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Just before March 3 this year, as in other years, I was approached by the media to answer questions on the need for a Martyrs Day, how it come about and if there is a difference between patriot and martyrs.

I will begin elaborating on patriotism. A patriot is a person who loves their country that under no circumstance will betray it. When their country is at war with another, they will voluntarily do something to defend it. They may have a well-paying job, a good inheritance or they may be financially comfortable from another source. All the same they join the army to go and fight. They are not joining for money but for the security of their country and fellow citizen. They are patriots.

Patriotism may be displayed through purely peaceful activities. Some years ago, I read in an American magazine about a young Indian who having graduated with a PhD took up a job within United Nations and was well paid. When asked if he was to make permanent career as an international civil servant, he said he was to go back to India.

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“India matters to me, I must matter to India.”

Thousands of patriotic Chinese and Indians who have worked abroad and accumulated experience and wealth have either gone home and built businesses or just invested in home industries while continuing to work abroad. They do this to help develop their countries. Indeed, it is partly because of these diaspora men and women that countries of the Far East including the giants China and India have experienced tremendous development.

In Malawi, the greatest example of a patriotic citizen living and hardworking abroad was the late Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda. He acquired advanced education abroad and succeeded financially practising medicine. He could have quietly settled down either in England or Ghana where he had his practice. But he could not forget the needs of his country and people. He used to send money not only to his relatives like Hanock Msokera Phiri but also to non-relatives like Charles Chinula who were operating private schools. When white settlers in the Rhodesias and Nyasaland decided to amalgamate these countries and make them as their permanent home dominating and exploiting Africans, Dr Banda played a major role in England galvanising oppositions to the scheme.

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Later, while he was in Ghana, he received an invitation to come back home and take up leadership of the Nyasaland African Congress. He agreed though as a private doctor he was making more money in Ghana, a rich country than he could make in poor Nyasaland. The rest is history and this is what we call patriotism. Malawians who have done well abroad should follow his example by using their experiences and money even while they are there to serve their mother country.

Patriotism is shown by athletes like Mwawi Kumwenda who are abroad. When they are invited to take part in a netball between a Malawi netball national team against a strong foreign team, they fly home or go where the team are going to compete. They do so because they want to contribute to the victory of their country.

In 1871, Prussia defeated France whose military genius Napoleon Bonaparte had defeated Prussia at the beginning of the century. The French felt the comedown. How could they rebuild the glory that France had achieved? A young scientist called Louis Pasteur decided to devote himself to research in chemistry and biology. His researches led to the germ theory of disease. His fame became worldwide and France was proud of him as a patriot. Any Malawian scientist who can discover or invent other uses of tobacco and thereby save the country from impending economic deterioration shall be treated as a hero and a patriot; just do something that boosts the international image of Malawi and something that enhances the wellbeing of your fellow citizens, you will be called a patriot.

We use the word martyr by way of analogy with those who were called martyrs in the Christian religion because they suffered or even died because of their belief. The first Christian martyr was Stephen. Thereafter, people who within Christianity who have been persecuted because they refused to give up were honoured as martyrs.

All those in Malawi history from early colonial days onward who went through suffering and death because their conscience are martyrs not just those who died on March 3 1959.

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