A new national consciousness: Agenda for the next 50 years for Malawi

We are winding down a year that marked two key milestones in our nation’s autobiography. We marked fifty years of independence, and we also marked twenty years of multiparty democracy and the end of one-party dictatorship. As we embark on another fifty years of national independence and another twenty of multiparty democracy, I want to ask a question: Do we as Malawians have a sense of national consciousness? A sense of Malawi being bigger and more important than our individual selves and interests?

Malawi President Prof Peter Mutharika lights a torch to mark 50 years of Independence. Pic MANA

Malawi President Prof Peter Mutharika lights a torch to mark 50 years of Independence. Pic MANA

Having a national consciousness is about putting one’s country above one’s personal, clan, ethnic, class, political and other self-serving interests. A national consciousness gives one hope in something greater than oneself. It grounds one’s optimism and protects a society from hopelessness, pessimism and paralysing negativity. But national consciousness does not originate itself. It has to be cultivated and nourished. And it has to be taught to the younger generation so they can nurture it further and carry it into the future.

The national heroes who fought for independence fifty years ago had a national consciousness that they held above personal and other narrow interests. They sacrificed their lives because they believed in something that was greater than them. They espoused a national, indeed Pan-African, cause for which they were prepared to die. And many indeed died. Kanyama Chiume, Henry Masauko Chipembere and others wrote autobiographies and other accounts that have taught us what sacrifices they made and what it took to achieve independence and nationhood. Their lessons still resonate today, if not more so.

So did the heroes who fought for multiparty democracy twenty years ago. They knew how dangerous it was to contradict the then Life President, Ngwazi Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda, and the almighty Malawi Congress Party. Some had been killed before, and others had been imprisoned indefinitely. Others had left the comfort of home and had gone into exile. Others simply disappeared and were never heard from again. Yet these heroes bravely espoused a national cause to liberate the country from one-party tyranny. Today, all that is being gradually eroded. That history is being methodically sanitised and purposefully forgotten.

Something seems to have happened to our national consciousness. As Taweni Gondwe Xaba once observed in an online conversation, today Malawians have a very low sense of “national allegiance.” Personal, ethnic, class and political interests have taken over what was once an allegiance to the nation. When a society loses its sense of national consciousness, national amnesia, blind frustration and paralytic pessimism come in and occupy the vacuum. There are Malawians for whom the idea of a national consciousness does not exit. Bola zawo zikuyenda basi.

That is the stage Malawi is at today. There are hardly any national figures to look up to for optimism and inspiration. The few Malawians who still embrace national consciousness have the odds stacked against them in a society whose moral relativism favours personal aggrandisement or ethnic chauvinism. Instead, we have supposedly respectable people proudly boasting about knowing national secrets that are destroying the nation. But they choose to keep those secrets to themselves so as to protect individuals, at the expense of national progress.

We have people who have inside information about murders, massive theft and plunder, and other heinous crimes against the nation. But they choose to keep quiet. They hold their personal interests and narcistic considerations above the national interest. They have no sense of national consciousness. They selfishly hold themselves to be bigger than Malawi. They do not wish the country well. They are content to see mothers and fathers forever mourning their murdered children while the killers roam the streets as free people. They are content to see the country continue haemorrhaging economically, yet they have the knowledge of who stole what and how they did it. And that plunder still goes on today.

We have Malawians so beholden to the saintly image of their leader they are loath to any suspicions of impropriety by the leaders, even in the face of evidence. They comfort themselves in a false sense of righteousness and refuse to accept that their heroes are plundering the nation and need to be held to account. When you reach that stage where you defend your leader to the extent of absurdity, know that you have lost your sense of national allegiance. The same goes for ethnic, political, class and other types of unexamined allegiances.

But all is not lost. The two milestones we marked this year give us pause to reflect on how to change things and imagine a new Malawi. As Levi Kabwato is fond of reminding us, quoting Frantz Fanon, “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” And we have the intellectual and ideological tools to do this. Our leading thinkers and philosophers have pointed the way. We still have Malawians we can look up to.

We must start with cultivating a culture of uMunthu, upon which our ancestors built their societies. As the psychologist Chiwoza Bandawe points out in his book Practical uMunthu Psychology: An indigenous approach to harmonious living, “to lose uMunthu is to lose our history and identity as people.” Which means, in paraphrase, to regain our uMunthu is to regain our history and identity as a people. That is the beginning point for the rebirth of a new Malawian national consciousness. Let us make this uMunthu-based national consciousness our mission to fulfil for the next fifty years.

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21 thoughts on “A new national consciousness: Agenda for the next 50 years for Malawi”

  1. fathi slshehaab says:

    one malawi one agenda nomore asking for tribe etc on any dicument plz..get rid of Ruling party sydrome cos imawoneka ngati ndiwo azinganiza zopanga the rest of malawians obey follow & pick the leftovers from the ruling psrty buffet….
    am impressed with umunthu ideology sounds like the Isrisrailites journey to Canaan…yeah lets go! panopa tili mchipululu or mthengo njala…matenda etc

  2. fathi slshehaab says:

    Yes we should ush the Agenda of Makawi….osanafusananso mtundu oa ma statement aky police fir petty reports if kubedwa fone ir ture or nkhuku why!…

  3. Dr. What u have written is very true!!!!!! It baffles me to see people poor as they are but still support thieves to get into positions of power!!!!! Malawi a country of dogs!!!!!!!!

  4. Mauya says:

    Unfortunately Malawi lacks leaders with vision, charisma,wisdom, intelligence and national consciousness/patriotism be they traditional,civil,political or religious leaders etc.
    Most of our leaders are indeed selfish,corrupt,hypocrites and shortsighted.No wonder instead of being patriachal and patriotic towards national good they either work for the good of their pockets,family members,organisations or tribesmen.
    Maybe they will one day change,view the bigger picture and start to work for the good of the entire Malawi nation

  5. kaya ozivelayo mudango kula opanda zelu

  6. Kika Kanawe says:

    Thumbs up for the writer of this story!But umunthu and being literate or being iliterarate are two different things all together.One can be uneducated and have umunthu in him. While others are educated but they have a deficiency of umunthu

  7. The Patriot says:

    Either we change or self destruct! Lets go back to when the Nation came first, and tribe or district of origin comes second! Together we can make Malawi a better place! Andale amabwela ndikupita but Malawi will remain Malawi!

  8. Mutu Umodzi says:

    Munavotela agalu awa nokha, musalire. These are fruits of your labour. Musovenge!

  9. Chikopa says:

    Kodi mumakamba zobela ma sankho koma mumalephele kufotokoza kuti anabela bwanji nanga ndi dela liti nanga ngati dpp inabela nanga mcp inakhala bwanji number 2 kuti pali umboni wanji oti mavoti obeledwa anapita ku dpp osati ku mcp kapenana pp. Munayamba mwamva kuti chipani chosusa chabela mavoti kuti , chabwino ngati mwabeledwa muli ndi mphavu mungayendese boma ,simusebesanso 20billion ina ndinu anthu ogona kwa mbiri, inu a mcp munatenga runningmate ku north kuma dpp imakhala number 2 ndiye mungawene? Ngati mukulephela kuwina kwa runningmate wako ufuna mavoti agwe kuchoka kumwamba?

  10. nthandalanda says:

    Amalawi ndife Odala kwambiri to have people like this writer. This is a very calm,sober and eye openning advice to all well meaning Malawian. A big up to you brother and continue doing this. Mwina nkusinthika.

  11. Liberalist says:

    Best article so far. What u have done so far is loving the country. Unfortunately you are talking to a deaf & blind people. Federalism has come because of tribalism, nepotism & regionalism. Leaders have used tribal cards to enrich themselves at the expense of the country. The problem is that most Malawians are illiterate & those that are educated are uncivilised. It is unfortunate that Lomwes think only about themselves likewise the Tumbukas also behave as such. This country is poor because Malawians have poor reasoning. I hold the view that we should have one Malawi but on a condition that all Malawians think of one another.

  12. Concerned Malawian says:

    But with poverty at its highest level, mxiiiiii

  13. Chabecheker says:

    I wish i had personal conversation with sharra;he has taught his pupils but can he say if he has ever strived on syllabus formation level the ills of tribalism:the need to work hard and genuinely compete for the best in life and not lazying or waiting for quota system to favour certain corners of the nation where some political leaders take advantages of punishing hard working pupils. Where is the national consciousness in all this if hard work is not recognised in national competions be it exams scores .sports,music,drama,agriculture, etc. Have prizes ever been awarded for best scoree in std 8,jc, or msce; instead there are mushrooms of bogus uee centre that are not organized by govt

  14. I wonder why people still write stupid things. I don’t know whom they want to please or appease. You think we are fools that we do not know what was happening in the past. The world has always been dynaminc. We know of yhe revolutionaries that have been taking place. Dr. Banda ruled during the cold war and he was pro-west and anybody that was on the other side was seen as an enemy. Things changed when the cold war ended. We saw the fall of the USSR and the emergency of multiparty politics through out the world. Malawi was not spared at all. The central America saw peace and wars ended in Mozambique and Angola. Namibia got its independence and South Africa loosened its grip on apartheid. Could Malawi have been spared? Kenya, Malawi and Zambia all changed systems of government. There were new challenges and one of them was the war in Zaire after Mabuto Seseko. Genocide in Rwanda. We have Islamic extremism now as the biggest threat. That is why I say the world is dynamic and it is absurd to dwell on stupid yhings about Malawi. After all we have not benefitted from the current readers who are promoting tribalism to the extent that we now want a federal system of government. Social services have completely gone down. Public schools are pathetic and people prefer private schools to poor public schools. MSCE pass rates went down from 90% to 33%. Armed robberies as result of the creation of a generation or generations that are uneducated. There are more challenges today tgan during the rule of Kamuzu Banda. We still have 90% of infrastructure owed to Kamuzu Banda. Our new leaders just know how to enrich themselves. These are things people should be talking about and not about the Chipembers or Kanyamas. We have pathetics youths that are always thinking how to get jobs. Girls are very much into prostitution for survival. Boys are robbers.

  15. gigscky Rozscky says:

    How can you emphasize humanity (u munthu) to be a based National consciousness while human right organization is there promoting things that have nothing to do with humanity? ?? Don’t cheat people.yet you are the ones promoting this animalic life.

  16. M'doko says:

    Bola boma la chipani chimodzi anthu sankaba wakufa amadziphetsa yekha

  17. happening boy says:

    Steve, you are too good with your pièces but the biggest problem that Malawi or Malawians have Is fear, mantha. This was évident when Mbendera was announcing the fake and doctored résulte, all big headed people were There with ears wide open listening to something that even a std one pupil knew was rigged. Rubbish. We have carried umunthu all Along but because we have entrusted matchona into running the affairs of Malawi, believe you me, they have nothing to do with malawians but themselves. We are supposed to wake up from slumber and Never give This country to matchona to run, they dont have ideas relevant to our sufferings. Uzungu at its best. I hâte thèse people.

  18. The Truthful One from the West says:

    These general appeals do not help. You need to suggest specific actions and take the lead yourself.

  19. horess chipofya says:

    A very good article typical of a Malawian where rhetorics are older of the day. The problem is the level of understanding of the majority population is low, no wonder almost all visions,mdgs and so many developmental conferences fail practically. Kamuzu had to think on behalf of his people that’s why he achieved. I don’t see leadership today on the umunthu thing,instead they take advantage of the situation to confuse the already confused population for personal interests. Nsomba imaola kuyambira kumutu.

  20. swiswiri mbewa says:

    Passionate appeal for all Malawians to re-examine our main allegiance.

  21. Fanatic says:

    I can not agree more. with the senseless demands from the judiciary who think they are more Malawians than the rest of us and the bunch of modern day politicians who only think of awarding themselves hefty salaries and subsidises loans while the common man suffers. the judiciary that abaits criminals by issuing long adjunments for those commiting henious crimes and the well connected. Ali Kaka moves freely while Kadzuwa is rotting 6ft underneath. People drive and sleep in property from stolen cash

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