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Cultural beliefs: threat to Malawi 2063?

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Culture provides communities with a sense of identity and belonging, which facilitates common understandings, traditions and values.

These are central to the identification of plans of action to improve the wellbeing of a particular people.

In their book titled ‘The Effect of Cultural Values on Economic Development: Theory, Hypotheses, and Some Empirical Tests’, Jim Granato, Ronald Inglehart and David Leblang argue that while cultural factors alone do not explain all of the cross-national variations in economic growth rates, both societal-level and individual-level evidence suggests that a society’s economic and political institutions are not the only factors determining economic development.

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Cultural factors are also important, so they say, citing medieval Christianity and traditional Confucian culture, which stigmatised profit-making and entrepreneurship.

“A Protestant version of Christianity played a key role in the rise of capitalism – and much later – a modernised version of Confucian society encourages economic growth, through its support of education and achievement.

“A society that emphasises thrift produces savings, which leads to investment, and later to economic growth,” the book reads.

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Daniel Malango, National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Public Trust District Civic Education Officer for Lilongwe Urban and Dedza districts, agrees with such assertions when he warns that some cultural beliefs could threaten the attainment of Malawi’s social and economic aspirations as articulated in Malawi 2063 (MW2063).

Speaking recently during an orientation for Dedza Pastors’ Fraternal, Malango highlighted cultural norms and beliefs that advance and perpetuate victimisation of women, girls and children in the society as some of the threats to MW2063.

Malango emphasised that development is not only about reducing poverty and expanding opportunities against the background of rising incomes, but also a fundamental way about adopting a set of values that are compatible with humanity’s moral development.

He added that some cultural beliefs are incompatible with humanity’s social and economic development.

“We have in our midst persistent practices and behaviours that are grounded in discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, age and other grounds as well as multiple and/or intersecting forms of discrimination that often involve violence and cause physical and/or psychological harm or suffering.

“The harm that these practices cause to the victims surpass the immediate physical and mental consequences and often have the purpose or effect of impairing the recognition, enjoyment and exercise of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and children,” Malango said.

He added that some cultural beliefs and norms block the role of women in the society despite being in majority.

“We have to deal with cultural practices that perpetuate child marriages because child marriages, which are mostly attributed to cultural beliefs, rob girls of their childhood and threaten their lives and health.

“Other beliefs expose women and girls to infectious diseases such as Covid as they discourage them from taking vaccines; hence, we have to eliminate them as urgently as possible,” he said.

Campaigners warn that for as long as harmful cultural practices continue to exist, Malawi will continue to experience poverty and instability, violence against women and girls, high global maternal mortality rates, and an ever-widening educational gap between the poorest and wealthiest nations.

They add that Malawi also needs to tackle a juxtaposition of culture and misplaced religious biases that have given men control over women’s bodies.

Malango warned that if Malawi does not refine these cultural beliefs, the country risks leaving behind over half the national population without economic or political rights and without education, thereby undermining over half of the population in its contribution to overall development.

National Planning Commission (NPC) Communications Manager Thom Khanje said the commission is equally concerned about the existence of harmful cultural practices.

Khanje said it is against this background that Milestones of the First 10-Year Implementation Plan (MIP-1) proposes the legislation of ‘all harmful cultural practices’.

“All the cultural practices that are harmful, especially those that expose young women and girls to exploitative sex and early marriages, pose a threat to national development.

“MIP-1 outlines broad interventions, including legislative and policy reviews, to be implemented by various stakeholders to ensure that Malawians are protected from harmful cultures,” Khanje said.

KALINDEKAFE—The role
of culture in sustainable
development varies

Nice acting Executing Director Gray Kalindekafe said culture and its various components have been playing a bigger role when evaluating sustainable development at national and international level.

Kalindekafe noted that that the place of culture in the process of sustainable development and value created by culture has not been sufficiently acknowledged despite that culture plays the role of a mediator or driver of sustainable development.

“The role of culture in sustainable development varies with different interpretations of culture, from tangible and intangible human achievements to symbolic patterns, norms, and rules of human communities.

“Culture could play a role of a driver and enabler of development since the cultural and creative industries that produce cultural goods and services can generate growth, income and employment,” he said.

GENERATE INCOME—Cultural displays in form of traditional dances—File
photo

In June 2021, NPC signed a memorandum of understanding with Nice to challenge harmful cultural practices.

The partnership has seen Nice Trust working with village-based governance structures and faith leaders in casting the spotlight on cultural practices and their pros and cons.

Malango said it is within this context that the civic-education body has been working with traditional and faith leaders across the country to address any barrier to the realisation of the socioeconomic aspirations of the country.

“We believe religious leaders, so often driven by a profound and fundamental sense of mission, can and should be far more directly part of global and local responses to critical problems,” Malango said.

Chairperson for Dedza Pastors Fraternal Andrew Kapulula said their role will be to champion mindset change among duty-bearers and their congregants at all levels.

Kapulula pledged that the pastors would lead the fight against cultural practices and religious beliefs that could threaten the implementation and attainment of MW2063.

An executive member of Dedza Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, Lewis Gomani, argued that Malawi cannot fully achieve its development plans without embracing mindset change.

“People need to do things differently and fully participate in the roadmap to Malawi 2063,” Gomani said.

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