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One Malawi, two countries

With Fanwel Kenala Bokosi:

The difficult fact to reconcile is that most of those in charge of public policy did not come from rich families. If the Malawi we grew up in was the current Malawi, we would not have had a chance to be in the positions of influence that we are in. In those days, we shared the same rooms, meals and books with children of Cabinet ministers, politicians and rich people in public schools.

For most of us, education and hard work in public institutions are the only things that saved us from being in positions of destitution today. Unfortunately, things have changed so drastically that in the Malawi of 2019, children of the poor are the most disadvantaged. The lucky few from poor families who get a proper education find it almost impossible to get jobs; hence, they are forced into all manner of menial and illegal ways of making money and, in the process, creating a vicious cycle of poverty among the poor.

The divide is very clear in Malawi these days when one looks at several factors. It is no longer imaginary. Those that have and those that do not have live in separate Malawi. Those of us who think we have are more and more becoming apolitical and irrelevant. We debate on social media, vent our anger on WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and that therapeutic experience satisfies us.

In practice, we respond to these ills in a very predictable way. Instead of demanding good healthcare from public hospitals, we go to private hospitals which, in some cases, prescribe drugs stolen from public hospitals. Rather than demand better government schools, we send our kids to expensive private schools for primary and secondary education with the sole aim of preparing them to get to subsidised public universities.

When our kids are not selected to public universities, we send our children to public universities through parallel programmes, private universities within the country and even abroad. Because we do not trust the police for security, we hire security guards for our homes and neighbourhoods. This is the folly of thinking we are rich!

It is not in our interest to interrogate why the poor have their own school and, why these schools are all not fully functional. On one hand, making public schools better would offer competition to some of our pampered and not-so-bright rich children. So it makes sense that we are interested in giving our children a head start, an advantage for the future at the expense of the poor.

In Malawi, the poor do not have hospitals within a reasonable distance. Public hospitals are often without drugs or there are few doctors. In fact, there are public health centres in rural areas where midwifery is carried out with lamps or candles due to the fact that they are not connected to the national grid and, when they are, the frequency of power supply interruption makes it a necessity to use alternative power sources!

No wonder, we are now used to the fact that anytime the death of a rich, former or serving public officer is announced, we are always told they passed away in one of the most expensive private hospitals in the country or in South Africa while the not-so-fortunate pine away with death and disease in under-resourced hospitals.

This Malawi is in danger of giving the impression that the poor are almost hopeless and helpless and the rich and powerful have all the advantages funded by the taxes that are paid by both the poor and the rich. In one Malawi, there are two countries, one in which the burden on the poor is getting heavier and another where the rich and the political class are making progress.

The danger is that if these children of the poor (who are more than those of the rich), form a significant army of the educated unemployed and frustrated uneducated brigades, then development in Malawi will only be a dream. In addition, the burden on the few rich children to subsidise the poor through welfare programmes will be huge. Let us work for one Malawi, one country and demolish the one Malawi, two countries principle.

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