On recovering citizenship


These boards were laid across the capital city, Lilongwe, to commemorate the 52nd Independence anniversary. The mediocrity on display could not anger many Malawians who accepted them without question. 

OF LATE, it has been disheartening to interact with people from the homeland. The sadness punctuating every sentence spoken and the weight of hope at the end of every conversation often becomes too difficult to bear. It is yet another legacy added to the catalogue of failures Malawi is bestowing on her people.

The national soul has been repeatedly violated and tortured by a governance system which always conspires to undermine the confidence of the people it’s meant to serve. This repeated assault on the national soul, occurring over many years and streamlined through our shallow politics, has frighteningly dislodged our sense of alertness as a people.

As a painful result, most Malawians have ended up without any kind of expectation, idea and intimate association with their citizenship. What does it mean to be Malawian? What duty do we have, the whole lot of us, towards negotiating our scarred past, an utterly confused present and an uncertain future?

There are many things that should, in normal circumstances, make us angry and be able to voice that anger until substantive positive action is taken. But nothing ever appears sufficiently wrong for us to rise up and demand that those responsible for the systematic oppression and deliberate under-development in Malawi are taken to task.

Electricity blackouts of over 21 hours at a go are accepted and normalised as forming part of the daily livelihood. Water cuts of over a week are tolerated and even when we are threatened with diseases that may result from poor sanitation, we accept the fate that water boards have marked for us, putting our lives on the line. It is the intriguing act of normalising the abnormal. Quite clearly, it comes with devastating consequences for the national psyche.

In becoming a people who accept everything thrown at them by people who are supposed to be delivering key services, we are becoming a people who do not know how to demand better for our country. We are becoming a citizenry that can be provoked by authorities and still remain unmoved, unable to fight back at best and speak up at worst. Our voices do not matter, they do not count.

As this happens, our capacity to resist government dragging us into deeper hell is being eroded and soon, those who lead Malawi will know, for sure, that they can do whatever they want in office and there will be no consequences suffered. When we reach this point – and we are not very far from it – we might as well give up on the idea of Democracy altogether. Sure enough, we can have all the markers for democratic culture, but if these do nothing to enhance our power as citizens, then it has to be asked what use they are to us.

The systematic erosion of Citizen Power in Malawi has been a useful political strategy to those who seek to undermine Malawians by denying them quality standards of living. Since Independence in 1964, good living has been the preserve of elites and the powerful in our society. The poor majority, whether in urban or rural areas, have been dehumanized and have been subjected to lives of poverty, disease and suffering. Even the little that States ought to do for their Citizens – decent housing, access to quality health services, education for all and food security – successive governments have failed to deliver.

Yes, there have been occurrences in Malawi where people’s actions have led to change – political, social and economic. However, as a nation that is always in a state of continual becoming, we must always resist the temptation of feeding off past ‘glories’. At any point in our lives, there is a generation that must either fulfil its mandate, or betray it altogether, to paraphrase Frantz Fanon.

Of course, this generational effect cannot be felt in isolation but across the entire spectrum of our national life and also in our global positioning. In fact, this generational effect – or generational change as it is commonly known – is not a once-off, spontaneous occurrence. It is, actually, a cocktail of various elements which, when they combine inspire vision, develop self-confidence, conquer fear and birth courage.

We are currently at a stage where we are still comfortable enough to register our disappointment – not anger – on either Facebook, Twitter or SnapChat. The conversations have already taken a predictable tone and direction. We engage on these platforms as if we were members of a support group full of recovering addicts.

Perhaps that is not such a bad idea, after all. Malawians desperately need a support group, given all the emotional and psychological damage done to us by the governments we have suffered through. To join a support group though, you need to accept, in the first instance, that there is problem, and one that must be dealt with urgently.

 It’s the first step towards becoming a recovering Citizen.


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