The recently appointed acting district commissioner (DC) for Ntchisi, Yamikani Chitete, is one of the few female DCs in Malawi. She is young and enthusiastic. She has not had an easy childhood after losing her father at five. Despite selling mandasi (fritters) and kanyenya, among others, to help her mother pay the bills, she has always been determined to break into male-dominated industries. Her goal is to prove to her appointees that she can be a responsible and successful leader. She tells her story to DUMASE ZGAMBO-MAPEMBA.
Tell us about your background.
I was born in Balaka at Balaka District Hospital on September 6 1984. I have attended different primary schools in different districts due to my parents’ nature of jobs. Some of the schools I have attended are Boma in Kasungu; Gumbu in Ntcheu; Dedza CCAP in Dedza; Mtanila Boarding at Madisi in Dowa; Chidothi CCAP at Mponela in Dowa. I sat for my Primary School Leaving Certificate (PLSCE) examinations at Guillime Girls Boarding in Mchinji. From there, I went to Nkhamenya Girls Secondary School where I did my secondary education and I passed my Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations with 16 points. I was selected to study a Degree in Public Administration at Chancellor College. I graduated in 2006 with a credit. Then, I studied for a Master’s degree in Political Science in 2008 for two years at Chancellor College. I was funded by the Norwegian government.
Tell us about your family.
I was born to William and Irene Ngozo of Kamwana Village, T/A Dzoole, Mponela, Dowa. I am the last born of the four children — two boys and two girls. My father died when I was five years old and I have been raised by a single mother. My mother, Mrs. Irene Ngozo (nee Chitete) is a secondary school teacher, currently teaching at Lilongwe Girls Secondary School. I use my mother’s maiden name by choice. I am also a single mother to a five-year-old boy, Oswald Mtupila Jnr.
Did your father’s death negatively impact your growing up?
My father was the breadwinner of the family and things changed a lot. Although my mother was working, her salary could hardly sustain us. I remember I could find my mother crying in her bedroom asking God how she was going to raise four children without her husband. I was the youngest and I had to sell freezes, mandasi,kanyenya and boiled potatoes, among others, to students at Chayamba Secondary School, where my mother was teaching. I was doing all that to supplement my mother’s income. Then, my mother went to Domasi for upgrading when I was in Standard Five. My brothers and sister were in boarding schools and I was the only one who had to be kept by relatives. Well, the story is long, but all my relatives had their own family problems and I was just another burden. That was the worst period of my life. Fortunately, after two years, my mother returned and my life went back to normal.
What dreams did you have while growing up?
I always told my mother that I would be a university professor. I was inspired by Professor Brown Chimphamba. But I didn’t know what it meant to be one! When I reached secondary school, I decided that I wanted to go to university and study engineering. I made that decision because I heard on the radio that there were very few women engineers. I was so sure that I would make it to university. One thing that I know that I have always wanted to do is to break into a male-dominated industry. But I never thought of it being in the lines of DCs because I knew that promotions to that rank take ages in government.
What social pressures did you resist due to poverty?
As a girl growing up with a single parent, when I was sent to boarding schools, I wanted things which my mother couldn’t afford to buy for me. At times, I could feel not loved because I didn’t have things such as nice clothes and shoes, among others. However, I overcame those pressures by befriending people whose social class we shared.
Take us through your career journey.
My profession started when I was a student at Chancellor College. The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development had an attachment programme for students who were studying public administration. During semester breaks, everyone in our class was attached to different district councils to have practical knowledge in public administration. I was attached to Dowa and Lilongwe district councils. I started liking the work little by little. When I finished my first degree, I, however, joined a non-governmental organisation (NGO). It wasn’t too long before vacancies were announced and I joined the Ministry of Local Government as human resources management officer. I was posted to Nkhotakota District Council. I got transferred to Kasungu District Council in January 2012. However, due to low staffing levels in councils, I have been working as director of administration since there was none, both at Nkhotakota and Kasungu district councils. My recent appointment as acting district commissioner (DC) for Ntchisi came while I was serving as director of administration for Kasungu.
What does it mean to you to be appointed acting DC?
It means a lot more than you can imagine. In this era where decentralisation is taking place, a DC is a controlling officer for almost every government business in one’s jurisdiction. For the government to trust me with such a responsibility, although in an acting position, it means they must have seen some potential of leadership in me. Let me say there are a number of DCs who started on acting capacity and they are now DCs because they worked hard and proved that they deserved the post. So for me, being appointed as acting DC is a step ahead. It’s like the government has thrown the ball in my hands to say, prove it if you really can, and I say I will prove it.
Did you ever dream of being in this position?
Yes, I used to; mainly because of the 50-50 gender campaign. I thought I would one day get a chance since government wants to increase the number of female DCs. However, I never thought it could come this soon. I always thought of the bureaucracy in the government system for one to move just one step forward, it really takes time. I just thank God for He is working wonders for me.
Are you not scared of being looked down upon?
I am not scared, in every work situation, as long as one does the right thing at the right time, no one can look down on me. I will be working under given authority; as such, I don’t expect people to look down on me based on gender or age.
As a DC, what plans do you have for your district?
Every district already has plans called District Development Plans which are formulated using a down-to-top approach. It is my duty to make sure that those plans are implemented to improve the livelihoods of people and try to identify additional resources to implement those plans.
So far, what have you done for your community or this country?
In 2010, I participated in the exchange programme for young professionals between the Norwegian government and the Malawi Government. When I was in Norway, I presented a paper titled The True Picture of Malawi. I did this because most organisations or people who go outside Malawi to seek aid usually say negative things about our country. Yes, Malawi is poor. People rarely point out positive things that Malawi has could attract tourists or even bring more investors. I really got positive feedback on this paper. It was presented to Flora Council in Norway.
What big sacrifices have you made in your career?
I have been willing to work in remote areas where most women at my level shun. You don’t even find a decent saloon. For instance, in Ntchisi, there is no private primary school, and my dependants have to go to a local primary school, a thing which they have never experienced. I also left my son when he was five months old, because I went back to school for my master’s degree.
What challenges have you met in your professional life?
The main challenge that I meet in my professional life is men. Most of them do not appreciate whatever I do because I am a woman. Some men look at a woman as a sex partner instead of a workmate. I hate that. They would want to criticise your dressing, your personal relationships and even your private life.
Who is your role model?
The two female presidents in Africa, Ellen Sir leaf Johnson, (Liberian President) and Joyce Banda, the President of the Republic of Malawi. They are strong women that inspire me with their lives, what they have gone through and where they are now.