JB’s witty politics of housing and food handouts

When I started hearing about President Joyce Banda constructing houses for the poor, I got confused bearing in mind that it could take time for a single house to be accomplished. It was also unthinkable to identify the needy people appropriately because there are different levels of poverty. I could not imagine the feasibility of raising enough funds to meet the cost of construction for a single house. My feelings at first were that the head of state had lost direction.

But some months down the line, I have realized that “it is possible “and that it is bearing abundant fruits.

If some of the rumours in the media and public places are anything to go by, it appears the ruling PP through Mudzi Transformation Trust has got it right. There is sincere gratitude from beneficiaries of the construction and/or renovation of houses. While some have houses built from a scratch, others saw their grass-thatched houses transformed into iron roofed houses. These efforts have paid dividends.

My take on this politics of housing is that the rural poor now live with expectation that one day they shall also be in an iron-roofed house.

Woman of the people: Pres.Banda with a old lady whom she helped with maize donation in Nkhatabay
Woman of the people: Pres.Banda with a old lady whom she helped with maize donation in Nkhatabay

The project of constructing houses for the poor harbours something that many people do not know.  Africans, Malawians inclusive, live a communal life. They rely on each other. They do a lot for each other for free, and they get a lot of satisfaction for that.

It was therefore not surprising that when the Mudzi Transformation Trust launched its project of constructing and renovating houses, most villages welcomed the idea wholeheartedly. All those that take part in the construction or renovation of the houses take pride in offering a helping hand to the needy. They become emotionally attached not only to the project but also to the beneficiary as well as the donor.

This project has, in effect, brought together people of different villages where such houses have been constructed. Apart from that, any person whose relative has benefitted from the project will remain genuinely sincere to the donor. In the long run, everybody else in that particular area gets connected to the ruling party because of its noble task of constructing houses for the poor people.

What I have found out is that the way people think in the ruling setting is quite different from the way city dwellers think. Even the issue of handouts seems to promote the popularity of the ruling party despite the fears that it would encourage dependency syndrome. On several occasions I have been told point blank that the food handouts are absolutely beneficial to the rural masses.

For example, while in a minibus I asked one of the beneficiaries who was happily touting the food handouts that they receive. A poor rural woman who was visibly angry asked me, “Have you ever given me anything?” “Why do you fault those who help us?” Since it was not for the first time that such a question has been paused, I started reflecting on the life pattern of such people. I discovered that life in Malawi is greatly polarized. There are a few people who are very rich while the majority is below poverty line. There is group of Malawians that consists of workers and business people that occupy the middle realm.

Unless our politicians understand that the country is greatly polarized, some shall cry foul, come May 20 of 2014. We can’t appreciate the need to give something for free because some of us are either very rich or moderately poor/rich – we occupy the different realms of our social stratum. Our needs are also different.

All our politicians should learn something from this situation. You cannot advise a hungry person to reject handouts; you can, however, advise the same poor person to think of exit plans from the grip of poverty, while he/she is enjoying the rare handouts. Politicians should also come with plans that accommodate all realms of our societies.

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