The Nation of May 31 2017 carried an article, headlined Dumped and Forgotten. This is a story of Innocent Issa Kamenya, a boy who is said to “have been left destitute in Karonga where he sells eggs in the desperate search for transport to reunite with his relatives in Machinga”.
Innocent is said to be 18. His parents divorced in 2006 and the “whereabouts of the parents remain unknown.” He was left in the hands of his uncle in Rumphi where he ran away to Karonga.
Indeed, it is a sad story.
Having lived in rural Hewe, Rumphi, for the past seven years now, I can only share my observations with those who read the story of Innocent.
Firstly, for those who know the area and other parts of Rumphi West well, Hewe is cosmopolitan. People from Tanzania, Zambia, Burundi and all districts of Malawi live here.
Almost all the villages in Hewe do have a resident who migrated into the area in search of greener pastures in form of small-scale businesses including zapachiwaya.
However, of notable interest and curiosity are those who emigrated from Machinga, Blantyre, Zomba, Mulanje, Thyolo, Kasungu, Lilongwe and Mangochi.
They came and come to work as tenants on tobacco estates. It can be observed that they come with large families as they settle in makeshift huts on the estate.
Out of social curiosity, I chose six families for my observation. Each of these families had between six and seven children with the oldest being about nine and the youngest less than one. Four of the mothers were expectant.
By the end of the third year, all the families had moved away to other estates within Hewe or elsewhere in Rumphi as I gathered. However, these were quickly replaced by fresh group of families; six of the initial four were divorced as they moved from estate to another.
What can be seen from this part of Malawi among other tenants as observed above is very common.
Families break up and mothers become custodians of the children as the remnant families trek back home.
Some older children may be left behind to fend for themselves as is the case of Innocent Issa Kamenya.
In some cases children may be absorbed by other local families and become part of the blended community. People and the local chiefs can be kind and accommodating here in the way they treat children in such destitute situations. A commendable gesture indeed.
The cause of all this is poor price for tobacco. In the 1970s, the price of tobacco at the auction Floors was around 70 cents per kilogramme although the value of the Kwacha was then at par with the US dollar.
The price of tobacco has not changed today when the exchange rate is over K700 to the same dollar. The tobacco estate owners are finding it hard to pay tenants well because of high overhead (production) costs.
Estate owners cannot pay their tenants well.
Due to and the cunningness of the tobacco economic giants, the tobacco growers have been made tenants on their own estate.
The tenants on the estate cannot be paid well, so they move on to another estate thinking life will be better off.
One can see these tenants and their families carrying their belongings on their heads and shoulders walking miles on end in search of better-paying estates.
After the harvesting and marketing season, children aged under five can be seen walking to nowhere—led by the parents.
By the end of the day, they will be knocking on somebody’s door for a rest and a meal as the journey continues the following daybreak.
It is a repetitive game and affects families badly. Unfortunately, the major victims are children.
Since there are no industries in Rumphi, the older children easily become roving ambassadors of poverty, school dropout, early marriages, teenage pregnancy and crime.
Is it possible that Innocent will find supporting relatives in Nyambi? n