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The reality of Malawi


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24/04/2010: Malawi


Brother Simeon Banda, can you tell me more about the reality of Malawi? An Indian priest who is an expert in social work asked me this question more than once. He believes in book knowledge but feels books do not have enough concrete information for a social worker like Father Thomas. Malawi has had so far three presidents, namely Kamuzu Banda of MCP, Bakili Muluzi of UDF and now we have Dr. Bingu Wa Munthalika of DPP.

Malawi is a landlocked country and customary land is still alive among my people. Traditional chiefs have a very big influence in village set up. I originally came from Kasungu, T/A Kaomba and my local village is an insertion village within Chisazima village and my group village headman is Kadeyula. Now village set ups follow clan or extended family ties. In our village our grandmothers had a common mother but different fathers. As a matrilineal community we trace our origins from mothers, sisters and nieces. A male figure in such family line is a guardian, in some places they call him Mwinimbumba, the owner of the family or clan group. In biblical language we can call him the overseer or a family shepherd. He settles disputes and the official custodian in during weddings and funerals. No member can marry or be buried without his knowledge. He makes round of canonical visits to all the places where his sisters, nieces, grandnieces and younger mothers are married. He holds the family together and keeps it informed of any development. When there are separations or divorce, he welcomes the offsprings of his ewe who makes his name grow. The ewe offsprings look to him for guidance and counseling. He has the whole history of the clan at his finger tips. At family gatherings he has the last word. However, these days we see his authority challenged by well to do husbands of his ewe. Their economic power is reducing closer attachment to him. People can buy an independent place where his authority may not be recognized. As we say “ Galu amalondola amene amponyera” the dog follows the one who feeds him, then the father is does all that the mwinimbumba used to do in the past. But when it comes to becoming a chief, his ewe children have the direct right of inheritance. Now his authority on land is less and less reduced. He has become a figurehead who has to be informed on already taken decisions and sometimes he lacks authority of the already taken decisions. Modernization has caught him unawares and the trend will not reverse.

Imagine even now we regard the mother birth place as our home. Town life is slowly taking us away from home. In town we assimilate a new culture and going back to the village of our origins is a rare reality where we do not know anybody. Many instill fear of witchcraft in us that when we return to the village we shall die. But since witchcraft is a common phenomenon, we see and hear of many elders teaching children witchcraft even in town. Today it is very common to hear such and such was teaching children witchcraft. All these people engaged in anti-social witchcraft business are becoming unpopular because the media is daily exposing them to the public eye and ear.

Malawi Congress Party which reigned Malawi from 1964 to 1994 using Dictatorship method created a culture of silence in all Malawians. Questioning authority was a serious offence. What those in authority said was a gospel truth. Kamuzu stressed on agriculture as a way to develop Malawi which had over 75% illiterate people. Our traditional staple food is maize from which we make nsima. So nsima is the food number one for the majority of Malawians even now. Maize is mainly grown for food, although we use it for sale at times just to get a bit of money to buy other basic needs. Tobacco has been termed a green gold and is commonly grown in Kasungu, Lilongwe, Dowa, Mchinji and Ntchisi.

Other parts of Malawi, like the north grow too but on a very small scale. It is a labour consuming cash crop especially at harvest time. During Kamuzu Day, the General farming Company has a monopoly of it. We had also known KFCTA mainly within Kasungu District. KFCT meant Kasungu Flue Cured Tobacco Authority but we seeing its death now and land shared among the people. The press farms still get a majority of illiterate people. Among the average Malawians, we see Tenant system absorbing a big population. In this system tenants are given all they need but will have to produce. With poor harvest, they are the most exploited people in Malawi and without enough human rights security. They live in inhuman house structures and good sanitation may seem unknown to them. Many would drink “well” water and pay their food through debt accumulation. They get their money only at the end of the farming season. If they lose because of poor rains, they wallow in untold poverty and can be chased with nothing to carry home. Those with children suffer more than those with none. When they win, they become temporally bosses and can buy things which only the rich people can afford to buy, only to be resold cheaply in December, January, February, during the hunger peak period of the year. The centre of exploitation are these illiterate people who can not even manage to hire a lawyer to defend their rights. Their the play thing for their bosses and can experience all forms of abuse which can be unreported.

Charcoal and firewood selling is the upcoming source of income for the majority of local rural people. It is a battle issue with the government which is promoting ecology. When caught selling charcoal, they face tough measures from those who re-inforce the law. My cousin son lost a bicycle because of being caught selling charcoal. I repeat 75% do not have regular jobs and get their daily bread through selling firewood or charcoal. Who will lose at the end of the day, is the local villager? Only 25% of our people are absorbed in the civil service. The majority would need to create their own work or victimize their working class neighbours with family burdens. Dependency is the normal of the day which anthropologists call parasitism. Poor relatives stay days and days, or months and months at their rich relative in the city from both wife side and husband sides. In my culture you do not ask a relative when he intends to return home. It is a taboo word. You just endure the burden until the visitor decides to leave alone. A rich fellow has now way to do his picnic with his family: wife and children. At times he takes up the responsibility of even educating the children of his people relatives.

Due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the country is heavily experiencing the weight of widows and orphans which the government alone can not afford alleviate. The drug that keeps HIV/AIDS alive for many years has reduced premature death rate but created a good population living with it. Orphanages are relatively few countrywide, which means the orphans are accommodated within the extended families. The old ones have the burdens of their grandchildren which drain their food supply. As many aged live in rural areas we notice early marriages on the increase as a survival lifeline to adolescent girls. Girls would like to be a par with the modern way of life. Where will they get money for making hair in the saloons? Where will they get money for a mobile phone? Where will they get money for the latest dress featuring at the market? The shortcut is early marriage. In my family no sister or niece of mine has gone past the primary school. Girls dropout is pathetic despite the government efforts in promoting free primary education. If girls marry at 16 years, then Malawi is heading to high population. The MP have a role to make laws that would delay the young girls to marry early. Bursaries should be given to girls who have school at heart but come from poor rural families. Let us keep to the adage that in educating a girl we are educating a nation as our motto in Malawi.

Early pregnancies are also promoting death of mothers at child birth. We hear of women dying during labour time in the maternity wards. More information is need by the health people to conscientise the public on the dangers of early marriages.

The divorce or separation rates too threatens the stability in family life. My two blood brothers have divorced not only once but many times, especially one of them. All my sisters children are orphans except one and all of them illiterates, and condemned to casual work for survival. They live in the temporary house structures which are glass thatched and reed mats are their common seats. Tea, meat and rice are unheard of but try to get them only at Christmas day. Their common relish is okra, fish which they exchange with maize or green vegetables or beans sold by their neighbours. Family planning is not given much attention or hearing among the local population. This has brought forth too many children without basic needs met by their parents. We see child labour as a daily reality in the villages. Children join their parents in tenant business or hunting for food journeys.

Around Mtendere campus, l see crowds of itinerant msuma people( a hunter for food) regularly visiting religious houses for food for work a situation that has not been reversed up to now especially around November, December, January, February, March. You regularly meet bony looking women and their children with a hoe and a sack hunting for food. Sometimes the work they do does not equal the food they receive.

Clever people buy the maize and beans from rural farmers, safely keep them and resell back to them at exuberant prices. Injustice is seen here.

Our market squares are the vendor paradise, overcrowded with selling materials of diverse nature. Once you land there, you maybe forced to buy even what you have not planned for at a negotiable price.

In towns we see bicycle taxi becoming a common business. The city authority have forced the bicycle taxi men to do it outside the crowded area. It looks an appealing business for those who never went to school but they are forced to pay a road licence tax to the city authority.

Cassava selling is slowly becoming a good business too. Cassava sticks are sold nowadays. There is nothing for free.

We see prostitution on the increase everyday in our urban centres, especially in pubs. Along the cities, one cannot fail to encounter a night queen in a sexual provoking attire at strategic points of the town attracting the attention of Anamadyabwino, men with money as they are locally known. Prostitution will remain a social challenge not only for Malawi but also for other parts of the world.

Land scarcity is being experienced in the central and southern region of Malawi due to overpopulation. People desert the rural areas with the hope to find a job in these areas. Those with a good business manage to get a piece of land and lease it. Buying a pieace of land is becoming a good business for other Malawians. We see mansions in the cities built by rich people. The poor Malawian becomes a matope boy or a house cleaner. In a situation of this nature we need, Good Samaritans in Malawi, who would alleviate the situation of the poverty stricken people. Today many Malawians are trying to get passports in order to run away from the miserable life of the rural area. Only empowerment of the poor will reverse the trend. Malawi is not poor but people are poor especially in the rural areas. Poverty can encourage crime rate in a country if not tamed. Let us join hands to help Malawians come out of the messy of poverty by empowering them with self reliance skills.

Brother Simeon Banda

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