We are all prisoners of the past. What past will our children and their children have? This is a question for our generation.
It is human desire to look ahead and try to make sense of and shape the future. This has been part of human history through the ages.
I will be 60 in 2036, retired (perhaps?) and settled in some rural corner, not far away from the city of Blantyre, researching, writing, publishing and visiting universities to teach political thought and strategic communication.
My wife will be 55 and about to retire from the University of Malawi where she will spend years teaching and researching on ethics. Our daughter Ngeyi will be 32.
She will be teaching Medical Law and Ethics at the College of Medicine in Blantyre and writing on law, morals and ethics. Probably she will have a sister or a brother, a medical doctor, who will be 28. He or she will specialise in pyschiatry, a field that is crucial to every country’s survival but loathed by medical students in Malawi.
If you are 30 you will be 60, like me, in 2036. Our children will be our age today, in their late 20s and early 30s. What Malawi are we making for our children and their children?
Malawi of 2036 largely depends on our choices today; what we plan and achieve; the policies we put in place in critical areas of health, education, agriculture and the economy. Our choices matter because the future is in our hands. Shall our children and grandchildren look back and thank us for making Malawi a better place for them?
Or shall they blame us for all the problems on the door steps of their time? Shall our children find trees? Shall they have water shortages half their life? Will our children go to school for an education that will be meaningful to their personal prosperity and national development in a world that is becoming complicated with 21st Century challenges?
Shall I be able to live in the cool plains of Phalombe and drive to Blantyre on a safe, smooth Limbe-Chiradzulu-Phalombe Road to teach at the Polytechnic or present papers at crucial conferences? Or shall I fear thugs on the road who shall want to hijack my car and sell it in Mozambique?
So far, the prospects are hopeful. Malawi has food and, as we know, food is number one. A hungry man has no time to think and invent. A hungry person spends time hunting for food that sometimes might not be there.
I have no major problems with President Bingu wa Mutharika. His administration has challenged us to think anew, to put Malawi first and to aim higher, always. He has challenged law and made us realise that law, without reason and common sense, is not supreme. He has challenged the Judiciary, which lived untouchable.
In fact, Joseph Nkasa is right that Mutharika is Malawi’s modern Moses. This man of God who ‘saved’ Israelites from Egypt was a great leader yet imperfect.
Moses had ideas yet unable to articulate them because he was not good at speech. He was physically strong yet weak at anger that he could kill an enemy blocking his way. He was with his people yet not of the people; they could not understand his thought. He was a friend of God yet sometimes he didn’t listen to his Creator.
Told to strike a rock once, he hit it twice and angered God. Once Moses got two tablets of laws from God in the mountain and broke them soon before destination.
Mutharika seems the best leader Malawi has ever had. But—and this is true—he is not perfect. He has weaknesses. In fact, the world has no perfect leader. We do not need a perfect leader because we cannot survive such a leadership in this human state.
Mutharika has made mistakes, some shameful. The interconnection bill that was assented to before deliberations in Parliament, I am sure, was a plot by some weak minds in government. The pardon of Senior Chief Chikowi was a blunder that will be in my book on Mutharika’s presidency. Now people are not so much afraid to tamper with the subsidised fertiliser programme. The result is chaos.
And the list of the weaknesses is long. Some talk of a not-so-listening President, even in Cabinet meetings which sometimes turn into lecturers. Well, he is a human being.
Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt but he did not reach Canaan. So, too, Mutharika. He has put Malawi on a journey to prosperity but he won’t be there in 2030s.
Like everybody else, he will have to go. It’s a sad thought but true. But he has solace from Moses. After all the failures, Moses appears in Hebrews 11 among the giants of faith in the Old Testament. So, too, Mutharika. Despite all his failures and weaknesses, the strengths are too big to go unnoticed, at least in honest history books.
But while we applaud Mutharika we must remember he is using our money to develop this country—whatever you consider to be development. Thus, there is no reason to over-praise him. The legitimate praise is to ourselves and to him as our servant—not master as some ministers preach—that he has been prudent with our pulse. After all, it takes one person to build or destroy a country.
My worry for the future is not with Mutharika—although I fear for his second term. My concern is after Mutharika. Everyone who wants to develop Malawi as president must look at 2014 because Mutharika will win in 2009. Who comes after Mutharika? Will he or she live the national vision?
Of course, the choice is ours at the polls in 2014. But that depends on the candidates political parties will give us. Is there anyone understudying Mutharika to take over in 2014? Is Mutharika himself mindful that he needs to groom several and let them compete at a DPP convention?
Does the UDF have a strategic plan to prepare someone to take Malawi to greater heights? Will the People’s Progressive Movement (PPM) with less than 10 MPs be a big party with legislators all over the country? What about the MCP? Will it be there? In what form? Any new parties?
The challenge for us today is to take part in politics in a way that will influence meritocracy in parties. That is one big way to make Malawi of 2036 a good place for our oldselves, our children and our grandchildren. If we remain in what we do as smart people and call politics dirty, forgetting that it affects us in big ways, Malawi of 2036 will be a bad place.
And, as usual, the media has a big challenge. Are we reporting and analysing issues, events, ideas and functions in a way that makes people think critically about their country? Or we just vomit what not-so-intelligent politicians say?
Aids is killing 10 people every hour in Malawi, meaning 240 a day and 87,600 in an ordinary year. Most of us will survive the next 30 years. But shall Aids still be claiming 10 lives every hour in 2036? Or shall we have defeated the epidemic that has become a pandemic for Southern Africa?
The disease has affected the psyche of our country. Challenges like extreme domestic violence are, mostly, health-related.
Violence needs a psychiatry explanation. Sadly, Malawi has one psychiatrist, Dr Felix Kauye. Luckily, he has dedicated his life to the civil service, working at the Zomba Mental Hospital and teaching at the College of Medicine. Another is still in school. Hopefully, he will come back home upon completion.
Life and death in 2036 depend on our choices today. If we fight Aids strategically, we will win and reduce prevalence rates to manageable levels below five percent. If we remain careless, HIV prevalence will be worse than today.
That aside, shall the country have enough doctors? Training is not the main challenge. Ten years ago, the College of Medicine was graduating less than 10 doctors a year. Now it is producing about 40 a year. But where are these? In some classes of eight doctors, all of them are outside Malawi, working, in search of greener pastures.
There are more Malawian doctors in Scotland than in Malawi. What should we do to make doctors stay? One, the first reason is within the doctors themselves. Money, as professor Kings Phiri likes to say, is not the only solution to life’s problems. Yet our doctors need money, no question about that.
They need good working conditions. Number two, and what we have missed, is that we haven’t made true what professor Brown Chimphamba likes to say, that "the best service one can give is to their country".
How does it feel to work outside Malawi for decades and return home to find a not-so-developed country?
We need to realise that our country is developing and patience is a virtue. But everyone must be seen to be patient. It does not make sense for an MP with a JC to get a lot more than a doctor who spent 15 years in college.
The University of Botswana is nicknamed University of Malawi Botswana Campus.
The reason is simple. The English Department was once made up of Malawians with professor David Rubadiri as head. Academics are well-paid in Botswana.
Any university is an academic institution, not an employment institution. Strikes are, therefore, not part of the academic culture. So, why do we have strikes?
Do we want the academic calendar to be disturbed by strikes in 2036? No. One, academic staff need to be compensated accordingly. They are people who steer development. Two, the academic staff need to find strategic ways of bargaining. They can use the parliamentary committee on education, science and technology, for example, instead of striking like labourers.
As a country, we need to pay our academic staff well because they are at a public university. Do we as people have an interest in education? Do we want our professors well-paid? Do we realise that we can lobby on behalf of academic staff?
The future of Malawi in 2036 depends on what we do with the dons now. We need reason and common sense in our country.
How come an MP with a JC gets over K200,000 while a professor gets less than that? Both MPs and academics are our employees and we need to fight for them. Why do we allow MPs to raise their salaries unreasonably sometimes and blame academics when they want 200 percent of the little they get?
The challenges of the academics are our problems. Let us fight for them. If the university is alright, secondary and primary sections of education will be fine.
We have had steady growth of 7.5 percent per year. But without meaningful production this growth will fall and Malawi will fly back into hopelessness that characterised the second term of former president Bakili Muluzi.
The growth will also depend on how much we invest in our children. What did you inherit from your parents? Most likely nothing. But they managed to send you to school, probably. This generation needs to do more than sending children to school.
Our children need to inherit some real estate. They will need to be employed. It is not prudent to be telling university graduates to think of employing and not being employed. That is not their problem. It is ours. We need to create employment for them.
One way is to make sure the companies that are in Malawi today survive the next decades. Of course, this is largely the responsibility of the companies themselves. Those who cherish in being chief executives have the duty to keep companies in business.
Here is one way. Two decades ago, my brother Phil, also known as Alstone, was working for the Churchill Road Branch of the National Bank of Malawi. Then, NB used to publish a quarterly magazine, Entry, and the moment it arrived home, my timetable changed.
I could spend days reading. The magazine made interesting time in addition to Moni and the Malawi Police magazines.
Now I am banking with the Chichiri Branch of the NB. It is my favourite and, as at now, only bank. The reason is simple. They appealed to me when I was a child.
Here is a free lesson for all managers. Any company that wants to be there beyond 2036 must hook primary and secondary school children. They will become customers in years from now. Failure to hook the children is failure to market for the future.
It is important to run competitions for present customers. But it is also crucial to engage children in dialogue, to make a life-time impact on their education.
One of the best ways is for companies to help the education sector. Companies have tried sports. Now it is time to try education. Will the chief executive officer of National Bank in 2036 look back and say, ‘George Patridge worked hard to make NB the giant of the next few centuries?’
The answer to this question depends on what NB, and indeed any other company, does to the education sector and the children of Malawi.
Let no Malawian be deceived. We are all prisoners of our past, especially the past imposed on us by those who lived before us. Let no Malawian be deceived that it is impossible to move this country from poverty to prosperity. Beyond that, we need to develop a tendency of rewarding merit which our grandchildren should inherit.
We must conserve the environment. We must adopt meaningful technologies including biotechnology for our prosperity. We must have faith in ourselves; faith that we can make it; faith that Nsanje can be transformed into a port city, even if it takes 50 years. We must know our history, where we are coming from and where we are going. In short, we need a cultural backbone to fall on.
This shall be a fine Malawi for our old age, our children and their grandchildren. This Malawi is where I want live when I am 60. But such a fine Malawi has to be made now.