Malawi academic tragedy, the circus must end: ‘Thoughs and Insights from the abys’

I was in my second year at Chancellor College when the institution was closed in March, 1992 following student protests that were precipitated by the fallout from the release of the famous Pastoral Letter by the country’s Catholic bishops. It was another six months before we set foot on campus again. I, therefore, have an idea of how current students of the college must be feeling right now.

Chanco students want college to be opened

With my first born son currently in his fourth year at the Polytechnic, I also have a very clear idea of how parents of these Chancellor College students are feeling because my boy just returned to college a few months ago after his own long layoff that spanned another boring six months or thereabouts. When he was starting his five-year course in 2012, we were all planning on his graduation this year. As it is, however, he has one more year after this. Hopefully.

If anybody in authority could identify with the feelings of these two groups, they should be ashamed of themselves. Why should it be so difficult for people involved in the running of our universities to find solutions to their problems in a timely manner? Is it not so ironic that an institution that is supposed to produce people to help solve some of our problems cannot solve its own problems?

I have on several occasions offended people in the University of Malawi because of my less than complimentary views on how they present themselves. In the first ever opinion piece to be published under my real name in 1994, a few months before I left college to join Nation Publications Limited, I opined that people were putting too much premium on university education as a qualification for the country’s leadership because my experience taught me otherwise.

This did not go down well with some of my collegemates and a few lecturers called me aside to protest, but I was only being honest. The way some students, lecturers and administrators conducted their affairs was hardly a good advert for university education. I regretted offending those that did not like what I said, but I never backed off from my view and I will say it again whenever I have the opportunity.

Fast forward to 2007, I also stepped on the toes of the University of Malawi academics during one of the never ending pay disputes between them and the authorities in Zomba. They issued an ultimatum they could not execute and I felt that was embarrassing for people whose forte should be meticulous operations. It was clear to me that they had not thought through their threat and strategy and were left with egg in the face.

The difference between 2007 and now is that at least there was a leader who did something that time. His reaction may not have pleased everyone, but at least Bingu wa Mutharika did something and the lecturers strike ended. The students were back in class after a short time. (Don’t remind me of the academic freedom battle a few years later). The situation is different now because it seems no one cares, except the students and their parents or guardians, of course.

The other day President Peter Mutharika curiously told the nation that he cannot spend time resolving issues in the University when there is a council charged to run the institution’s affairs. Some Malawians typically clapped their hands. Really? I can write a whole book to expose the folly in this thinking, but just come to think of it. It is the duty of the President to preside over the elevation of a traditional leader, but not to solve an impasse within the University for which he is Chancellor? Clap hands again.

I hate to do this, but I need to remind my President that as Head of State and Government he is answerable for everything that happens in this country, especially in the public sector. If leaders can claim credit for bumper harvests even if they do not provide the rains nor work in our gardens, how can one pass on the responsibility of some failure to other people, who incidentally happen to be his appointees?

Granted, the University Council should be on top of the situation, but if it proves a failure as is clearly the case here, the President ought to be interested. He should not be washing his hands. As pointed out already, these are his appointees, after all. He should be taking them to task and, if need be, replacing them with people who will do as expected. In other words, he should be demonstrating that he cares by being seen to be doing something. Whether anyone likes it or not, the Council’s failure is his failure.

It does not require rocket science to know that these college closures are very costly to the economy in many ways. College staff, including the protesting academic staff, are getting their salaries for doing nothing. When they eventually start doing what they should be doing now they will be paid again, probably more if they get their way.

On the other hand, parents are having to spend time taking care of their children who should be in class. Because of the indefinite nature of the closures it is not even easy to find something productive for the students during this period and they become an unnecessary burden. And because their graduation is delayed, both the students and the economy register losses.

Someone who should have started earning his own money this year is made to wait for another year. Everyone who would have benefitted from the student being employed a year or so earlier loses out. The economy which would have benefitted from his skills and income earlier is also made to wait. These are costs that are not obvious to everyone but they are costs all the same. I expected any leader worth the name to know this and act like they do.

The disputes in our universities have been running for far too long. If it is not the students it is the support staff, if it is not the support staff it is the administrative and academic staff. Surely, there must be an end to this circus and all it takes is good leadership at all levels. Malawi needs this leadership like yesterday.

  • Graciun Tukula is blogger and  commentator on current affairs, exercising his right to freedom of expression in as objective a manner as possible. His loyalty is to the country and his conscience. Everything else is secondary. Tukula has been an editor at Nation Publications Limited and Times Group.He is a University of Malawi graduate and his principles remain the same. Honesty, fairness, patriotism and humility. The post is taken from his blog: ‘Thoughs and Insights from the abys’
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9 thoughts on “Malawi academic tragedy, the circus must end: ‘Thoughs and Insights from the abys’”

  1. Chikopa says:

    Nkhani ili apayi ndiya bodza. Chanco was not closed in March 1992 and opened
    after six month. Apatu anama. Chanco did not open in September 1992 because
    of water crisis due to poor rains in 1991/1992 growing season. Polytechnic had
    some demos and MYP shot some buildings but students were back in class
    in a jiffy. Nkhani iyinso yanyasa kwambiri pamene olemba nkhaniyi akutiuza
    kuti mwana wake ali final year pa Poly. So what? Pali chani pamenepa? If the
    author claims to be renowned newspaper editor -ashiiii Malawi ali pa mavuto.

    Tiyeni nkhani ya Chanco, I can agree with the author that UNIMA Graduates,
    Lecturers including wekhas (workers) put themselves over the moon when
    no tangible outcomes have come from Chanco and Poly. KCN ili bwino
    chifukwa anamwino amatibaya tikadwala. A Tukula mwalemba mbwelera
    kwambiri. President of Malawi should not waste time to deal with stupid issues
    of Chanco popeza iwo a Chanco ankati akufuna equal pay ndi College of Medicine
    and University Council inati Ok. 40% inayo adzilipira direct a Ministry of Health,
    ndiye Chanco fools akuti ayi tifunabe 40% increase. Kodi amatero? Chanco staff
    apeza ma project ndiye they do not want to teach now so that they can be
    receiving salaries for nothing while kuthamangitsa ma research a pulayiveti.

    Can somebody do assessment plan to find out impact to Malawi if the whole
    Chancellor College could be closed for five years and pay lecturers pension on
    retirement tione ngati satuwa agalu awa.

  2. MANYI says:

    THE EDUCATED ELITE/GROUP OF PEOPLE
    IS THE ONE TO BLAME FOR ALL THIS NONSENSE HAPPENING IN OUR COUNTRY

    WHY ??
    THEY WANTED THEIR FELLOW HIGHLY EDUCATED PERSON TO RULE THE COUNTRY

    RESULT#
    THE WHOLE COUNTRY
    IS CRYING BITTERLY

  3. dr tambala says:

    Gracian Tukula ndi wa fake! he has suggested no solution whatsoever and why isn’t anyone blaming chancol lecturers when they are the only ones on strike out of the 3 unima colleges? why are chancol lecturers the only group that has gone on strike? the problem in this country is that timatsekerera u chitsiru koma expect others kuthetsa uchitsiru tikusekelera ifewo!!! call a spade a spade! chancol lecturers have an axe to grind with mutharika but hey look who is suffering? innocent young people!

  4. Najere says:

    Chancellor college students are to blame (including their lecturers) for their inflated egos. The other problem is that these institutions (particularly Chanco and Polytechnic) are politicised – it is the reason we do not often hear about chaos and closure of College of Medicine, Kamuzu College of Nursing etc. Why is Chanco always facing closure? Can Tukula do a thorough critical analysis and merit the reasons for closure since the 1990s. Some of the reasons for the closure of Chancellor College, for example, have been internally induced. Some of us (as alumni of UNIMA) who by the way, studied at Chanco, feel ashamed of the stupidity and snobbish attitude that students and lecturers have including the unnecessary and continued politicisation of the education institution not only by the ruling class but students and lecturers. Unless this is resolved, Chanco will remain in a quagmire as an academic institution. Tukula should not write a one-sided argument. There is a lot of stinking rot in our academia and Chanco in particular.

  5. Francis Mpinganjira says:

    What an article!

  6. chimanga says:

    mawu, mawu, mawu……. ali ndi makutu amve

  7. namarika says:

    This DPP government is fake, it leaves us with more questions than answers on this issue, imagine the minister of education and the chancellor himself refusing to sort out this circus, they say University council should end the dispute. What sort of leadership do we have in Malawi and you expect the country to develop? Abwampini amenewa, how will things be if they are re-elected in 2019?

  8. Panganani says:

    This is a wonderful piece Gracian. No wonder you work for the Nation because the logic you use in this write up is unparalled. Further, the matter at hand raises an implicit DPP aim. Keep more Malawians illiterate so that they can be hood winked. By so doing, you have less debate and opposition to the folly taking place within government. The President should take this matter seriously because I don’t know of any country that has developed without a good education system. The situation is made worse when the current Minister of Education taught at the University and so should be in a better position to brief all parties involved from more zest, knowledge and objectivity. However, what ones sees is abject and grandiose stupidity. If you cannot sort out simple university matters like the ones at hand, how does the population look upto government to run a good economic program that benefits all? What makes the situation worse is that a professor himself cannot sort out university issues-which are supposed to be his bread and butter. This is a serious travesty.

  9. Obanda says:

    Just quoting “at least Bingu wa Mutharika did something and the lecturers strike ended” and
    “The situation is different now because it seems no one cares, except the students and their parents or guardians, of course.”

    The consequences of solving conflicts in not the most suitable way. Threatening. And from a public service perspective we are yet to reap more sour grapes. Just go to a public hospital and you will understand the consequences of a demotivated labour force. Our leadership has created this.

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