I was born in a refugee settlement in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Burundian parents who had been displaced by the 1972 genocide. I was then displaced by the 1996 war in DRC.
So, I have known the despair, fear and hopelessness which truly motivate people to seek security in another land. After spending 27 years as a refugee, I was offered the opportunity to study in Malawi, and my life changed forever. Since then, I have strived to benefit both Malawians and refugees through my work.
Although Malawi is hosting refugees, it is not shouldering the weight alone. Today Malawi hosts 1 refugee in every 599 citizens, but in Burundi there is one Congolese refugee per 193 Burundians. In DRC, the ratio goes down to 175 to one and finally, Uganda the figure is one refugee per 33 citizens.
We might further consider that one out of 10 people in South Africa is estimated to be Malawian, according to AfricaCheck.org.
The Great Lakes region of Africa does not make the headlines as much as it used to, but daily life consists of unreported fighting, and institutionalised human rights abuse. Usually these are motivated by ethnic/political affiliation or violent suppression of freedom of expression.
The notion that refugees are a security threat to a country is a common rhetoric used to divert attention away from internal causes of crime. According to prisonstudies.org, the non-Malawian prison population in 2016 was 0.2 percent of all inmates. The argument that refugees hold guns is simply not a fact.
When a person is uprooted from the safety net provided by extended family, government subsidies, or the charity of neighbours, having lost all they had, a refugee will use every bit of their energy in the search for survival. This explains why there are hundreds of thriving small-businesses in Dzaleka and its residents are among the large producers of potatoes supplied in Lilongwe.
Moreover, the food ration that the United Nations strives to give each refugee per month is not enough, sometimes the 13.5 kilogrammes of maize is halved due to the global refugee crisis that has caused donor fatigue, hence, refugees must be creative in their coping mechanism.
Yes, slave trade, colonisation and exploitation have affected us deeply. However, we cannot hold onto these wounds for more than five decades of independence and expect to develop. Similarly, it is not fair to attribute our financial challenges to foreigners and fail to see the part we need to play in bringing about change.
A lot of the pain we suffer in Africa is tragically self-inflicted. Hunger for power, corruption and resistance towards embracing cooperation within our regional blocs are causing us to miss out on great economic and human potential. Although our continent is considered the richest in terms of natural resources, we have remained an economic prey of our “distant cousins” who are united. We are described as poor, yet we are greatly endowed with resources that propelled the developed countries.
At There is Hope we desire to make facts and information about refugees better known to all. Our aspiration for Malawi is a strong and healthy economic development which includes refugees as tax-paying and legally approved workers. In 2006, Uganda introduced new laws allowing refugees freedom of movement, a plot of land to farm on and access to social/health care. This move was justified by a recent study from Oxford University.
The study showed that refugees in Uganda benefit the national economy by trading with and employing Ugandan residents. I strongly disagree that refugees are a burden on society. I see them as a resource which can help Malawi prosper.
If indeed Chewa people originated from DRC, as history records, there is no valid reason Malawi should resist integrating Congolese refugees among their long lost but found relatives in Malawi. n