Open Perspective: Confronting self-made demons of poverty

Post was last updated: February 26, 2016

I am glad the recent Pac-led consultative conference confirms the concerns that numerous Malawians have advanced in the media and forums. I salute them for consistency, insistence and persistence.

For Malawi to develop foremost Malawians must stop rationalising failure but rather decisively confront what we all know are largely selfcreated demons of underdevelopment.

Read any public strategy document and you will find four descriptors of Malawi: small; poor; densely populated; landlocked, four excuses justifying Malawi’s poverty. Inside you meet the demons of Aids, poor health, poor education and other flashy excuses.

Now, these are critical human development issues I admit but they are not the whole truth. No not at all.

If they were the whole truth, Japan would still be a Samurai village today; Singapore would remain a crocodile infested swamp and Sweden one mega animal farm. Today these small poorly resourced lands are high-tech urbanised economies show-casing some of the highest standards of living achieved in 60 years.

I refuse to believe that Malawi’s development woes are all about lack of resources, but rather a lack of values to develop the resources available. Marcus Aurelius says ‘very little is needed to make a happy life; it is within yourself, in your way of thinking’.

First development requires ethics, which still lack in our leaders and in the bulk of the population. Poor or rich, leader or citizen people must function by rules of behaviour based upon what is morally acceptable.

Society must exercise mutual trust and be directed by the best standards of character.

Malawi won’t develop without discarding the tendencies to lie and cheat. I do not see how the country will develop if citizens sustain primitive notions of competition like napusenapuse or is it kuchenjera manja?

Second development depends upon leadership yet Malawi leaders are culprit number one and in this the citizen shares the blame. Malawians elect corrupt pathological liars in exchange for cheap hand outs.

Stephanie Smith in her study of why Malawi is not developing concludes that ‘Malawi’s history of corrupt political leaders has helped to feed the growth of poverty in the country’. So painfully true.

It is hard to advance if leaders lack the courage to make tough decisions just to protect popularity ratings; much worse without moral high ground. Sometimes development involves shaking the boat’ as violently as is necessary. But our leaders do not see it that way.

Third, development eludes Malawi not because of a large population, malnutrition or impact of Aids, but because responsibility and accountability are not in the value system. There must be a sense of obligation to do to the best level everything that has to be done for society to advance.

Knowledge, skill or time must be applied optimally for the best outcome.

And all has to be reported through an accountability culture which accepts responsibility and commits to accounting for what and how everybody does or does not do.

In this country, for too few come close to being responsible let alone accountable. Malawians hate and avoid responsibility.

The same stupid notion of kuchenjera manja often teaches new generations to steal, to avoid commitment and to blame innocent people who are trying to do their best.

Rather than accountability what we see are shameless efforts to conceal evil and refutations of unholy decisions.

This is a society that rewards fools and punishes brilliant people for doing their job and the leaders feel no moral shame.

Ours is a culture that corruptly enriches a few while multiplying poverty for the majority, a culture that takes delight in divide and rule tactics propagated by pedestrian party politics. Professor Chinsinga is right in saying that we do not need party manifestoes to develop.

Fourth, development requires respect both of the law and regulations. In modern governance there is no option to compliance with the law but more importantly to respect for the law.

Yet it has to be underscored that respect of the law is beyond compliance as it entails cultivating a spirit of peace, acting with esteem and shaping values that support adherence to the law. The law is integral to development and without the law civilisation itself is under threat, as experts observe.

Fifth, respect for the law must include respect of the rights of other citizens which assures peace, mutual trust and collective action against infringements. Sadly, violations of rights remain entrenched not to talk of manipulation of public opinion.

Honestly, what development is expected where political and business leadership treats citizens as exploitable beasts of burden; where citizens are accountable to leaders not leaders to citizens; and where authority means use of brute police force?

Sixth development correlates with hard to work and the will to be productive for self and country. As Vince Lombardi says, it is individual commitment to the group that makes teams, companies, societies and whole civilisations work.

A good job is much more than just a pay cheque. It contributes to the well-being of society. Unfortunately to many Malawians work is drudgery. Educated adults avoid work and plan for easy money.

Politicians are guided by manifestoes which at best are campaign tools and at worst patronising.

Seventh to develop a society, a culture of saving and investing is an imperative.

After all we know that nations grow from the cumulative wealth that its people generate and save to further grow the economy.

But to save is to acknowledge that a future exists and that citizens are as responsible for the present as they are for tomorrow. In the words of George Bernard Shaw we are made wiser not by the collection of our past but by the responsibilities of our future.

However, what’s sad is that Malawians are deeply fatalistic people who will generously romanticise the past, brutally secure the present but completely neglect the future. The Malawian’s fatalism says ‘I won’t invest in the future because I won’t be there anyway’.

Well, do we have to be there to invest for posterity? What amazing stupidity!

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