Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Envy Is Our Most Dangerous Enemy

It is one of our three enemies, the others being hunger and disease, but the least fought. What damage is jealous doing to Malawi?

Michael Fred Sauka, the composer of our national anthem, was brilliant. He was also visionary, a kind of a seer whose sayings take time to be appreciated.

A little over four decades ago, he composed our national anthem, God Bless Our Land of Malawi, a powerful three-stanza song that is a symbol of freedom from colonial masters who disturbed our systems in the 19th Century.

The first stanza, with eight lines, is a prayer—God bless Malawi, keep it a land of peace—and, immediately, mentions our three enemies in the third line: hunger, disease, envy.

Put down each and every enemy,
Hunger, disease, envy.

These are real enemies. All Malawi’s three administrations have been fighting hunger and disease. First president Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda wanted Malawians to have food and he inspected crops every year as a show of his seriousness with agriculture.

Kamuzu fought disease as well. The most memorable symbol is how he established the College of Medicine, offering his own house in Mount Pleasant as the first hostel and called back the likes of Dr Adamson Muula and Dr Rodney Kalanda from outside Malawi to finish their studies here, so that they could stay and work in Malawi.

Second president Bakili Muluzi also fought hunger and disease. He distributed free fertiliser and maize seed to achieve food security in a programme called staterpack. He also started the Bakili Muluzi Health Initiative to bring health facilities to every village. It seems the programme died soon after being launched.

President Bingu wa Mutharika has made hunger his enemy and talks highly of his government’s subsidised fertiliser programme.

He also praises himself for making drugs available in hospitals.

All these are wonderful initiatives that aim at making our country prosperous and a regional giant economically. Economic growth starts with food. A country cannot talk of manufacturing when people have no food, so too, when people are sick and spend time in hospitals.

But no administration has ever tackled envy, which the Oxford dictionary defines as “the feeling of wanting to be in the same situation as somebody else; the feeling of wanting something that somebody else has.”

Feeling of wanting to be like others? This is nothing evil. Envy should, therefore, be seen as a catalyst for self-development, a desire for people to achieve great things that some have achieved. It means a boy or a girl working hard to become a doctor because he or she is envious of his or her aunt, for example.

In fact, envy is part of ambition which is part of life. Why, then, did Michael Fred Sauka list envy as one of Malawi’s enemies at independence? Why did the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), with Kamuzu at the helm, accept Sauka’s piece with envy as our enemy? Why haven’t we thought of changing that part of the song, to remove envy?

The reason is that envy remains our enemy, perhaps more devastating than disease and hunger because envy is pulling down our country.

“This subject is very interesting,” says Dr Pierson Ntata, a sociologist at Chancellor College in Zomba. “Envy becomes a problem when it is bad envy, when it means covet.”

This, then, brings us to negative envy. The word envy has synonyms in jealous, greed, resentment, spite and covet. “When envy goes this far,” says Ntata, “it becomes a problem.

The quest for recognition, to become the most important [human] being, drives people into negative envy.”

Man is, by nature, selfish which is not bad in all senses because preventing oneself from catching HIV is part of selfishness. But when selfishness drives people to shoot others down, so that “if I can’t be like him [or her],” says Ntata, “he [or she] should be like me”. This is a challenge for our country.


Some of the politics in Malawi is not politics as such, but envy. It’s been like this for years, since the first multiparty democracy government came into place in 1994.

Once he came into power, the then opposition politicians—some are still in opposition—said Muluzi’s government would not last six months, then a year. But there were thousands of people who wished him well and he survived two terms.

The opposition boycotted Parliament for close to a year and talk was that this was just envy. They wanted to be where Muluzi was even before elections in 1999.

Any main opposition party, since 1994, has never attended public functions, not even the Republic Day celebrations. Malawians may be used to this but it is dangerous. It means the opposition can only attend the celebration when they are in government.

Why? Part of the answer is envy; part of the answer is the behaviour of ruling parties to politicise state functions, which is an understandable reason.

But parties see the politicisation of public functions when they are in opposition. Once they go into power, they do what they were preaching against not long ago. It’s a problem we have to solve, we have to deal with slowly, perhaps, but still deal with it, anyway.

What has changed? Nothing, it seems, except the party that is in government. It seems the concept of envy is taking root: wanting to be where someone is even before the appropriate time.

Impeachment is just one sign of envy. The recall provision was another and, luckily, it was removed from the Constitution. Envy was cited as the reason for amending the recall provision because losers, it was feared, would have found a way of pulling those who beat them out of Parliament.

Politics is so strong in us that we don’t see ideas in people’s activities; instead, we see party colours. If he is not for us, he is for our enemies. This is partly because we lack something as a nation, something that would make us feel proud to be Malawians.


Lack of patriotism breeds envy of the worst type. Patriotism is simple: love of country.

But a person does not love physical features, no matter how attractive these may be. Love of country is love of people first.

“A man’s country is not a certain area of land, of mountains, rivers, and woods, but it is a principle; and patriotism is loyalty to that principle,” says George William, a thinker on social issues.

Perhaps the question should be: What is the principle of Malawi? What idea does Malawi thrive on? Elsewhere, countries have ideas.

The self-acclaimed model of prosperity, the United States, claims that there is an opportunity for everyone, and that meritocracy is the people’s way of life.

This drives people to the US. In fact, some of the professionals prospering in the US are immigrants. So, all Americans love their country because it offers opportunities, so long a person is brilliant and everybody is made to believe they are brilliant. They call it American Dream.

China, a country that is developing tremendously since 1980, believes in confucianism, which is said to be at the heart of the nation’s psyche, and it is this tradition of discipline, learning and devotion to elders that explains China’s extraordinary success.

“But confucianism has been around for centuries during much of which China was poor, backward and stagnant,” says Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International. “China began growing in the early 1980s not because of its culture, which has been relatively unchanging, but because of its policies, which went through a dramatic transformation.”

This is true, of course. But what is it that united the Chinese to support the policies. It is the idea of China, that they are the centre of the world.

The results have been wonderful, as Gracian Tukula (a colleague who returned from China last week). China’s economy has grown around 10 percent a year for more than 25 years, the fastest growth rate for a major economy in recorded history.

In that same period, China has moved 300 million people out of poverty and quadrupled the average person’s income.

Not so much like that here in Malawi. We are busy arguing whether or not there is hunger in Malawi. What does hunger mean? Does food security mean there is food in every house?

We are busy bashing each other in terms of who is better than the other. We don’t look at ideas but individuals.

We see ourselves as from different parties: PPM, UDF, MCP, DPP, MDP, Code and others. We see ourselves as Catholics, Adventists, Muslims, Presbyterians and other religions.

We see ourselves as Yao, Tonga, Chewa or any other tribe. But we don’t see ourselves as Malawians.

The result is envy, the kind that goes with jealous. If it does not belong to me or our tribe or church, there is no reason to render support.

Next comes jealousy and we have allowed our politicians to incite jealous in all of us, to hate those of other tribes and parties.

One explanation is lack of a national idea, a national principle. What is it that can bring us together? Patriotism should start with a search for an idea of Malawi. What does Malawi stand for? The beginning of patriotism will also be the beginning of the end of envy, an enemy that is devastating Malawi.

People, the right people to do right jobs, are pulled down by the envious, the jealous, who cannot do any better yet they don’t want to let others do their best.

This is true in all fields, even in politics. Former UDF publicity secretary Sam Mpasu knows this well. The worst enemies, he said earlier this year, are those in your side because they want your position. The result is envy that is synonymous with jealousy.

Love of people to let them prosper is patriotism because people’s prosperity results into a country’s development. But when people don’t wish each other well for political, tribal, religious or any other reason, the ultimate loser is the country, meaning the people.


President Mutharika says we should put our hand on the heart as we sing our national anthem. This, he says, is a symbol of patriotism.

Yet patriotism is more than putting a hand on the heart when singing the national anthem. Patriotism is love of country, Malawi, in our case; not a politician, not a religion, not a tribe, but a nation that is based on an idea.

The President should go beyond putting a hand on the heart and demonstrate patriotism by putting Malawi first and his party, the DPP second.

If he brings the idea of Malawi that will make all of us feel proud to be Malawians, if he teaches his party leaders to put Malawi first and DPP second, he will have initiated a sense of patriotism in Malawians and he will go in history as the first President to fight envy which the rest failed to fight.

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