‘As is a tail, so is life’


Motivation speech by MARTHA CHIZUMA, the Ombudsman of the Republic of Malawi, on the second congregation of the 2016/17 academic year on March 28 2018 at the Great Hall in Zomba.

First thing I would like to say is thank you for the greatest opportunity to stand before you in this Great Hall and give this motivation speech as you transition from academic life to career life. As I can recall during my five years of study at this college, I never had an opportunity or even the guts to stand on this podium to speak to such big crowd of people. The fact that 16 years later I can stand here addressing you as Ombudsman of the Republic of Malawi on its own is something that can do wonders to any person’s ego.

But do not despair that I will bore you with a “ look at amazing me” speech this morning because that was properly taken care of two days ago when I was chatting with one of those closest people to me who also happens to be my mentor and is a judge in the Supreme Court of Appeal. I was telling him about this activity that I had to undertake and his response was like ‘ You? Motivating others? You need motivation yourself!’ Other than deflating my oversized ego at that moment, the other way I looked at that statement was that one could be as accomplished as they think and holding whatever high position but so long as we are alive, there is still more that we can do. And so we need to keep on moving.


This does and should not in any way diminish the undeniable fact that my being here means there are some things I have done right in my life. It simply means that there is still more that I can achieve and that I need to keep moving. And so what I would like to share with you this morning is what I could have shared with my 23-year-old self law graduate in 2002 but also the 39-year-old lawyer standing before you this morning.

The first thing I would like to share with you is the importance of focusing on what you want to do other than what you want to be. This is undeniably a momentous day for you all, your families and, of course, the country as a whole. The certificates, degrees that you are going to receive today will definitely open up the world for you if you remain focused. But I will be doing a great disservice if I do not quip you with the fact that life is generally hard and complicated. Much as I am Ombudsman today, this is not something that I have got on a silver platter. More so considering that studying law was not my first wish. I had hoped to study accounting but, as fate would have it, I ended up being selected for Bachelor of Arts degree and ended up in law school. Upon my graduation, I worked for almost 10 years with the Judiciary and four years with Limbe Leaf before coming back to government as Ombudsman. One thing I have learnt throughout my career is that what should drive you is not what you want to be but rather what you want to do. The problem that many people make nowadays is that they are more focused on what they want to be such that when they get to be that, they fail to do what they are supposed to do. Most successful people we have come to know did not start with what they wanted to be. But rather what they wanted to do and from there they became what they are today.

After I had settled down into law school and started enjoying the studies, I marvelled a lot at how the law, if used correctly, can be used to bring justice. And thus in all positions I held within the Judiciary and as legal counsel at Limbe Leaf, I strived to ensure that I use the law so well to create a much better and fairer world. That was what drove me. If I was to say that during that time I knew I would be Ombudsman, I would be lying. But I believe it is that drive that made me be what I am today.


The career world you are entering into is substantially different from the one I stepped into 16 years ago. The number of graduants at that time was way less than it is today and it was almost unheard of for a lawyer, nurse, doctor or teachers, like some of you, to have no job soon after graduation. As you are aware, today you will find your colleagues who last year or a few years ago were sitting on the very same chairs that you are sitting now and are still at home without jobs or anything to do. That is the reality on the ground. There are no enough jobs out there to accommodate all of you. Thus, if you start from what you want to be, you will get super frustrated because the positions are just not there. But I can assure you that if you focus on what you want to do and add to that determination and perseverance, then, whether there are vacancies in government or not and whether the private sector is hiring or not, you will still do what you have to do.

I have seen graduates like you starting small businesses from scratch or going into successful agribusiness ventures. The degrees you will receive today are the greatest assets you can use in this regard. And, so, my prayer is, other than blaming the government for not providing enough jobs, you will chose to do what you want to do and eventually become employers yourselves. If you cannot start businesses etc, you can still do what you want to do and volunteer somewhere until something comes up. Do not just join the bandwagon of, [those] blaming government for everything.

The second related thing I would like to share with you is about courage to do the right thing. That you should consider yourselves as one of the most privileged people cannot be overemphasised. But with that privilege also comes great responsibility. As for me, that great burden of responsibility came in as soon as I graduated and started my legal profession in the Judiciary as a magistrate. At the age of 23, I had the power to make decisions that had profound effect on many people’s lives. It was very easy to see how such power can be abused for personal benefit. And being on a meagre government salary, it almost felt justifiable. But did not mean I had to bend the word of the law to benefit some unscrupulous people at the great expense of others or even the nation as a whole. I choose to do the right thing. And this I have tried to follow throughout my career to this date.

Soon or later, you will be holding big positions in private sector or even in government with enormous power at your disposal and making decisions that will affect millions of people. You are graduating at the very moment that this country is reeling financially from effects of unethical behaviour allegedly perpetrated by people who years back also sat on the chairs you are sitting now receiving degrees. They are the selfish people who have brought this country to its knees and left its reputation in bad shape but most sadly caused the suffering of millions of other innocent Malawians some of whom are actually their relations in the village. The education standards in most schools across the country leave a lot to be desired, your own colleagues have failed to access student loans because of insufficient funds provided by government, poverty levels keep on rising, the health system is in bad shape and general provision of public services leaves a lot to be desired. The victims of all this are you and me and our relatives in the villages. As my scripture book says, it could be for such a time like this that you join the professional world. It is high time that the narrative about this country changed. And no one will do this for us but us. You have a role to play in this regard. It is my prayer today that you will have the courage to do the right thing even in the face of great temptation. That you will choose not to be selfish educated thieves. Whether you are joining the private sector or public sector, I plead with you, for the sake of Malawi, stand up for what is right. Even if they tell you it is normal to be corrupt, choose to be abnormal; even if they tell you it is not possible to survive without stealing, do not believe them because they are simply lying; I beg you to bring the necessary positive energy into the workforce you will join or different business ventures that you will undertake. You owe this to Malawi.

Third point I would like to share with you is about empathy. I visit my village a lot and, in my line of work, I tend to interact with people from rural areas quite a lot. One thing that always strike me are the young women like myself struggling with a million responsibilities in the village, having six or seven babies to look after but who, after spending time with them, I find to be with such great wisdom, humanity and more smarter than me in many respects. This, in many instances, has provided great moments of reflection and appreciation about my privileged life. Why it had to be me and not them remains a mystery to me. What, however, I decided in my early career years is to determine in my heart to use this privilege for the good of others beyond my family.

And this is what I have tried to do throughout my career even in my small way. To use the positions I have held in the last 16 years and go an extra mile to help those who are suffering. You are joining this privileged group today. Among you are nurses, teachers, agriculturists, social scientists etc. Whatever path your career will take, you and wherever you may end up living, you will meet such suffering people. There are so many evils today in our country: killing of people with albinism, child marriages, child abuse, gender-based violence and discrimination of people who are handicapped etc. It is my prayer that you shall not close your minds to this and sit comfortably in your corners just because it does not concern you or anyone close to you. If you refuse to be empathetic and remain quite, you will go a long way to enable the real monsters of these evils. That on its own, will be a shame and, if I may add, disqualifies you from putting on those robes you are wearing now. But if you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice and speak for the voiceless, if you choose to identify with the powerless and not only the powerful, then this day of your graduation will forever be celebrated not only by your families but those whose reality you have helped to change for the better.

In closing, I have one last prayer for you. The friendships I made during the five years I was here have mostly stood the test of time. We have laughed together and grown together and, over the years, have become each others’ keepers. And so, on this day of your graduation, I wish the same kind of friendships for you. And tomorrow if you cannot remember anything I have said this morning, I hope you will remember the saying that ‘as is a tail, so is life; not how long it is but how good it is’. I wish you all good lives as you embark on this journey.

Once again, congratulations and thank you very much for your kind attention.

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