There is no dispute here. When we talk about urban centres, call them towns, cities or municipalities if you like, we refer to, in alphabetical order, Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu, and Zomba. And if you have lived in these towns, you may be oblivious of the fact that most of our urban roads are named after foreigners.
In Blantyre, there is no road named after Kamuzu Banda, essentially, because Bakili Muluzi changed Kamuzu Highway to Masauko Chipembere. There is no road named Bakili Muluzi because, essentially, he did not name any road after himself. His anointed successor, Bingu wa Mutharika, did not bother to honour him with a city road. Instead, Bingu named the Liwonde-Ntaja-Ntagaluka-Mangochi road after Muluzi, most likely, to hide his name from the urban centres which are frequented by foreign dignitaries.
Instead, Blantyre still has roads named after Glyn Johns, Queen Victoria, Henry Henderson, David Livingstone, Browns, Scatter, Jomo Kenyatta, Kaohsiung, Mandala (Moir), Buchanan, Dalton, Bowie, Robert Laws, and Mahatma Gandhi; yes, the same one whose statute some Malawians refused to see erected near Queen Elisabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre.
Jomo Kenyatta, we understand, was Kamuzu’s bosom friend. Not satisfied with naming a road and an international conference after Kenyatta, Kamuzu named another road in Lilongwe after Kenya’s founding president and author of Facing Mount Kenya.
For historical and political reasons, Lilongwe has more roads named after Malawian politicians, Kamuzu’s family, Chiefs, and landmarks. But even there, some major roads still bear foreign names: Paul Kagame replaced Chief Chilambula (imagne!). Then we have Kenneth Kaunda, Robert Mugabe, and Queen’s roads.
In Mzuzu City, there are only two or three major roads. One is the M5, also named after Orton Ching’oli Chirwa and the second is the M1 also called Lubinga road. Then we have foreign named streets like Bloem Water Street and Zongendaba road. In this city most roads appear to be nameless.
We have lived in Zomba but we are not very familiar with the names of the roads but we know David Livingstone has a road there, too.
Of course, some of the foreign people after whom our city roads are named, such as Robert Laws and David Livingstone, deserve the honour for their pacesetter commitment to the development of formal education in Malawi.
However, what unsettles and annoys us is that while we have named so many of our roads after foreigners, we don’t get anything in return. In Nairobi and Mombasa there are thoroughfares, mikwaso or milimba, named after Dr Banda. Compared to the prominence given to Jomo Kenyatta in Malawi, the Kenyan gestures are nothing but an insult. If we were in government, we would have renamed Kenyatta roads after our own heroes. Kenyatta would have been pushed to a road say in Bangwe in Blantyre, Chikanda in Zomba, or Masasa in Mzuzu, Nkhata Bay.
There is a Banda street in Singapore but we are not sure which Banda the road is dedicated to. We stand to be corrected that there is no road named after any Malawian leader in Zimbabwe but we have Mugabe here; in Zambia but we have Kaunda in Malawi; Rwanda but we have Kagame in Lilongwe; in the United Kingdom, but we have plenty of British and Scottish names on our streets.
We protest and we want our streets named after our heroic people, such as Reuben Malola, Boniface Maganga, Kinnah Phiri, Frank Patani Mwase, Martha Chizuma, Blessings Chinsinga, Tereza Ndanga, Mwawi Kumwenda, Gift Trapence, Kweni Patricia Kaliati, Ken Lipenga, Rafik Hajat, and of course, er, us, members of the Bottom Up expedition.