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The religion of handouts

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Talk about the tradition of handouts in the country, especially by people in power, is nothing new. It has been a common trend in Malawi for politicians to dish out money and for people to expect handouts from politicians.

The funny thing is the conduct is apparently condemned by some members of society, political analysts and national observers. I find this funny because, as much as many would rush to condemn the people in power, they are also party to the religion of handouts; only that they find their way “justified”.

Let me start with service provision in both the private and public sector. It is not a secret that if one wants to get quick and effective service, they are expected to dish out some money or favours to the people who offer the service. The interesting part is they do not mind dishing out to get a service that at times does not even require any monetary exchange. Half the time, this remains the norm.

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Then we come to weddings and engagements; it is quite rare to see a wedding or an engagement in our country where a third of the ceremony is not characterised by perekani perekani. These ceremonies have become fundraising events rather than celebratory.

People attend these ceremonies with stacks of banknotes pre-changed to smaller denominations as, conveniently, organisers have perekani perekani listed several times on the programme. Actually, the ceremonies have makeshift “changing bureaus” somewhere close by as well.

A wedding ceremony is now labelled successful according to the amount of money realised at the ceremony. The masters of ceremonies have all tricks in the book to get people to give out more and more money. For the groom to stand, perekani perekani; for the bride to seat, perekani perekani and so it goes.

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The newest trend in the religion of handouts that has got me perplexed to the core of my bones is that of such monetary perversion taking place at children’s birthday parties. I remember the first day a friend of mine telling me that she got an invitation to a child’s birthday party and she was instructed to pay a certain amount at the door or, alternatively, bring a gift. I couldn’t believe it.

It got even better when she told me that, after paying at the gate and all, the party began with music and calls for perekani perekani in the same fashion as our weddings and engagements. I was agog. Now it is something I hear of quite often; children’s’ birthday parties have become platforms for handouts.

This religion of handouts is so deep-rooted that people even expect to be paid to take part in their own development and development programmes. We can be such hypocrites; we like to claim that we do not get assistance in development works but, when we are assisted, we choose to act like we are doing the people who are assisting us a favour and they should in turn show gratitude in the form of monetary “gifts”.

I was quite disappointed once when I went to a function, hosted by a reputable company in the country, in one of the districts in the Central Region. The six-hour trip was all to witness the handover ceremony of numerous tonnes of maize to the district. Several parties of interest were invited to the ceremony, including chiefs from surrounding areas.

The ceremony went quite well, the necessary speeches were made and the symbolic handover was completed. After people left, a few were seen lingering around and were in no time heard asking one of the members of the press if they were not getting “anything” for coming to the function.

These were chiefs from some surrounding villages who were expecting some handouts for attending a function where the company donated maize to assist their own communities. Now, they expected the company to give them some money for coming to the function. Incredible! There is a difference between being paid for a job and harvesting where you did not sow.

From the look of things, the religion of handouts is everywhere in the country and, if people want to condemn these tendencies, they should start at home before pointing finger at others. Nothing grows where it is not nurtured; the tendency is growing because it has been deeply cultivated and nurtured for a long time by the likes of you and me.

I rest my case.

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