As a nation, we are screwed.
The boards we put at traffic intersections to commemorate the occasion of our 52nd independence anniversary do justice to the state of our nation. Due credit must be given to all the brains that are behind these notice boards masquerading as billboards. Everyone who was involved in this project perfectly represents each and every single Malawian, at home and abroad.
In short, those notice boards capture the sum total of our imagination as a country. If, 52 years after independence, that is the kind of image you want the country to be associated with, then you should be patting yourself for a job well-executed. Surely, we have outdone other independence anniversary commemorations – and those were not our best times either. Let’s take a moment to reflect and imagine how we arrived at this most embarrassing point.
Someone knew independence was coming up (clever person) and floated the idea of billboards as is normal practice. The idea was shared and discussed and then finally brought to the responsible Bwana’s office (another clever person). So would begin a lengthy and highly consultative process that sought to give an accurate depiction of the journey this country has travelled since independence.
The consultations were expanded to include Malawians from different walks of life, asking them how they felt about independence and what their aspirations, dreams and hopes for their country were. In public and private schools, children were asked to imagine the Malawi they want to grow up in. In high schools, joint-curriculum development seminars were held to assess the state and quality of education so many years into independence. At universities – the bastion of thought leadership – research was commissioned, seminars were held and new knowledge was integrated into five and ten year plans which the national planning commission constantly reviews.
The ever-important voices of peasant farmers were sought and captured. In a year in which the effects of a harsh drought are being felt, it was agreed that these farmers were crucial to dealing with the problem of hunger in Malawi. One farmer, in particular, expressed gratitude for the intensive training she had received on drought and disaster management. This training, she said, had helped her appreciate climate change as an urgent problem in Malawi and also, the training helped understand the link between land and crop diversity and how all of this affected food sovereignty in Malawi.
The scientists, whose leading research outputs have been recognised internationally, echoed part of this. In addition, their ground-breaking research on harnessing the potential of Lake Malawi had spurred industrialisation efforts which, in turn, had created a manufacturing sector employing at least two million Malawians. Predictably, unemployment figures fell drastically, aided also by the government’s policies which encouraged entrepreneurship.
Our own successes in reducing child mortality by over 90% are well-documented around the world. So too, the development and rolling out of a malaria vaccination programme that will surely eradicate malaria in Malawi by 2017, a good five years ahead of time. It is in the health sector were our most significant strides as an independent nation have been made. We now live longer and healthier lives. The national medical aid scheme has meant that every Malawian, including other nationals living in Malawi, have access to universal health care, rated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as one of the best in the world.
The president’s own fitness regime was also noted for the inspiration it has provided to citizens. Why not, when the president is a regular feature at one of the capital city’s sixteen public gyms, all fully-equipped and meant to encourage a healthy lifestyle for Malawians?
In fact, the team tasked with creating visual representations of the independence commemorations tried so hard not to be sycophantic. Had they fallen into the temptation, they would have shown the president to be a selfless and devoted individual who is committed to ensuring that, 52 years into independence, Malawi is a significant player in regional, continental and international spaces, recognised, respected and valued by her peers for admirable leadership and courage in providing expertise and solutions to contemporary global challenges.
But forgive me, dear reader, for I have just misled you. This is not how the process resulting in the eyesore that is the independence notice boards unfolded. It was a bit more complicated. If you have not yet seen this sacrilege, it is a cheap piece of wood resting on three legs, plastered with national colours and saying something about patriotism, integrity and hard work.
The most tragic part, the source of our collective national shame, is that the irony of the message was lost to all involved in this project.
BY LEVI KABWATO