Some may feel hurt but the truth is that Malawi remains a very poor country. We are still in contention as the world’s poorest country. Strikingly, to reach this zenith of poverty we have had to wade off competition from some of the most deplorable, war-torn and dysfunctional countries in the world. It is not unpatriotic to make this concession.
As a matter of fact, I would argue that it is our obligation as citizens to remain constantly aware of this predicament. We need not wallow in this awareness though. We cannot be celebrating our poverty. We must be ashamed that over 52 years after attaining our political independence we have failed to meaningfully transform the livelihoods of our citizens. Our leaders, past and present, must be the first to take the blame for our situation. Nevertheless, awareness of our predicament, it is my hope, should spur all of us, to work together to improve the lot of Malawians.
There are a myriad causes to the deep and severe poverty that characterises our nation. It is not my intention to attempt to go into these factors here. Looking at the country’s situation from where we are at the moment, that is in 2017, one may wonder why we are where we are. There is no novelty to the bulk of the factors that cause or aggravate poverty in Malawi. Over the years government has spearheaded the drafting of various policy documents that speak to us very clearly about the causes of poverty in Malawi. Now, if we have always known the causes of poverty in Malawi why have we not really done much to deal away with it? This may seem like an obvious query but in unravelling this conundrum the key to resolving our current predicament may be found.
Apart from poverty understood in economic terms, we are afflicted by a deep poverty of leadership. It is this poverty of leadership, as I prefer to call it, which is central to creating and nurturing the deep poverty that Malawi is confronted with. Those entrusted to lead this country have failed us. I hasten to add that while we can, rightly in my view, blame failures of leadership for Malawi’s poverty and general underdevelopment, we must also, as citizens, accept our fair share of blame for our choices of leaders as well as for failing to police our leaders.
Why have I chosen to allocate some of the blame on us, the citizens, for Malawi’s current situation? Well, it seems to me that most of us have forgotten that citizenship comes with attendant duties which can aptly be summarised by the term ‘civic duty/obligation’. Being a citizen is not a free ride! As citizens we are very much within our rights to feel very angry about any failures of leadership in the country.
As a matter of fact, it is not enough just to feel angry, we can legitimately channel our anger into legally acceptable avenues for expressing dissatisfaction with our leadership. It is for the preceding reason, for example, that we should not frown on those that organise demonstrations to express dissatisfaction with particular leaders or their decisions. The point, put crudely, is that as citizens we should never sit idly while those entrusted with leading this country take this country on the road to perdition. The public must remain a constant check on the exercise of public power. I must state that I am alive to the fact that cunning leaders will deliberately manipulate the populace to emasculate it of its resident power to influence change. In my view, here is where the true calling of a citizen lieth. Citizens should be encouraged to organise in support of the amelioration of the general well being of the country.
There is a fundamental constitutional premise which politicians in this country often choose not to mention and which, perhaps, the large part of the populace is either totally unaware of or simply unaware of its full implications. By the solemn fiat of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi, that supreme law of the land, the authority to govern, in this country, is derived from the people of Malawi. Further, the authority to govern is ceded to our leaders, by the citizens, on condition that it shall be used only to further the interests and welfare of the people of Malawi. It is only logical and sensible, in my view, that those who originate the power to govern must maintain constant superintendence over the governors.
I consider it a truism that bad leaders cannot bring about socio-economic prosperity in the country. Leadership involves a sober appreciation of the demands that it invokes. A good leader must be prepared to work in the common interest and, I dare suggest, even engage in self-sacrifice should that be required. For as long as we continue to choose bad leaders and concomitantly we fail to impose effective policing mechanisms, there is no hope for us as a nation and for this, we have no-one but ourselves to blame for the enduring poverty and underdevelopment in the country.
*Mwiza Jo Nkhata is Associate Professor of Law at University of Malawi’s Chancellor College.