Why are azungu, not us, always rich, progressive and controlling? That was the question I kept asking my father, a retired teacher, when I was a child.
He said a lot of things I hardly remember. I guess he, too, just like me had more questions than answers.
As a result, I spent my primary school weighing the question. The weight, however, got eased when I was about to begin Form One. It was my father, again. He took me for a walk, reminded me of ‘that question’ and advised that if I still want an answer, I study a subject called History.
From Form One to Form Four, all I remember about History are kingdoms, slave trade, John Chilembwe, Nyasaland African Congress (NAC), Hitler and World Wars. I could hardly make sense out of these hard and dry facts to find an answer to my childhood question.
My inquiry, however, took a hopeful turn at Chancellor College. In my first year, Professor Kings Phiri interpreted to us how Africa, before its intercourse with the Whites, built flourishing kingdoms that, speaking development, were far ahead of the Western ones.
He also showed us how that flourishing journey began to grind to a halt when the Whites, through slave trade, planted warfare among neighbours, in the process, paralysing a functional society into vast chaos.
I came out of first year a man extremely mad at the whites; in fact, I dropped Classics, a course taught by a white lecturer.
That anger almost exploded when in second year, Professor Wapulumuka Mulwafu taught us Africa’s political economy in the Twentieth Century.
It was a course that detailed the immense evil of colonialism and both in terms of how it was imposed on and consolidated in Africa. It was in this course where I first studied Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.
It became apparent that I had, finally, found the answer to my childhood question. I held a view that azungu’s progress was built on one; destroying our flourishing kingdoms and, two, imposing their system of governments or institutions—mediums of legitimising the immense robbery of our resources to build their home economies.
To mean, I concluded that for Africa to develop, it must fight the dictates of the Western hegemony through eliminating their modern medium of control: the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. I instantly became a great fan of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe—a dictator whom, then, I viewed as a fighter.
But these thoughts, too, went into serious question and challenge when, while in third and fourth year, Professor Wiseman Chijere Chirwa taught us Themes in Third World Development.
It is a course that compares the development pattern of countries that, at some point in history, were known as Third World. The striking connection of these countries is that all of them, at different epochs of history of course, experienced the worst of destructive colonialism and neo-colonialism at the hands of the Western countries.
However, after deep study, I found that in terms of economic exploitation by these Western colonisers, Africa was the least. Yet, I got surprised when I learnt that most of the heavily exploited countries from Asia, Latin America and Caribbean have, today, developed their economies and paradoxically became donors to Africa.
It is against this understanding that I never gave the departed Bingu wa Mutharika an ear when, after falling from leadership grace, he went wild with tired nationalist tirades of accusing the IMF and World Bank, agents of Western political control, of conspiracy against his government.
To me, Bingu’s tirades were symptomatic of extreme leadership failure—a comforting yet familiar excuse of African dictators. Just look at Mugabe.
I strongly believe that our old Third World friends—referred in today as Brics, Asian Tigers, etc—have shown how to, smoothly, server ties with the dictates of the donors.
The lesson they have shared is simple: Use donor money to build your economy and, then, stand on your own. But here we do the opposite: Use donor money, through Cashgate, to build personal mansions and jets. And then, when owners of the money demand accountability of their money we curse them, really?
Last week, I was among six journalists covering a European Union (EU) delegation in Machinga.
The delegation had travelled all the way from Brussels, Belgium, to—in the words of one of them—”inspect for ourselves how you are using our money”. Yaaaaaaaa! They are funding government’s Rural Infrastructural Development Programme (Ridp).
During interviews at a small irrigation scheme managed by 15 locals, one of the delegates asked us if we knew intercropping. But before we could answer to such an embarrassing question, one of the delegates chipped in: “These are just Malawian journalists, they don’t know anything”.
As if that was not enough, the delegate was blunt: “The truth is, we cannot continue giving you guys money. Stand up—especially you, the youths—and move your country. Invest in agribusiness and support these local initiatives. We can’t continue giving you money, we can’t.”
We all hate, of course, to look stupid. I did not, then, blame one of my journalist friends for, after the delegates had gone, clearing his throat.
“What do White people think of themselves?” he asked looking very crossed, frustrated and angry.
I never got angry. I thought he was just honest in his own terms. In fact, his attitude only symbolises the fatigue among those who have been supporting us since independence.
Seriously, why should it be the EU funding a small irrigation scheme when we are allocating K7 billion subsidising iron sheets and cement? For what?
These White friends will not stop disdaining and laughing at us because our priorities are completely upside down. We appear like a nation of headless chickens.
As long as our development policies remain baits of winning electoral votes, we will still, even after presenting the so-called zero- aid budget, be looking to the Whites for budgetary support, in the process, remaining their puppets.
But I am happy that, today, I have found an answer to my childhood question.