Saturday, March 10, 2012

Waiting for Nothing

It has been a while since the ordinary man and woman in Malawi lost hope that things would, at least for the next two years, be okay.
Now, indications are that government officials have also lost something, something unknown, something strong: touch.
As the ordinary Malawian thinks of what tomorrow may be like, a tomorrow premised on the shaky foundations of micro-economic instability, a predictable, but stinging, development partners' rumpus, rising commodity prices (and, now, erratic rains) the rulers are also troubled in their hearts.
It seems like the leaders have finally realised that they have lost touch with grassroots' communities, and are no more wiser than the first-time visitor to Malawi.
It is one thing to grow up in a foreign country, acquire education there, and come to be one of the citizens of the host country; and quite another thing to grow up in a foreign land, learn new ways, come back home to serve your country, only to realise that you have lost touch with your roots.
It, really, is a tragedy, though not tragic enough.
But there is nothing more tragic than this: You go to a foreign land, learn to eat their way, drink their way, throw-up there way, and behave their way. But, then, you realise that you love your country more that the host country, and that, no matter what it takes, and how long it takes, you will still go back home, serve your country, and die with honour. Someday.
That must be love. Love like what Malawi's President, Ngwazi Prof. Bingu wa Mutharika, had (or, rather, claimed to have)when he decided to come back to Malawi, his home country, in the early 1990s. For your own information, in 1992, Mutharika drove from Lusaka in Zambia to Blantyre.
Why? He wanted to attend the United Democratic Front's (UDF)(then, a pressure group) convention. So bad for him, he was not elected. His name was not even mentioned by any of the delegates. They might have thought, as some opposition leaders have claimed at one point or another, that he was from Angola because of the prefix 'wa' in his full name.
So, Mutharika's association with the former governing UDF did not start in 1998, 0r 1999 (which culminated in Mutharika's dissolution of his brief-case United Party (PP)to join the UDF); it was a long-drawn affair (his dissolution of the PP).
Mutharika played soccer (and, I hear, netball) on the pitches and courts of Dedza Secondary School in those years when the colonialism-scent was still all over Malawi's three-coloured robe.
That was a time when to be in Dedza was tough; (when to) pass through Dedza was tough; and (when) to stay in Dedza was tough.
Tough not because Dedza, the Central Region district, was (and still is) the abode of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president, John Tembo. Nobody doubts that Tembo, popularly known as JZU, was a strongman during the MCP regime. Nobody says 'No' to assertions that he was more close to the Founder of the Malawi Nation, Ngwazi Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda. He was.
But some people attribute to Tembo some things he, probably, never knew. And blame Tembo for things he, probably, never did. Some accuse Tembo of plotting things he never (even) dreamed of. And some say he harboured ambitions to succeed Kamuzu.
But no one claims to have entered Tembo's heart.
(And I say this not because JZU is my Member of Parliament and has been ever since I was born. Not that Tembo has always been MP for Dedza South, or Dedza Central- whatever it is, and it used to be-. The veteran polician has, on more than three occasions,contributed towards Malawi's development without being MP. Most people get this wrong. It could be malice, I don't know. For example, Tembo was never MP the whole time he served as Reserve Bank Governor. And there are other positions he served in without being MP. I think it will be interesting to write something about the people who served as MPs in Tembo's constituency,while the 'real' MP served as Governor of the Reserve Bank of Malawi, and how they felt (the fear, whatever) serving in the position of a man so close to Malawi's first president).
The point is that Dedza was not 'tough' because of Tembo. It was tough because of the weather.
Dedza is mostly cold.
Dedza is mostly cool.
Dedza is uncomfortably English.
Dedza is Western.
That is why most white settlers liked the district, and settled there, establishing Bembeke Roman Catholic Cathedral, tourist attraction centres, agriculture development initiatives, among other impressive structures.
But no one knows why people drawn from the length and breadth of Malawi liked Dedza so much, when it came to education.
It could be that the people of Dedza are warm; that they (the, mostly, Ngoni people- and Chewas, too) of Dedza are the Warm Blood that Pumps the Warm Heart of Africa.
President Bingu wa Mutharika went to Dedza Secondary School.
Some say Sam Mpasu went to Dedza Secondary School.
A thousand other top government officials trace their education background to Dedza, too.
How good is Dedza, after all, to produce enough beans to feed the whole country.
How great is Dedza, that its peaches, late season mangoes, big-as-a-pumpkin-tomatoes, and many other farm products, come from Dedza.
Dedza feeds Malawi in food.
Dedza fed the nation in education.
Dedza hosts John Zenus Ungapake Tembo.
Dedza has a strange climate, too cool for Malawi when, as most people know, the neighbouring Salima district is too hot for comfort.
So, somehow, because of its attractive-self, Dedza attracted one Webster Thom (the present-day Bingu wa Mutharika) to its knowledge pond. It must be while in Dezda that Bingu's love for Malawi grew.
He could wake up in the morning, join the other 'boys' on the line to the bathroom, and get a shower.
Now, in Dedza, to shower was courage. It is like getting a refresher course in a refrigerator: too cold for comfort. That was Dedza those days.
With its horde of indigenous trees, and one of Malawi's biggest mountains to boot, the weather was uncharitable to young Bingu and fellow students.
But Bingu braced it. Bingu mastered the courage to brace the cold weather, and 'enjoy' a shower of (almost) cold water. Weather experts always tell us the difference between cold and cool; they even say that, in Malawi, there is nothing like cold weather. They are right. Here, cold has been used to mean extremely 'cool'. It does not mean the real cold. It's just a feeling, a way of emphasisisng a point.
It must be in Dedza that Bingu learned to be courageous, and became a courageous man. So courageous he now calls development partners 'colonialists'.
Sometimes, he becomes so generous with words, he tells them in the face:
"Go to hell".
Pure Dedza courage.
When time came for Bingu to go to India, in that long journey in the never-ending pursuit for education, he might never have forgotten Dedza. And courage.
That must be the reason, after working for the World Bank, Bingu decided to come back, and serve the country that 'gave' him courage.
He fits so well in the third scenario in our example above: a man who goes out, learn foreign languages, eat foreign food, dine in well-lit restaurants, and decides to come back home and serve his country.
Such a man things that he has not lost tough with his world, his indigenous world.
Bingu comes to Malawi (we are talking of then), becomes the country's President (we are not going into details here; but we can, at your request), and, as they say, the rest is his story!
But he started so well. By ignoring the experts, as with his Farm Inputs Subsidy Programme, he chalked some success. Food security is now a song in Malawi, though it is a song incomplete because food security entails so many things, and means much more than full granaries, and a bloated stomach.
But, now, things have gone haywire.
The one who believed he loved his country- knew it too well, and developed roots in it- has lost tough with the surface.
It is now a double tragedy. With long fuel queues, sky-scraping commodity prices, leaders who have lost touch with- not only their own people, but- reality, and people running short on hope, Malawians are sure but waiting for nothing.
Of course, Malawians are waiting for 2014, the year they will elect new Members of Parliament, (hopefully) Councillors, and (this is automatic. Even the President is hoping that his younger brother, Peter Aurthur Mutharika, could succeed him) the man or woman who shall preside over the destinies (there are so many people with so many hopes and aspirations here) of millions.
People they never knew.
People who may be waiting for nothing but trouble right now.
People who stand ready to cry five, ten more years.
They can't say they lived well- waiting for this great nothingness.
There is no hope in the people.
And nothing in the President who has lost touch with his own people. Calling them chickens, and the like.
Really? So, people have come to this nothing?

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