We are in Nkhotakota where we arrived last night and decided to have dinner at Sungu Motel but spend the night at Tongole Wilderness Lodge inside the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve partly to cogitate on what would have become of Malawi had Bingu wa Mutharika not died four years ago this week.
Unfortunately, we are not staying long in this primordially beautiful and historical place. We are heading to Nkhata Bay, the home of batala, to teach the district health officer there how to use the facilities at his disposal to raise income for his institution. We have carried two books, Poverty in a Land of Plenty by Andy Khumbanyiwa and Poverty by Choice by Donald Kamdonyo, which we will give him to read. If he refuses to read on his own, we will read them to him.
As we waited for our chambo and nsima at Sungu Motel, the Most Paramount Native Authority Mandela ordered soft drinks. We consumed the halal drinks in silence. Alhaj Sheikh Jean-Philippe LePoisson, SC (RTD), was reading The Nation; Abiti Joyce Befu (MG 66) was engrossed in Poverty by Choice while I devoured Poverty in a Land of Plenty.
“This advert makes sense!” Jean-Philippe exclaimed, breaking the silence.
“What is it about?” Abiti asked.
“All those who financed their higher education through Malawi government loans should pay back immediately!” Jean-Philippe explained.
“Yes. The money will be used to finance the university education of future Malawian generations,” Abiti jumped in.
“Over my dead and rotten body!” I said.
“What? That sounds unpatriotic, ungrateful, unreasonable, indecorous, irresponsible, immoral, inconceivable….”
“Breathe in, sir, before you bite your tongue!” I said stopping Jean-Philippe’s tirade.
“You see. The Higher Education Student Loans Board or whatever it is called needs to define and refine what it wants. If it wants to create a revolving loan fund for higher education it must say so and we will help it pro bono to find pathways. However, if it is out to fight former university students, the board will fail,” I said.
“I am shocked that you can’t see sense in the higher education loan recovery agenda,” Abiti said, her voice trembling.
“Let’s put our emotion aside. Can you rationalise your reluctance?” Mandela suggested.
“First, the board must define higher education. To me, higher education involves all post secondary school training. Our government has sponsored almost all higher education since 1965. The loans board should explain why only university college students have been targeted for loan recovery.
“Second, how will the loans boards recover the money the governments spent on educating students from 1965 to 1985 when the University of Malawi offered international standard teaching and learning facilities?
“Third, how will the Malawi government recover the money it has spent on training people abroad and at the Kamuzu Academy?
“Fourth, how will the Malawi government recover loans from former students who have since died?
“Fifth, have you ever wondered how a government without money can offer loans at the same time?
“Sixth, why are employers being threatened with financial punishment for failing to reveal the names of their employees as though these employers guaranteed the university student’s loans in the first place?
“Lastly, for now, why can’t the Malawi government appreciate and dollarize the services higher graduates have made to the development of Malawi? In short, all former students have already paid their education loans through committed service in a country where salaries and conditions education of services are extremely poor. The Malawi Government owes the exploited graduates a lot of money and an apology.
“In fact, this nonsense about college fees must stop. In a developing country like Malawi higher education is not a luxury. It is part of human capital and nation building footed by the government. So, fees must fall. Student loans must fall. When we take over government, corporations, philanthropists, and trusts like Press will sponsor university education instead of wasting money on director’s car allowances and parties,” I said.
“I second. No former student should ever repay any loan,” Mandela said.
“I am also tempted to agree. Loans must fall,” Abiti echoed.
“Loan recovery must fall. Now!” sounded Jean-Philippe.