“May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”—Nehemiah 2:3b
If you don’t erect memorials for your heroes and heroines, others will either erect shrines for you or totally demolish the good that they did as you continue to hoist the bad and the ugly.
When such happens, you tend to wallow in abject regret of your past, with nothing great to pass on to your children. They in turn have nothing to pass on to theirs, leading to either a people that cling to foreign heroes, or an endless cycle of erecting current and oftentimes baseless pseudo-heroes and heroines.
The time is ripe that Malawi creates a narrative that will transcend political party lines and embrace the memories of people that contributed to our present times.
This column has in the past paraded a list of some great Malawians. It was a daunting task to chew at one go, however, Malawi could re-launch it , starting with the late presidents and later adding other dignitaries.
Part of that process must be to memorialise the former leaders through museums erected in their home villages. A costly but healthy and sustainable undertaking, it will create jobs, allow Malawians to take control of the narrative of their past and thereby heal our land.
Last Sunday, my friend Mercy and her husband took me to the Mount Vernon Mansion, home of the first United States president George Washington. The entry fee is $20 per person to walk around the massive farmlands and buildings. Entry into the mansion attracts an extra fee. However, a maze of corridors forms the museum of audios, pictures and videos of the former president’s memorial.
Among the buildings of the Mount Vernon Mansion is the botanical garden, the blacksmith shop, the coach house, the green house, the male and female slave women quarters, the slave memorial that lies near the tomb where Washington and his wife Martha and children are entombed.
The massive capturing of the life and history of Washington took my fellow tourists and I three hours to savour and enjoy. The Mount Vernon Mansion sits on the banks of the Potomac River, so we also had the opportunity to sit and imagine how Washington must have enjoyed many hours enjoying the serenity of this landmark river that flows from the 405 mile Potomac Highlands, meandering into the US capital Washington D.C. and emptying into the Chesapeake Bay. A life membership fee of $100 gives one free access to the mansion.
If Malawi could embark on a similar project, starting with its two former late presidents Hastings Kamuzu Banda and Bingu wa Mutharika, it would create a landscape for job-creation, revenue, and propel Malawi into healing mode.
The entities to take charge of these projects would be the families, the Antiquities Department, the Chancellor College’s Social Research and History departments, and the universities that the two attended such as Meharry College of Medicine and University of Edinburgh for Kamuzu, among others.
The Kamuzu Banda Museum in Kasungu and the Bingu wa Mutharika Museum in Thyolo would be self-sustaining because of the entry fees, coupled with fund-raising that will be done through websites for each National Heritage Site. It may need an Act of Parliament to get these two museums up and flying, but the gains are potentially enormous.
Malawi must take control of its narrative. Malawi must tell the Malawi story, using Malawi lenses. Malawi must always remember what Nelson Mandela and even Elijah Mohammed said: (sic) “Their heroes cannot always be our heroes, nor their enemies necessarily be our enemies; likewise our heroes cannot always be their heroes, nor our enemies necessarily be their enemies”. May our provinces not be in great trouble and disgrace, nor the walls of our heritage lie desolate and broken down.