Let us switch gears this time around and do a bunch of different things together. We will see how it all works.
Those who paid attention to what happened this past week heard about new degree programs in Gender Studies at a Malawi university. Then there was the story of top Civil Society leaders appointed to boards of various public organizations. The story of Thoko Banda calling Mugabe a fool dominated headlines and lastly – my favourite — that of MPs rejecting federalism in a poll by one of the leading publications in the country.
Malawi, as one of the least developed countries in the world, has many challenges. According to the World Bank, 90 percent of the country’s population works in agriculture, the main driver of the economy. As subsistence farmers, most Malawians fail to make ends meet, earning less than one dollar a day.
To get out of poverty, people are told that education is the key. But education is not cheap. It costs a lot of money. And higher education costs even more.
Given the country’s many challenges, which include high unemployment, it should go without saying that the kind of education Malawians need should be in synch with the demands of the day. Elsewhere, there are signs that people are paying attention to this. A regional conference on education in Kigali, Rwanda last month drove the point home.
“It is time universities stopped producing thinkers. We already have enough thinkers,” Professor Mayunga Nkunya, the Executive Secretary of the University Council of East Africa told the gathering, according to Capital FM of Kenya. “What is required now are people who can do the work. People with enough knowledge of the job skills. They should produce people ready for the job market.”
Tell that to the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUNAR) that has introduced graduate and undergraduate degree programs in Gender Studies. With too few jobs to go around, does Malawi need these kinds of programs? This message is not only for LUNAR, it is for the whole university system in the country, as previously argued by this author. Our institutions of higher learning must heed this message and start revising their academic-based curriculum if they want to remain relevant.
Moving on, President Peter Mutharika has appointed some leading Civil Society leaders as directors of parastatal organizations with at least one named as a diplomat. Some view this as aimed at defanging the Civil Society which gave his forerunner hell over his growing autocratic ambitions.
When he was sworn in as president five months ago, Mutharika pledged to work together with the Civil Society. If the appointments are aimed at buying off the Civil Society, the action would indicate a lack of understanding of why the Civil Society acted the way it did when Mutharika’s predecessor Bingu was in power. This is not to say there are no people who are willing to be silenced at the right price, but that transaction would not guarantee the president anything.
Let’s turn to the appointment of Thoko Banda as Malawi envoy to Zimbabwe. After it was reported that Banda had called Zimbabwe’s strongman Robert Mugabe an “idiot”, at first he was evasive when asked about his comments published in 2006 by The Foreigner magazine of Germany. Apparently after he found his footing, he embraced his comments which enjoyed exposure on the BBC and other top international media outlets.
“Someone like me is not somebody to send to a place like Zimbabwe, where they have a leader who wants you to endorse whatever he does with impunity,” Banda told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.
“I am sure there are other Malawians more amenable to serving at that particular post at this particular time,” AFP quoted Banda as saying after it became clear he was not going to be sent to Zimbabwe.
If you have the courage of your convictions, why not shoot straight the first time? His latter position must have struck a chord with the West at odds with Mugabe.
The man who appointed Banda said something himself in the past that has come to haunt him.
In the same year Banda uttered his words, Mutharika spoke at a Constitutional Review Conference in Malawi where he prescribed federalism for the country, a position he does not seem too enthusiastic about today.
A statement signed by Presidential Press Secretary Frederick Ndala, says Mutharika, who at the time was still teaching law in the United States, was “only providing alternatives and suggestions as someone consulted in his personal capacity to provide scholarly views on proposals for reviewing the [Malawi} Republican Constitution”.
When he made the “suggestion” in 2006, did he not think it was divisive as it is being falsely claimed today? In fact, other Malawians talked about federalism before Mutharika. The late Dr. Dennis Nkhwazi of opposition Alliance for Democracy advocated for federalism in the run up to the first democratic elections in 1994.
Counterjab was flummoxed by the country’s leading publication The Nation discovering and telling us that today is the day after yesterday. Got that? It said two plus two equals four. Do we not know that already? Its poll found “61 percent of MPs say[ing] No to Federalism”. The majority of those opposed were, you guessed right, from the governing party!
Counterjab is operating on a healthy dose of skepticism and doubts that the MPs who were polled fully understand what federalism is. The good thing, however, is that if the issue was to be decided in a referendum, it would also be ordinary people having their say and not just a few elected representatives. Before casting their vote, the people would have learnt about the issue they were voting on.
- The author is former founding editor of Maravi Post who is now a Counterjab columnist on Nyasa Times.