We promised sometime back that we would camp at Nsipe in Mangoni or Kabudula in the Republic of Lilongwe soon after voting for our preferred parliamentary, presidential and ward council candidates because, as Felix Mnthali writes in When Sunset Comes to Sapitwa, Nsipians and Kabudulans strongly believe their time has come and nobody can stop something whose time has come.
Nsipians, in particular, believe theirs will be the next Ndata with running water day in day out; a national university, a good hospital; tarred roads; a Casa Rei and, why not, a Mpumulo wa Betele.
Kabudulans seek nothing more than a return to the good old days when Malawi was virtually crimefree, hunger-free and productive. This same country produced robin bridge shirts, leather and luggage bags, crown shirts and trousers, whitex khanga, kutchena and other brands. This same country exported and earned forex through tobacco, sugar, tea and rubber. This same country assembled Pew coaches and buses and Mandala pick up bodies, made Nzeru radios and Nzeru batteries, and designed the treadle pump. This same country had an hourly City Circular public transport network that was close, in terms of efficiency and timeliness to London and Paris transport systems. This same country was admired by its neighbours.
How we failed to build on that progress is something only Allah and Jah Rastafari can explain but, which political commitment can revisit and build on?
We have listened to all campaigns and it is here in Nsipe that we feel people really feel for Malawi. It is here and in Kabudula that people really seem to understand what can and should drive Malawians out of their dire collective financial situation.
They argue that teachers are great people that ensure that children get an education that will enable them to later lead responsible and productive lives. They argue that nurses and doctors are great allies in the fight against disease and in keeping the population healthy and strong enough to contribute effectively to Malawi’s development. They argue that police officers, soldiers and spies are great people, too, as Phungu Joseph Nkasa sings in Anenele, in keeping the population safe from internal enemies and criminals and external aggression.
Here in Nsipe and in Kabudula we have heard people praising the Malawi government for mass-promoting teachers that had been at one professional grade for almost the whole of their professional career. Here in Nsipe and Kabudula, we have heard people thanking government for motivating the police service through mass-promotions.
But it is only here in Nsipe and Kabudula that we have heard arguments for the need to motivate agricultural extension officers, whose mass-promotions are equally long overdue. Here people wonder why agricultural extension officers rarely feature on politicians’ menus. Police officers have been promoted; everybody knows. Teachers have been promoted; everybody has heard. But, why have agricultural extension officers, the foot soldiers who spend countless hours educating farmers how to maximise yield from their small land parcels to keep the country nourished and potbellied, not been considered so far?
Agricultural extension officers do more than advise and educate farmers about agriculture. They build an emphatic rapport with farmers. They represent the Malawi government in the villages. When farmers are sick, the extension officers are there to help and connect with the health officers. When the farmer’s goat is killed by some reckless driver, the agricultural extension officer is there to console the farmer, knowing that the goat is perhaps the only asset, apart from farmland, that the farmer has. When there is a funeral in the village, the agricultural extension officer is there to condole the farmers.
It is not too late for the State and the president, to consider mass-promoting this cadre of civil and public servants so that they too feel honoured and appreciated. Some ill-minded people will interpret such mass-promotion of the agricultural extension officers as mere politics of appeasement and a last-minute political campaign strategy to win votes. But the Nsipians and Kabudulans will respond: Who does not eat politics?