It is an open secret that research has proven the benefit of diasporas. However in Malawi less attention has been paid concerning the potential role of its expatriate communities as providing assistance the social, cultural and intellectual aspects of development.
Diaspora simply means the migration or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland. In recent years this type of movement has been viewed by governments as a development injector rather than a problem.
Many African countries are looking at their diasporas as important players in their development strategies. In Malawi the opposite stands out: Politics has taken a lager portion.
It all started with former President Hastings Kamuzu Banda who used spies within the diaspora to kill enemies of his party.
Despite numerous efforts, the Malawi government has somewhat overlooked the potential role a well organised diaspora could play as a development partner.
The first thing to point out is that all governments after Kamuzu are rather more variegated than stereotypes would suggest. They pretend to encompass all Malawians when in fact they all partisan.
President Joyce Banda’s visit to UK
The President made a good point in meeting Malawian expats yet in a subsequent photo opportunity met People’s Party (PP) supporters in private, forgetting that she is President of all Malawi. In that way she alienated herself from members of the genuinely development-conscious diaspora.
This type of gesture from a head of state creates sectarianism among the expat community as favours are curried behind party lines. The President should be seen to be above party politics: She is President of Malawi and not merely the leader of a political party. Such internal administration should be the remit of PP officials. The President when abroad should be talking to all Malawians regardless of political affiliation. She should encourage them to unite as Malawians thereby removing the spy issue but above all sell them the concept of investing more in their homeland.
As a one-off faux pas it could be overlooked but this repeats a pattern already seen when Foreign Affairs Minister Mganda Chiume was also seen in a group photograph with PP members in South Africa abusing tax payers’ money to discuss party matters abroad. Really?
If divisions are established among the diaspora the consequences are always later awkward for the government as observed during Bingu’s tenure.
Malawi Diaspora Forum (MDF)
Tired with Bingu’s regime, and also feeling sidelined, Malawians in the UK formed what they called the Malawi Diaspora Forum whose agenda was to lobby the UK government to help encourage democracy and good governance in Malawi. High on the MDF’s agenda was to see Bingu resign.
This is the risk when government is seen to politicise issues in a diaspora.
The MDF has since altered its agenda to lobbying the international community to support sustainable development through ethical investments in key industry sectors.
However, it appears that far from this, Joyce Banda is treating the diaspora not as a development asset but as mere fundraisers for her political party.
The Malawian diaspora as a whole should urge the Malawi Government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to meet the needs of Malawians abroad and to help them foster their national identity, language, culture and customs.
Instead of using people in the diaspora as divisive political instruments as is the case now, we want the government to help their diaspora by rendering effective and quality consular protection and services, assisting them in establishing and managing clubs and associations, and by ensuring them contacts with business and other organisations in the mother country, much as the British Embassy does abroad.
Instead of organising factional groups whose aim is just to bring divisions amongst Malawians abroad, we ask the government to encourage the diaspora to cooperate among themselves: To intensify contacts and relations with mother Malawi; To work tirelessly for the promotion of their overall economic, scientific, cultural, educational, sporting and other ties with their home.
Our wish is that the Malawian diaspora worldwide may one day look upon the diplomatic and consular missions of the Republic of Malawi as their port in a storm to whom they may turn for assistance and resolution of expatriate problems not because they are DPP, UDF, MCP, Timau Crew, Petra, New Labour, Chipani Cha Pfuko, PP or Nyasa Times.
No, these missions are not there to promote names of parties and leaders.
No, the President must not go to these missions with the agenda of promoting her party interests.
No, we are all Malawian.