July 6 1964: As the clock struck midnight, euphoria spread like wildfire. The Union Jack was lowered and the Malawian flag was hoisted, ending Britain’s long rule over the then Nyasaland.
The birth of Malawi really brought with it high expectations and hopes. Of course, a nation forged on the pillars of unity, peace and stability is born today. Happy birthday Malawi, my nation!
This is a blessing and a curse, however. Indeed it is a birthday fraught with incongruities: a nation both blessed and accursed.
The blessing is that right now, at 53, Malawi is celebrating its independence from Britain while peaceful and stable. Since 1964, Malawi has never been at war with itself or with its neighbours. Calmness and tranquility are a known feat internationally.
No wonder, Malawi markets itself as the Warm Heart of Africa, a tag that the nation wears with pride. No doubt, international investors find the nation to be fertile ground to strike out their fortune.
Malawi, at 53, is a nation accursed and condemned. So many ills have been haunting Malawi.
Nevertheless, Malawians are a highly spirited people. They are hard working and patriotic.
“We are totally hopeful and peaceful no matter what. Poverty is everywhere, even in neighbouring Mozambique, there’s poverty there,” one villager from Chikuse, just a minute’s walk from Tea Research Foundation of Central Africa in Mulanje, told me.
He is a cross-border trader.
Malawi, like most African nations which attained their independence in the 60s, is a w o r r y i n g c a s e . O t h e r compounding problems include poor infrastructure in most public entities and corruption.
Many public schools in the country are in dire straits. It is a recurrent curse. Since independence, most primary schools, especially in rural areas, are in despicable state. Sordid conditions are a permanent feature. Many pupils are confined to trees as their classrooms. Of course, these are the lucky few.
Indeed, the unlucky ones fail to attain education due to the long distance they have to cover to get to the nearest school.
And those who persevere the odds, especially girls, are trapped along the way; trapped by social ills. They get pregnant or married. Distance is one of the factors blamed for increased cases of school dropouts and early marriages in rural areas.
Of course, others choose to differ.
“Distance should not be a scapegoat for our children to quit school. In our childhood days, we used to cover a long distance to get to the nearest school. We used to walk from here (Chinsapo Township) to Likuni just to get educated,” another resident in Lilongwe said.
“Look today, they’re just a stone’s throw from the school and yet they fail to are caught in the jaws of child marriages,” the old man lamented.
It is a lament that is echoing across the country. Child marriages are visible in almost all corners of Malawi. Authorities have been vocal on the issue. Civil society organisations have rallied behind denouncing the vice, calling the ‘infected’ youths to return to school.
Newspapers have also chronicled the scourge. But the vice, sad to note, stays like corruption in our midst.
Corruption, so to say, has been Malawi’s malaise since 1964. Critics have been hounding all regimes over corruption. Cashgate came into being. Millions were stashed by civil servants and the business elite. Sour diplomacy ensued. Donors cut their aid to Malawi, a nation which solely depends on donor support as the entire 40 percent was painstakingly suspended.
The move left Malawi in dire straits. Hospitals ran out of drugs. Agriculture subsidies were affected. Life of the commoner, the peasant, was the most affected.
Prudent measures, so they speak, were put in place by the Peter Mutharika administration. The idea was to win back donor confidence. It seems the magic is working.
Recently, the International Monetary Fund announced the good news for Malawi. The World Bank is expected to do so. It is the return of the Messiah. But will the Messiah not return with strings attached? So many strings that the poor child Malawi will find hard to pull and shoulder? Only time will tell.
Strings or no strings attached, Malawi is expected to toe the donor’s line. It is a relief that the country is looking forward to.
In the context of problems, Malawi, like a beggar who cannot choose, is ready to welcome whatever decision her saviour can determine.
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