In the early 2000s, at the age of 20 when Atuweni Chisasula, a Yao offspring from Naisi in Zomba, registered into one of the University of Malawi (Unima) prestigious faculties, she portrayed immerse virtue and a picture of a true Malawian lady.
Standing five feet two inches, her ordinary and unblemished manners, assertiveness and way of thinking; her dark skin, roundish face and short black hair that resonated with her well-built slender body, sparkling eyes, disarming smile; her dressing and the colourful traditionally made earrings hanging on her ears reflected everything Malawian – intelligence, hard work, respect, warmth, charm and beauty.
Today, Atuweni’s unspoilt nature has unconsciously been completely eaten away by her exposure to Western influence including education, religion, culture and the powerful media that seem to have convinced her that being a Malawian or African is inferior.
At the moment, Atuweni, now a senior executive in the financial market circles, has since redefined and redesigned herself by appropriating a Western lifestyle and has become an ambassador of the West reproducing and promoting Western culture in Malawi.
Atuweni is not the only Malawian or African who has been seized by this luring ‘cultural imperialism’. Many more African men and women have also fallen into this trap set up by the so-called civilisations of the West, Middle East and the Far East.
In his paper, ‘Who Needs Civic Education? The Inferiority Complex of the Malawian Elite’, Unima’s Alfred Mtenje notes that the “unfortunate consequence of this cultural alienation by the African elites is their loss of self-confidence and the acceptance, sometimes without question, of the superiority of Western values and practices.”
Mtenje’s paper further quotes an article in the Weekend Nation of 3-4 May 2003 authored by Rev. Stewart Lane, who wrote: “One feature of colonial oppression is that the oppressors have to deceive themselves that the people they oppress are inferior……….Bad as that is, a worse thing is that the oppressed begin to accept or at least suspect that their oppressors are right. Today in Africa, the main bar to economic, social and emotional health is not overpopulation, poverty or lack of education but lack of self-confidence.”
Mtenje observes that Malawian appetite for foreign values has filtered even in the most unexpected areas such as social-economic practices like sports, religion and many more including music.
“Today’s African elites are enemies of their own policies for cultural and national development,” says the professor, adding that Africans tend to overvalue the position and status of foreign cultures while denying the use of their own under the “empirically unsupported pretext” that these cultures are inappropriate for development.
Cultural experts warn that just as the West wants to control Africa by influencing the thought system, African elites too tighten their grip on foreign culture in order to protect their space from the rest of society.
“This is a deliberate policy of exclusion of the masses,” explains Mtenje, pointing out that it is a strategy to maintain power, influence and control.
“Such strategies of exclusion need to be urgently addressed if the country is to realise its goals of national development through the alleviation of people’s poverty,” he says, adding that it is very important for Malawians – elites and the grass roots – to be sensitised through constant civic education that Malawian culture is not inferior.
At the opening of Malawi Congress Party convention in 1972, Malawi’s founding leader, late Hastings Kamuzu Banda, commended local cultural institutions that nurture customs and traditional ways of life, noting that the absence of these cultural pillars in the West was the basis for social decay in Western lifestyles.
Noting the bizarre desire by many Malawians, especially the young generation for foreign values, cultures and languages, Journalists Union of Malawi (Juma) recently held a two-day training for journalists in their role in promoting local culture and creative works.
The training noted that the media too have fallen into the inferiority fix as witnessed by its lukewarm approach to promoting local culture as well as its dominant use of English in the mass media, a situation that has abandoned the majority of the population who can effectively be informed in the local language in order for them to make meaningful participation in public life.
As such, participants tasked Juma to spearhead a media campaign to end harmful cultural practices and promote all progressive practices that identify a true Malawian.
The promotion has been designed to utilise civic education tools such as lobbying and advocacy, public discussions, IEC production to expose Malawians to their traditional ways of life and encourage them to change their mindset and feel proud about their culture.
Training facilitator, James Thole, Senior Assistant Cultural Officer in the Department of Arts and Culture, says if effectively used, Malawi’s media pluralist environment can foster successful implementation of the 2005 Unesco Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.
Malawi signed 2005 Unesco Convention in 2010, obliging institutions, especially civil society organisations, to see to it that cultural diversity is protected and promoted.
The Convention stipulates that “cultural diversity can be protected and promoted only if human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of expression, information and communication, as well as the ability of individuals to choose cultural expressions, are guaranteed.”
Thole encouraged journalists to help cultivate in the minds of Malawians a positive attitude towards their culture by ensuring that indigenous cultural values, norms, institutions and artifacts are inherited and passed on from generation to generation through learning.
Journalists from Malawi News Agency, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, Times Group, Zodiak Broadcasting Station, Joy Group of Companies, Malawi Institute of Journalism, Capital FM, ABC Radio, Radio Maria, Nyasa Times, Montfort Media, FD Communications and Hyphen Media Institute, and freelancers participated in the training.
It was conducted with financial support from the Royal Norwegian Embassy and technical support from Malawi Government’s Department of Arts and Culture through the Cultural Support Scheme under the Copyright Society of Malawi.
Juma has since started positioning itself to partner artistic rights-holder associations and other relevant stakeholders like cultural groupings such as Mulhako wa Alhomwe, Ndamyo ya Yao, Tumbuka Heritage, Chewa Heritage, Mzimba Heritage and others in promoting the media cultural agenda.
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