hard to keep students in college.

Of course, Mitunda was by then at MIJ but one thing is clear here: a person who returns with a PhD cannot rush into labour politics, instead a PhD holder rushes into academic politics, taking over crucial courses like research methods and being a departmental anchor. In case of Mitunda this was crucial because then he was supposed to be the only PhD in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies (JMS) at Polytechnic.

I have no reason to doubt that he has an MA in journalism but with the PhD saga, why should I believe he has an MA before I see one? The Polytechnic runs on tax money and the institution must be as transparent as it must be academic.

The Polytechnic made professional bodies like Media Council of Malawi to consult Mitunda on the basis of his PhD. What happens to all that work? Did it have to take The Story Workshop, an NGO, to discover Mitunda did not have a PhD? This means apparently the NGO is more serious than the University of Malawians in so far as academic qualifications are concerned! No wonder The Story Workshop has always impressed me.

The other day President Bingu wa Mutharika was castigating academic staff for demanding a 200 percent pay rise and we all sympathised with the men and women who teach and research. Mutharika said some of them are not qualified and we questioned the President for saying so when these men and women spend years learning and researching to become academics. Now one might begin to see the President had a point.

My plain view is that Dr Mataya has work to do. One fair assumption is that Mitunda’s issues is being treated with kid gloves because he is not the only one. As we say, if you live in a glass house don’t throw a stone.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Aleke Banda: His Seven Lessons of Leadership

The first time I spoke with Aleke Banda was in August, 2007. I called him from Chancellor College in Zomba and expressed my fears that not so much of our history is being written.

In a minute, he was telling me his worries, too, and he graciously did so, knowing pretty well that I meant that his history too is fading with time and may be reclaimed but never reconstructed which is what most people with historical concern worry about.

Aleke, as he is popularly known, has been in politics from 1953 at the age of 14. Months before presidential and parliamentary elections on May 19, 2009, I think there is much that Aleke can teach political leaders in Malawi and beyond, and of course, all of us. I have thought of what you are about to read as Aleke’s Rules of Leadership and they are assembled together from his speeches, leadership and life—which has been and continues to be a struggle to make Malawi a better place.

If this story makes you want to know more about Aleke, then wait a bit more because his biography, belated though, will come out someday, according to Aleke himself. My speculation is that it may come out next year.

No. 1

Childhood lessons matter

Aleke is a politician who has proved that leadership does not really depend on age. He started politics in 1953, at a tender age of 14, as secretary of the Kwe Kwe branch of the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) when the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was imposed by the British Government. How did such a boy handle a political job that needed competence and speed in communication?

"When asked who has inspired and influenced me in life I was ready with an answer," he says. "First and foremost Mr. James Mayendesa Dick Manyika and the Rev. Kenneth Maltus Smith, my headmasters at primary and secondary schools respectively."

The story is interesting. While in primary school, Mr Manyika asked Aleke’s parents for permission to live with the young boy. Here, recalls Aleke, he worked from dawn to early night—and remember that he was just a primary school boy! Mr Manyika gave Aleke a lot of work that people thought his father was careless by allowing the little boy suffer at the hands of his headmaster.

But in the course of that hard work and organised life, Aleke developed attributes that will never cease to amaze people who know his work ethic and love for decorum.

He remains a hard worker, people in every ministry he has headed say so. He was once Minister of Health and worked from 5 am to 9 pm in his office at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre where he spent days studying the ministry. "His work culture puzzled most of us," says Dr Lughano Kalongolera. "As students we learned a lot just by watching him from a distance."

Every ministry he has headed made a difference in his days. While Minister of Finance, Aleke introduced Cash Budget System. And finally in Agriculture, he started agricultural production investment programme (Apip), which was the starting point of bumper harvests after years of poor harvests.

It is this hard work culture that made Aleke a reasonably successful politician and businessman. He still commands a lot of respect which has almost doubled following his retirement in a country where politicians never retire.

"Working with Kamuzu was challenging and [an experience of] character building," says Aleke. "He taught me discipline, organisation, thoroughness and leadership. The whole experience broadened my vision, maturity and outlook."

All true. But Kamuzu worked with hundreds and some are lazy. The life of Aleke confirms that childhood lessons matter so much.

No. 2

Nothing replaces education

Aleke’s education life was just like of any other child of his time, yet different. He grew up in Zimbabwe where he started primary school and was fortunate to have a good headmaster who saw potential in him and taught him hard work, discipline and the love of books and also instilled in him leadership skills.

"When I went to Inyati, my secondary school, I was active in school activities and had the opportunity to develop myself in many ways. I was a prefect, secretary of the Debating Society, a Sunday school teacher, editor of the school magazine and secretary-general of the Southern Rhodesia African Students Association which I helped found," recalls Aleke.

But it is his story from prison that puts this rule in perspective. At Inyati, Aleke organised students from Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia into a political team disguised as the Bwafano (Unity) Photographic Club. Soon after the State of Emergency was declared in Nyasaland in March 1959, Aleke was detained at Khami Prison in Bulawayo. "I was the youngest detainee at 19 and the only student," he says.

Here, at Khami, he met men from Nyasaland; these were prominent Nyasas: Orton Chirwa, David Rubadiri, Willie Chokani, Augustine Bwanausi, Dr. Harry Bwanausi and Vincent Gondwe.

The men, as Rubadiri recalls, were in different rooms and knocking on walls was a means of communication. One night, there was a knock on Rubadiri’s door and he was surprised what message would come at such an odd hour, if at all prisons have odd hours. "Here is a young man, a student, for you," said a prison officer. "You are teachers, set up a school for him."

"That is how I prepared for my secondary school examinations [in prison not at home]," recalls Aleke.

Secondary school done, Aleke was deep into politics and did not go on for university education. In 1961, he accompanied Dr. Kamuzu Banda to Harvard University in the United States of America.

The professors at Harvard, including Prof. Robert Rotberg, offered Aleke a full scholarship to study any discipline of his choice "because they believed that I was suitable material for university education." But Dr Banda refused to let him go because the founding father and founder of Malawi felt that he could not afford to lose Aleke’s services at such a critical stage of nationalism.

"The scholarship was left open for me for four years but each time Dr. Banda would not release me. I, therefore, sacrificed my education in the interest of the liberation of our country," says Aleke.

The choice of the word sacrifice is not by accident. It means letting up something go, not out of will but for the sake of something else of equal importance. For Dr Banda, independence was important and he needed all the brilliant young people like Aleke. For Aleke, independence was crucial that, for the sake of the greater good of Malawi, he sacrificed his education which was also for the greater good of Malawi.

His use of the word sacrifice shows it was a question of time, not importance. If it were any other time apart from the climax of nationalism, Aleke would have gone to Harvard University to become, perhaps, the first Malawian to study there.

This feeling of sacrifice that haunts Aleke confirms his deeper conviction that education is all important and should only be missed for legitimate reasons. It is also important to note that rich as he is—Aleke is a multi-millionaire—he still misses university education, feeling it as an opportunity lost, the way the tongue feels space where a tooth has been removed.

No. 3

Every storm—no matter how strong—is temporary

After independence in 1964, Aleke rose steadily until the 1970s when he became almost Dr Banda’s number two.

The mistake was to be seen as such by people to the extent that in 1973, a Zambian newspaper, in Aleke’s words, "dared to report that I was a likely successor to Kamuzu." He was expelled from the party and sent to his home village in Tukombo, Nkhata Bay, where he spent a whole year out of circulation, to use media vocabulary.

But this was temporary because during the out-of-circulation period, he planned his future, hence he spent six years in business later. He was appointed to head Press Holdings Ltd, which has now grown into Press Corporation Ltd, the biggest conglomerate in Malawi.

These years of success were followed by detention without trial. He was at the usual suspected camp, Mikuyu. "Looking back," Aleke says, "I see how my training in early life served and saved me. At the time when I was arrested and put into detention, my conscience was clear. Having worked honestly and with integrity there was nothing negative that could be pinned on me."

The 12-and-a-half years in detention were a heavy storm but, as always, temporary. When Aleke got back his freedom, he rose again politically, becoming the first Finance Minister in the multiparty administration of Bakili Muluzi and going back into business, owning Nation Publications Limited (NPL) which has become the country’s number one print media house.

His success has now overshadowed the storms that could have drowned him. He is now a happy family man, a successful businessman and a retired politician.

"When asked about my attitude towards problems and adversaries I say that life is full of ups and downs and the character of a person is determined by his or her ability to survive in the face of adversity. I have been able to overcome all that has come my way because of the resilience developed over the years," he says.

No 4

Always aim high

How has Aleke been able to overcome storms in his life? And the storms seem to be in plenty. "My motto," he says, "comes from my early mentor, Mr Manyika: always aim high (AAH) and from a lesson that he taught me about humility and modesty."

This great teacher in Zimbabwe taught Aleke that the Zambezi River lies low, down in the valley, yet all rivers from the mountain flow into Zambezi making it the biggest among many.

Beyond the education from Mr Manyika, years in detention at Mikuyu and Mpyupyu strengthened his faith in God. The idea of sending people to detention was to break them, but Aleke took the attitude that there is God, and believed that no matter how long it takes, he would come out. "I never broke down, I never got despondent," he says.

"In those twelve-and-a-half-years, I got the opportunity to read the Bible thoroughly and to think about life," says Aleke. "It made me more resilient. The period was difficult but useful. With God’s grace, I came out of prison healthy—in spirit, mind and body. I came out with no bitterness."

He ended up joining the United Democratic Front (UDF) which he helped in its formative years, became its first vice president and once in government first Finance Minister after the 1994 general elections.

But the most visible AAH was his setting of NPL at a time the market was full of newspapers that had carved their place. Three people came together: Aleke Banda, his daughter Mbumba Achuthan and journalist Ken Lipenga and discussed the idea of a newspaper. Big things, as NPL confirms, start from ideas, not money. What we lack are ideas not money, because ideas bring money while money does not necessarily bring ideas.

Later, Lipenga brought in Alfred Ntonga from Blantyre Newspapers Limited (BNL). Achuthan roped in Billy Mphande, NPL’s Area Manager for the Centre who retired mid 2008. Alfred Ntaula joined the team. He was from The UDF news. Bertha Masiku, the MP for Blantyre City West was heading the Advertising Department. Mphande brought Masauko Chiomba, NPL’s former business manager for Mzuzu Bureau. Finally, a messenger was employed.

It was a team of seven people, excluding Aleke, of course, who became chair of NPL. Humble resources too: a family car, a typewriter, a computer, some furniture. Lipenga brought his personal computer. Just like that. And a journey started with the first step. Yet Aleke aimed high and hired the best editors: Lipenga, Ntonga, Jika Nkolokosa and Jonathan Kuntambira. If anyone doubts that names sell, the early years of NPL are evidence.

Now NPL is a giant employing over 200 people with about 50 university products. It is easy to forget that it was a small company of seven people. "NPL grew from an idea—a seed," recalls chief executive officer Achuthan. "An idea to come up with a paper that would disseminate truthful information at a time when information was a highly sought-after commodity."

Thus the genesis of NPL was like a small seed, a mustard seed perhaps, too small to make an impact on anything yet when it germinates, it grows big and offers shelter to people and animals. That was AAH at its best.

No. 5

Greatness is not fixed

There is a tendency—and a wrong one—in the media to classify political parties with some being called briefcase type, meaning they do not command large following.

Aleke was in UDF, a party that had majority support in Malawi. Here he grew and became a successful politician but one who lost in his constituency two times. Yet this was hidden by his success at national level until when Muluzi became a visible dictator. Aleke was once again in for rocky times with a President and had to re-develop a thick skin (yet again) to "weather all the ups and downs leading to my resignation in March, 2003."

The next step was that he joined PPM where he became party president. This is one of the parties journalists describe as the briefcase type. But Aleke has demonstrated that greatness is not fixed; his success was not fixed in UDF because he won Nkhata Bay South constituency on PPM ticket.

He was not in the Cabinet. He was not Leader of Opposition in Parliament as this position was for John Tembo, president of the Malawi Congress, a party that had majority in Parliament after the 2004 elections. Yet Aleke offered excellent contribution from the opposition benches at a time Parliament was rocked with trivia. During the most part of the budget talk in 2008, Aleke was in South Africa for treatment and people yearned for his sober voice when Parliament didn’t seem to make progress.

"If Aleke were here," said Devi Chitenje, "some of the stupid things would not have been happening in Parliament."

When he announced his retirement towards the end of this year, there was a lot of praise on him in the media. Greatness has followed Aleke everywhere. It is not static. Greatness is mobile.

No. 6

Appearances matter, substance too

Aleke, as all testify, is a smart man both in style and substance. He is the type that wakes up, takes a shower and puts on a suit and sit at home or do the day’s job.

He seems to understand that appearances matter. Of course, he is a Tonga and they are known for smartness. But I know some Tongas who are not as smart as Aleke. He is in a class of his own. He demonstrates that smartness of the body, the outward looks, represent the smartness of the mind. In the years I have followed his life, he has never appeared in public with unpleasant dressing, unshaven beard or uncombed hair.

But he also understands that substance matters. Aleke has been a man of substance everywhere. In Parliament, he was one of the few who were listened to with respect.

In fact, we can count people who command respect in Parliament: Louis Chimango, Goodall Gondwe and Aleke who has a rare kind of balance between style and substance which is what today’s politicians should learn.

No. 7

Quitting is leading too

In the history of Malawi, there have been only a handful of MPs who willingly stood down from office. Aleke is determined to set an example, a precedent for all to follow.

The Letters to the Editor that came after the retirement announcement were testimony that quitting is leading too. Honour does not come from being in office only, it also comes from leaving office at the best possible time. There are those who believe Aleke has not served this country to his best because he was supposed to be President of Malawi.

That is understandable. He, too, wanted to have influence from the presidency of vice presidency, hence he was Gwanda Chakuamba’s running mate in 2004.

But having failed to get the vice presidency because Chakuamba did not win, he served the country well by making meaningful contributions in Parliament. Now he has retired—and with honour. "I look forward to working on new projects, far away from hardcore politics, and [I] hope that I will have your support just like I have always had. I feel that after 50 solid years of public service, I have the experience to now put my hand to something different and give some of what I have been blessed with."

Ultimately, the key to understanding Aleke is the years he spent in prison. One question I wanted to ask Aleke was how different is the Aleke who started politics at 13 from the Aleke who retires at 69 after over 50 years in public service? But I need not ask the question because the answer is clear from his writings.

"In those twelve-and-a-half-years, I got the opportunity to read the Bible thoroughly and to think about life," says Aleke. "It made me more resilient. The period was difficult but useful. With God’s grace, I came out of prison healthy—in spirit, mind and body. I came out with no bitterness."

There is nothing so rare—or so valuable—for Malawi and the world, as a healthy person. Happy retirement Aleke.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sharing Poverty --Part 2

The song is powerful. It is philosophical, too.

Rich man, share the riches with the poor
Before they share the poverty with you
Man, share the riches with the poor
Before they share the poverty with you.

This song by Culture resonates well with umunthu philosophy which Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu likes to talk about: that you cannot be fully you if your neighbour is not fully himself or herself, meaning you cannot live a happy life and talk about balanced diet when your neighbour is sleeping on an empty stomach.

The world has enough for everyone, only if the resources were distributed each according to their need. The challenge, and it’s a real one, is that resources are distributed through chainstores, hence the poor cannot afford what they want while the rich can afford what they don’t need. The final danger is that if the rich do not share their riches, the poor share their poverty. Exactly what is happening in the world today.

How can the poor share their poverty with the rich in a world whose economy has been growing at about three percent every year? Of course, the economy of all countries—except Burma and Zimbabwe—has been growing. But the gap between the rich and the poor has also been growing. Here is how and why.

One reason, perhaps the main one, HIV remains a threat is sexual relationships outside marriage by both men and women married and single.

If people were faithful to themselves before marriage and faithful to their partner in marriage, we would not have been talking about HIV at the grand scale we do. But this is not as simple as it reads here. Poverty has sent hundreds of girls and women into prostitution. They earn a living from selling sex to men who can afford such temporary pleasures.

The girls and women have poverty and their bodies. The men and boys have money and lust for sex. The result is that the two sides share poverty. They do not share wealth.

This is how poverty is shared from the poor woman to the rich man. The woman, let us consider, has HIV and to make more money she sells herself for sex (and unprotected sex for more money, hence she is HIV positive). This status does not stop her from selling raw sex (let us use this term for unprotected sex). Thus she passes on the virus to more men.

Now let us take one man who catches the virus from such a sex worker. He passes on the virus to his wife. For whatever reason the couple does not test until the woman is pregnant and loses energy to the extent that the pregnancy is a cause for worry. The rest is history. It is still surprising that in this day some people do not accept their HIV status to benefit from antiretroviral therapy. They choose to die.

What next? The man dies—for whatever reasons, the man is often the first to die. Next the woman goes and leaves children without parents, without any idea about the sources of income the parents had, without a sense of direction for the future. And you know how orphans are suffering in Malawi and elsewhere.

A lady greeted me in Blantyre recently. I could not remember her, really but she greeted me with confidence. I stopped and asked who she was. This is becoming necessary, especially now when I have lectured (part-time) for four years at Chancellor College and one year at Polytechnic.

They maybe my former students, I tell myself always. She was not any of those I taught. We once stayed in the same neighbourhood in Chimwankhunda in Blantyre. She must have been young and I did not notice really someone growing up over 10 houses away.

What are you doing? I asked.
She said this and that, this and that, finally she realised she said nothing.

But she greeted me, so I had the right to know about a person who knew me. Thus I insisted to know about her. Then she told me a story, a long one and I was kind to listen to it. She married in 2005, upon falling pregnant. (I left Chimwankhunda in 2000.) She has a three-year-old girl now. The marriage is over. The girls is with its grandmother in a small house in Chimwankhunda. The mother of three I met is working in a bar in Lunzu. In short, this is a story about poverty.

Now you have money to buy beer or sex or both. You will get her one of these days and when you build trust in each other, you will begin to have unprotected sex. If she has HIV, you will be at risk of catching the virus.
Have you tried business? I asked.

Yes, she said. I was selling soap from Mozambique.

So, what happened to the business?

I lost the capital.


My daughter was sick and I blew up my capital on hospital expenses.

What else could she do? If she lost her capital (money), she has not lost all capital (her body). This is what she is selling now.

How much was the capital of your business? I asked.

I can do with anything between K4,000 and K6,000.

Would you go back into business if you had this capital?

Very much. Actually I want to raise some money but I am not sure this will be possible because I am getting very little.

We parted. But I kept on thinking about this experience. When children stretch their arms, asking for alms, are they really asking for alms or love? They ask for love, not money. We can avoid sharing the girls poverty if we give her K6,000 for her soap business. Just K6,000. I can afford that, but my money, in this modern world, is for myself. I cannot share it with the poor. The result is that they will share me their poverty.


Nkula in Blantyre is a source of two forms of power: hydro and charcoal. The two forms of power are competitors; they do not necessarily complement each other.

Nkula hydro-power station is one of three on Shire River. The other two being Tedzani, seven kilometres down the river from Nkula; and Kapichira in Majete Game Reserve in Chikwawa. The area around Nkula, or put clearly, the catchment area for Nkula, may loosely stretches from Blantyre to Mwanza.

Once, this catchment area was full of trees. Now it is growing bare. Charcoal makers are among major culprits. They are still cutting trees, even those that are not there.

The result is bad news for Escom’s Nkula Reservoir which has a volume of three and a half million cubic metres. The bad news is that half of the reservoir is taken by silt, one major problem haunting Escom. This silt comes from all over in the upper Shire River, even from Karonga and beyond. But most part of the silt comes from Nkula Reservoirs’s immediate catchment area.

While Escom struggles to remove the silt that takes up half the reservoir, people in Nkula and beyond, in the hills, struggle to make charcoal.

Both Escom and charcoal makers are serving the same customers—you and me, in Blantyre. We want electricity from Escom. We also want charcoal to help during blackouts. And because power goes out often, the demand for charcoal keeps on increasing, resulting into more trees being cut, and more soil being washed down into Nkula Reservoir.

It is a vicious cycle that seems unstoppable. Charcoal makers know they are harming Nkula catchment area and the environment. There are hundreds and hundreds of bags of charcoal coming into Blantyre everyday on bicycles and lorries and small cars, even saloons.

Davie Mpasu is a 21-year-old boy from Chapeta Village, T/A Mlauli in Neno. He is a guardian and breadwinner for himself and his two brothers—John 14 and George 17. Their father died in 2003 followed by their mother in 2005.

A whole world, recalls Davie, collapsed. Then, he was 18 and he had to care for his brothers. Yet he had nothing. He was just a typical Malawian first-born who inherited nothing—except land—from parents. It is common in Malawi. They had to start from a scratch. The immediate solution was charcoal making.

"Kupanga makala sikufuna, ndi kuzingwa. Making charcoal is not by choice. It’s out of desperation," says Davie. "If we had an alternative, we would jump on that."

Davie has not seen any charcoal maker whose life has improved. This is true. Mark Samson, 42, lives in Mchotseni Four Village where he has been making charcoal since 1986 but he remains as poor as he was 22 years ago; perhaps poorer. He has a small house of mud wall and a roof that leaks when it rains.

"This business is for mere survival," says Samson, shaking his head. Indeed. It is just bare existence. He had no shirt, his chest was bare. It was hot, of course. But does he have a shirt to wear at home?

Charcoal makers know they are doing a disservice to Malawi. But there is something strong and strange about poverty that makes people do what is bad for themselves and others. In a way, they share their poverty and all people become poor.

Poverty does not only attack pockets, it attacks the brain. What the charcoal makers need is not sale of their product but a redemption of their mind from the poverty that has attacked them.

Otherwise, charcoal makers don’t bother about electricity, so they share their darkness with everybody else because of siltation at Nkula Reservoir which results from soil erosion which, in the Nkula catchment area, comes from deforestation which mainly results from charcoal making using trees often cut carelessly.

We just need to help the charcoal makers find alternatives and manage the few that may remain in the business.


I can go on and on and on citing more areas in which the rich are failing to share their wealth with the poor and, as a result, the poor are sharing their poverty with the rich. This is an article still being written and it is long; perhaps it will turn into a book, perhaps a long essay, over 100 pages gathering dust on my shelf. Hopefully, it will come to a fullstop someday.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sharing Poverty

Nkula in Blantyre is a source of two forms of power: hydro and charcoal. The two forms of power are competitors; they do not necessarily complement each other.

Nkula hydro-power station is one of three on Shire River. The other two being Tedzani, seven kilometres down the river from Nkula; and Kapichira in Majete Game Reserve in Chikwawa. The area around Nkula, or put clearly, the catchment area for Nkula, may loosely stretches from Blantyre to Mwanza.

Once, this catchment area was full of trees. Now it is growing bare. Charcoal makers are among major culprits. They are still cutting trees, even those that are not there.

The result is bad news for Escom’s Nkula Reservoir which has a volume of three and a half million cubic metres. The bad news is that half of the reservoir is taken by silt, one major problem haunting Escom. This silt comes from all over in the upper Shire River, even from Karonga and beyond. But most part of the silt comes from Nkula Reservoir’s’s immediate catchment area.

While Escom struggles to remove the silt that takes up half the reservoir, people in Nkula and beyond, in the hills, struggle to make charcoal.

Both Escom and charcoal makers are serving the same customers—you and me, in Blantyre. We want electricity from Escom. We also want charcoal to help during blackouts. And because power goes out often, the demand for charcoal keeps on increasing, resulting into more trees being cut, and more soil being washed down into Nkula Reservoir.

It is a vicious cycle that seems unstoppable. Charcoal makers know they are harming Nkula catchment area and the environment. There are hundreds and hundreds of bags of charcoal coming into Blantyre everyday on bicycles and lorries and small cars, even saloons.

Davie Mpasu is a 21-year-old boy from Chapeta Village, T/A Mlauli in Neno. He is a guardian and breadwinner for himself and his two brothers—John 14 and George 17. Their father died in 2003 followed by their mother in 2005.

A whole world, recalls Davie, collapsed. Then, he was 18 and he had to care for his brothers. Yet he had nothing. He was just a typical Malawian first-born who inherited nothing—except land—from parents. It is common in Malawi. They had to start from a scratch. The immediate solution was charcoal making.

"Kupanga makala sikufuna, ndi kuzingwa. Making charcoal is not by choice. It’s out of desperation," says Davie.
There is an element of resignation in his eyes. He, for sure, knows charcoal is a culprit that is ending trees in Malawi. But that is not all. He knows charcoal business is not profitable. What can he do with K500 per bag retail price or K300 per bag wholesale price? (The wholesale business takes place right in the bush.)

He is often dirty, partly because handling charcoal results into dirt and partly because he does not have enough money to buy soap that can be used daily.

The work itself is tiresome. One has to cut a tree or trees, dig a tunnel, put the trees in that tunnel and burn them. It sounds easy and short. But it is not. Nkula and Mwanza are hot areas and cutting a tree is not an easy job; so, too, digging a tunnel, especially because every time a charcoal maker has to dig a new tunnel where pieces of wood have to be arranged systematically.

It is a process that takes two weeks to produce 10 bags, for example, and make K3,000 if sold by wholesale or K5,000 if sold by retail.

Consider that this is work that involves several people and some have to be paid from the same K5,000 or K3,000. At the end of the day, one walks away with K2,000 or K3,000 or something about such figures. This K2,000 is not enough to buy a bag of maize, hence the charcoal maker remains poor because in a month he makes between K4,000 and K5,000—out of hard labour.

"If we had an alternative, we would jump on that," says Davie, wearing a short trousers just like his two brothers.

It is hot, of course, but for them it is because they are saving the shirts they have. It appears easy when you have two or three or four or five or six shirts but there are people who have one shirt and when they wake up they have no choice, they know what to wear.

"I have not seen any charcoal maker whose life has improved," says Davie. This is true. Mark Samson, 42, lives in Mchotseni Four Village where he has been making charcoal since 1986 but he remains as poor as he was 22 years ago; perhaps poorer. He has a small house of mud wall and a roof that leaks when it rains.

"This business is for mere survival," says Samson, shaking his head. Indeed. He had no shirt, his chest was bare. It was hot, of course. But does he have a shirt to wear at home?

The charcoal made kilometres into the hills that make Kirk Range is sold on the road to Mwanza. Hundreds of bags are sold a couple of hundred metres from Kamuzu Bridge on Shire River at a place commonly called Zalewa.

But it is not charcoal only that is seen along the road from Lunzu to Mwanza. Now people are in quarry. They are spending hours in the sun turning big stones into small stones for the construction industry. They spend hours in the sun, using all sizes of hammers from the heaviest to the lightest.

At Mchotseni Four Village, there are bags of charcoal on one side of the road, and heaps of stones on the other side. People have cut trees to make charcoal. Now they are into quarry, breaking rocks and big stones into small stones. They have destroyed the home of birds and some reptiles that live in trees. Now they are destroying rocks, the home of reptiles and some insects.

The hills on the road to Mwanza are bare, with stones and rocks only. Trees were cut. Soon even the rocks and stones will disappear. Perhaps the hills will disappear in the long-range, so Nkula reservoir will disappear too because maybe Shire River will not be there. It sounds unimaginable but it is a possibility at the rate the environment is being destroyed.

There is a song by Culture titled ‘Share the Riches’. It is philosophical.

Rich man, share the riches with the poor
Before they share the poverty with you
Man, share the riches with the poor
Before they share the poverty with you.

This resonates well with umunthu philosophy which Bishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu likes to talk about: that you cannot be fully you if your neighbour is not fully himself or herself, meaning you cannot live a happy life and talk about balanced diet when your neighbour is sleeping on an empty stomach.

If the rich do not share their riches, the poor share their poverty. Exactly what is happening in Blantyre and Mwanza which form the wide catchment area of Nkula.

Charcoal makers know they are doing a disservice to Malawi. But there is something strong and strange about poverty that makes people do what is bad for themselves and others. In a way, they share their poverty and all people become poor.

Poverty does not only attack pockets, it attacks the brain. What the charcoal makers need is not sale of their product but a redemption of their mind from the poverty that has attacked them.

Otherwise, charcoal makers don’t bother about electricity, so they share their darkness with everybody else because of siltation at Nkula Reservoir which results from soil erosion which, in the Nkula catchment area, comes from deforestation which mainly results from charcoal making using trees often cut carelessly.

Note: A longer article of the same title will be pasted in a week’s time.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What the U.S. Got Right

There aren’t so many things to learn from the U.S., at least for a postcolonial and cultural theory student like me. But the epic presidential election and its aftermath offers insights worth studying.

It was a grand victory, yet President-elect Barack Obama remained humble, using gracious words in his acceptance speech which was full of humility—and visionary, too.

“It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America,” he told 240,000 supporters in Chicago’s Grand Park. “I just received a very gracious call from Senator McCain. He fought long and hard in this campaign, and he has fought even longer and harder for the country he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine, and we are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader. I congratulate him and Governor [Sarah] Palin for all they have achieved, and I look forward to working with them to renew this nation’s promise in the months ahead.”

When McCain called to congratulate Obama, he was humbled, saying, “I need your help.”

This is victory with humility. It is a lesson Nelson Mandela likes to teach: that we must defeat others with humility and lose with dignity.

It is a lesson Mandela learned in his boyhood when an animal he rode took him into thorns and left him ashamed. Since then, he made up his mind to win with humility and lose with dignity. This is African wisdom which our friends in the West have upheld over the years and we are abandoning carelessly.

McCain’s concession speech from the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, Ariz., said the U.S. media, was everything it had to be—a generous, gracious reminder that when the campaign comes to a close what really matters is a shared enterprise as Americans.

“Sen. Obama and I argued our differences, and he has prevailed,” McCain said. “No doubt many of those differences remain. These are difficult times for our country. I pledge tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us with the many challenges we face. Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans... and believe me when I say: no association has ever meant more to me than that....”

This is patriotism—love of a country. McCain has fought so many battles, the most popular being the Vietnam War. He has won and lost. But it seems the battle of this election was his last and he lost—but with dignity.

Obama, on his part, accepted the victory in a new way, yet like any other U.S. president. He spoke like a world ruler, not a president confined to the U.S.

It was this acceptance of victory and defeat that Malawi may wish to learn from the U.S. The winner must do so with humility while the loser maintains his dignity.

But this U.S. election was not the first one to offer lessons for all of us. The 2000 election that ushered George W Bush into the White House, only to mess up US’s foreign policy, was also full of lessons.

The loser of that election, Al Gore, won the popular vote and he believes the election was somehow stolen from him. (It is a complicated story of the electoral system of the US.)

As a result, the former vice president fell “out of love with politics,” because he became the fourth man in U.S. history to win the popular vote but lose a presidential election. But in the face of such disappointment, he showed admirable discipline—waking up every day knowing he came so close to victory, believing the Supreme Court was wrong to shut down the Florida recount but never, never, never talking about it publicly because he didn’t want Americans to lose faith in their system.

Lose faith in their system? Yes. Gore knew the Supreme Court robbed him victory. He had a right to complain all his life the way John Tembo or Gwanda Chakuamba do. But Gore knows such complaints take people’s confidence away from their systems.

How many Malawians have faith in the Malawi Electoral Commission? How many of us believe elections can ever be free and fair? How many of us will accept next year’s election results? The challenge we face is that since the reintroduction of multiparty democracy in 1993, the 1994 presidential and parliamentary poll is the only one accepted as free and fair by the presidential candidates.

It was hugely because founding President Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, accepted results while votes were being counted and he left no room for anyone to complain.

In 1999, Gwanda Chakuamba cried foul. So, too, he did in 2004. Already some people are saying next year’s elections have been rigged. Yet we are five months away from elections. This is so because people love power a lot more than they love their country.

We need to help our people have faith in our systems, especially elections. We can achieve that if our politicians learn to accept polls.

Even when they know they have been robbed of victory as was the case with Al Gore, our politicians must learn the hard patriotism: to accept results and let life go on. In fact, the way to go is to work towards developing an effective electoral process, one that gives power to people. That is one lesson from the U.S.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Ngwazi Barack Obama

The question was simple. Who is the wife of David Bekham? I asked my Chancellor College fourth year students. Victoria, they answered in unison.

The next question was equally simple. Who is the wife of Kinnah Phiri? I asked. There was some thinking, a slight laughter, and then sadness. Nobody knew the name of Kinnah Phiri’s wife. I told this story to Kinnah Phiri when we met for an interview recently.

"Bekham is a celebrity," he said. "I am not." Kinnah was, in essence, saying that nobody has made him a celebrity. Celebrities are made, they do not make themselves. They are made by the media. The challenge in Malawi is that we in the media have not gone far to make and sustain celebrities.

We do not cherish our great men and women, boys and girls. One reason is lack of skills to write and produce powerful profiles that build our skilled individuals. The other reason is envy.

Why should I make him great? We ask. Envy is an infection that has infiltrated all sectors of our country and we are fighting poverty, illiteracy and disease, leaving out envy which is a great enemy of development. But I want to know about Kinnah.

There are more things to learn from here than from the West. I really don’t admire Britain and US. I admire our rich ways of life.

But one thing we can learn from the US and Britain is how they make their own celebrities. The last time England won the World Cup was in 1964. Since then, the BBC lists England among the favourites to win the cup every time it is being played. Even two years ago, the BBC was busy saying England could win the cup.

Or think about this: Is David Bekham the world’s greatest player? No. Why, then, was he more popular than any other player in the world?

The reason is the media in Britain builds sons and daughters of the land. There are so many Malawians who have lived meaningful lives, whose stories can help us answer difficult, puzzling questions about life. Think of George Patridge, Rose Mkandawire, Matthews Chikaonda, DD Phiri—the man who introduced me to the art of writing in 1993/94, Rose Chibambo, Cecilia Kadzamira, T/A Chitera, Young Chimodzi, Jack Chamangwana, Lawrence Waya, and Ethel Kamwendo Banda—not apostles who give themselves the title Dr without reading for a PhD; these liars must have their stories buried because they are dangerous to Malawians.

Think of Ngwazi Kamuzu Banda. How many of us know him well? Who is there to tell us about him? Cecilia Kadzamira, John Tembo, Aleke Banda, Gwanda Chakuamba. But are these people telling us anything about the Ngwazi? No yet.

Perhaps the media in Malawi is not to blame. Lack of profiles in our newspapers and programmes is a reflection of lack of a biography writing culture. We can count biographies in Malawi. Professor Brown Chimphamba has one, Bishop James Tengatenga, Vera Chirwa, the late Kanyama Chiume and a few others have also written about themselves.

Aleke Banda, a man with over 50 years of public service, does not have a biography yet. But reading his brief piece in Weekend Nation recently puzzled thousands. The man has a story. It is a story that must be told, and beautifully, so.

But are we going to read about this story? Ask Aleke, not me. Then there is Edge Kanyongolo whose real first name is Fidelis. The story is that he was a very brilliant student and his professors used to say, ‘He has an edge over other students’ to the extent that Edge became his name.

To be honest, I don’t know whether or not this is true. He needs to tell us. But what I do know is that he was detained at Mikuyu while a college student. This, too, is a story that must be told.

Then there are professors who started as primary school teachers, going to evening secondary school classes and passed MSCE, went to teacher training college, finally Chancellor College. And there is a successful woman who was a cleaner at a health centre until she married a graduate who encouraged her to sit for MSCE, went to TTC, Domasi College and finally Chancellor College.

Or do you want me to tell you about my college mate who was a houseboy and was sent to evening classes by his master? He passed JC and MSCE and ended up in the University of Malawi. All these are wonderful stories that must be told in profiles and biographies.

Sadly, we are not telling each other our stories and we lose our history because a country’s history is in the stories of its people. Instead, our stories are told by outsiders. They come and write about the Ngwazi from their perspective.

Who is going to tell our story? We must tell our own story and redeem it from the hands of hijackers.
By the way, the past two years I have been saving for a Christmas holiday in Egypt (the Suez Canal), Greece and Spain. But I will not go for a good reason: the victory of Barack Obama. If you know the history of the US, you should know why Obama, the conqueror, maybe the face of a new America.

My plain view is that I will not spend my money on holiday. Instead, I will fund Inkosi ya Makosi M’mbelwa to witness the swearing-in of Obama on January 20. M’mbelwa will have one task: to crown Obama the Ngwazi of America—or is it the Ngwazi of the world?

I thought M’belwa enjoys giving out this title?

So Many PhDs

There is something happening in our country. It is a craze for PhDs. Some people want to be called Dr this of Dr that and the way to get that title is to claim to have a PhD.

And there are those with honorary PhDs. Academically, a person with an honorary PhD is not called Dr this or Dr that. They can indicate that they have an honorary PhD, meaning they have performed, in some aspects of life, to the standards of a PhD.

But not in Malawi, even those with honorary PhDs want to be called Dr. Take the example of Muluzi, the man whose profile is not clear to most Malawians. (By the way, where was he born? What was his primary school? Where did he write JC?) He got an honorary PhD from whatever university and upon return he was called Dr Muluzi, ever since.

This is the first time I am calling him Dr Muluzi just for the sake of this article, otherwise I have no business calling a person who did not go as far as Form Four Dr.

Muluzi and others who have honorary PhDs are not supposed to be called Dr because this is an academic title reserved for those who have been to school, those who have studied for a bachelors, a masters and a doctorate. A PhD means a person can now start learning. A PhD means a person is able to look at the world using some kind of theory to understand issues, events and ideas.

A PhD means one has specialised in some area of study and they are an authority in that area. Now when we call honorary PhDs Dr, what area have they specialised?

The case of honorary PhDs is just one and not a big crime. There are people who don’t have PhDs but claim to have one. They went to the US, Britain or some country and came back claiming they have a PhD. So, they get good jobs, earn a lot of money while the bodies they work for sink down into underperformance. You talk to them and they don’t engage you intellectually and you begin to wonder whether or not they really have a PhD.

I hear even in some academic institutions of higher learning there are some who claim to have a PhD when they don’t. How do they beat the university system? I don’t know. My suspicion is that some people are peers and trust each other without any documentary evidence. If I went to college with Gracian Tukula and he is my principal or registrar, I would just tell him, "I am back with my PhD" and he would believe me, and treat me like a PhD.

The worst thing is that there is rumour—and most serious truths start as rumour—that one or two senior staff in some academic institutions have no masters degrees. They just disappeared for a year or two and came back to say ‘I have a masters’ and their bosses who are their friends believed and treated them as such.

I have a feeling that some members of the generation that is in 40s and 50s are cheating this country a lot in terms of qualifications. They pose as if they are qualified but some of them are not. They insist on experience but working for 25 years, which they call 25 years of experience, does not necessarily mean 25 years of ideas and brilliant performance. Malawi is looking for ideas, not experience which in Malawi is routine.

All over the world, people are realising that some members of the old generation, even those in 60s, are cheating and working as if they are dying tomorrow. They don’t care what happens to their institutions. (Read about the financial crisis in the West and you will begin to believe this.)

But the worst culprits are church leaders who claim to have PhDs when they do not have the papers. They are prominent apostles, or whatever they call themselves. Of course, this issue of PhDs is common to pentecostal churches, not the evangelicals or the traditional Christian denominations. The old, traditional churches—Catholic, CCAP, SDA and others—do not allow fake PhDs, hence we have genuine papers in these churches and they don’t insist on being called Dr.

There is Dr Bonface Tamani who doesn’t bother, so long you call him Father Tamani, that is alright. There is Dr Martin Mtumbuka, who is a genuine PhD but he does not bother about the title. There is Dr Sosten Mfune of the SDA church; he, too, does not really bother but he has a PhD that took him years.

But it is these apostles who are claiming to be Dr this or Dr that when they don’t even know what it means to read for a bachelor’s degree. They don’t know a thesis, don’t even think of a dissertation. But these men of God without shame claim to be apostle Dr this, apostle Dr that. Shame! Even genuine PhDs in these churches are silent. They respect the apostles, giving them the title Dr.

I have no respect for any man of God who claims the title Dr when they don’t have any paper. They are liars, not only that, they give an impression that a PhD is easy to get and their followers, especially young people, may think life is that easy.

As someone who loves young people, I want to see an old generation that cares, that guides, that leads by example, not an old generation that cheats and lies and destroys.

My plain view is that President Bingu wa Mutharika, being chancellor of some of our universities, must ask those who claim the title Dr, to bring out their papers. By being chancellor he is a custodian of academic qualifications in Malawi and they must be guarded most jealously. In fact, Mutharika must start by flying around his own PhD!

Monday, November 3, 2008

‘Our Success is Team Work'

The Flames have made it into the final phase of qualifiers of Nations Cup and World Cup. Who is responsible for this success of a team that was turning into losers on the continent. I put this and other questions to national team coach Kinnah Phiri.

Me: It seems to me people are not sure who is responsible for the recent success of the Flames. Is it the coach? Players? Football Association of Malawi? Sports Council of Malawi? Or what is responsible for this success?
Kinnah: Good governance.

Me: I never expected that answer. What about good governance?

Kinnah: Good governance in general. [But] it starts with money. There is money to construct roads and bridges; there is money to pay me as coach and fund functions of the national team. Football is part of a national structure. When there is good governance along the structure, things work. I did not bring new players. I inherited a team that was losing time and again. What has changed?

Me: That is the question that should be answered.

Kinnah: It is the leadership. No leadership, no success. It starts with the President [Bingu wa Mutharika], the Sports Minister Mr Vuwa Kaunda, the Sports Council of Malawi where Mr [George] Jana is doing good job; then we come to Fam where Mr Walter Nyamilandu is doing things properly and then it comes to Kinnah Phiri running the national team properly. It is a joint effort. Success does not come from one person. There is no way you can fail to produce good results when the set-up is good.

Me: Where is players’ commitment?

Kinnah: It is about good leadership at all levels. Players can be committed when leadership is good. I have said that this team was called useless. I took over the same team and it is successful now.

Me: And juju, what is the place of juju in football?

Kinnah: We can believe in juju, but it does not work. Juju cannot score a goal. It works psychologically. In football, we talk about playing properly.

Me: In a recent interview, you said you do not fear big teams.

Kinnah: We don’t fear big teams. We will play normally. We will play as we play any other team.

Me: No specific way of playing?

Kinnah: I cannot go into particulars of tactics because our competitors will know our formulas.

Me: What about Didier Drogba?

Kinnah: He is playing in a big league. He is a good player but he can be marked properly.

Me: How?

Kinnah: He will be playing as a team, not as an individual. If you cut his services he won’t be a good player.

Me: Cut his services. How would that happen?

Kinnah: No, no, no. I am not saying anything tactical. We are going to prepare normally, no special preparations apart from what we have been doing.

Me: There are five groups, each with four teams. If we are among number one to three we will go to Angola for Cup of Nations in January 2010; if we are number one, we will go to South Africa for 2010 World Cup. What is your destination?

Kinnah: Our aim is to take the Flames to South Africa. Whatever happens, we want to be in South Africa.
And if I ask you how, you will say nothing tactical.
Kinnah: Of course.

Me: OK. Sept Blatter accused England of breaking a soccer cardinal law when it hired an Italian Fabio Capello as a national coach for the English side. Blatter said a national coach team must speak the same language with his players. Do you agree with Blatter?

Kinnah: I agree.

Me: Why?

Kinnah: Football is played in a culture. You can’t leave culture out of football. A coach needs to understand his players and that understanding comes from speaking the same language.

Let me say this, football is more than playing on the field. We do counselling. The players face challenges which some of us faced and we discuss those things. It is important that we understand their challenges in the context of [our] culture.

Me: What about coaching on the pitch and language?

Kinnah: Football players have an inborn talent that needs to be enhanced. Some may not be educated and we know if you are a Malawian and speak English, you must be educated. Now, should we keep out a player because he does not speak English? We can realise the full potential of players when they speak the same language with a coach.

Me: Is that all? Can a foreign coach really want the Flames to win all the time? Would he feel a loss the way you, being a Malawian, would? If he is from England, for example, and we are meeting England, in whatever cup, would he want Malawi to beat his home country?

Kinnah: A foreign coach is here for money [while] a local coach is here for love of the country. A foreign coach has to make money and enjoy in his home country. Have you ever seen a foreign coach who built a house here and made Malawi his home? But Malawi is my home and this is where I will invest.

Me: You can choose to invest outside Malawi. It is not automatic that you are a Malawian and you invest in Malawi.

Kinnah: No. Then I would have stayed on in South Africa. I love my country and I want to be part of those developing Malawi.

Me: You were a great player and now you are turning into a great coach. But I have never heard about any of your sons turning into great players. Are you worried?

Kinnah: I have three boys and all of them concentrated on education. Two are in the United kingdom; one is doing a masters in IT, the other is doing architecture. My first born, Foster, was a good player but had a serious injury while a student at MCA [Malawi College of Accountancy], and that stopped his rise [on the soccer ladder].

Me: Are you worried that your sons have not lived your soccer name?

Kinnah: No. They have their own future in what they are doing.

Me: What is your message to Malawians?

Kinnah: They must keep on wearing red. They must love their country by supporting the national team and they must come to games in large numbers.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Our Dying Languages


This article was published over two years ago and was heavily quoted by Mr Joseph Mwanamvekha, chaiperson of the Muhlako wa Ahlomwe launch on October 25. It is nice the Lomwes have acted. I have maintained the Lomwe spelling, not Lhomwe, to show that this article was done long before the Lomwes came to promote their languages.

They often shout their mantra, Angoni satha onse (the Ngoni still exist), in Chichewa because Ngoni is almost a culture without a language.

"Ngoni, for all practical purposes, is a dead language," says Pascal Kishindo, a professor of linguistics at Chancellor College.

The reasons are historical. The Ngoni left Zululand, among other reasons running away from Shaka Zulu’s wars, and moved to Malawi in two groups, on different routes, waging wars, conquering on the way and, finally, settled in Mzimba and Ntcheu.

The majority of the people who came to Malawi, therefore, were those captured during wars and not necessarily the original Ngoni. Only the royal clan and a few others could speak Ngoni in Malawi.
As a result, Ngoni was not an everyday language, it was not passed on to future generations and became a second or third language.

"When a language is not used everyday, it’s on its way out," says Kishindo.

Indeed Ngoni is out because only chants remain. These are recited by old people on important occasions like initiation and installation of chiefs.

Such old people are at Mpherembe in Mzimba and around Inkosi ya Makosi Gomani’s area in Ntcheu. Now there are efforts to revive the language.

The Mzimba Heritage Association is running Ngoni classes throughout Mzimba, so that Ngoni culture should not die because in the first place, a culture is carried by a language.

This initiative was approved by Inkosi ya Makosi M’mbelwa and government. South Africa donated textbooks for the exercise a couple of years ago.

One of the people involved is Aupson Ndabazake Thole, who works for Mzuzu Museum. He says one real challenge is that few Ngoni words still in use have been mixed up with Chitumbuka.

Perhaps Ngoni is not so much of a worry because something is happening to resurrect it from the dead. It is languages still in use like Chilomwe and Chitonga that should be guarded against gradual death.

The danger, says Bright Molande of English Department at Chancellor College, is that a person can speak a language without owning it. Such people do not live their languages.

A 1966 population census showed that Lomwe was the country’s second largest spoken language. Chichewa was number one, Yao came third with Tumbuka on fourth.

Some have, as in every census, doubted the accuracy of the statistics, saying the enumerators simply asked the tribe of the respondents and assumed they could speak the language of their tribe.

The real challenge is that while Tumbuka, for example, is spoken in Blantyre, Chilomwe, a language close to the commercial city, is rarely spoken there.

While Chiyao becomes a language for a bus to Mangochi and Chisena for a bus to Nsanje, Chilomwe is never heard on public transport to Mulanje. "It was very difficult to find people who speak Lomwe very freely at a market, for example," says Kishindo of his 1999 study on Chilomwe in Thyolo and Mulanje.

One sad observation, says Kishindo, is that it was old people who were interested while "the young folks were annoyed".

History is part of the explanation. The Lomwe were the latest people to come to Malawi. Some as late as 1910. They ran away from oppressive rule of the Portuguese in neighbouring Mozambique and picked up humble jobs in tea estates in Thyolo and Mulanje, including Phalombe.

"It would be hypocritical of me if I don’t accept this," says Ken Lipenga, an ardent speaker and researcher in Lomwe semantics.

As a result, some Lomwe shied away from their ethnic identity and were reluctant to speak their language.

"It’s not surprising, therefore, that there has been a language shift from Chilomwe to Chichewa," says Gregory Kamwendo in his contribution to A Democracy of Chameleons, a 2002 book on politics and culture in new Malawi.

Lipenga accepts the shift but says Chilomwe is not developing characteristics of a dying language.

"Lomwes speak other languages in order to communicate with people outside the tribe," says Lipenga, adding that among themselves in Phalombe, for example, they speak Chilomwe.

But he realises the need to pass on the language to future generations, first by giving children Lomwe names.
"My two children have Lomwe names," says Lipenga.

Perhaps, the worst setback to all languages in independent Malawi was the Malawi Congress Party’s 1968 convention which resolved that Chichewa be a national language. The introduction of one language was partly good for the sake of national unity.

The problem was the selfish manner in which first President Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda imposed his language on the nation.

Despite the nationalisation of Chichewa, Livingstonia Synod of the CCAP has been a custodian of Chitumbuka, for instance. The Synod uses Chitumbuka for worship.

This has helped the Tumbuka language to thrive. But the Synod is not a custodian of Tumbuka culture which is supposed to be carried by the language.

It’s clear, therefore, that people, owners of a culture, can promote a culture through its language. That’s what the Lomwe and other tribes have to do.

Yet promoting a language requires a lot of political will and a number fanatics to despise all ridicule.
The first political will in recent years was the introduction of several languages on MBC Radio One. But this is not enough.

Still there are signs of hope. The suggested instruction of junior primary school pupils in the vernacular may help, confirms Alfred Mtenje, professor of linguistics at Chancellor College.

But Malawi has over 10 languages and it’s not yet known which ones will be used from the list of local languages which include Chichewa, Chiyao, Chitumbuka, Chisena, Chilomwe, Chingonde, Chinyakyusa, Chilambya, Chindali, Chisuku, Chinyika, Chitonga, Chisenga, Chingoni, Chimambwe and many more.
Some of these languages are spoken by a few hundreds of people and may not be a medium of instruction.

But for those that are on the danger of disappearing, there is need for a programme to collect information from old people because once they die it’s like a library has caught fire, books destroyed.

Any preservation of a language, however, should come from the people themselves because the Lomwe distinctiveness, for example, is very interesting to a linguist like Mtenje.

But his feeling is that the Lomwe themselves should be interested in their culture and tradition— folktales, rituals and initiation. A language, as we say, is a carrier of a culture. Therefore, to live a language is to live a culture.

The instruction of junior pupils in mother tongues is perhaps a good, but bumpy starting point. Our children, and all of us, should not only speak but live our languages to preserve our cultures.

This means Lomwe people should not only dance tchopa but should also sing Chilomwe songs. Likewise, Yao and their manganje, Ngoni and beni and so on.

When we live our languages we shall use them daily, pass them on to future generations and make them preferable to others.

That’s what all tribes in Malawi should be doing.

Monday, October 13, 2008

End of All Things

The song is short: three minutes, 50 seconds. In fact, the song is too sweet to end.

Nelly Furtado is a musician who has seen all sides of life and she was right to ask the question: All good things, why do they come to an end? All good things: from love to wealth to life. But her song, though good, comes to an end as well. Of course you can replay, but it still comes to an end; you replay (again) but it still comes to an end.

A bottle of the sweetest drink comes to an end. It may be refilled but the taste may not the be same, not because the chemical make-up of the drink has changed, but because the circumstances of drinking are no longer the same. A good whistle is inspiring, but soon you get tired and cannot whistle any more. You try again, but you can’t whistle the way you did, the way it was—not as sweet.

Why do good things come to an end? Furtado is right to ask this question. But it is not good things only that come to and end. Bad things end as well and this is where we appreciate that it is good for things—good and bad—to come to an end.

The war in Mozambique was bad. In fact, there was something wrong in the way Portugal handed over power in its colonies because both Mozambique and Angola went into war soon after independence.
Malawi hosted about a million refugees from Mozambique. They settled in Balaka, Ntcheu, Dedza, Mulanje and other districts.

Hundreds of them married in Malawi and settled. Thousands returned to their country at the end of the war. But forests were depleted to create space for the refugees. The pain of the mercy to keep Mozambican refugees is still felt in Malawi. The pain of war in Mozambique is still prevalent not only in Mozambique but in the region.

Some have speculated that the first guns used in armed robbery in Malawi were from Mozambique. Others have gone to the extent of saying Mozambicans did not help matters as regards HIV prevalence.
Now that the war is over, Mozambique has picked up the pieces and its economy is bigger than that of Malawi in most senses. Mozambique feeds us when there is food shortage here.

Imagine the war in Mozambique did not come to an end. There would have been a war in Mozambique, chaos in Zimbabwe and the whole region would have been disaster.

So, it was nice the war came to an end. In fact, it is nice things—all things, good and bad—have an end for without one, the world would have been a bad place.

This is a world surviving one end of things. The sun does not move, it does not rise, it does not set, but the world talks about sunrise and sunset because one, nature has made this possible and, two, it is good that a day comes and ends to pave way for night and darkness: a sense of variety and forward moving.

One life has to come to an end for another to start. The death of one is the birth of another. The world needs some space for new borns.

Yet we mourn those who went before us. Malawi has never had anyone close to the late Du Chisiza jr, actor, playwright, producer and manager. Malawi is missing the skills of musicians like Deus and Bright Nkhata, Grey Ntila; players like Dixon Mbetewa, Harry Waya, and Frank Sinalo. We miss their skills, their talent. Kalimba and Makasu bands remain the best combination Malawi has ever had.

Why did their life come to an end? We ask the question because we miss them. The compensation is that memories about them soothe souls. Beyond that, we celebrate the passing of criminals. We also take end of life moments seriously.

In the final analysis, knowledge on this side of paradise is like that: we can’t understand everything; not now, but then, on the other side of paradise, we shall understand.

My plain view is that Nelly Furtado’s song and question "Why do good things come to an end?" is good and understandable it lacks depth. End of things is part of life and something the world has to live with because forever is too long to be enjoyed in this state.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Digesting UDF Brains

The UDF is a party in the news. This week the Malawi Law Society spoke on the party’s presidential candidate and the risks that his candidature brings. I spoke spoke with UDF director of research Humphrey Mvula.

Me: So many voices but it seems the UDF is listening to itself, only.

Mvula: I disagree that the UDF is listening to its own voice only.

Me: That is what we are seeing?

Mvula: That is a wrong vision. The national conference elected Muluzi as its candidate for 2009. He was elected by representatives from all constituencies. People exercised their democratic right. Beyond that, the national executive committee has carried out adequate consultations in Malawi and abroad: QCs and others have been consulted. What comes out clearly is that there is no law that bars Muluzi from standing. The cardinal point is that he has been elected by the 2000 delegates from all over Malawi.

Me: True. The UDF is, so far, the only party to hold a convention prior to next year’s elections. But that was just an illusion because there was no level playing field. Muluzi had been campaigning for over a year. Should we be attributing that choice to people?

Mvula: I disagree with you. The convention had been cancelled several times over two years and anyone who was interested in standing for the UDF presidency had adequate time to sell himself to the electorate. Additionally, anyone who wants the presidency in any party must have long range planning done two or three years go. You should be able to distinguish Muluzi and the chairman of the party [from] Muluzi as the presidential candidate.

Me: How do we distinguish? They are one. Muluzi as national chairman, as presidential candidate, as financier of the party—these are one?

Mvula: No, no, no! They are not. That is a perception!

Me: And perceptions are more important than reality. In fact, perceptions reflect reality.

Mvula: In politics, leaders can be synonymous with party structures and command. This happens in the political industry. A leader becomes a persona of a party. Muluzi was able to market himself and the party did not bar anyone from showing interest or marketing themselves.

Me: But there must be something strong in UDF that stopped people like Friday Jumbe and Brown Mpinganjira from contesting because Muluzi was contesting.

Mvula: The strongest factor that stopped them was their conscious, and their respect for the elderly in African setting. Possibly personal understanding that we have been mentored by this same person, shall we be able to oust him? But beyond that, it is people that vote. For you to contest, you must have a body of people who can vote for you. Astute leaders assess themselves and decide whether to contest or not.

Me: Law, yes. There might be no law that stops Muluzi but morally, he is supposed to retire and let others in UDF run the affairs of the party.

Mvula: I don’t agree with you on that point. All over examples abound of people who have come back.

Me: But are these examples good enough to follow?

Mvula: In Pakistan, Spain and Italy, Israel. The issue of allowing a good leader to come back should not be attached to morality. There is nothing immoral about Muluzi coming back into the party. As long as people in UDF say this is the best candidate in this contest, it may not be correct for us to stop.

Another factor is that if President Bingu wa Mutharika was still in the UDF today, there would have been no talk of Muluzi now. Mutharika did not just dump UDF, he did two dangerous things. He denied the UDF the honour of supporting and electing a successful President. He also short-circuited the party’s succession plan. Some of the people in the succession plan were taken to the new party, meaning that the UDF has suffered a huge gap.

Me: But there are still more of you in UDF?

Mvula: No. Leaders are not picked from the street. They are developed, nurtured and become leaders, everywhere, in any industry. This is the story that you are not telling on behalf of UDF. It is a party that has suffered a succession crisis.

Me: But it was self-made.

Mvula: It was not self-made.

Me: The UDF did not create a conducive climate for the President. There was Fast Track, there was all this jabbing. How would a person stay?

Mvula: I don’t want to go into that because it involves a President who is in another party. It is not true that the UDF did not create an environment good enough for Mutharika. It is not true that anyone wanted to take away the honour of the President. The party was convinced and confident that within the first 10 years, we were to consolidate democracy and next [years] the economy. So the choice [of Mutharika] was in that sense.

Me: I am glad you say that because when we study new democracies the first decade or so is for democracy consolidation and the later years for economic growth. The tragedy is that the UDF candidate is campaigning on the consolidation of democracy when we are in a phase that emphasises on the creation of wealth because it is rich people who can demand freedoms.

Mvula: We have never campaigned on the premise of consolidating democracy.

Me: The UDF candidate is campaigning on that premise?

Mvula: No, no, no. The issue of democractisation, rule of law, human rights, power to the people, are enshrined in the Constitution. Whatever happens in a democracy should have a human face. What is happening today is dangerous. Section 65, the failure to hold local government elections—these are examples that we are rolling back to what we fought against. The leader who is coming in 2009 must safeguard the Constitution. Our manifesto never talks about one item. What you are doing is picking one item.

Me: Why is your candidate talking about democracy only?

Mvula: We have not rolled out our campaign. We will be doing that very soon and that is when you will see what we will do on agriculture, economy and other areas.

Me: It looks like people are still not sure and are looking back to UDF to correct the candidature of Muluzi. The party may be creating a crisis if Muluzi is refused to contest. If that happens, it will be a national tragedy. Why not prevent this now and be sure of the future?

Mvula: If you listen carefully and analsye these voices, how many of them are neutral? Our political competitors have talked about risks which we don’t see. What is it that in the current Constitution or PPE [Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act] that stops Muluzi? I don’t see it.

Me: What if those who have authority to interpret the law say Muluzi cannot stand?

Mvula: I cannot say what we will do. But, obviously, I don’t think those who have authority, in this case the Electoral Commission, can come and say he cannot stand because they are not going to bring new laws. The laws that exist today allow Muluzi to stand. The mischief is that people are dragging Section 83 into this issue. The qualifications of a candidate are not in Section 83.

Me: The spirit of the constitutional conference was that a person should serve a maximum of two consecutive terms and retire and you were there, you know this. Why are you not abiding by the spirit of the Constitution?

Mvula: If the spirit was not translated into the Constitution, it is not the fault of anyone. All the spirit should have done was to remove the word consecutive. If they had done so, then that spirit would have been actualised into action.

Me: So the UDF is taking advantage of the loophole?

Mvula: It is not taking advantage. It is only complying. It has not been repealed. If there is somebody who feels nasty about it, they should demand that it be repealed. As long as it is not repealed, the issue of consecutive is simple English. This is about a sitting President. Why are we mesmerising ourselves? The best I can say is that there are individuals who are peddling a campaign against the strong candidate.

Me: How strong is Muluzi because his decade was not a period that people may wish to come back?

Mvula: I don’t agree with you.

Me: There was a lot of violence.

Mvula: You said the first 10 years are for stabilising democracy. By and large we had a lot of achievements, honestly.

Me: Why should I trust your judgment on the assessment of Muluzi because if you move to another party today, you will be talking different things?

Mvula: Judge me by ability to do what I do. Democracy brought a good Constitution but the Penal Code was old. But here was a leader who did not want to use a Penal Code that was from a one party system. That was from the personality of Muluzi. In terms of Muluzi as an individual, he would be a much much better President than anyone that will be contesting.

In terms of the economy, we inherited empty coffers but we achieved the first debt cancellation in 2000. We achieved and you were there marching with all Malawians. This happened in the UDF era and has never been attributed to the UDF.

Me: Assuming we have two candidates here, Muluzi and Mutharika, I know you will vote for Muluzi. But why should people vote for Muluzi and not Mutharika.

Mvula: This is a difficult question.

Me: But I need an answer.

Mvula: I would compare them in four [areas]. Four years within a democracy and being part of planning that process, and 10 years from a dictatorship, there have been few happenings now. Apart from macroeconomic fundamentals, individuals are poorer than they were. The value of the wage is no longer of any value. Delivery of services is poor. There are more blackouts than when the economy was wavering.

In terms of governance, the kind of Constitution we have is too democratic. It allows power to the people in form of councilors. That we have not had these in four years is serious. The third one is the way leadership is played. In a democracy leaders are servants, not masters.

Finally, adding value to our raw materials. Why should we sell our tobacco as raw materials. The adding of value should be able to bring more money. I can go on and on and on but I am the first to agree that there has been macroeconomic gains that have not translated into microeconomic, the downstream operations. The other thing is our adoption of structural adjustment programmes has been without coping mechanism in terms of people being fired if we are closing a company.

Me: Why is it that people become wiser once they are in opposition and they see what they didn’t see when in power?

Mvula: I don’t think that is correct?

Me: It is. If you were in power you would not be talking of coping mechanism and all that.

Mvula: No, no, no.

Me: You would be defending the system.

Mvula: No! Take it from me. Record this and put it in the newspaper. If I am part of a power system, I will always talk about what I am talking about.

Me: Are you sure?

I am saying record it for the sake of posterity.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sharing the National Cake

My life has been a journey. I sat for primary school leaving certificate examinations (PSLC) twice, hoping for selection to Balaka Secondary School, but I ended up at Ulongwe MCDE Centre on the road to Mangochi.

My MSCE in 1996 was wonderful. Being the second group to sit for MSCE at Ulongwe MCDE, people did not expect much, really. Studying using a chikoloboyi at night was trouble.

But I managed to get 26 points and this was not easy. But remember that the first time I saw a test-tube was in a biology practical examination in the laboratory of St Charles Lwanga MCDE Centre at Balaka. And the examination was after midnight, because we were waiting for the owners of the school and those from Phalula MCDE Centre to finish.

Now compare my situation with someone who was at Zomba Catholic Secondary School, a school with a library, qualified teachers, a laboratory and electricity. You cannot begin to compare, you can only contrast. Then the next step was to travel to Blantyre to sit for the university entrance examination (UEE). I had no idea how it would be.

No wonder I was not selected to go the University of Malawi. I had 58in mathematics, 64 in language skills and 54 in reasoning skills. My average was 58.6. The minimum average for selection was 50 but because a lot of people performed a lot better than me, I was not picked.

After close to three years in the city, I was able to prepare for UEE in 1999. My great friend Rodney Mpinganjira coached me in maths. I read a lot of books and improved my reasoning skills.

Come selection, I was picked. Why? I will tell you. The questions I met during UEE were for city people, and I had become one. Our examinations are formed on the assumption that we all grow up in cities with exposure to electricity and technology and media and ideas. If I was in the city, I would have been picked at the first attempt of UEE because I was intelligent in all senses only that circumstances worked against me.

The solution to my dilemma and that of other rural folks is quota system. If it were quota system then, the university would have said, “look here, there is this boy from Balaka who has qualified to be selected but there are many above him. Let us give this rural folk from an MCDE centre without electricity the opportunity to study in the university.”

After giving such an opportunity to 200 or 250 rural folks, the university committee would select the rest on competition. Remember that I qualified for selection only that more people scored better than me, not because I was less intelligent but because I was not exposed to similar circumstances as town folks.

My plain view is that Malawi is living in a number of illusions. One of them is that merit means getting the best without considering circumstances of our young people, especially those growing up and living in remote areas. We have condemned them to their small corners of the country. We are keeping the education national cake to town folks, those who know a bulb, a socket, a tap and a kettle.

Another illusion is the law that bans matola on the assumption that we have an effective public transport when the majority of our people depend on matola.

We need to think through our situation and use laws and systems that suit our development needs. Let us ease transport problems by allowing matola in those areas where there are no buses. Let us adopt quota system and give the boy and girl in Hewe, Chididi or Khola a chance to eat from the national cake.


This piece is dedicated to my friend—well, he is my brother—Bright Molande who introduced me to Theory at MA level at Chancellor College. He is a great scholar whose reputation as a cultural theorist and postcolonial scholar is growing in Africa and Europe.

He left for Essex University, (outside London) for his Ph.D. This is where, years ago, he was the only African in a class of 49 and was the first to finish an MA programme meant for 12 months in nine months—and with a distinction! But now he will have to spend at least three years away. Bright, my heart goes with you. My heart remains with your family. I will be there when you come to take your family.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wisdom of Africa

Africa is a continent with unique philosophies that can make the world a better place. Malawi needs to tap from the past to answer some crucial questions of the present and the future.

Some 20 Mandinka boys of West Africa were about to become men, to pass through the last part of the rite of passage called initiation.

But the boys had to master the knowledge of their tribe. That was Africa of centuries ago. Some of the issues had to do with wealth, marriage, family and war. The story of Africa’s past titled Roots, in book and film, is powerful.

“On how many sides should you surround an enemy in war?” Asked the Kintango or initiation teacher. “Four,” answered one of the initiates. “Wrong,” said the teacher, adding: “Never completely encircle your enemy. Leave him some escape, for he will fight even more desperately if trapped. The aim of war is to win, not to kill.”

This wisdom is unique to Africa. It is a kind of philosophy that US President George Bush and his friend Tony Blair have not mastered. The aim of war is to win, not to kill. But the war in Iraq is about killing, not winning.

The idea of killing as is the case in DR Congo, Somalia, Ivory Coast, Burundi, Central African Republic and Darfur—the shame of the continent—is not African. These are conflicts that have a heavy alien influence that is using unpatriotic Africans. The challenge for Africa is that some people are willing to be used, even abused, to kill fellow Africans.

The Mandinka boys also learned that battles should start in late afternoon, so that any enemy, seeing defeat, could save face by retreating in the darkness.

The idea of long wars is not African. Almost all African wars—typical African wars—in history were brief. Wars lasted less than a week, no more than two weeks. This idea of a war that seems endless as is the case in Iraq is not African.

Often a war between African tribes lasted hours. The wars of Shaka Zulu were brief. The problem was that he fought so many wars and his army became tired. That wars should start in late afternoon and let the defeated enemy run away under the cover of darkness, with his dignity intact, is truly lacking in today’s world where people are defeated physically and psychologically in broad daylight.

Contact and dialogue is typical African. People used to talk to each other, often away from masses. Secrecy is typical African. Sensitive issues were kept in secret to keep concerned people’s dignity. All in all, the understanding was that even the defeated have dignity.
It is a lesson that Nelson Mandela got in his boyhood, that enemies should be defeated with their dignity.

“I learned my lesson one day from an unruly donkey. We had been taking turns climbing up and down its back and when my chance came I jumped on and the donkey bolted into a nearby thorn bush. It bent its head, trying to unseat me, which it did, but not before the thorns had pricked and scratched my face, embarrassing me in front of my friends. Like the people of the East, Africans have a highly developed sense of dignity, or what the Chinese call ‘face’. I had lost face among my friends. Even though it was a donkey that unseated me, I learned that to humiliate another person is to make him suffer an unnecessarily cruel fate. Even as a boy, I defeated my opponents without dishonouring them,” writes Mandela in his book Long Walk to Freedom.

This wisdom is for the people of Africa and the East and this is what has made Mandela the world’s greatest man now living. Apartheid was evil in all senses. But when Mandela came to power, he did not embarrass the white South Africans who perpetrated apartheid.

He extended forgiveness to people who had just been oppressing him and his people. Mandela invited the whites into a government of national unity. This is one great thing that Mandela got right. It is a lesson that has stuck with him from childhood days, from playing with animals.

Which is why children should be left to play around with friends, even if it means away from home. The challenge is that today’s world is so unsafe that once children play away from home, parents fear they may be defiled.

This is wisdom that President Robert Mugabe missed. He has worked to embarrass his enemies, the white Zimbabweans who grabbed land from black Zimbabweans using untold force. The idea of getting back land was good. But the means were wrong. Mugabe should have asked for wisdom from Mandela. Evil for evil is not African. It is alien, strange among the people.

If Mugabe had been kind yet tactful like Mandela, Zimbabwe would not have been in the problems as is the case now. The eye-for-eye or tit-for-tat approach is working against him. What Mugabe forgot is that the whites are the owners of tit-for-tat and they have hit hard at Zimbabwe.

The tit-for-tat is bringing squabbles that seem to have no end. Saddam Hussein was evil but hanging him without dignity was also evil.

The US and Iraq should have learned from Africa of the past where capital punishment went with dignity. The story of Sikusinja ndi Gwenembe summaries it all. Once Sikusinja confessed that he had killed his younger brother, Gwenembe, the elders of the village ruled that Sikusinja was not fit to exist in society. He was to face death sentence, but with honour.

It was all normal, a day of hunting. All men went out into the bush and Gwenembe was among them. Then, an antelope appeared. One man hit at it.

Gwenembe ran to finish the animal. The few who knew the ‘plan’ ran to the other side. Two or three men ran together with Gwenembe and hit at him. He cried. Then silence. He was no more. The rest of the village heard that Gwenembe had gone missing while hunting. In their minds, he died a manly death, in the bush while hunting. That was dying with dignity; in secrecy, of course, which was typical African.
The same was for Nigeria where Ikemefuna, that boy captured in a short war, was to be killed. He was not hung like Saddam.

Ikemefuna was taken by elders into a forest where he was killed with a machete and life went on for the rest of the people.

Opening fire at people in public is not African. Keeping children without parents away from home, in their own places called orphanage is not African. In Africa one is never an orphan because there is always a family—what some call extended family system—that takes over the responsibility of looking after children whose parents died.

Announcing that ‘we have assisted so and so or orphans with this and that’ is not African. Fighting cultural practices like chokolo, kupita kufa and fisi in a way that brings shame to their custodians is not African. That is partly the reason the war against these is not successful enough to show results.

Longtime ago, when some 20 Mandinka boys were about to become men, to pass through the last stage of the right of passage called initiation, they learned wisdom of the people, wisdom of Africa.

This is the wisdom lacking in what are turning to be modernised societies. One real way of making Malawi a better place, especially in matters politics, is to go back to the wisdom of the people, wisdom of Africa.

“...when we are at our best, history and heroes enable us to look ahead, not backward,” says Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek.

History, true history of ourselves, is what Africa needs today.

Strategic Journalism

Why are Malawian journalists often called partners—and not participants—in democracy or development?

The reason is simple and within the journalists themselves. Media practitioners in Malawi have stuck to reportarial (the he or she said type) as opposed to participatory journalism (research, analysis and interpretation of events, issues and opinions).

But it is not surprising. In fact, it is historical. The one-party era didn’t help matters. Journalists were as good as copy typists, repeating what the minister or government official says.

That is still in us, so much so that we don’t go beyond the surface. That is why there is so much of “Government has said this or that” reporting in the media in Malawi.

The journalist, in this case, is like a microphone, transmitting whatever the user has said. It’s journalism, of course. But a very small fraction of a journalist’s five functions.

The first three—surveillance or information, entertainment and linkage—are obvious. These functions demand reporting that that is often event-based.

Everyday, journalists inform people. The media—especially radio, television and internet—also entertain audiences. The last two functions of interpretation and transmission of values or socialisation are difficult to satisfy.

Newsweek Internation editor Fareed Zakaria calls the satisfaction of these two functions participatory journalism. A better term is strategic journalism.

Zakaria, a former professor of political science at Harvard University, sees journalism as “a participant in world affairs” and that it’s impossible to pretend to be aloof from everyday world tears and victories.

This calls for a satisfaction of interpretation and socialisation functions which require journalists to research, analyse and write powerfully in order to persuade, for example.

In short, journalists ought to become public intellectuals because a newspaper, radio or television is a street classroom. And a teacher who comes to a class simply to read from a book is not worth the job. So is a journalist who simply quotes people without an element of reasoning.

A good professor reads a lot, does a lot of research, thinks a lot and engages students in dialogue and reasoning.

That is what journalism ought to do. Why, for example, is domestic violence happening in a way we have never heard before? A journalist ought to research, not simply sit on a desk and call people and ask questions.

The people we call need answers as well. We often rush to officials to ask about domestic violence and they often give shallow answers that cannot move a nation.

A typical example is what NGOs said on Section 65, a lot of it lacking substance, no insights, no analysis. The Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) claimed President Bingu wa Mutharika is inviting civil unrest because of his actions over Section 65 and Parliament. Civil unrest?

Perhaps at gun point. Does anyone see Malawians going to the streets to demonstrate against proroguing of Parliament? Section 65 is not a matter of survival for Malawians. On the hierarchy of needs, it comes at things we can do without, meaning it is not a basic need.

Budget, on the other hand, is a basic need. It is a question of our nation’s stage on the way to its full lifespan.

But as journalists we have gone ahead to quote every NGO official without any question. That ought to change. Journalists need to read and take sources to task. A journalist who is a public intellectual would look at issues to do with Section 65 and social response to political changes.

Our newspapers need analysis and sythesis that can help change a person’s behaviour. The interpretation and socialisation functions can fight Aids and domestic violence.

That is not all. We shall also set the agenda. Agenda Setting Theory describes a very powerful influence of the media—the ability to tell people what issues are important.

This theory, better known as function, dates to as far back as 1922 when newspaper columnist Walter Lippman was concerned that the media had the power to present images to the public.

Then from 1960s Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw investigated United States presidential campaigns in 1968, 1972 and 1976.

In a research done in 1968 they focused on two elements: awareness and information. They attempted to assess the relationship between what voters in one community said were important issues and the actual content of the media messages used during the campaign.

McCombs and Shaw concluded that the mass media exerted a significant influence on what voters considered to be the major issues of the campaign.

Scholars assume that journalists do not reflect reality; they filter and shape it and concentration on a few issues and subjects leads the public to perceive those issues as more important than other issues.

“The press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers [and listeners] what to think about,” said Bernard Cohen in 1963.

One of America’s recent greatest article was Zakaria’s 7,000 word special report: “Why They Hate Us?” which appeared in Newsweek International three weeks after 9/11. The article suggested causal factors of terrorism and it remained the source of debate for weeks, even months.

This is what Malawian journalists were supposed to do with domestic violence and the Section 65/budget saga, to go beyond reporting cases and dig deep into society to find clues to this and, of course, other puzzles.

But it’s not every journalist who can interpret news or write powerfully to transmit values and set the agenda.

It seems journalists concentrate too much on media freedom which is a myth, after all. We need media freedom but more importantly education to free our minds and the minds of our audiences.

That way, says Plato in The Republic “our job ... [becomes] to compel the best minds to attain what we have called the highest form of knowledge, and to ascend to the vision of the good.”