That Nyasaland was the poorest colony in 1924 sounds very modern. The Phelps Stokes Commission identified transportation problems especially lack of proper railway systems to connect with sea ports as well as the failure of the government to make use of the education that the missionaries had provided.
Now 93 years later, we still face the same problems and we are still the poorest.
Former Norwegian ambassador Asbjorn Eidhammer informs us that other landlocked countries such as Zambia and Uganda, transportation costs are only a fraction those of Malawi. If our leaders are really serious about developing this country they should hire outsiders to advise on the possible solutions. Uganda, Zambia and Rwanda are not nearer to the sea than Malawi. So, how do they manage to keep costs lower?
Eidhammer makes delightful quotations from the writing of Steve Chimombo, Jack Mapanje, John Lloyd Lwanda, Grace Sharra but one which should throw most light on current affairs is a quotation from a novel by an Ivorian Ahmoud Kourama titled Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote which indirectly parodies Ivory Coast’s first president Felix Houphouet Boigny.
It reads: “There is no future, no influence to be had in independent Africa for he who wields supreme executive power if he does not parade the fact that he is the richest and most generous man in his country. A true great African leader gives gifts ceaselessly every day. He gives to those who visit him, gives to those who do not visit. He gives to those who love him, to those who loathe him, to the poor and destitute and to the rich and affluent.”
Through this quotation Eidhammer reminds us of attempts to buy members of Malawi’s Parliament during the campaign for the third term. Bribes were not offered behind the scene but openly and within the precincts of the august House. Corruption has a long history in Malawi. It did not begin in the Joyce Banda regime.
Eidhammer book deserves to be placed in every school library in the country. It should be read by journalists, civil servants and non-governmental organisations.
There are people holding top position both in the civil service and politics who evidently do not have half as much knowledge of Malawi as Eidhammer had displayed in this book. They should know more; this is the age of knowledge. Those who assume responsibilities for management of this country and do not know much about what were its problems yesterday are its problems today or in the future are a burden on the nation.
The writer’s style is lucid, with every word in its right place. There are a few factual slips which might be corrected during the second edition. Former presidents Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia did not go to Fort Hare University. Nyerere first went to Makerere University in Uganda and then to Edinburgh in Scotland. Kaunda is a self-educated intellectual who never went to university. The budding genius William Kamkwamba who harnessed the wind is from Kasungu not Dowa. These slips do not in any way detract anything from the quality of the rest of the contacts.
Eidhammer, I dare say, has been the most popular ambassador with the rank and file of Malawians since independence. The tall handsome descendant of the legendary Vikings has been mixing with Malawians of no little without any kind of complex. We have often forgotten that he is the envoy of a country and a monarch.
Norway has actively supported Malawians in their efforts to develop their culture. We must thank Eidhammer for his affection for Malawi and its people. Without Norwegian assistance perhaps the Malawi Writers Union (Mawu) would not be so active. Literary prizes sponsored by the Norwegian Embassy have made Mawu popular. If one day Mawu erects its own building, it should come and have a room in it and a plaque respecting Eidhammer.
The best mode of gratitude we can give the former Norwegian ambassador is to make Mawu grow rather than die. Let us take steps to be self-reliant by first engaging in collective decision-making and cultivate traits of maturity.
The next best form of gratitude to the former Norwegian ambassador is to make sure that the books which won prizes sponsored by his embassy and later got published at the embassy’s expenses are marketed adequately and sold widely.
There have been weaknesses in the handling of books written by Mawu members whether published with donor help or not. Authors have assumed that once their books are stocked by bookshops, readers and buyers will discover them as a matter of course. But this is a mistaken view.If it is to be sold widely first the public should be notified of its existence and secondly, they should be informed of its selling points. n