Talking Blues: Behold Malawi, a nation of Bassanios and Unokas!

“In my school days, when I had lost one shaft, I shot his fellow of the self-same flight, the self-same way with more advised watch to find the other forth – and by adventuring both, I oft found both.
 
I urge this childhood proof because what follows is pure innocence.
 
I owe you much, and, like a wilful youth, that which I owe is lost. But if you please to shoot another arrow that self way which you did shoot the first, I do not doubt, as I will watch the aim, or to find both or bring your latter hazard back again and thankfully rest debtor for the first.”
This is one Bassanio in the Merchant of Venice, sweet-talking the wealthy Antonio for a second loan while already owing him money.
In plain English, Bassanio is saying:
 
“Back when I was a schoolboy, if I lost an arrow, I would try to find it by shooting another arrow in the same direction, watching the second arrow more carefully than I had the first.
 
By risking the second arrow, I’d often get both of them back. I’m telling you this story for a reason. I owe you a lot, and like a brat, I’ve lost what I owe you. 
 
But if you’d be willing to shoot another arrow the same direction you shot the first, I’ll watch your arrow more carefully this time and either we’ll get back ALL the money I owe you, or at least recover what you lend me this time so that my debt remains what I already owe you.”
Antonio had a soft spot for Bassanio, but he had no ready cash. His money was tied in merchandise that was at sea. He, therefore, instructed Bassanio to go borrow from Shylock with him as the surety.
Bassanio got the money and despite undertaking to “watch the arrow more carefully”, he lost the money again and put Antonio’s neck, literally, on the chopping block.
Exit William Shakespeare, enter Chinua Achebe.
“Okoye was also a musician. He played on the ogene. But he was not a failure like Unoka. He had a large barn full of yams, and three wives. And now he was going to take the Idemili title, the third-highest in the land.
It was an expensive ceremony, and he was gathering all his resources together. That was, in fact, the reason why he had come to see Unoka.
He cleared his throat and began:
“Thank you for the kola. You may have heard of the title I intend to take shortly.”
Having spoken plainly so far, Okoye said the next half a dozen sentences in proverbs. Among the Ibo, the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.
Okoye was a great talker, and he spoke for a long time, skirting around the subject and then hitting it finally. In short, he was asking Unoka to return the two hundred cowries he had borrowed from him more than two years before.
As soon as Unoka understood what his friend was driving at, he burst out laughing.
He laughed loud and long, and his voice rang out clear as the ogene and tears stood in his eyes.
His visitor was amazed and sat speechless. In the end, Unoka was able to give an answer between fresh outbursts of mirth.
“Look at that wall,” he said, pointing at the far wall of his hut, which was rubbed with red earth so that it shone.
“Look at those lines of chalk;” and Okoye saw groups of short perpendicular lines drawn in chalk.
There were five groups, and the smallest group had ten lines. Unoka had a sense of the dramatic, and so he allowed a pause, in which he took a pinch of snuff and sneezed noisily, and then he continued:
“Each group there represents a debt to someone, and each stroke is one hundred cowries. You see, I owe that man a thousand cowries. But he has not come to wake me up in the morning for it. I shall pay you, but not today. Our elders say that the sun will shine on those who stand before it shines on those who kneel under them. I shall pay my big debts first.”
And he took another pinch of snuff as if that was paying the significant debts first. Okoye rolled his goatskin and departed.”
After reading the above, I have no doubt you hold Bassanio in utter disgust and rightly so. How could he so recklessly put his good friend Antonio’s life in mortal danger by squandering – for the second time – another loan?
How dare he?
And after laughing off Unoka’s sick joke, I know you cannot help but feel ashamed on his behalf since he was obviously incapable of shame.
Again, you are right.
Now consider this: in 2006, the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) gave us Debt relief under the enhanced HIPC Initiative in millions of USD.
By 2009, fuel tanks were dry and foreign exchange was as scarce as a hen’s teeth.
Massive donor injections in 2012/13 alleviated the suffering and got rid of the Malawi Facebook Fuel Watch Groups, which were trending then.
Again, per the latest Budget Statement, the 2019/20 financial year closed with a deficit of K555.6 billion.
Further, domestic borrowing increased almost tenfold, from K52.3 billion to K496.7 billion.
Akin to the irresponsible Bassanio, we quickly squandered the gains made and goodwill gained via the debt relief, and like shameless Unoka, we owe practically everyone in town, and fourteen years on from 2006, we are unashamedly floating a begging plate again and borrowing like drug addicts.
All this, however, is nothing. My heart bleeds and my stomach churns when our leaders, starting with Peter Mutharika and now being perpetuated by Lazarus Chakwera; continue holding on to to the disgraceful title of “spokesperson” of Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
Look at it this way: go to the ends of the world and from each corner, collect the most reckless Bassanios and lazy Unokas. Once you have gathered these despicables in one place, choose, from among the motley lot, the most hopeless of them to “speak” for them!
And lo and behold, the dishonour falls on us! For chrissakes, how did we sink this low?
You know what?
We, Malawians, have no moral high ground from which to hold Bassanio in utter disgust and zero basis on which to feel ashamed on Unoka’s behalf.
We, Malawians, should be feeling ashamed on our own behalf and seriously rethinking our roles in Malawi’s good governance. Or else, we will remain as appalling as Bassanio and as pathetic as Unoka.
What a shame!

Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :

Sharing is caring!

0 0 vote
Article Rating
13 Comments
newest
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
The Knight Templar
The Knight Templar
21 days ago

Zolemba zabwinotu izi. Koma the author needed a good grasp of the economics behind public debt. Looks he doesn’t have that background eish.

nyarugwe
nyarugwe
22 days ago

It is a difficult task to stop borrowing unless ‘Ideal Stationery” and others stop siphoning
money from the Reserve Bank of Malawi

Hora
Hora
22 days ago

Very sad indeed, more especially when we are always asked to lead for a wrong reason, if indeed it is true that those who plundered the hard earned money (stole from government )billions,the government must recover from the thieves the money, pool it together before going out to beg. The lenders use their country’s taxes to bail us out,and their citizens must by now be getting upset with our irresponsible financial behavior. Please recover from the thieves 1st and go plead for assistance on the budgetary shortfall.

Angoni apaphata
Angoni apaphata
22 days ago

Just like Unoka and Bassanio very well articulated. Very wise words.

Dr.
Dr.
22 days ago

I love this article. It is humbling and thought provoking. We need to change our way of doing things. Zaeni kutukwanitsa.

ChikadzaKuwani
ChikadzaKuwani
22 days ago

I love reading, of course – like the average person!

I read some literature just because of the way it’s been written,the style if you will; and then again, I read other books/articles because of the substance, although the mode of presentation may not be attractive to the average reader like, say, technical literature. But with your articles, Mapwiya Muulupale, there’s always style and substance.

Why have I got this inkling that you are, or you have previously been an academic, a journalist, and a politician ( in that order )? I ain’t sayin’ this off the cuff ha!ha!ha!ha!

Joshua
Joshua
21 days ago
Reply to  ChikadzaKuwani

Hehehehe

Monosile
Monosile
22 days ago

Wow!

Covid Mlowoka
Covid Mlowoka
22 days ago

This article sulks; i wonder if it all the author follows the world economy and if anything, he reads just to move abreast with the monetary issues worldwide. Malawi’s evonomic performance cannot be sustained on nothing since as a country we produce nothing apart from tobacco, which unfortunately is not good businesd as it is regarded as a killer by the World Health Organization. Countries with bigger thriving economies are in the borrowing practice as well i.e. Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, India etc what is Malawi for her not to borrow or ask for debt relief? The mistake Malawians make is… Read more »

N one
21 days ago
Reply to  Covid Mlowoka

I am going to Accountant General to steal more money. Verh easy. Very lucrative.

Joshua
Joshua
21 days ago
Reply to  Covid Mlowoka

Bingu managed to produce more maize for this country. We were food sufficient. Look at today—the country is without food. Leadership matters.

Joshua
Joshua
22 days ago

Very painful and disheartening. How did we get to this low level after all the good will from donors. I think its LEADERSHIP.

CESSPOOL
CESSPOOL
22 days ago

What has turned us into Unoka is the politics industry which has been churning out mediocre leadership right from the 1990’s at the dawn of multiparty. Malawi on our behalf has been sailing on the high seas of corruption captained by a bunch of chronic swindlers. The thieves drove vehicles like UDF then came DPP limousine guzzling a lot of taxpayers monies while requesting the World Bank to give Malawians more funds. Our political leadership has been a curse of Unoka magnitude. An albatross around our neck they’re reckless with leadership

shares
Read previous post:
Joyce Banda continues to reach out to the needy

Former president Joyce Banda takes a step further continuing with her charity works as she reaches out to children and...

Close