A Generation Starved (part 1) … but Without Appetite
Over the years and indeed in the past few months we have heard many commentators say that “in general, Malawians have not embraced the culture of reading”. Well, others might disagree but I don’t think these commentators are completely off the mark. Indeed I have been around Malawians that can be perceived to be really widely read; however, I have noticed that “most” of these individuals are from the “older generation”. Notice that I used the word “most” – not “all”. We can debate what is meant by “reading”. We can also debate about “the content and relevance of what is being read”. The bottom line here is that we lack the “APPETITE” for reading material that informs us about much more than what is in textbooks and in fictional material.
I did my secondary school studies at Mulunguzi Secondary School in Zomba. When the school was delivered by International Development Agency (IDA), our library was stocked with many books including volumes of encyclopaedia. Even though they were put there for a reason, most of the students did not consult them as much even though these books contained important information that was complementary to what we learned in class and textbooks. From these books, the students could have actually gained wider and deeper knowledge in different subjects; for example Geography, Western History, Biology and Physical Science and many others. These books did not contain much information about Central Africa. We were better off getting most of our Central African History information from Tindall’s “Central Africa History”. Ask about Malawi – We did not have much in there compared to other African. Outside that library, here and there I saw books like one on James Sangala, another on Levi Ziliro Mumba but after these, there has not been much documentation of our history especially Malawi’s “Modern” History. Well maybe there has been. If so then please correct me that I have been looking in the wrong places. Waiting ……….
Well, you might have your own definition of the “Modern” in “Malawi’s Modern History” but for the sake of this blog, I define it as the period just before independence …….. to yesterday (yes, “day before today”). Still for the sake of this blog, “just before independence” is defined as the period from the days of Nyasaland African Congress to 1964. Ok, we got that out of the way.
So my fellow citizens and friends of our beloved Malawi, the Warm Heart of Africa, where are we coming from, where are we and where are we going?
THE LOST GENERATION
When talking to or debating with my fellow countrymen/women, I have noticed that when it comes to the socio-political history of Malawi, a lot of people are loaded with hearsay and speculations. The saddest group is my own generation; the so-called “Born-Free generation”. The ones that were born after Malawi got its independence. For the sake of my blog, I refer to the “Born-Free generation as those there were born between 1964 and 1986. I have chosen that range because in the year (2011) that I am writing this blog, the age range of this group will be 47 to 25. Later you will see why I chose that age range. You can slide the age range any direction if you like. My opinion is that “as a generation, we have not shown significant ‘APPETITE’ in getting to know the true history of our country Malawi”. The most disturbing effect of that is that my generation is not equipped with significant knowledge and capacity to shape the future of the country for the better. This is the future in which we would like to live our retirement years; a future in which we would like our children to live in a better environment than we do/did.
Talk to many people in my generation and you will notice that there is limited APPETITE to read documented accounts of our own history. When you ask individuals whether they have read any of the known literature of Malawi’s history so that maybe we can have a common base for our debate, you realize that many have never done so. Some even say that they don’t even care. This could be due to many reasons but it is a development that will not help our country in the long run. A people that do not know their history are “a lost people” (in this case we are a Lost Generation). Granted that for one reason or another, not much of Malawi’s history has been documented, it is prudent for us to consult the available documented accounts as opposed to running with hearsay and speculating. If we fail to do this, we run the risk of repeating mistakes that got us where we never wanted our country to go in the first place. Without a proper understanding of how we created the “undesirable elements” of the past, we are bound to recreate them if we do not have a good understanding of how previous ones were created. Just an example; you will notice that many of the born-free generation do not know documented accounts of what triggered 1964 Cabinet Crisis. They know not what transpired during the crisis and how the crisis shaped the rest of the politics in Malawi and even Malawi’s future. The only place where we got our information on players of that crisis was in dissident castigation songs and songs of praise for the ruler(s). Contrary to other claims, multi-party politics did not come to Malawi in 1994. There used to be multiple parties in Malawi in the 60s but not many of the born-free generation know how the “one party” rule came about in Malawi – how the other parties died the so-called “natural deaths” as Dr. Hastings Banda used to call it. Party’s “natural deaths”? Hmmmn! Look around and smell the air ……
Around 2007 I met one Willie Chokani at a gathering of Malawians in Maryland, USA. I know he can’t remember me as he was swarmed by guests, most of whom were very fascinated to meet someone who was in the thick of things when things were going down in the early 60s and even during the Cabinet Crisis. In the about two minutes that I managed to secure with him, I informed him of how I felt the people of Malawi and especially my generation were starved of our own history because people like him had not documented for us the firsthand accounts of their side of the stories. These are stories that they were part of; and stories which make significant part of our history. He responded by saying that he was working on a book. I hope it will come out soon….. Or did I miss the launch?
I also had the privilege of meeting the late AKB (Aleke Banda), a few months before he went to rest in God’s peace. I brought up the same issue about many people that have been involved in making and shaping it but have not documented the accounts that would benefit ours and later generation. I was glad to hear from him that he was about to finish his book (I think he said biography or memoirs). He indicated that it would probably be ready in September of 2010. I am sure his passing must have created a few glitches in the publication schedule but I look forward to hear what he says.
I am so convinced that we cannot get the full picture of Malawi’s history from one source but pleeeease, those of you that have been there and experienced it, do not leave us starved (and in the dark). Please do not go to your Maker with valuable information which your descendant generations and their leaders will dearly cherish.
Thanks to MBCTV for their program called “Best of Friends” where in most cases the host interviews individuals that have been in thick of things of Malawi’s history. The list includes people like Dr. Hastings Banda’s long time driver, Dr. Banda’s long time barber, a former MP from Lilongwe (Chikhawo), Msekawanthu from Likoma, former King’s African Rifles (KAR) Soldier and Sir Glyn Jones’ driver, Mr Dickson Malenga and many others. I watch and listen to these personalities with great interest. For example, in the interviews with Dr. Banda’s driver and barber; to someone who did not really know the man (Dr Banda), one would conclude that he was a complicated individual. I remember in one debate that I had with someone they argued that Dr. Banda was not complicated but was just misunderstood. Well, well….. maybe you knew that already. For such a man, one cannot draw a complete picture of him from only one person or source among all those who interacted with him. However, the more we get exposed to these first hand accounts, the closer we will get to piece together important parts of the history of Malawi and the major personalities that shaped it.
Well my fellow “Born-Frees”, do you know the names like Chidakola, Kanada and Silombela? Or maybe you don’t care. Do you know how relevant these names are to the history of Malawi? I have talked to several older generation individuals; especially those who hail from Mangochi and they share interesting stories about these individuals. These three and others played a huge role in the history of Malawi but many in our generation do not know that. And someone might say “who cares about them?” Well, the more we care less, the closer we get to a situation where such elements will reappear. While we are on the Silombela, Kanada, Chidakola note – do we know how Shire River helped in the thwarting of the 1960s rebellion that was marching on its way to fight/topple the government in the then capital of Zomba?
Note that this list below is not an exhaustive list of the significant individuals but it is a start. I am sure readers interested in further debate will append some more or even argue the significance of some.
I have heard about one renowned Thandika Mkandawire. It is my wish that one day I spend time with this distinguished individual because I am sure he has a lot that he can share about the early days of Malawi. I have read some of his writings from the recent years but I would like to read his memoirs chronicling the time before he left Malawi for good – his Nyasaland days, his times during the change from Nyasaland and his views and experiences during the old and new Malawi. Or is there a book out already on these?
At an event in 2005, I had the privilege of, for the first time in my life, shaking the hand of one Mama C. Tamanda Kadzamira. I wish I could meet her and have a chat with her one-on-one. But most of all, I wish in that meeting she could autograph for me “her book” which I wish she could write and may suggest it should be called “Memoirs of an Official Hostess”… Pleeeeeease!
Between 1996 and 1998 I had several phone conversations with one Donald Brody. He had interesting insights on Malawi. I wish I could have met him in person but we lost touch prematurely due worldly travels. However, I am glad he documented his memoirs from his interactions with Dr. Hastings Banda (and others that he interacted with) and donated them to Indiana University’s African Studies Library. We follow the trail.
I would rather mine and future generations deal with and experience newer challenges of this millennium not things that we could have avoided or handled better if we had proper documentation of challenges, accounts and lessons of the past. Of course, this has to be coupled with the APPETITE to consult the documented accounts and have the zeal to put together proper plans for our future and our country’s. If this situation prevailed, many ills would not be repeated generations would say “not again”, “never again”.
People like Aleke Banda, Masauko Chipembere, Orton Chirwa, Willie Chokani, Dunduzu Chisiza have had major impact on historical events in then Nyasaland and post-colonial Malawi. These individuals made this impact before they went past their 30s. Now look at my generation, the ones that used to be called “Leaders of Tomorrow”, the so-called “Born-free Generation” (which for this blog I categorize as born between 1964 and 1986), have not had major impact in shaping the future of Malawi. If anything, we have just been used as operatives for the preceding generation (in this blog I call them the “Freedom Fighter Generation”). We have not been major players shaping the future of our nation. Tomorrow is here and we as a generation have not had significant influenced on what the future of our country should be like. Try talking to my generation in different forums. You will notice that we have many ideas as to what can be done and what needs to be done but we want someone to hand the future to us.
We are actually short-changing ourselves and our children and their children. By the time we decide to start getting involved at the right level, it will be too late because the “Obama Generation” is going to protest and say “Hold on old man! Please go and rest. Check this out – In 2009, a 47 years old was elected to be the President of a Super-Power called USA and Russia elected a 45 years old President. In 2010, Britain elected a 43 years old Prime Minister. Things have changed you old man/woman. You had your time. This is our time – us the Obama Generation. Please go fishing”. Now you see why I chose the period 1964 and 1986 for the “Born-Free Generation”?
I am part of the “Born-Free Generation” and I refuse to believe that my generation cannot change our country or cannot influence what its future should be.
We are starvED but sadly as a generation, we LACK THE “RIGHT” APPETITE.
FOOT NOTE: LOOK WHO TELLS OUR STORY
It is sad to note that our history is mostly told by people who come from outside “our peoples”. Look at the list below. Please add your comment to this blog listing other publications that will tell the history of Malawi. I hear D.D. Phiri has a lot in store. How about Kings Phiri?
Revolt of the Ministers: The Malawi Cabinet Crisis 1964-1965 by Colin Baker, ISBN-10: 1860646425, ISBN-13: 978-1860646423
Banda by Philip Short
Sir Glyn Jones: A Proconsul in Africa by Colin Baker, ISBN-10: 1860644619, ISBN-13: 978-1860644610
Living Dangerously by Patrick O’Malley
Chipembere. The Missing Years by Colin Baker, ISBN-10: 9990876339, ISBN-13: 978-9990876338
Hero of the nation: Chipembere of Malawi : an autobiography (Kachere book) by Henry B. M Chipembere, ASIN: B0006E87GY, Publisher: Christian Literature Association of Malawi (2001)
H. K. Banda Archive: Collection and Scope (Indiana University African Studies) by Donald Brody
Malawian Politicians: Eric Chiwaya, Henry Masauko Blasius Chipembere, John Tembo, Gwanda Chakuamba, Kanyama Chiume, Dunduzu Chisiza, ISBN-10: 1156849292, ISBN-13: 978-1156849293
Chiume: Autobiography of Kanyama Chiume, Panaf
Nyasaland: Secession the Only Solution BY M. W. Kanyama Chiume
Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, John Lwanda
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.