We are in Ntcheu, the land of the Maseko Ngoni, the land of the descendants of a branch of the Zulu armies that conquered weak tribes and kingdoms from the Limpopo to Lake Tanganyika. Someone jokes, rather seriously, that the Ngoni were on their way to conquer Europe, but their wars of occupation and colonisation were stopped by the Masai, an equally fierce warrior tribe where to prove his readiness to marry a boy must kill a lion with a spear or bare hands.
Here in Ntcheu, the land of duplicate surnames, almost every man we have met is proud to be called a Ngoni and ready to wear an animal-skin bandana. Almost every woman is proud to call herself Naujeni such that we have met Namabetcha, Namalima, Namasani, and Nachipanti. Here in Ntcheu chiefs lead, promote progress and unity, but brook no nonsense.
If Malawi had a long-term national agricultural and economic development plan, Ntcheu should have been the major source and supplier of vegetables.
Since we have numberless friends here, we will be here for weeks. To meet us, see us, chat with us, drink with us, dance with us and reason with us join us at Nankhoma Lodge where last night we met an affable middle aged man, Mbandambanda, who was very unkind to alcohol. He didn’t drink but guzzled. He did not talk but cursed and swore.
“Now that donors have withdrawn their aid, this country will wallow in real cattle dung!” Mbandambanda swore.
“I understand we have been receiving foreign aid since independence. But if aid really works, why is Malawi still so poor?” Abiti Joyce Befu, MG 66, our leader of delegation and commander-in-chief, asked.
“It’s because aid is abused! Haven’t you read how this country’s civil servants and presidents have been stealing the aid?” Mbandambanda answered before taking a long guzzle on his drink.
“Every year, we hear Malawi has received millions of dollars in foreign assistance, but we occupiers of the bottom rungs of the social ladder don’t see anything in the form of development as a result of the aid money,” Abiti Joyce Befu wondered.
“Can you listen to yourself? Aid money is stolen and abused,” Mbandambanda insisted, almost frustrated.
“You see”, Sheikh Jean-Philippe LePoisson Sc started, “foreign assistance or aid, as you call it, works. Without foreign assistance that new hospital in Monkey Bay would not have been built. Without aid the University of Malawi, the Malawi University of Science and Technology, and hospitals would not have been built. Without aid, most Malawians living with HIV and Aids would have died a long time ago because they would have been unable to access ARVs. Without aid, Capital Hill infrastructure would not have been built. Without aid some children would not have been born.”
“My question still stands. Why are we still poor after fifty years of being aided?” MG 66 probed.
“The problem is that not all the declared foreign aid goes to poor Malawians,” Sheikh Jean-Philippe responded, adding, “One British MP observed recently that aid money is collected from poor people in rich countries to give to rich people in poor countries. Further, most of the aid money is spent on humongous salaries for ‘poverty barons’ as foreign technical assistants and consultants are sometimes called, some of it is tied to purchases in donor countries and a small fraction is stolen. But if aid were properly used and targeted, the way it was spent on the original agriculture input subsidies and Greenbelt Initiative investments, aid money would have worked wonders in poverty eradication.”
“Donors have threatened to leave because we the common citizens condone a thieving culture,” Mbandambanda said.
“Donors will not leave because they can’t. They can’t leave because they need the poor. They can’t leave because they know China, Russia, India, Qatar,or North Korea will fill the gap,” Sheikh Jean-Philippe challenged. “Foreign aid is not free. Donors are here as part of their foreign policy. They know aid money is stolen, abused and wasted. They know who steals, abuses and wastes it. They know because they have read the Pearson Commission Report, the Action Aid Real Aid reports, the Eurodad Odious Debt reports, the Boyce and Ndikumana Capital Flight studies and Sunday Telegraph’s ‘Poverty Barons’ investigative stories. But they will not go anywhere because the rich need the poor to show their humanist and philanthropist side.”
“Isn’t it surprising then that the donors seem surprised about the capital cash thefts?” Native Authority Mandela spoke for the first time.
“What would happen if beggars and the poor went on strike?” Sheikh Jean-Philippe asked.
“The rich would panic because they would have no one to mock, laugh at, denigrate or give crumbs to,” Native Authority Mandela answered.
Four Questions for Consumers Association of Malawi executive director John Kapito