Of Malawians in the Diaspora, Crooks and Desperados

 By Wise One From The East

“We’re all afraid of where we’re going. Each one of us is afraid of what is coming next. If you’re not, then ask yourselves why. You may be just like a peacock that hides its head in the ground when danger approaches.” Bishop Joseph Mukasa Zuza – August 16, 2011.

Civil Society, faith groups and other players that are keeping the faith burning in Malawi by among other things, reining in the once popular septuagenarian president now gone off-line and off-track, have patriotic allies in Malawians in the diaspora.

Malawians in the diaspora, individually or in teams, for instance through the Malawi Diaspora Forum, are actively participating in Malawi’s development by:

  • Proactively lobbying and advocating for good governance and human rights;
  • Recording and letting the world know each new low that Malawi sinks to, on her downward journey towards the dungeons of a dictatorship;
  • Sensitizing Malawians on issues of national import that the powers that be would want them not to know;
  • Contributing solutions and alternatives on the way forward;
  • Pleading with the donor community NOT to “throw away the baby with the water”, urging them instead to implement targeted sanctions if necessary; and
  • Providing independent and  interactive internet fora for open minded Malawians, home and abroad, to interact and exchange ideas on the way forward.

And this is not all. Malawians in the diaspora have also put the motherland on the global map in many spheres of life. In politics and regional governance, leaders of Malawian parentage are a common feature in neighboring countries e.g. Zambia and beyond. (Recommended reading: Made in Nyasaland: The Enduring Influence of Malawian Diaspora over Zambia by E. Munshya wa Munshya.)

In sports, the development of football in South Africa  is in part attributed and linked with some Malawians who trekked down south to ply their trade on South Africa’s football grounds. The industriousness of Malawians in the diaspora is therefore not at all negligible.

What is interesting however is that the results of the works of the hands of Malawians in diaspora have of late started irking the powers that be. It has been reported that the current blundering Malawi president, smarting from a well-deserved and long overdue ‘baptism of fire’ at the hands of the head of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, his Lordship Joseph Mukasa Zuza, recently expressed displeasure on the role they are playing.

The Nyasa Times, quoting a source who attended a recent high level meeting, reported that Mutharika blasted Malawians abroad as “desperate crooks” who he said “want to reap where they did not sow”.  Nobody who knows the man am referring to, our local anti-hero – Professor Bingu wa Muthatrika, can doubt that he could utter these uncalled-for words.

In the first place, the word ”consistent” has never been associated with him. He will say one thing today and tomorrow, turn around and inexplicably reverse the statement he made the day before, and he does not stop there. He then goes and does something totally preposterous, leaving his lieutenants dumbfounded, making contradictory lame excuses in his wake.

And just how does this relate to Malawians in the diaspora? The Minister of Finance – Mr. Ken Kandodo, if the 2011/12 Budget Statement  is anything to go by, is working day and night to provide incentives to increase remittances from the very people that his boss, Mutharika is referring to as crooked desperados.

Even in the private sector, institutions like the Standard Bank have gone out of their way to package special products to attract the much needed foreign exchange from Malawians in the diaspora. Mutharika’s statement therefore, does not only raise questions as to the sanity of its author, but has the potential to render noble efforts, like Ken’s and the Standard Bank’s, futile.

Secondly, Mutharika either has a very short memory or he switches it on-and-off as it conveniently suits him. Since the mid-sixties to the mid-nineties, when he was fired at COMESA, he neither stayed nor worked at home. The same applies to his greencard holding brother. To make matters worse, no-one, nobody at all, can pinpoint for a fact these two brothers’ tangible contribution to the fight against the thirty year old dictatorship.

Yet, on return, not only are they enjoying the democracy that others died for but, they are busy, skewing everything in their family’s favour, backbiting and calling everyone, including some of their faithful blind followers, names. Putting it politely, this makes them the quintessential desperate and crooked ex-diaspora graduates who are not only reaping where they did not sow, but with no iota of moral ground to stand on and hurl insults to other people.

Finally, like a child denied permission by his parents to play with his favourite toy, or better still, a spoilsport whose misadventures have attracted his big brother’s undue attention, Mutharika, fuming inside, is groping in the dark to find a substitute on which to vent his frustrations because Bishop Zuza told him in no uncertain words that he should NOT attack civil society or the church. Even if civil society has a democratic deficit, it has a role to play in national development and so has the church, the Bishop eloquently schooled Mutharika.

And now, since Civil Society and the church are practically no-go zones, Mutharika has picked on Malawians in the diaspora as his punch bag. One would expect that he would remember that not too long ago, his minister of internal affairs Aaron Sangala was embarrassed by a UNDP report when he alleged that citizens who leave Malawi to seek a better life abroad are unpatriotic.

The 2009 United Nations Human Development Index revealed that in 2007, Malawians in diaspora contributed over $1million (over K140 million at the rate prevailing at that time) to the economy through remittances sent to immediate family members, but whose the benefits spread broadly into the Malawian economy.

This development picked up and in fact reported widely by international media: the Palestine Telegraph; Africa – The Good News; and the Zimbabwean was, as observed by the UNDP Representative in Malawi a revelation that migration offers unexplored opportunities which Malawi would do well to exploit.

But then, with Mutharika, nothing is surprising anymore because it is in his nature to bite any hand that feeds him. His sneering comments notwithstanding, Malawians living and working outside the country refuse to bury their heads in the sand like peacocks. They will not stop participating in the development of Malawi economically, politically and especially ensuring that sanity and good governance – prerequisites for any meaningful and sustainable development, prevail in Malawi.

On the contrary, Malawians living abroad, strengthened by the fact that the world at large Mutharika included, are listening to them, acting and taking note of their contribution to developments at home; and in line with the man of God’s admonition not ”to behave like a peacock that hides its head in the ground when danger approaches”; will wherever they are, dedicate themselves even more to the service of the motherland.

They will invest even more energy; marshalling resources and enlisting support, moral or otherwise, to see to it that Muthatrika attends to each and every one of the twenty points raised in the July 20 petition so that words of all the men of God that prayed for our nation on August 16, and the deaths of the twenty young women and men on July 20 shall not have been in vain.

Malawi Diaspora Forum: Placards display at Nottingham, UK meeting

After all, living and working abroad does not make one less of a Malawian; if this were the case, the Mutharikas would have long ago lost any claim to being Malawians! Talking of crooks and desperados, who is the real crooked desperado between:

(A)   a person plying his or her trade in foreign lands, in his or her own little ways, honestly acquiring wealth and property through means and sources that he or she can account for;

and

(B)    a person who, dismissed from an international organization, returns home in disgrace, for a while languishes in poverty traversing Malangalanga Road in a minibus often incapable of self-propulsion, before hoodwinking an entire nation that he will eradicate corruption, and then whilst everybody is in a daze following his “confidence act”; amasses so much wealth that when he is called upon to explain; not one, not two, not three, not four but twenty young people are killed as he tries to silence voices calling on him to account?

This case plus many others, dialogue or no dialogue, vigil or no vigil, is very open, and it will be pursued to the very end.

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