Like him or hate him Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda had what is sometimes called in political circles ‘the vision thing’. The Ngwazi dedicated his residence at Gwelo Prison in 1959 the place where he found time to author his blueprint for turning Nyasaland, into an independent viable nation: his Gwelo Dreams. The odds were stacked against him. By 1962, the colonial authorities had already declared then Nyasaland an ‘economically unviable’ project, Malawi had no central bank, no university, no medical school, no polytechnic, and as he liked to emphasize, ‘no known minerals to speak of’.
Dr Banda was not put off. He kick-started economic, agricultural and educational development. Many of his projects, like power generation, are still more or less as he left them twenty-seven years ago! If Dr Banda had not been so autocratic some Malawians would miss him even more. Multiparty governance has brought freedom of speech and a vibrant political culture, so vibrant that the culture spends more time feeding itself than instituting development projects. Small projects are crowed about and Malawians see many more promises being made, but remain unfulfilled.
One such unfulfilled promise is that of building the Mombera University. The project was first muted for certain by the late Bingu wa Mutharika. Then Peter Mutharika laid a foundation stone in 2014. Previous governments have always tried to hoodwink the people with big projects around election time in order to win votes and in similar fashion, the initial ground works for the Mombera University seemed to ‘resurrect’ around election time. The projects were forgotten after the elections were over.
But let us go back to Dr Banda’s vision. One of his fulfilled visions was the creation of a large planted forest, Chikangawa or Vipya. This, in good hands would have been one of his legacies to his people. And yet, multiparty politicians, beginning under Bakili Muluzi’s watch, and their business colleagues have looted the forest, neglecting to keep it sustainably replanted. Despite the grand talk, this denudation of this massive resource continued under Joyce Banda and Peter Mutharika’s reigns. It is yet to be seen what the Chakwera-Chilima Tonse Alliance will do to maintain this forest.
Dr Banda also had a vision of developing his women, the Mbumba. Dr Banda’s initiatives were not fulfilled. He desperately wanted to improve his women’s status. His project was not completed though some would say that gender equality was not high on his list of to do things. In fact, despite his promotion of the mbumba, he left Malawi with a glaring gender inequality problem. By all accounts, this gap seems to be widening when it comes to post-secondary education attainment with up to twice as many men attaining post-secondary education than women. The consequence of women being under-represented in our universities is that they are under-represented in most decision making bodies (‘Bring me the CVs of qualified women’ is not an uncommon excuse to justify the exclusion of women in decision making positions).
Malawi has joined the world in its ambition to attain the objectives of the global Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which include attaining quality education for all and gender equality. One of the main ways of improving women’s status, girls’ education and communal studies is to improve access to women’s tertiary education.
A new university, especially one that would also fill the gender gap and inequality in education would do a lot to advance Malawi’s national objectives – objectives, it must be repeated, which are part of Malawi’s global commitment to the Agenda 2030. Dr Banda dreamed and produced UNIMA. Bakili Muluzi listened to his advisers and saw the vision of Mzuni become a reality.
Our idea of meeting this gap between women’s educational needs and the unfulfilled Mombera project is to establish a University of Community, Gender and Sustainable Studies. This will meet the unfilled aspiration of the Mombera area and the unfilled needs of education for women. Some favour calling this the Inkosi Mbelwa University. Others prefer the name Mombera. And yet some of us wonder why, for once, Malawi would not honour a prominent female, historical or living. The Joyce Banda University of Community, Gender and Sustainable Studies? The Mama Kadzamira University of Community… The Verah Chirwa University of Community… The Rose Chibambo University… The Gertrude Rubadiri University of… and, hey, if you don’t like political figures, The Makewana University of Community, Gender and Sustainable Studies sounds very nice.
The university site at Mombera is already there with some preliminary groundworks already done. This site is very close to Chikangawa, Dr Banda’s natural resources gift to the nation. Chikangawa, symbolises our natural resources. Mockingly, the ‘promises that were preliminary infrastructure are already going to grass.
As happens at each change of government, promises are made and very often not fulfilled due to resource or political concerns. And yet, in the case of Malawi this need not be the case. Malawi has just gone through a refreshing political transformation. However and interestingly, one of the areas of contestation between the new government and its people was that of gender equality. Women felt that the president had failed to ensure a forty per cent female representation in some of his parastatal appointments. As if acknowledging the disparity and female disadvantage, the president implied that he could not find enough suitable female candidates.
One could also criticise the gender movement in Malawi for missing historical moments. With hindsight, it is clear that no attempt was made to capitalise on the mbumba movement. That movement’s powers vanished with the end of Dr Banda’s rule. The gender movement was divided during the Bakili Muluzi and Bingu wa Mutharika eras. And, when it came to the vote, women abandoned Joyce Banda during the 2014 elections, leaving her agenda unfulfilled.
What is required now is for those interested in female empowerment through education to seize the opportunity offered by a new political start to kick start the Mombera University project, or shall we say, the Makewana University of Community, Gender and Sustainable Studies. It is our dream that the nation would be best served if it is established as a university specialising in community, gender and sustainable resources studies. Ideally, women would be guaranteed 50 percent of student places (and, where possible, lecturers too).
The university would, among others, offer courses that address community needs such as Sustainable Agriculture, Engineering, Technology, Economics, Water, Health, Gender Issues, Forestry and Cultural Studies.
Bakili Muluzi overcame his southern base objections and went ahead AND established Mzuni. Bingu wa Mutharika and Peter Mutharika, distinguished scholars both, lost a valuable opportunity, leaving unfulfilled promises. President Chakwera and his deputy Chilima must not let patriarchy stand in the way of this easily attainable dream. Let not the people of Mombera be dogmatic about names: there will be enough ‘Schools’ within the University: Inkosi Mbelwa Faculty of forestry; Mombera School of Community Studies etc. The infrastructure is already there. Let us not do what we do best in Malawi: get drowned in feasibility studies.
With the international gender movement, sustainable world movement, climate change priorities et cetera, on our side our dream of The Makewana University of Community, Gender and Sustainable Studies is one that is easily attainable and quickly.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :