On Integrity

IN THE midst of all this terrible mess described as ‘cashgate’, one word has persistently escaped our public discourse – Integrity. It is, of course, “the condition of being unified, unimpaired, or sound in construction”, as one dictionary puts it. Another version simply implies “internal consistency or lack of corruption”.

Malawi can be a very frustrating country to live in or to be associated with. It has become quite inevitable that there is a need to pause, nay, stop everything and simply go back to the drawing board and ‘find’ this nation again. Going forward (but actually going backwards) as we are doing and sweeping things under the proverbial carpet – as it were – will only do us greater harm and compromise future generations.

I am sad. My heart bleeds for this country. Malawi! Malawi! Malawi! Carrying this country in your heart can become as weighty as an oversize shoe. A total drag. Yet the resilience of the country itself, its refusal to give up no matter what strain we have consistently put on it is amazing.

The breathtaking sunsrises and sunsets across Lake Malawi – free of charge – are always something to behold. They make you believe. They make you see and feel the possibilities of this nation, everyday. And they are remarkably consistent too – never too bright or too dull, always maintaining a quiet but pronounced beauty and elegance that makes you say, ‘This is Malawi. The Malawi I want to live in an be a part of.”

The mountains that hug the terrain of this country from Mulanje to Zomba to Nyika – ever majestic, ever strong and ever towering – do not stand in vain. They too have their own kind of resilience, a resilience that exudes confidence and assurance about who they are and stand for. They are not compromising, even though we may want to compromise them.

Malawi! Malawi! Malawi! “Where is the spirit that touched hearts?” one of our own poets, Jack Mapanje, once asked.

Comrade Mapanje, the warm heart has grown into a deathly coldness. The spirits here no longer touch hearts. They mercilessly break them and are unrepentant about it.

Integrity.

“We must make every effort to see that our actions live up to our words and be vigilant with regards to our social behaviour so as not to lay ourselves open to attack by counterrevolutionaries lying in wait. If we always keep in mind that the interests of the masses take precedence over our personal interests, then we will avoid going off course,” thundered Comrade Thomas Sankara some years back.

He would be later assassinated for taking his country’s independence seriously and for preventing some unscrupulous people in government from avariciously plundering Burkina Faso’s public resources.

That is the cost of integrity sometimes – life.

National independence and integrity cannot be separated. The fact that it is Malawi’s donors who have spoken the loudest and have dominated newspaper headlines in the wake of the so-called ‘cashgate’ scandal not only speaks to the glaring failure of our people to take collective responsibility and demonstrate total ownership of this challenge in history. It also points to the debilitating effects of perennial under-imagination in this country, a kind of which has repeatedly allowed people to occupy positions in the public service for wrong reasons – wanting to use the State a way of getting rich.

To a people who think like this, the words of poets like Dambudzo Marechera carry no weight at all when he screams: “Lynch those who hoard our national dream, lining their pockets with coins from the povo’s hymn”. Perhaps they know that they can’t be ‘lynched’ because they can ‘buy’ sufficient protection for themselves, using the very same public resources they would have shamelessly helped themselves to.

Yet, these ‘purchases’ further compromise the integrity of State institutions because once you start buying one, you end up having to buy a lot more. And because of this, Malawi is being turned into a “house of hunger where every morsel of sanity [is] snatched from [citizens] the way some kind of bird snatches food from the very mouth of babes”.

Integrity also requires that we think about the future of Malawi and leave a worthy inheritance to those who will come after us. Malawi did not begin with cashgate and it will not end with cashgate – a country is always in a state of continual becoming.

The struggle for Malawi’s soul should not be out who will get bail this week, who has been made minister or who is still keep what undiscovered billions.

Instead, and to paraphrase Amilcar Cabral, the struggle for Malawi’s soul should be against our own weaknesses as a nation, the kind weaknesses that allow one person to hoard a national dream and still think they did not do anything wrong.#tmw

Contribution by @LeviKabwato

– thoughts@thinkingmalawi.com

– @ThinkingMalawi

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