UNIMA Alumni … “it’s about time!”

I hope this will unleash a “drum” of worms; a positive one where folks will be agitated enough to make progressive contributions to “the cause”. Here we go:-

We are talking about University of Malawi (UNIMA) here. After more than 40 years of the University of Malawi’s existence, we (former students) cannot be very proud of ourselves especially when we visit our former institution’s constituent colleges. We can do better. Since my last day at UNIMA in 1993, I have interacted with most of my fellow UNIMA alumni in several forums and in several countries. In the interactions I have noticed that when the topic of UNIMA comes up, we are usually lamenting about how dilapidated our UNIMA constituent colleges are ….. But we do nothing or have done nothing significant about it. We (alumni) chatter about the colleges needing major rehabilitation, updated library material, new infrastructure, funding to do better research and many more. We blame it on all the governments that have ruled us for not providing adequate funding for the institutions and/or for not having the plight of UNIMA high on their agenda. It should be noted that tens of thousands of us studied to UNIMA on government scholarships. However, the common trend has been that after graduating, we don’t look back. Well, we do look back but mostly as “consistent critics of the institution”. We have not effectively mobilized as alumni to collectively get involved in the development of the institution; the institution which provided the building blocks that make us who most of us are today. For sure we are not working to ensure that those that come after us benefit from the UNIMA institution the way we did; or even better.

During my years (1989-1993), some of us only paid a meagre K280 contribution while the Malawi government subsidized each student with thousands of Kwacha per term. Even the materials that we collected for free from the Malawi Book Service store were worth more than K280. Now listen to this; “those that walked the UNIMA corridors before some of us had it even better”. This group studied at University of Malawi on absolutely free scholarships. As if that was not enough, these cohorts of former students were even receiving monthly stipends from the University/government. Can you believe that? When you meet them and discuss UNIMA, they reminisce about the good old times at University when as students; they used to receive allowances and invaded surrounding areas like Chikanda, Zingwangwa and Mitundu using their monthly financial prowess. Oh! What an experience!

Then there is the group that studied using student loans for the K280 contributions (or whatever the contributions was raised to after our years) and never paid back. Unless in the loan agreements the government required the students to pay for all the other amenities that the government subsidized for each student, it would be argued that the loan was for the contribution itself – in our time’s case, K280. Hopefully there is no alumnus out there from our time who owed the University of Malawi’s government financial aid office K1, 120 (for K280 x 4years) and still has not paid back. That would be very sad indeed. Are you one of them?

Simple Math

Imagine if each member of the UNIMA alumni was to “give back” an equivalent of $50 to a fund that we may call … ummmh … “UNIMA Alumni Development Fund”. Wouldn’t that go a long way in transforming our university?

Let us look as a simple example. We have at least 40 years of UNIMA’s existence and annual student intake of at least 1000 students. That would come to at least 40,000 (40 x 1000) students. Now let’s say we apply an arbitrary mortality factor of 5% (R.I.P.). We would then be left with a whole 38,000 potential contributors. Please bear in mind that we are talking about everyone that ever walked the corridors of UNIMA … Everyone.

Ladies and gentlemen, we can bring our resources together and make significant contribution to UNIMA. Here is the simple math towards an initiative. With a contribution of $50 per student per year, we could have a $1,900,000 (38,000 x $50) annually for alumni funded rehabilitation and other projects. Surely many former UNIMA students can afford to part with $50 equivalent annually for UNIMA’s sake … $50 per whole year? Surely thousands can afford this.

Taking It A Notch Higher

Imagine if we could have a “$100 club” of 8,000 students and the rest were in the $50 club. We know there are multitudes of former UNIMA students who can afford $100 equivalent per year. So, good people, no excuses here. Wow! That would take us to a whopping $2,300,000 worth of rehabilitation projects per year. Oh! My! What a difference that annual amount would make! Do you see yourself being part of this?

Okay, you say $50 or $100 (equiv) is too much. Come on! Well then; how about $5 equivalent per student per year? Come on people! $5 per year? OK. Well, in that case we’ll be talking of $190,000 per year of alumni funded development initiatives? That’s still something. This would still go a long way. Getting something off the ground using this would generate more interest from the alumni body and even other supporters – let us call them “Friends of UNIMA”.

It’s been a long time since UNIMA for many of us and surely by now many of the former students of UNIMA have college age children. Some of these parents may say “I will send my child (ren) abroad”. Great! Good for you! But note that we are at a point where we are actually able to make such a choice because in one way or another, UNIMA provided us the building blocks that eventually enabled us to afford to get to this point. Why not make a difference so that someone else? That is for the current and future students? It is even more pertinent if your child is studying at UNIMA or will be studying there.

Seeing This Through

How can we make this a reality? At the minimum we need an Alumni Relations and Projects Office in the University Office and a “grateful” alumni body to support its efforts. This office can be tasked with communications, outreach and coordination of projects. It would also be responsible for managing the funds contributed by the alumni body. Checks and balances can be laid out by the stakeholders on this. But the funds would be used only for funding activities and initiatives championed and approved by a “revived” and “vibrant” University of Malawi Alumni body. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

The UNIMA Alumni Association has been in existence for years. Unless reports about the association are shared through other channels not accessible to some of us, one can safely say that the association has neither been visible enough nor aggressive enough to encourage the alumni body to get involved. Neither has it created an environment of accountability that would facilitate generous giving from the alumni or other interested parties. Does anyone have any knowledge of any tangible projects that have been carried out under the auspices of the UNIMA alumni body or using alumni contributions? Share please.

There was once a “Paint Your Room” drive. How far did we go with that? Can’t we do more than just paint our rooms? Yes We Can!

Those in the know can educate us if the University of Malawi Office has an office designated to Alumni Relations. Is it composed of just a clerk at a desk or a whole team? If we do not have it then it’s about time we established one. Hear us Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Chair of Board, Board Members and Registrar! You can create the environment that can facilitate this, can’t you? For sure this should be a high office with a designated department and/or staff. When we benchmark against other universities out there, we’ll notice that this is sometimes a fully staffed Director’s office and it brings in major developments to the institution. In our case, it could be “Assistant Registrar – Alumni Relations and Projects”. That sounds great.

For those of you that have studied in other universities out there, you would agree that the Alumni Relations Office contacts alumni regularly and is involved in soliciting contributions from alumni for many developments in one’s former institution (alma mater). They keep the alumni body going as well. They also communicate on all developments involving alumni relations and the developments that have been funded by contributions from alumni. As a result of having a such an accountable and transparent entity within the university’s administration office, the alumni body stay connected to the institution from wherever they might disperse to, are comfortable to get involved and do not hesitate to contribute.

We Can Do It

The “CORE” to getting the initiative going is not just having the association but an effective Alumni Relations and Projects Office which would be the main conduit to facilitate the creation of an environment which will encourage the alumni to actively participate in the Alumni Association and its chapters.

We Can’t Just Watch

Just one more example – I graduated from UNIMA’s Chancellor College in 1993. After 1993, the next time I visited the college was in 1999. My major was Computer Science. It is well known that between 1993 and 1999, the Computer Sciences field had changed at a supersonic speed. Well it is even faster now. However, when I visited the college in 1999, I noted that some of the textbooks that the students in Computer Science Department were using could be deemed outdated. For example, the text book by Kendall that we used in our Systems Analysis courses was still the same edition that we used during our time in 1992-93. At that time, this edition was four editions behind the latest one. As if that was not enough, during our time, each student received this book from the departmental library. Imagine this; we had enough for each student in all the Systems Analysis classes to keep for the duration of the course/year. But when I visited in 1999, I found that the book (same old edition) was only available at the Reserve Desk in the main library and to make things even worse, the ONE copy at the Reserve Desk was all tattered with many pages missing. Ouch! Either the books just deteriorated or students mishandled them. I am sure some students just never returned the books to the department. Student conduct and responsibility around the facilities and materials belonging to the university is a major issue as well. That could be an issue for another blog post.

That is just one negative story from one alumnus but in the past years we have heard many negative stories and seen negative photographic records about the sad situation at the UNIMA constituent colleges.

negativity flourishes when people with positive ideas stand aside and watch.

What do you say?

I say “it’s about time” we stood up to be counted.

YOU do NOt need a title to lead in yOUR country.

Any takers?

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed herein are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of any entities affiliated to the writer in any way. Examples of analysis performed within are only examples. The names referred within here are only those persons that are perceived by the writer to be in the public domain and the references herein are only to their public undertakings. Any assertion contrary to this perception should be communicated to the writer. Note that the writer does not claim to be a knowledge authority on any issues discussed within as the article is aimed to be only an initiation of or a contribution to a wider debate.


About Hastings Fukula Nyekanyeka Betha

Born in Malawian and advocate of community mobilization, citizens' active participation in sustainable community development, and youth empowerment. Primarily focusing on "Organizing Against Poverty" by encouraging a new generation of players to participate in and influence the development of our communities
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9 Responses to UNIMA Alumni … “IT’S ABOUT TIME!”

  1. Daniso says:

    I hope it’ll spur people to think not only about their colleges but about their other alma maters. Public secondary and primary schools haven’t fared much better.

  2. I hope so as well Dannie. Since 2008 we have been trying, through a Facebook alumni group called Mulunguzi Secondary School Group, to mobilize alumni from my secondary school, Mulunguzi Secondary School in Zomba but it has been quite a challenge to get the thing going. The school turned 25 last year and the idea was to organize a Silver Jubilee Celebration while highlighting the developmental needs at the school. There has been some movement though on the ground though. A few meetings but not significant number of participants. Hopefully we’ll manage to spur some more action through more engagement with the few that have showed up to the cause so far. Cheers.

  3. Abigail says:

    well done, well articulated proposition

  4. Fytee says:

    And what has been done so far after this idea?

  5. Ernst Kuyeya says:

    This is a brilliant proposition and if well implemented, can spur a self-help spirit in different sectors of our communities. As for our University (Chancellor College in particular), there is indeed a need to establish an Alumni Liaison Office (or desk, whatever you may call it) to keep track of its former graduates and help them network.
    By the way, have you started identifying the lead people to kick start this initiative?

  6. Sunganani says:

    Totally with you on Hastings. However, I think that one of the very first things we need to go back to is PATRIOTISM. And a clear distinction exists between being patriotic and being partisan.

    Somehow, when we moved away from the One Party Era, we threw away the baby with the bathwater and wonder how we got here. I would love for us to go back and re-ignite patriotism in Malawians. This patriotism, albeit built under a dictatorship, is still a huge key for our success. The generation of my parents were proud to do things for their country, not just for the economic gains. They understood that this was their Malawi and they were doing it for the future generations (you and me). Today we do it for me, today, no matter what the future may mean.

    We bring this patriotism back then we have the one thing that will help us move forward.

  7. Alick Kalima says:

    Bravo Hastings for reminding each one of us about their responsibilities towards our respective institutions in the UNIMA. It is my sincere hope that this article will act as a springboard towards a meaningful participation of the UNIMA alumni in giving back what we owe UNIMA. I propose that you make a presentation of the same as we commemorate 40 years of existence next month at CHANCO. You also need to seriously look into the issue of transparency and accountability when the fund is established. This will build confidence and trust in the contributors towards the fund. All the best as we celebrate 40 years of existence……I wish I was there, unfortunately am in Nairobi for further studies.

  8. Fy-tee says:

    Ladies and Gents, any headways made?

  9. Sai says:

    Zimatha betha.

    This could be one of the project that the alumni based here can champion. In fact this project plan is well laid down that what remains is operationalization. When the Mandela and Xmas dust settles I recommend we start meetings. I had wider ideas of the alumni contributing to solving Malawis woes by way of generatin solutions that can be implemented in Malawi without necessarily taking political sides. Looking at something like a Think Tank or Leadership Malawi or Renewal Malawi or Values Driven Malawi.


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