John Chilembwe features on most Malawian bank notes

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

Yes, there have 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 the revolutionary theorist, 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.

But what is the point, for example, of commemorating a day like John Chilembwe’s without particularly linking it to our citizenship? If John Chilembwe was a person who was unhappy about what was happening in his country and decided to do something about it, should we not use this day to reflect on that and perhaps, find inspiration to do the same.

Those in power have, since 1964, repeatedly shown us that they have no interest in governing this country in a manner that promotes our citizenship, allows us freedoms and more importantly, advances our dignity as a people. To be an ordinary Malawian, in 2017, is to live without dignity and that is a shame.

Of course, we have a class amongst that feels its social capital affords it dignified living because of the wealth and other materials in their possession. Ironically, they are not spared of the indignity of mediocre government, mediocre infrastructure and more critically, mediocre living in comparison with other countries.

To be fair, however, this class does not have much of an interest in changing the status quo in Malawi. The fact that it can be surrounded by so much poverty and suffering does not trouble it. On the contrary, it takes great pride in witnessing so much poverty and suffering because in its rationale, this is an affirmation of its capabilities – thriving where others suffer; surviving where others die on a daily basis; bragging where it can show empathy. It is the abscess that hurts the nation and when it bursts, one day not in the too distant future, there might just be a gnashing of teeth.

Over the years, Chilembwe himself has become systematically marginalised from the day we commemorate. Last year, most discussions about Chilembwe on social media were mostly about the day not falling on a Monday, which would have meant a long weekend. That’s how petty we can be as Malawians. Well, this year, the long weekend is inevitable. If that is a non-issue, therefore, does it mean that more attention would be devoted to understanding the man, legacy and what it all means more that 100 years on?

What exactly is Chilembwe’s legacy? This is something that has been lost to us and it is quite apparent in the varied interpretations and contestations of who the man was. Legend? Hero? Traitor? Coward? Who was John Chilembwe? Do these questions even matter? Who cares about Memory?

The issue of history and memory, in particular, is something I have tackled in previous entries. We simply don’t value history and memory as a nation. If we did, how come we repeatedly get stuck with the same yesteryear challenges? How come we still end up doing that which we despised not too far back in the past? It’s a crisis and what’s worse, it’s a national catastrophe.

Therefore, as the people of Malawi, we bear full responsibility for the state we find ourselves in at present. There is nothing happening in this country that we don’t deserve! For far too long, we have postponed the historical necessity of defining who we are and what exactly our aspirations as a nation are.

We like to complain about the way we are governed and the numerous scandals that bear testimony to this fact. Yet, we never seem to know how to respond to such provocations from the powerful and unaccountable in our society. Instead, we go on showering praise on those leaders who broke and still break our national spirit and deny our Citizenship. We are so fickle that any leader – whether political, religious or business – uttering high sounding nothings can sway us to their side.

We can, and should, do better.

Finally, as a nation we are one movement and the struggle for a better Malawi is a struggle in which all citizens must participate. Unity is key. Young people, more importantly, need to be more active in responding decisively to things that should otherwise shock us.

Arise, Malawi, arise!



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