It is in human nature to erect boundaries around themselves and to regard those outside the boundaries as foreign, different or even outcasts.
Such boundaries exist at family, societal, tribal levels and beyond. Entrenched social, religious and economic boundaries are not uncommon among us.
In India, there is a caste of human beings known as the Untouchables. These are people who, no matter what they do, will be confined to menial and despised jobs, while the other castes above them consider themselves lucky not to have been born into the despised caste.
With boundaries comes loss of trust and confidence in people outside your own group, such loss of trust often descending into the domain of plain hatred.
Most of the conflicts that have taken place or are still raging on this planet can be traced back to boundaries.
Apartheid was a philosophy concocted in South Africa to keep the black people of that land in a state of eternal servitude. Some of the most horrible conflicts ever to emerge out of Africa have been as a result of apartheid.
One of the victims of apartheid, Steve Biko, had this to say in his writings, “If anything else, the constant inroads into the freedom of the black people illustrates a complete contempt for this section of the community.”
When you create boundaries around yourselves you begin to think that you are better, smarter and consequently more deserving than the people outside your boundaries.
Hitler thought the people of Indo-Germanic extraction, with blue eyes, were the smartest people on Earth and, therefore, had the right to get rid of others, particularly the Semitic people.
We have a story in the Bible in which Jesus asks for water from a woman at a well in Samaria. Surprised at this request the woman said, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”
In other words, she was quick to draw tribal and gender boundaries between herself and Jesus. In a way, that explains our attitudes even today.
In Malawi, people insist on knowing your district of origin before they can offer any kind of assistance to you. These boundaries are killing us.
A friend of mine confided in me that he once visited a bank manager that came from his home.
The bank was Government owned, and the manager assured him that if he wanted any loan, he should not hesitate to approach him and he would be assisted promptly.
“As long as I am here,” the bank manager said, “the people of my area must access these facilities”.
Implicitly the people from other areas would not have the same privilege of accessing the banking facilities. Some tribally oriented people think they are smarter than their counterparts from other tribes.
This, at best, is simply fallacy. Statistically, every tribe, every area, every region has few very smart people and few very dull people.
The majority of the people sit in the middle section. Statisticians call this normal distribution. Somebody once said that if you play music on the piano, for you produce harmony you need to strike the white keys as well as the black ones. White keys alone will not give the widest range of harmonies possible.
Neither will black keys only. Each type of key has a specific role it plays in bringing out the sweetness of the music. Each group of people is important in running a society, an organisation or a country.
The folly of nepotism is that you create a team that is basically likeminded since they share a common background.
Such a team looks at issues only in one way, and is denied the benefit of an alternative view that different people from a different background would bring to the table.
Kamuzu’s Cabinet of 1964 was hailed as one of the ablest in Africa (what happened subsequent to its formation is a story for another day).
It comprised Yatuta Chisiza, Rosemary Chibambo, Orton Chirwa and Kanyama Chiume from the Northern Region, John Tembo and John Msonthi from the Centre, Henry Masauko Chipembere, Augustine Bwanausi and Willie Chokani from the South and Colin Cameron, a Scotsman. Clearly, ethnicity or tribalism played no role in the choice of these Cabinet ministers.
I would urge that we search within our societies and notice the things that are common to us. These are more numerous than those that differentiate us.