A people, a nation

Think of this real life chastening experience. A man falls sick in the wee hours and rushes to the country’s biggest health referral facility Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH). Upon arrival, an on-duty doctor openly grumbles to the patient’s face: “Why did you come to the hospital at this time,” asks the unamused doctor. “Where were you during day time?”

Somehow, to this doctor’s estimation, the patient is in the wrong. His crime: He, somehow, ought to have known he’ll fell rapidly ill in good time and rushed to the hospital in the afternoon—when doctors are more energetic, and perhaps, in a better mood.

Nonetheless, the doctor asks the patient to pay the mandatory by-pass fees; puts the money in his pocket, and grudgingly gives the poor soul treatment, but issues no receipt for the payment. Your guess is as good as mine whether the money will reach the State or it’ll be for personal use.

Because the patient has pressing issues, (he wants to travel outside the country soon for official reasons), once he is discharged, he immediately resumes the regular hustles of life.

He rushes to the Immigration Department to renew his passport. In spite of his weak state, he queues for hours to renew his passport. In spite of the January blues, and prevalent economic hardships, he pays through the nose to get an urgent service.

Days will turn to weeks as he returns to the department, morning and afternoon, seeking to get his hands on the precious national document in vain. Every day he is told, either the system is down or there is no electricity, or both. He goes to Road Traffic to register for a driver’s licence and for three days he can’t just register a card which normally should take less than 20 minutes. ‘System is down’ is the buzzword here—or as he discovers one day, the system is up, but a guy to sign one document is out—for a whole day—attending a meeting.

And this chastening, energy-draining experience is neither isolated nor unique.  As lurid as it is, this a daily livid experience of many Malawians.

Our systems are crumbling on our watch—on our own making, too—leading to stagnation and general hopelessness.

Go today to the imposing Bingu National Stadium in the capital and you get the brief. Despite the splendour of its beauty, you’ll feel sad. Not that this is a white elephant. Far from it. This is a soccer mecca that can burst into life at whim. But something else is terribly wrong, and that decay is synonymous with the general national malaise engulfing every sector of this young republic.

The stadium is a money spinner. Big games attract massive crowds—meaning real good hard cash. But go to the public toilets (even those just under its VIP stand) and you will see what grateful (or lack of it) Malawians are with this grand gift (is it?) from our friends from the Orient. And now that the Chinese handed over management of the cathedral to local managers, the decay is truly underway.

Electricity and water are hardly connected. The toilets are a nightmarish eyesore; full of stench and little hills of piling human excretion.

Should we blame this mind boggling incompetence on national political leadership alone? That will be a folly.

Ordinary Malawians are as complicit as much as the politicians we put in power. Ordinary managers and workers sleeping on the job in various offices; those who took an oath don’t care, either. Of course, a clueless national leadership, too, failing to inspire high standards—but the old adage reminds us: ‘every people deserves the leadership they get’.

This is not just about failed politics, this is about entrenched negative mind-sets and traditions. This is not just about a resource-starved society struggling; this is about a people underutilising their human and physical resources base—about poor systems and disinterested workers.

This is a story of shared national shame.  A story we cannot just change by simply changing the name of the President—trading Peter Mutharika for Lazarus Chakwera—although a more exemplary and visionary leadership can do more good than harm in motivating the greater public towards patriotism.

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