We, the dear citizens of the Warm Heart of Africa, have a mountain of desires. We want free education. We want free health care. We want good roads. We want free agricultural inputs. We want security. But who cushions free social services?
I doubt if university students who continuously protest for allowances and reduced fees realise that the finances they demand do not directly come from government but from the hard-earned taxes of their parents and relatives. Government’s failure to provide free services is an indication of the whole country’s failure to cater for itself.
This is why I relentlessly stress that, as a nation, we have to step away from the notion that there is a ‘free meal’ out there because there isn’t. There is no free meal anywhere on earth. We have to embrace the fact that we have to make sacrifices and work hard to achieve our goals as a nation.
We are the state and we are the country. However, we continuously behave as if there is another Malawi that runs concurrently with this Malawi. As if, one day, the other Malawi will miraculously develop us and give us free meals and free passes.
A country is like a household every change will involve and affect everyone in one way or the other. For example, the decision to sponsor a relative will mean there will be fewer resources available for everyone else. The decision to stop buying sugar because it is affecting the health of parents will mean the children have to adjust to having tasteless tea and porridge and homemade confectionery.
On the other hand, if a family decides that it is failing to meet its daily needs and requires extra income to make ends meet, a decision has to be made as to how this will be achieved. In this case, the parents can decide to start a business or one parent can look for a higher paying job; the older children can be asked to find part-time jobs; there can be a cut down on luxuries; one car will have to be sold so that only one car is maintained etc.
These are domestic austerity measures.
In the same way, a country in need of more services and more finances has to be willing to take on the austerity measures that come with these changes rather than operate under the assumption that ‘government’ will somehow win the lottery enough to sponsor the country forever after. Are we willing to pay more taxes and be more productive to cushion the country?
We can chide the government for raising fees but what are we willing to do about it and contribute to community? We can chide the government because of the hunger situation, the security situation, the healthcare situation, the Cashgate, the blackouts and all sorts of dire situations but what are we doing in our day-to-day lives to improve the situation?
Let’s consider this. Who is government? Government is ordinary people. Government is our sisters and brothers, our mothers and fathers, our neighbours and friends. Government is fellow citizens. Government comes from the pool that is Malawi as a country.
The late John Nyanga said once: “We Malawians sometimes behave as if we have borrowed this country from someone else, as if we don’t care how broken this country eventually becomes, as if, when we are done misusing it, we will take it back to its owner and return to another Malawi we truly care about.”
Nyanga couched these wise words in comedy but his analysis is clear and on point. We just don’t seem to care.
A lot of us have the audacity to stand on a high horse and criticise government, hospitals, the education system and general poverty when we are riding in cars and living in houses we did not earn but literally stole funds that were supposed to go into the country’s development projects.
A lot of us sign for daily subsistence allowances and sitting allowances for field trips and conferences that we never undertook or attended. Heck, even our own Members of Parliament (MPs) do that right in our faces and we condone such behaviour instead of pushing for such MPs to be ousted without mercy.
Our problem with everything is action. We fail to recognise that whatever strategy this country embarks on implementing affects and involves us and we have to put in work and effort or some sort of sacrifice.
If we were asked to mobilise ourselves to fix our community roads, how many of us would show up? All we would think is it is someone else’s task and beneath us. But remember, there is no free meal out here. We need to act towards the changes we want to see. We need to brace ourselves for austerity, pick up its call and meet it head-on!
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