Thyolo-Thava member of Parliament (MP) Mary Navicha plans to move a motion in the National Assembly to waive standing orders, allowing legislators to dress in traditional wear as one way of supporting the Buy Malawi Campaign resurrected by the government early this year.
The campaign replaces the Best Buy Malawian campaign that died following the end of the Kamuzu Banda regime.
While MP Navicha’s proposition is centred on the promotion of the purchase of Malawian products, the argument in this piece focuses the need to embrace Afrocentricity, an African-centred approach in thinking, learning and living.
African-American philosopher Molefi Kete Asante coined the term ‘Afrocentricity’ in his 1980 publication Afrocentricity: The Theory of Social Change to advance the renewal and renaissance of African cultures seeking to assert themselves.
For Asante, Afrocentricity is a philosophical thinking for Africans to construct a new world identity and interpret the world from an African psychological, spiritual and cultural frame of reference.
Multiple scholars such as Harold Cruse, Kwame Ture and Maulana Karenga have advanced such ideas before, but it was Asante who set forth the term and began using it as a theoretical philosophical concept.
Against this brief historical background, we go back to the National Assembly and we ought to recall that, prior to Navicha’s sentiments, Salima North West MP Jessie Kabwila in early June called for a re-think over the usage of English language for deliberations in Parliament.
By the same token, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chief whip Henry Mussa, speaking to the media on the issue of absenteeism in the National Assembly, said: “Some MPs cannot even stand and speak to the House, maybe it is a language barrier but it is indeed sad.”
Issues of language and dress code emanating from these legislators speak volumes of how we, as Malawians, ought to rid off the thinking of being culprits of white supremacy.
Malawians, starting from the National Assembly, need to be relocated historically, socially, politically and philosophically from the European way of thinking to an African’s own identity.
With regards to dress, Malawian MPs are asked to wear long trousers, neckties and jackets and for females, skirt suits, formal dress, executive trousers or smart traditional wear whose definition in this context is not clear.
How do we project our own cultural identity if we still live in the periphery of the West? Why not let my local female MP dress-up in nyakula and voice out the concerns of her constituents in Chichewa?
After all, whenever these MPs visit their constituencies, they communicate in vernacular. We see this cultural imperialism all the time in varied avenues such as religion—where both the pastors or prophets and the congregants, who are well versed in a local language, preach in English with a fellow Malawian translating into vernacular.
Afrocentricity allows Africans to frame the world from their own experiences to define their interests and reconstruct institutions based on a societal character and this is exactly what our Parliament needs.
The issue of dress code as proposed by MP Navicha and that of language as argued by Kabwila provide avenues through which people provide their sense of class, nationality and cultural identity.
Cultures that have been inherited from the West with the advent of colonialism may oftentimes deny us a chance to project our own uniqueness as Malawians, the feel of national belonging and identity.
As one Afrocentric Journalism scholar Usman Jimada rightly argues, we need to rediscover our African traditional cultures, preserve our identities and deconstruct the western way of thinking.
That is the whole purpose of my Afrocentric take and the Malawian National Assembly. n