When Rev. John Chilembwe decided to confront the white settlers back in 1915, he must have felt betrayed by their style of leadership that ultimately left “his” people in a cycle of dependence. Although he had good intentions, he was ill equipped for the task he undertook but the message got across anyway. Years after his death, people managed to organise themselves. With better communication, Dr Kamuzu Banda was roped in and independence attained in 1964. But, almost 50 years after becoming an independent nation, are we making any progress as a nation in terms of development and the satisfaction of human needs?
They say it is every lizard’s dream to one day grow up and become a crocodile. In this light, Malawians had great expectations upon gaining independence as promises were made to transform the country and development projects were indeed embarked on for the benefit of the nation. Schools and hospitals, which were mostly provided by mission stations, were built across the country. A capacity building exercise was launched to provide human resource to offer the requisite services to the nation. This reduced the unemployment rate and education widened the horizons for many who undertook it. Roads were built to improve communication and transportation of goods while commercial farming, monopolised by whites then, was open to the indigenous population. Industries propped up, Nkula Falls was commissioned in 1966 to provide electricity and things were happening in all sectors of society.
In 1993, Malawians opted for a multiparty system of government. The reasons advanced for the change were, among others, high levels of unemployment, high illiteracy rates, collapsing education and health sector and poor crop pricing. Change indeed came and free primary education was introduced. New health centres were built. More people were employed as a result of the many initiatives introduced by the new government. On the agricultural sector, the starter pack programme was introduced. Agricultural Productivity Investment Programme (APIP) was also introduced to complement the starter pack programme to ensure that fertiliser and maize seed was available and affordable to smallholder farmers. Drought-tolerant crops were encouraged to be grown and irrigation farming introduced.
Treadle pumps were all over. Boreholes were sunk to help supply clean and safe water. Much was done by the administration for the 10 years it was in power to uplift the livelihood of Malawians. Now it is almost a further 10 years into another political administration and it has over the years strived to serve the nation in all sectors of life and we continue to face problems. The things that people were promised in 1960’s, 1990’s and 2009 are still emanating from the mouths of our politicians to date. This leaves one wondering whether we, as a nation, are progressing or not.
Today, 80 percent of the population still depends on subsistent farming characterised by low productivity due to the unpredictable rainfall patterns and declining soil fertility. Sixty percent still depend directly on natural resources for their livelihood and live in rural areas, while about 65 percent live below the poverty line.
As we approach elections in 2014, this is the question each one of us should be asking ourselves, are we progressing as a nation? Are the people entrusted with the authority to uplift our lives doing their part honestly and diligently? It is disheartening to note that to date, pupils in some schools are still learning under trees or in grass-thatched and dilapidated blocks. People are still dying for want of medication in our hospitals. Worse still, women delivering on their way to hospitals/ health facilities due to the long distances they have to cover to access such facilities.
Some districts are still inaccessible to the world out there because the roads are in very bad shape. Unemployment levels are still high, with school-leavers loitering because access to vocational training is a hustle. Corruption is rampant. Skyrocketing fertiliser prices and farmers not realising profits due to unpredictable market prices. The list goes on.
These are the very same problems Chilembwe died for. As we prepare for elections, let us do some serious soul-searching and vote for people who shall depart from the vicious cycle we are in and offer hope to our nation.
—The author likes commenting on social issues.