Handouts: A moral chasm fuelling poverty in Malawi

Mine is an issue with the tradition of hand-outs if, predominantly, tinted with politics. I mean that spirit of generosity engrained in politically driven welfare schemes whose primary objective is to manipulate voter behaviour for electoral milestones.    So much has been said about the conspiracy by ruling party in this partisan welfarism.  I am not trying to guard the undefended here but only offering comparable political censure needed to expose oppositional conspiracy in propagating underhanded welfare schemes.

There is no denying that hand-outs, enhancing political podia, fuel enslavement syndrome and, in the waste case settings, turn segments of the populace into tramps and captives. Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the oppressed) argues that ‘false charity constrains the fearful and the subdued, the rejects of life, to extend their trembling’ No doubt, hand-outs titivating political convoys, are a depiction of a moral chasm fuelling poverty in Malawi.

President donated 2000 bags of maize flour to Ndirande residents
President donated 2000 bags of maize flour to Ndirande residents

I pick a battle with the fact that hand-outs have been a common feature in our multiparty politics and, appallingly, no piece of electoral statute governs such forms of charity. There are critical grey areas that need to be explicated with regard to funding sources of such welfarism, particularly; on how transparent and even-handed are such forms of charity. I find such forms of offerings suspect given that they have the capacity to divide the nation between those who are able to give charitably but in need of power and the “unfortunates” in desperate need of help. I am questioning this form of charity as it has been a distinctive feature in successive regimes despite the incomprehensible nature of the funding sources. As a nation, we cannot sit on the fence and let run-of-the-mill welfare schemes unchallenged.

Honestly, I have no political favourites given that established prime powers in both political camps have entrenched positions in this manipulative behaviour. The exploitive nature of such welfarism can not be underestimated as, over the years, it has effectively reduced key political performers to a cohort of hand clappers and navel gazers, pandering to oppressive regimes wilfully or unconsciously. The case in point is party politics and how their financing operations constitute a predictive element of party collusion in creating lipstick state actors.  The aftermath of one party state is beset with baser governmental functionality and the cash-gate scandal unearths a deeply held tradition of false generosity thriving in a poverty stricken warm heart of Africa. That government contracts were signed and payments were made without any work done is evidence of out of control form of false charity under the cover of state management.

The announcement, by one among many prominent oppositional leaders, promising to foot the electoral bill of his party legislative hopefuls, has been accepted as an attribute of good leadership. The party zealots have extoled such gesticulation, though uncritically, ignoring the oppressive tendency of such personalised political funding. It would have made sense if such financial support was channelled through the party coffers with the central politburo making pronouncements of generosity on institutional basis.

I contend that such individualised donations have the hallmarks of leadership obsessed with controlling its party minions. Should such a party recoup power in the next elections; the leader will be fenced by bootlickers who will see the president as the economic powerhouse invulnerable to any form of criticism. I wonder how many of those vying for a legislative position and, are beneficiaries of such personalised generosity, are bold enough to question the decisions of the party leadership. Such generosity chokes informed debate at party level and is a recipe for dysfunctional leadership. I would argue that those who seek public office must be prepared to foot their own electoral bills as an expression of commitment to serve the public.

Unconsciously or consciously, the society too is complicit in proliferation of false charity. As a nation, we seem trapped in cultural norms whereby those who do not give generously are labelled undesirables of the clan or tribe. So much emphasis is placed on the monetary value of giving which in many cases serves to perpetuate poverty and preserve the power and wealth of the privileged few. I do not need to think about politics yonder to find my collusive behaviour in this. False giving and receiving overlooks the time the giver spends to accrue wealth and, the recipient of the gifts knows little or nothing about the giver’s investment efforts.  As a society, we need authentic charity which turns our hands into a set of skills that transform our being forever. In the words of Paulo Freire,  “true generosity lies in striving so that these hands – whether of individuals or entire peoples – need to extend less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world”.

I do not seek to play down the intrinsic benefit of the concept of Mudzi Transformation given that there are some fragments of our society in abject poverty, particularly, the old, orphans and disabled, who deserve such altruism. The programme appears to be noble in its mission. However, it needs to pass the test of true generosity and let alone be detached from the restraints of politics. Though debatable, the initiative has created a credible foundation for the next regime to legislate a new philanthropic capital dedicated to helping the vulnerable sections of our society with impartiality. Perhaps, I am thinking big!

There are substantive matters that necessitate a critical scrutiny of the values of individuality and how these propagate false charity. The ineptness of successive governments in the multiparty era is a result of unapprised voter choices influenced by false charity. It is an issue of a society that is devoid of capacity to question the causes of reality. Tactlessly, the society appear to be easily fooled by politics of the ‘here and now’ with very little to offer to posterity. I presume it is that time we ought to stand for universal principles and be human enough to suffer for sticking to moral values. That time we question the intention of giving and receiving irrespective of our socio-economic status. Surely, there are lessons learnt of how violent and oppressive our politicking can be in a society in which the bulk of the electorate are in abject poverty.

At the fall of one party state, I felt liberated from the servitude of a callous, iron fisted ruler provided by the Malawi Congress Party.  Amidst claims of God fearing nation and newly found freedom under multiparty democracy, I anticipated for the emergence of societal vigilance against acts of immorality and oppression. Alas! For as long as we are stuck with baser and immoral schemes of giving and receiving, our political landscape will never be perfect. Our mental representations, as required in the decision making process, will remain corrupted and incomplete. As a nation, we need to confront this reality by questioning the systems of fabricated charity and seek answers for why are some able to give generously. I know for certain that the cash-gate scandal has provided answers and, perhaps, raised our critical awareness of the funding sources of false charity.

I hope, with the inclusion of fresh minds in politics, the forthcoming elections will help with the development of a moral resurgence needed to create a just social order, an essential antidote for authentic charity. As voters, it is about that time we seek to redefine the terms for the art of giving and receiving besides searching for a new relationship with those canvassing to obtain electoral decree to govern the country. The path towards achievement of emancipation is simplistic as it requires a moral foundation which is within reach of every human being. However, it is human activity that is at fault as it has turned out to be its own master of suppressive practices. We are many and well-meant but victims of self-inflicted deprivation.

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