In this interview, our reporter George Singini talks to retired veteran politician Robson Watayachanga Chirwa to trace the road Malawians have trodden since independence and what the future holds for Malawi.
How was life like before independence and by the time we were gaining independence, what measures were put in place to ensure poverty alleviation and development?
The first thing former president Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda thought about was roads. We had no roads by the time Kamuzu came so he started planning for the construction of roads, permanent as well as dusty roads. Did you know that we were travelling on dusty roads from Northern Region to Blantyre?
There were no roads during my school days. There was no good road, it was dusty roads all over the country except for that small stretch from Blantyre to Mulanje, that was a tarmac road because they were growing a lot of tea there. The foreigners were interested in our tea and that road was a small stretch of tarmac road.
There was also a small stretch from Blantyre to Zomba because Zomba was our capital and Blantyre our commercial city, so they wanted to travel nicely.
However, it was a one-lane road. All over the country we had dusty roads and in bad shape, full of potholes. That was the first thing Kamuzu wanted to do to develop the country so that people were able to travel, trade and communicate easily.
How did Kamuzu endeavour to develop the education sector?
There were only three secondary schools in Malawi, Blantyre Secondary School, which was, first to be established. The second was Zomba Catholic Secondary School and the third was Dedza Secondary School. Kamuzu knew that without educated people, the country would not go very far in development.
So, he started developing secondary schools as well as primary schools. So, that was his vision, he wanted to have educated people in the country. That is why when we became independent in 1964, some of the people wanted to be promoted to higher positions, but Kamuzu told the nation that he would not Africanise for the sake of Africanisation.
Kamuzu could not just promote those people because they had no education.Â Because of that style, some few educated people hated him because their aim was that soon after independence, they should be promoted, take over [posts held by] white men and let them go but that was not Kamuzuâ€™s idea. He wanted to train Africans to handle higher responsibilities.
Some of us went to the UK, Kamuzu sent us there to learn, acquire knowledge and when we came back, we were given responsibilities to understudy the white men who were in higher positions.
After 48 years of independence, the country is still poor and Malawians are living in abject poverty. What have we done wrong considering that some countries who gained independence after us are miles ahead?
Naturally, Malawi has a small base of economy. When you open universities, you need a lot of money and thatâ€™s why he opened only one (University of Malawi).
The universities needed a lot of money and he could not expand more than what he had because Malawiâ€™s economy is not as big as Britainâ€™s. Our economic base was small so he could only expand slowly while enjoying independence; hence, if we compare ourselves to surrounding countries that gained independence the same period, our friends expanded quicker because they had the money and resources to do that.
What have we gained?
We have gained independence and we are able to decide our own fate. We choose what to do, where and when. That is a huge achievement.
What have we lost?
Naturally, we have lost a lot of things we would have performed if we had a lot of money. Because we do not have money, we have lost those things. They are coming to us slowly because well-wishers must fund them. If well-wishers do not want to give us money, where do we get the money?
What does the future look like?
The future is very good. We can stand on our own feet. Food security is very important thatâ€™s why Kamuzu used to tell us that whatever we may not have, three things we must have, plenty food, beautiful clothes and good houses which would impress people.
Do we have proper systems to take us where we want to be?
In agriculture, we are doing very well with subsidised fertiliser. We are not going to face the hunger other countries are facing though they have minerals. We are food sufficient and in line with Kamuzuâ€™s vision. We have many schools that are helping produce graduates, which is important for development. In terms of roads, depending on funds, we are able to construct. We have many roads, which are important in development.
How can Malawi emancipate itself from Western donor dependency so as to be truly independent?
We should continue developing because we have not reached our goal.
What lessons can we learn from our history that can help us in forging our future?Â
We can only regret that we did not have enough resources as compared to our friends who had enough resources long time ago. This is our problem.