Malawi: My fatalistic nation

“Fatalism comforts, for it raises no questions. There’s not need to examine just how events fit in.” ~ James Hillman

Malawi can be a very painful place to live, especially for those who really care about the country and how things are run. Fortunately, I suppose, the majority of Malawians are those who either choose to ignore everyday realities and live, pretending all is well or those who are too naïve to understand how the system controls their consciousness.jimy kainja

If more Malawians had levels of political and social consciousness that enable them to question how things are run, I can assure you hell would certainly break loose. But this is not the case because as Karl Marx noticed well over a century ago “it is not the conscious of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determine their consciousness.”

Coming from a combined 101 years of brutal colonialism and vicious dictatorship, respectively, it is understandable that the majority of Malawians still see those in positions of power as lords, demi-gods to be feared and revered. Not their leaders and servants. This mentality makes the citizenry feel powerless; they cannot ask hard questions and demand better services.

There is this mentality that those in position of power are actually doing the rest of us a favour when they provide public services, never mind the quality of the services. In turn, in power take advantage and they expect the citizenry to be thankful for whatever services they get. This is why someone at National Aids Commission (NAC) thought it was fine to “donate” NAC money to causes that have nothing to do with HIV/Aids. All this is done with impunity.

Various watchdogs always bark, activists come out in full force, chattering class talk on social media, the members of literati and the media analyse and report about it and academics offer their learned views but nothing come out of all this. And topics do not take long to disappear from public discourse because there is always another crisis and talking point to jump on to – we all move in crowds. In the same direction, that is Malawi, a “God-fearing” nation, which thrives on crises.

I argued here three weeks ago that these perennial crises have are detrimental to national development because, as a nation, we collectively tend to focus more on areas perceived to be more urgent and more important – these are always short term efforts. Yet, for a country to develop there is a need for long-term and more focused projects. But these long-term programmes are unlikely to bring votes within five years, which is desirable for the incumbency. This is why development programmes must be depoliticised.

The status quo, as British economics journalist, Paul Mason notices, make us lose our “agency”. People become fatalistic, they are resigned to the economy being screwed, resigned to the rich getting richer, resigned to the fact that everything ends in failure, fiasco or injustice, added Mason. Here is an example of what mason is talking about:

On 18/12/14 I boarded a bus from Lilongwe to Zomba. The bus took off after 5 hours waiting to get full. In fact it was people power that forced the driver to start off without standing passengers – we could have waited for more than five hours. Having no standing passengers proved crucial around the Linthipe area, Dedza. There was a heavy downpour and the bus was leaking like it was roofless. I am a regular on this route but I hardly go by public transport so this was a new experience. To my surprise, not many folks appeared bothered. The bust conductor simply asked for newspapers to cover the leaking holes. Those with umbrellas simply turned them on. No complaints. Life goes on. Using umbrella on a bus, as you can on the picture.

There is no organised transport system linking the old and the current capital. If you are travelling between the two cities, especially from Lilongwe to Zomba, you can forget doing any other business on that day. It’s a 10 hours journey. This is a waste of productive time. Having an organised, predictable public transport system matters greatly in terms of national development. You cannot develop without it. This is why there is ministry responsible for transport. Yet, in the face of multiple crises this is not seen as a priority – people are unlikely to revolt because of poor public transport.

This is what Malawi has become. Folks believe things are because they were meant to be, not as a result socio-political and economic structures in place. This is a typical democratic system functioning at a half-mast. Policymakers are detached from everyday reality. They are never at the receiving end of appalling public services. They never go hungry, they go to private hospitals – at home and abroad at taxpayers’ expense, their kids are educated at expensive private schools, they never take public transport etc.

If these problems are to be solved, then elected leaders must using public services like people they supposedly work for. It sounds a far-fetched idea but that is how the system is designed – ideas that are revolutionary and therefore a threat to the status quo must be laughed off as daft and merely fanciful. Yet, nothing is impossible when people are united for a just cause.

For the 21 years of our democracy, those in power have taken advantage of the weak systems for their own benefit, instead of strengthening it for the whole nation to benefit. It is the system that needs changing, not people in charge. This is why after five elections nothing has charged in Malawi.

As it is, Malawi is not democracy; it is a plutocracy whereby the political class and elites enjoy the bounties of this land. People are poor in this country not because they are lazy, as the system would have believe, people are lazy because of unjust political and economic systems. Malawi heavily depend on tobacco for its survival and it is not the rich but the poor who break their backs toiling on tobacco fields from dawn to sunset, and the rich must reap the benefits.

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate!”

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38 thoughts on “Malawi: My fatalistic nation”

  1. despite being my lecturer in the arts (which of course am proud of) I am moved to say that you cant be more right. What you have expressed here is a TRUE sorry state of Malawi.

  2. Phil Domue Chilipanonchaine says:

    That’s why despite his autocratic tendencies Kamuzu had set high standards. Buses would depart on time and were faithful to their schedule. No armed robberies yet in Mozambique there was civil war that would have seen the proliferation of arms in Malawi. If only the MCP had accepted to do away with bad elements!!! In the long run we ended up throwing away dirty water and the baby together.

  3. rick 01 says:

    Malawi is an impoverished nation in the world thus why most of richers are abroad.Imagine how many malawians are in south africa,america and britain.Let’s talk reality the nation won’t develop due to corruption and poor structure of its politics.

  4. titus says:

    kulemba nkumalemba pano popanda action nothing will change regardless,za chison. 2 weeks ago my mum had an eye operation, I had to buy 3 crates of bottled wate( 20 litres) about 13000mk .no water ku operating theatre. za chison . ambiri anabwezedwa chifukwa analibe ndalama zogulira madzi. I cried for them….. no treatment(@ KCH)

  5. sayimoni bayisikolo says:

    Bwana bwana syndrome is what has killed most Malawians.Most of them r lazy bums.Most of them r stooge for rich people.Kupemphapempha is their norm.They have so much time to waste in useless things.A Malawian would spend the whole day being burnt by sun listening some lies from politicians and sweat heavily by clapping hands.Bwana syndrome has killed this country.The people in big positions r just there to exploit them.Even foreigners hv taken advantage of them because they know that they cannot stand up for themselves.They r useless docile people ntchito kulilira kumbali.Its time these people woke up.The greedy system has also contributed to the number of povos for Malawians.Look how the elite r protecting each other from the cashgate scandal yet these are taxes of Malawians and very few hv benefitted from the system because we hv a crooked judicial system that survives on lies for a living.They don’t hv any principles.Most Malawians do not hv pride.Men and women.Begging mentality has killed them.Akapita muma mowa umu nchito kupemphapempha azimayi uhule osayamba looking for easy money.Shame indeed.

  6. Mphongo Zidana says:

    Thanks Jimmy for this well written article. Some people have commented here, saying what have done yourself or don’t wait for government to do abcd for you. I don’t agree with them because it takes government and not an individual to come up with the right policies that will work for the good of the masses.

    You have rightly put it that our leaders are only interested in self aggrandisement. They have no sense of what sort of legacy they want to leave Malawians.

    We can talk, write good articles like this one, but if the leaders don’t have visions, we are doomed to remain where we are.

    I also feel bad when I see the state of public transport system, water situation, electricity and many more unpleasant situations. They all need radical thinking to reverse them.

    Lets pray that things will change.

  7. kajima m nyirenda says:

    Malawi is orally our country but not depending on it and people

  8. kajima m nyirenda says:


  9. mwad0 says:

    We need meaningful leaders

  10. babylon says:

    It is you the so called educated folks (indoctrinated and fatally westernised) besides the primitive politicians) that are letting Malawi down,seriously.Very brilliant at analysing and articulating national issues at different fora but do not avail themselves when physical action is required.You do not show up on the scene leaving the uneducated and the poor to do it for you only to resurface when the deed is done

  11. kangaude says:

    An interesting article… But I do nt think Malawians r necessarily fatalistic. Evn n modern democracies, t z the csos who tend to act on behalf of the citizens and the citizens usually join in. There ts even better, they have lobbyists(punchline: they are paid) who advance such ideas. While this radical thinking looks eye opening, t z simply rhetoric from which a mere Malawian gains nothing but the opening of an age-old conundrum of the poor being exploited by the powerful. What i think z necessary for our dvt z simply the political will and more transparency in the upper offices!

  12. Big brain says:

    MOST people do my know how villagers behave u tell them to do a thing for you they will do the other way round aaaaa! This country must build school and expose people as much as possible! Pls educate your village then u will see great change otherwise we are far from the true !

  13. johnson Banda says:

    First and foremost,i would like to appreciate everyone who has put on their perceptions on this issue,talking with earnest,i want really blame Malawians to be reliance on the state nor lazy either snoring daylight,NO.As far as a government exists,its suppose to save the acute interests of the people,economically,see the entitlements top govt folks have,hefty aint it?The Fiscal policy,its part,clarifies how government should initiate creation of jobs,money in circulation to maintain purchasing power parity,but since devaluation,what has our government done to improve the economy?literally nothing but hiking up mps packages and failing to use those funds for new malls,new machinery for farming,.Malawians are not lazy but they are not empowered by the state,even if we live that,will i go in streets and fix the city lights,will i enforce cleanliness on the streets dirtened by vendors?i agree on enterpreneurship state and govt empowerment,coz farming only has failed the nation for ages,entrepreneurship and empowerment should work harmoniously.

  14. johnson Banda says:

    First and foremost,i would like to appreciate everyone who has put on their perceptions on this issue,talking with earnest,i want really blame Malawians to be reliance on the state nor lazy either snoring daylight,NO.As far as a government exists,its suppose to save the acute interests of the people,economically,see the entitlements top govt folks have,hefty aint it?The Fiscal policy,its part,clarifies how government should initiate creation of jobs,money in circulation to maintain purchasing power parity,but since devaluation,what has our government done to improve the economy?literally nothing but hiking up mps packages and failing to use those funds for new malls,new machinery for farming,.Malawians are not lazy but they are not empowered by the state,even if we live that,will i go in streets and fix the city lights,will i enforce cleanliness on the streets dirtened by vendors?i agree on enterpreneurship state and govt empowerment,coz farming only has failed the nation for ages.

  15. a-e-i-o-u says:

    Jimmy, I like your analysis of the Malawi situation. It shows insight and thoughtfulness on your part. But I don’t agree that it is the “system” that has to change, because there is no system to be changed in the first place. Its the people that have to change. Malawi’s social, economic and political malaise is a perfect reflection of its people. We, the people of Malawi, are collectively responsible for what Malawi is. Malawi is nothing but a collection of our individual choices, preferences, etc.
    Jimmy, your article actually represents one of the major challenges that Malawi and Malawians face: ever reliance on those with power and authority. We expect a lot from our leaders, whether they be political, religious, traditional or even family leaders. We believe that they have the power, wisdom or willingness to help us. We are blind to the plight of our country and ourselves. The people of Malawi should be told the reality that they, alone, can uplift themselves and their children from poverty.
    Jimmy, they say that 80% of Malawians are subsistence farmers. These people work for only 3 to 4 months each year. You see, they start tending to their gardens in November or December and stop at harvesting in March/April. After that, they live idly waiting for the next rains. Do you expect such a people to live a better life? They deserve to suffer, and it is only such suffering that will awake them from their slumber.
    Jimmy, an average Malawian family has 6 children. In this day and age, some people have the courage to have up to 10 children. These people dont stop for once to ask themselves how they will raise those children, let alone educate them. This is despite the government’s efforts to promote family planning.
    In short, Jimmy, Malawians are irresponsible and lazy. When I say Malawians, I mean all Malawians. It includes those in the villages, the working class, and leaders at all levels of the society. Real change can only come from the people themselves.

    1. Jimmy says:

      Thanks for the interesting comment. I see what you’re saying – plausible argument and I know a lot of people would resonate with it.

      But here is my take on the issue: I believe there’s only so much the citizenry can do without state intervention. We need entrepreneur state that invests in research and development for its citizens to benefit.

      For instance, you’re right that harvesting once a year is not good enough. Again, we need state intervention if this is to change – folks can’t harvest more than once a year using hoes to dig their minda, we need mechanise farming – the state should invest in this. The levels of post-harvesting loss are huge in this country! No investment from the state to mitigate this.

      Again, we need entrepreneur state that’s willing to put in resources for its citizens to benefit.

      1. chinchewe says:

        dear fellow countrymen, listen to this: malawi has too few tax payers and too many people the govt (MG meaning MOLOWA GULU) IS willing to feed for free. look at the number of employees the govt has on its pay roll, too many. look at subsidies, everything and on the contrary govt resources, limited. expectations of people who are doing nothing, very high and you tend to wonder why the government is willing to feed its lazy people and expect to develop.
        1. Remove subsidies
        2. remove taxes on malawian businesses. this will help malawian to invest heavily.
        you dont need a research here. if it has worked elsewhere, it can work here too.

    2. Yonah Matemba says:

      I can’t agree more with you. Your comment is nuanced and to the point. Exactly what you say in your comment is what’s wrong with a country known as Malawi.

    3. Thitherward Wendo says:

      Mr/s Vowels
      Your identification with Malawians seems to be ambivalent. Sometimes you choose ‘we’ and ‘us’, sometimes ‘they’ and ‘them’. Most of us do not enjoy the luxury of detachment.

      I agree that we need to learn effective life-management skills, but this must come from the introduction of a more visionary curriculum for schools. We need to be taught how to formulate life-goals appropriate our potential, how to design steps toward the achievement of our goals, and how to manage the time we have to achieve them. We must depend on the government to prepare us for the work required.

      Non-Malawians have done a lot to misguide Malawians. In the past, we have listened to socio-economic conservatives insist that we must ‘open-up’ our economy, by which they meant ‘sell it off’. They have lauded the virtues of the ‘free-market economy’. We have listened to this confederacy of the greedy, selfish and stupid and we have allowed these despicable human beings to plunder our national assets. These must be recovered by whichever means are necessary/effective.

      Of course, Mr/s Vowels, you are right about our population. In the face of a 7% increase in population over the last 50 years, the English have raised their drawbridges, manned their battlements, and poured boiling oil on the hopes of any would-be immigrants. They fear the threat to their quality of life that this increase may cause. What about us then, with our population increase of more than 500% over the last 50 years? If it is not obvious to all of us that we can have too much of a good thing, this may be because our families are the only good things that we have.

      We are both misled and badly led; this does not give you the right to conclude that we ‘deserve to suffer’ and that ‘it is only such suffering that will awake (sic) [us] from [our] slumber’. Nobody deserves to suffer, and it is mean-spirited to suggest otherwise.

  16. m'bantu says:

    pointless article

  17. Movan says:

    Nice observation and hope most of Malawians can open their eyes, feel the pain and decide to take action. Its high time we become a nation that will have leaders and not bosses. We say Malawi is a God fearing nation, does it in anyway appear to be practiced by our leaders or people? Christianity should not be mistaken with brutality, or accepting anything. Lets rise up and fight for our rights and tell our leaders what we expect of them. We want change!!! We want change!!!! Enough of wasted years of unproductive years and leadership.

  18. James says:

    Already said in Bible

  19. frank says:

    Zovuta kuzimvetsa, koma kwaanthu omvesetsa akumvesetsa Malawi wants though I’m based in joburg koma amati kwanu kwanu nthengo mudalaka njoka I feel 4 other humans

  20. James says:

    We must pray hard

  21. Nkhombokombo says:

    Mwayowoya chomeni dada. Nkhumanya wamakutu wapulika.

  22. Mercy Gogoda says:

    Though the article is worth commenting, the buck stops at the door step of the originator of this piece. It seems he has articulated his ideas intelligently and that he knows what is at stake (wophunzira), but what has he done with his intellect to right the wrongs peperpetrated by those in power to the detriment of the poor folks? I think the best approach to rectify an anomaly is to brainstorm as he has done then bring forth solutions/suggestions to assist mitigating the shortcomings other than leaving things hanging in the air. Is this the way you handle your lectures, leaving your students more confused for not providing the necessary ropes to enable them overcome the learning hurdles? C’mon bwana introduce topics that will depict rational processes of thinking through a problem at hand other than this gibberish.

    1. Mphongo Zidana says:

      Madam Gogoda, I think what Jimmy has done is to give us food for thought. You cannot pretend that you don’t see these vices he has articulated in the article. Let us all try to find solutions and not throw it back to Jimmy. That is if we can.

  23. Chikopa says:

    Iweyo mmalawi kufasa kumalemba zozizila ngati zimenezi ukuganiza angabwele kuzacheza dziko loti ma bus ake ndiodontha ndindani ? Mukanangokhala osaphunzira kumagulisa bonya mina malawi akanapindula

  24. c ngoleka says:

    This was better try to catch the Mzuzu bus from Blantyre or Mzuzu then you will know that Malawi is no better than Nyasalande.
    Passengers sleeping in the corridor and greedy police officers just gets k200.0 from the conductors, what a shame.
    I wish I was not born here, I wish one party would come back, I wish Kamuzu Banda would come to life minus John Tembo.

  25. H. Davis kabeta says:

    One thing for sure is that I love malawians. They talk alot of sense but why on earth has God abandoned us by giving us very useless leaders. Not only useless, clueless but also very very greedy. Those who elect these type of leaders should come out to aplogise to the nation for their choice and rigging.

  26. Mmihavani says:

    Mr Kainja, the problem is that you are one of the millions of Malawians who look upon government to provide for all your needs including choosing a wife for you instead of you doing great for your government. As for some of us who work hard and think ahead, we are doing great. Ever wondered why foreigners including poor refugees are doing fine in Malawi? Change your mindset. Take charge of your affairs. Don’t wait on somebody to do things for you.

  27. ujeni says:

    My brother is a failed state. A country where the citizenry worship politicians. If you critic government you are considered an enemy when infact you are doing a favour by helping to point out where they are going off target. The vast majority of Malawians are not helping at all only are few are and the few ones am afraid are called all sorts of names for criticising government failures. For now we continue to be a failed state

  28. handsome says:

    Well articulated article, its high time we exorcized the demons! Damn it..when change fails you become change yourselves.. One wiseman said

  29. bryan says:

    I am jst waiting for two years, I will show these foolish presidents, the vice and Peter himself. The other things these lazy solders of ours, they knw only smokig, can’t they grab Peters balls and tell him to go and fuck the mud. Lucky enough I was not selected for Army post, otherwise I was going to take it for wrong reasons. We are not fighting, why suffer.

    1. Salvador says:

      Our army has no balls. We need an overhaul of the elections before people approve the new constitution

  30. vindere says:

    Well narrated but try to school people from Southern region to change their mindset.They should start learning to see things in black and white because right now, they are only seeing things in white.

  31. Chabecheker says:

    Its not only transport but even in banks where you spend an hour without being served:the auto bank machines do not work and sometimes long ques

  32. Sebeleza says:

    yes indeed god fearing but docile, we clap hands even when a fly flies by, most of us are not conversant with our own gvt and state systems. look what happened few wks ago; the whole info minister changing statements like a criminal, the sitting leader giving bribes what sham. god help bring the desired change!!!

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