Culture key to ending corruption in Malawi

I am a US-trained lawyer sent here to help fight against corruption. People say Malawian culture is the main reason why there is entrenched corruption in the country.

I disagree. I believe that Malawian culture is actually the key to successfully fighting corruption.

During my few months here, I have noticed many interesting cultural differences between Malawi and the US.

One of the most obvious differences is the emphasis on the community versus the individual.

In the US, our culture cares more about individuals and their unbridled freedom of expression. Malawians appear to care more about the well-being of the community and self-expression is often stifled based on the pressure or needs of the community.

Despite the potential problems that this collective culture can bring, it has also resulted in close-knit family units and a trustworthy support system for individuals in times of trouble. This community dynamic is a powerful tool that can be used to eradicate and fight corruption.

When I talk to Malawians about corruption, they always mention that it is deeply entrenched into the culture of their country and that it is basically impossible to wipe it out at this point.

Although corruption seems to be everywhere, I do not believe it is an immutable component of Malawian culture. Corruption in the country is like a non-native invasive weed. Just because it is seen everywhere does not mean that it belongs to this environment.

Corruption is not a part of the culture of Malawi. On the contrary, it is countercultural in Malawi.

Malawian culture values the community over the individual. When elected officials pillage the government coffers, they are not thinking of the communities that elected them or the country’s well-being. These individuals are making decisions that privilege their individual needs over the needs of their community.

This is against the culture that I have come to know and love in Malawi.

Malawian culture with its collective values is a powerful tool when it comes to correcting behaviour that is seen as wrong.

For example, if a man wants to marry a woman and his family does not approve, the culture will be a strong roadblock.

I believe that Malawians can harness this same power against the forces of corruption that are running rampant in this country.

A few weeks ago, I was driving home at night from a friend’s home and two police officers stopped me at a checkpoint. They  asked me for my driver’s licence, inspected it and handed it back to me. The officers then asked me to give them some kwachas so that they could purchase Fantas.

I replied that I cannot give them any money and they asked me why not. I told them that I work at the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and that it would be inappropriate for me to offer kickbacks.

The officers then replied that it was okay and that ‘Fanta’ did not constitute a bribe.

At that point, I looked at both of the officers, bid them a goodnight and drove away.

Corruption will only stop once we, as a collective people, stop empowering bad actors.

We need to harness the collective power of Malawian culture and say no to the government officials and even police officers who attempt to unjustly take money from us.

If we all work together and emphatically yell a collective “no” to the powers that be, we could change a nation in a generation.

I know that the culture of The Warm Heart of Africa is not confrontational. Malawians are generally reserved and quiet.

However, even a million whispers can sound like the roar of a waterfall when we say ‘no’ in unison.

Whenever people tell me that Malawian culture is the blame for all of the corruption, I reply that Malawian culture is the key to stopping corruption once and for all.

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4 years ago


4 years ago

An important aspect that is not discussed towards ending “petty corruption” is improving efficiency in the delivery of public services. For example, at Road Traffic Directorate many people are forced to pay a bribe simply to avoid the chaos that reigns at that office. Why should I spend 2 or even 3 days chasing CoF for my vehicle which is in top notch condition when I can complete the process within hours simply by paying an extra MWK10,000? Professionals or business people stand to lose much more than MWK10,000 if they spend even half a day at the DRTSS. The… Read more »

4 years ago
Reply to  zaya

The chaos is deliberately created so that we should think of just paying the K10000 to avoid being delayed

4 years ago

An embrace of ‘our culture’ (and by the way which culture?) will not cure our country of corruption! It is only the love for our country and its people by our pseudo-leaders that can end the endemic corruption in this country! Can you trace any love of this country and its people in the current crop of pseudo-leaders, are you therefore surprised at the rate of their thieving!?

4 years ago

I like this argument. What we think is the vice is actually the bottom line of the solution. Mindset. However, poverty comes into play. By poverty, this is at all levels including the rich. For example, if that night you were driving you were driving after taking an over dose of alcohol. Supposing the officer of the law took you through a Breathalyzer and you were found to be guilty. Your first option would be to spend the night in a police cell (mind you, it is not hotel standard on this part of the world). The second option would… Read more »

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