Chilembwe day Reflection: Of Martyrs and Chickens

‘You can fool some people sometimes,

But you can’t fool all the people all the time,

So now we see the light;

We gonna stand up for our rights! 

Wo yooooo!

Wo yooo, yooo, yooo!’ 

Wolves amongst the sheep:

History looks with awe at the likes of Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, John Chilembwe, the Mwanza four, Tom Chakufwa Chihana, and many fallen ‘unknown soldiers’ that sacrificed their lives for noble causes.

The same history, looks with disdain at the villains who tried to fool some people some time because eventually they could not fool all the people all the time. Adolf Hitler, Augustine Pinochet, Papa Doc, the infamous apartheid regime in South Africa; are all strong reminders.

Muammar Gadaffi, Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak, Laurent Gbabo and others have recently paid the ultimate price for failing to take heed of the free lessons that abound in history. The ignoble fall of these people from power should serve as a warning to this and coming generations that even  a big tree can be brought down by a small axe.

Bingu wa Mutharika and Gbagbo: Two of a kind

Chilembwe: he died so that we might live freely

Coming back home, the history of Malawi is written by the blood of people who braved colonial might to free Malawi into an independent nation.  Today, we are free because Reverend John Chilembwe lit the flame and after him others kept the faith and the fire burning. Reverend John Chilembwe and the other martyrs of patriotism gave their lives so that we might be free people in a free country.

But are we free?

  • Are we free when our own police, led by a Malawian, go on rampage; killing and maiming unarmed youths?
  • Are we free when people with contrary political opinion are branded enemies of the state, risk having their offices and houses burnt?
  • Are we free when young men still in their formative years are abused by the police chief, ambushed and murdered in cold blood by people that the police chief does not want to reveal?
  • Are we free when government machinery protects, shields and even pays hefty bonuses to our brothers’ killers?

Lessons from our heroes and martyrs?

Today, January 15 we commemorate and celebrate the life of John Chilembwe. I suggest three questions that should be the keynotes of our meditation and celebrations:

  • What would John Chilembwe have said, if he lived in our time?
  • What would the Mwanza four have done, if say Dr Banda had concocted a brother from nowhere, and anointed him as an unrivaled chopper riding successor?
  • What would the late Tom Chakufwa Chihana have done or said, had he lived to look at the pictures of a young Robert Chasowa, assassinated and insulted, even as he lay dead, by state agents?

Each of us has his own answers. The one thing common to all of us is that we are at pains to understand why President Mutharika has chosen to govern as a demi-god when he was a chicken against his predecessors in their time and prime.

Power lies with the people:

The problem however is that there is nothing wrong nor new with Mutharika. He is just being his honest old self: a man that destroys everything he touches. Nothing he controls flourishes, and this is a fact.

But, since we are the ones who put him in power, it is our responsibility to remove him from power. To this end, on July 20, 2011 we marched and delivered a petition which the Mutharika administration is implementing at a snail’s pace, cherry-picking only those demands that meets its agenda.

We have dialogued, waited and watched Mutharika recover his composure to become even more arrogant and suicidal. First, oblivious of the fact that martyrdom does not end something, it is only a beginning (Indira Gandhi); he called the July 20 martyrs all sort of names.

Mutharika doesn’t care:

Today, he can even dare to call his people chickens. Drunks and fools, in his philosophy, are better off. After all, drunks can sober up after a while, and fools can beat a drum and have the clever people dancing. So, we are chickens indeed, caged ones for that matter, waiting for slaughter at Mukhito’s whims.

The question is: if we are chickens, why did he set up a dialogue committee? If we are chickens, why does his police chief engage youths to thwart us as we go about our chicken business of marching and traversing streets with placards?

Is it because chickens can do nothing that he is now:

  • scaring away foreign investors with his fiery but empty speeches?
  • killing domestic investment with a punitive tax regime?
  • ensuring that the private sector, save for Mulli Brothers, does not prosper by sticking to policies that perpetuate forex shortages?
  • fighting development by failing to resolve fuel and electricity crises?


Is it because of this that his right hand men are busy:

  • wasting the little forex we have on unnecessary spying gadgets?
  • constructing, with money extorted from the tax payer, swimming pools with jacuzzis when hospitals have no medicines?
  • awarding themselves tenders to procure subsidies, capital for which they get from the Reserve Bank?


We could go on and on.

Mutharika, Chilembwe’s anti-thesis:

Ironically, today, Mutharika who stands against everything that John Chilembwe fought and died for, is leading the nation in commemorating John Chilembwe, the fore-runner of the struggle for our freedom.

Soon as he has told us a thing or two about Hanahela, he will praise Chilembwe sky-high when he, his government, party and parliamentarians are presiding in an environment that is worse than the one that Chilembwe died fighting against!

The litany of problems dodging Malawi were non-existent in 1914, in 1958, in 1964, in 1992 and in 2004. Malawians had energy (fuel and electricity); tax regimes were conducive to growth; corruption and nepotism were not too bad and when rains were good, there was enough food on the table.

Mutharika, stealing our referendum!

The Malawians that voted for freedom during the referendum, and am proud to be one of them, were not starving  at all. But they wanted and voted for freedom. Mutharika may have some claim to food security, which is quickly diminishing, but as Evison Matafale sang, ‘Ufulu si nsima!’

Today January 15, we Malawians celebrate Chilembwe, a martyr who knew that he would not survive the revolt, but nevertheless went ahead and revolted. The Mwanza four, long after him, knew that throwing spanners into the MCP succession machinery was deadly, but they spoke up and died for that.

Of martyrs and chickens:

Tom Chakufwa Chihana knew that facing Dr. Banda was something one only did in dreams if they wanted to live, but Tom came to Malawi and faced the lion. The July 20 martyrs, young men begging for good governance, knew that they stood no chance against the Malawi Police but on July 20, they nevertheless came out to protest.

All these people shared one insight that martyrs are needed to create incidents; incidents are needed to create revolutions and revolutions are needed to create progress. Question is, are we the remnant capable of sustaining the revolution?

Or are we indeed the chickens that Mutharika has christened us? Come to think of it, he is not wrong at all because chickens is indeed what we are. Chickens turn and bolt when faced with smallest danger. Chickens, can never stand up for their rights and chickens, get satisfied with madeya.

But since John Chilembwe did not die to free chickens, Chakufwa did not put his life on the line for chickens, then we owe it to the spirit of John Chilembwe, Chakufwa and the July 20 martyrs to continue and sustain the revolution.

Mutharika must go!

Since we started our reflection with a quote from Bob Marley, it is only right and proper that we conclude by paraphrasing his words. Let us emancipate ourselves from this slavery because none but ourselves can free our country; we should have no fear for Mukhito police, cause none of them can stop the time.

How long shall they kill our people while we stand aside and look? Although some say it’s just a part of it, because we have got to fulfill the book – I beg to differ. We’ve been trodding on the wine-press much too long: we have to rebel and change the regime now!

(with some input from Wise One from the East)

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