‘Sconed’ Malawian activists

There is a popular saying in Malawi that has become a catchword in political circles as well as in everyday life. The vernacular phrase, wadya sikono (literary meaning as eating a scone) is often used to describe someone who fails to speak out against ills that are happening in their community, workplace and, indeed, in government.

When one deliberately fails to speak out against the wrongdoings of those in political positions and other positions of authority in society, this phrase usually comes up. It is similar to the popular English phrase; don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

In the case of “eating the scone,” it loosely means that one is not supposed to talk while they have food in their mouth, but its associated meaning is someone who has been politically bought and can no longer act against his/her political masters even if it is against their conscious, they just play along.

There seems to be a new breed of activists now, the ones that are easily stuffed with scones to shut up and they do shut up. This new breed also somehow suffers from selective amnesia. These activists pick and choose what rights to fight for and what rights not to. Forget that they call themselves ‘human rights activists’.

I have in mind the gay rights and women’s sexual and reproductive health rights and the sticky issue of abortion. I have seen how divided Malawian activists have been on these issues. If you claim to fight for the rights of the people well, then get your act together and do exactly that.

I have painfully observed in recent times how this breed of activists—who also happen to be unprincipled, fails to speak out and against the ills happening in our society, which are mostly brought about by failures of those in political positions. In some circumstances, you can actually hear these activists worshiping and praising politicians for doing nothing. They call it “constructive criticism”.

Many of the vocal activists that kept the politicians on their toes are now either board members of some parastatal, are advisers to the president or simply wining and dining with politicians while paying a blind eye to problems rocking the country and at the same time, failing to remind those in authority of their responsibilities. I am all for constructive criticism, but that should not blind you from doing your activism work for the good of all Malawians. I have a problem with activists who accept government positions.

Some of them have argued that they accept such positions because it gives them a vantage point for their activism—to fight from inside. But, we all can bear testimony to what happens when they are handed the poisoned chalices and their mouths are full with  floury ‘scones’. They forget about the people and lose their integrity and trust the people have in them. They don’t want to look like someone with no table manners who speak with food in their mouth.

I have little respect for some of the activists who I know easily change colours just to suit situations. I am in no way saying you should be sworn enemies with government or politicians, but be cautious how and what you do with them. Your activism will be compromised if you become bedfellows. This country needs people to constantly remind and keep our leaders in check. For those of you already stuffed with scones, I say chew it up, take a glass of water and then leave the table. It’s not too late to rediscover yourself.

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