As the country celebrates 53 years of independence, we need to ask ourselves some serious questions and the answers will thrust us into the future that we dream of. We have tried all models in development and economics books but, somehow, we are still failing to get it right.
Since the John Chilembwe days, the rallying cry of Malawians has been to achieve national development that should translate into improved living standards for the people. Every leader has promised that but we are failing to consolidate and sustain the few gains that we have registered.
Chilembwe wanted the natives to have land and benefit from it. He wanted quality education for his people as well as meaningful participation in economic activities. To achieve this, he set up schools, agricultural farms and a few business enterprises that were meant to serve as models to the natives.
Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda also fought to see his people having decent houses, food as well as clothes. He laid the foundation for every sector of the country since he was the first established indigenous leader.
The infrastructure that Kamuzu built is still standing while what we have built in the last 23 years of multiparty democracy is disintegrating. His road network is solid as our new roads get washed away by the first rains they meet.
In education, he preached about early Childhood Development (ECD) which also included balanced diet for the developing brains. The children were properly fed and were allowed to get knowledge as they played in the open but secure environment. No wonder we aptly called these ECDs sukulu za mkaka.
He then ensured that primary school education had to be holistic, replete with life skills such as carpentry and bricklaying which were commonly called Handwork (ntchito za manja). At secondary school level, we had woodwork, technical drawing and home economics which prepared our boys and girls for life after secondary school.
Those who were skilled in vocational subjects went to various technical colleges that he built across the country and the few proceeded to the University of Malawi. Kamuzu emphasised on discipline, hard work and quality of products. To that end, he established several government agencies to actualise his dreams. These included the National Trade Test and the Malawi Bureau of Standards among others.
On April 8, 1992, the Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral letter that marked the watershed for our politics. Bakili Muluzi and Chakufwa Chihana led Malawians in opting for plural democracy.
Muluzi ushered in a plethora of civil liberties that included free speech. To actualise the freedom of speech, he liberalised the airwaves and the market. Malawians saw the coming in of television way before some well off countries had TVs. Malawians also started using cellphones to connect with each other. He also stressed economic freedoms through small scale businesses.
Bingu wa Mutharika was a kind of Kamuzu replica. He valued quality in whatever Malawians had to do. He embarked on reviving the agriculture sector which saw Malawi reclaiming its crown of being a bread basket for sub- Saharan Africa.
As a way of giving farmers access to markets, Bingu worked on the road network with special emphasis on feeder roads. Today, the Central Region, which is Malawi’s agriculture hub, has a beautiful road network that unlocks economic activities among the people.
Despite all these initiatives, individual Malawians do not have much to show for democracy. Trade continues to be controlled by settlers who are slowly pushing Malawians out of the agriculture sector as well.
Ignorance is still scuttling national development by forcing Malawians to cut corners in order to create wealth. This is why we see thugs hacking or killing people who have albinism in the debasing belief that their body parts can bring luck.
The problem is that we do not follow our national development blue print. We have made attempts at reforms for a record 81 times and we are still missing it. Instead of harnessing the little gains made in the Public Service Reforms programme, we are allowing individual egos to derail national good.
A country cannot develop using party manifestos. We must have a national development plan from which parties will develop their manifestos. Unless we do that, we shall continue to dance to our own inconsistencies.
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