“Fatalism comforts, for it raises no questions. There’s not need to examine just how events fit in.” ~ James Hillman
Malawi can be a very painful place to live, especially for those who really care about the country and how things are run. Fortunately, I suppose, the majority of Malawians are those who either choose to ignore everyday realities and live, pretending all is well or those who are too naïve to understand how the system controls their consciousness.
If more Malawians had levels of political and social consciousness that enable them to question how things are run, I can assure you hell would certainly break loose. But this is not the case because as Karl Marx noticed well over a century ago “it is not the conscious of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determine their consciousness.”
Coming from a combined 101 years of brutal colonialism and vicious dictatorship, respectively, it is understandable that the majority of Malawians still see those in positions of power as lords, demi-gods to be feared and revered. Not their leaders and servants. This mentality makes the citizenry feel powerless; they cannot ask hard questions and demand better services.
There is this mentality that those in position of power are actually doing the rest of us a favour when they provide public services, never mind the quality of the services. In turn, in power take advantage and they expect the citizenry to be thankful for whatever services they get. This is why someone at National Aids Commission (NAC) thought it was fine to “donate” NAC money to causes that have nothing to do with HIV/Aids. All this is done with impunity.
Various watchdogs always bark, activists come out in full force, chattering class talk on social media, the members of literati and the media analyse and report about it and academics offer their learned views but nothing come out of all this. And topics do not take long to disappear from public discourse because there is always another crisis and talking point to jump on to – we all move in crowds. In the same direction, that is Malawi, a “God-fearing” nation, which thrives on crises.
I argued here three weeks ago that these perennial crises have are detrimental to national development because, as a nation, we collectively tend to focus more on areas perceived to be more urgent and more important – these are always short term efforts. Yet, for a country to develop there is a need for long-term and more focused projects. But these long-term programmes are unlikely to bring votes within five years, which is desirable for the incumbency. This is why development programmes must be depoliticised.
The status quo, as British economics journalist, Paul Mason notices, make us lose our “agency”. People become fatalistic, they are resigned to the economy being screwed, resigned to the rich getting richer, resigned to the fact that everything ends in failure, fiasco or injustice, added Mason. Here is an example of what mason is talking about:
On 18/12/14 I boarded a bus from Lilongwe to Zomba. The bus took off after 5 hours waiting to get full. In fact it was people power that forced the driver to start off without standing passengers – we could have waited for more than five hours. Having no standing passengers proved crucial around the Linthipe area, Dedza. There was a heavy downpour and the bus was leaking like it was roofless. I am a regular on this route but I hardly go by public transport so this was a new experience. To my surprise, not many folks appeared bothered. The bust conductor simply asked for newspapers to cover the leaking holes. Those with umbrellas simply turned them on. No complaints. Life goes on. Using umbrella on a bus, as you can on the picture.
There is no organised transport system linking the old and the current capital. If you are travelling between the two cities, especially from Lilongwe to Zomba, you can forget doing any other business on that day. It’s a 10 hours journey. This is a waste of productive time. Having an organised, predictable public transport system matters greatly in terms of national development. You cannot develop without it. This is why there is ministry responsible for transport. Yet, in the face of multiple crises this is not seen as a priority – people are unlikely to revolt because of poor public transport.
This is what Malawi has become. Folks believe things are because they were meant to be, not as a result socio-political and economic structures in place. This is a typical democratic system functioning at a half-mast. Policymakers are detached from everyday reality. They are never at the receiving end of appalling public services. They never go hungry, they go to private hospitals – at home and abroad at taxpayers’ expense, their kids are educated at expensive private schools, they never take public transport etc.
If these problems are to be solved, then elected leaders must using public services like people they supposedly work for. It sounds a far-fetched idea but that is how the system is designed – ideas that are revolutionary and therefore a threat to the status quo must be laughed off as daft and merely fanciful. Yet, nothing is impossible when people are united for a just cause.
For the 21 years of our democracy, those in power have taken advantage of the weak systems for their own benefit, instead of strengthening it for the whole nation to benefit. It is the system that needs changing, not people in charge. This is why after five elections nothing has charged in Malawi.
As it is, Malawi is not democracy; it is a plutocracy whereby the political class and elites enjoy the bounties of this land. People are poor in this country not because they are lazy, as the system would have believe, people are lazy because of unjust political and economic systems. Malawi heavily depend on tobacco for its survival and it is not the rich but the poor who break their backs toiling on tobacco fields from dawn to sunset, and the rich must reap the benefits.
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