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Celebrating mediocrity

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There is something big in this country that is as evil as corruption. It is the tendency of celebrating mediocrity. It is manifested in the nation’s acceptance of the substandard, the art of singing praises to incompetence and zeal of rewarding poor and underperformance.

Why have we sunk so low to extent of celebrating poor performance? Is this because in Malawi there is lack of repercussions for underachievement? Who in Malawi is ever held accountable for substandard performance? Why do we cuddle up comfortably in shared mediocrity than to question it? Is it because questioning it will also expose our own less than exceptional performance? Or is it rooted in the cultural belief that it is a taboo to criticise anyone senior or higher up in society?

This celebration of mediocrity will take us nowhere. The habit that started as unusual in 1994 by the United Democratic Front government has been perfected by all the parties that have had the chance to rule Malawi. It has become a habit to despise meritocracy and celebrate mediocrity. Malawi has become a country where you do not earn by achieving. It is now a place where you get to be who and where you are by knowing the right people, coming from the right tribe and supporting the right political party. Whether you work in an office, for an enterprise or a non-governmental organisation (NGO) or in government, your abilities do not count anymore! Those who perform with excellence are considered a threat, treated like traitors and are continuously frustrated until they get discouraged. You cannot be seen to be more intelligent, hardworking, competent or capable than the boss! A country where excellence is no longer a virtue but a vice. A country where we congratulate each other over substandard results.

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It is heartbreaking when people celebrate three hours of electricity or indeed a week of uninterrupted water supply. How many times have we heard the statement “A Escom ayesetsa, magetsi osazi mampaka pano”? Really? This is a company whose motto is “towards power all day, every day” and yet when they are far from it, we celebrate and sing praises.

Did you hear the other day that Lilongwe Water Board got a good performance award? What nonsense! This is the utility company whose sole purpose of existence is to provide safe water to its customers and has failed to do so. Every week, they have gone to the public and media to tell us their water rationing programme. There have been times when people in the city of Lilongwe went for weeks without water. If we reward such mediocrity, what are we telling our children about performance? What is the point of delivering on what is expected of you, if you get rewarded for doing exactly the opposite?

A Member of Parliament is celebrated for buying a coffin to bury the dead instead of taking them to task to ensure proper health delivery in this country that will prevent many unnecessary deaths in the villages and therefore no need for those many coffins. A politician is celebrated for paying school fees for the needy student in their constituency instead of them holding to account the government to put in place mechanisms and programmes that will make the family of that needy student better off to the extent that they will be able to pay the school fees without playing destitute to the politicians.

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This evil of celebrating mediocrity has permeated all sectors of society including the media. Anyone who dares open their mouth to comment on anything suddenly is dressed in accolades like ‘renowned’, ‘expert’, ‘magnet’, ‘celebrated’, ‘distinguished’ and many more. The media does not take time to highlight and profile all the so-called experts and renowned individuals, the media has no time to tell us their accomplishments, scientific papers and intellectual interventions in their so-called areas of expertise.

How many times have you attended a conference organised by an NGO to discuss a topic that another NGO also in attendance organised last month with the same participants in the same venue funded by the same donors and at the end of it came to the same recommendations which included another conference to do the same. At the end of the conference, we make speeches thanking the organisers for a well-organised conference that started two hours late and unprepared presenters. Of course, let me accept that the most interesting part of these conferences is the buffet lunch and the allowance-signing ceremony.

While universities in the rest of the world are competing and investing in groundbreaking scientific and industrial innovation capable of transforming their economies, our Malawian universities are busy competing on which politician to be awarded an honorary degree? It is this culture of celebrating the powerful, the rich, the vocal politicians without questioning the sources of their riches and the substance of their successes that will keep this country underdeveloped. Have we noticed that every time an appointment to any office of national importance is made, the debate is never on what are the qualifications of this person, what have they achieved in the past, do they have the skills that are required for the job but on which tribe, region, political party and family does he or she come from? When will my motherland stop celebrating mediocrity and start rewarding meritocracy?

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