Written by Patseni Mauka
I once wanted to be a Mandasi seller. It fascinated me. Every time I saw a boy selling fritters at a bus depot, I thought it was cool. I also wanted to be a soldier. The strength and coolness of soldiers attracted my attention all the time. The military uniform mesmerized me. These were the things I saw often in my childhood. You can never dream to be what you have never seen or heard. We are products of what we see, hear and read.
Christopher D. Connors, a writer and coach said, on our journeys to high achievement, we are often guided by an inspiring example or experience that keeps pushing us to climb higher. We press forward with a burning desire to reach our goal because of someone or something that left an indelible impact on us. Often, it is a model or great person that helps us make sense of our mission and how we choose to define our path toward greatness.
My dreams changed when my uncle went to study at Chancellor College, University of Malawi. It was a rare opportunity in those days and a first in my family. After his graduation, he found a good job and lived in Area 10, one of the few wealthy suburbs in Lilongwe at that time. At his invitation, I travelled from Ntcheu to visit him. I saw what hard work can produce and my vision completely changed. I now wanted to be like him. The rest as they say, is history.
Just like my uncle changed my dreams and inspired me to go higher with education, my friend Z. Allan Ntata inspired me to start writing. I always knew there was a writer in me but it took Ntata’s frequent prolific writings for me to believe that I can also write. His book Trappings of Power: Political Leadership in Africa is a must read for those that enjoy political commentary.
Majority of Malawians are not exposed to high standards of development. Many people’s meaning of quality is low. Our sense of quality comes from Malawi’s developmental history. Our colonial masters, the British , never developed the country. What we call development started from our independence under first President Kamuzu Banda. What we currently have is what many people have ever seen, nothing else.
Nobody denies that Kamuzu did a reasonable job of developing Malawi according to standards that the country could afford at that time. But we must realize that the standards that might have been brilliant in the Malawian eye during the Kamuzu days were already many years behind other countries including some African countries. It’s worse now 25 years after Kamuzu and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) lost power.
From 1994, we were supposed to be building better infrastructure than built under Kamuzu or even much better than some standards within Africa. But the buildings and some roads built during the Bakili Muluzi and United Democratic Front (UDF) era were worse. The officers who approved both public and private buildings in that era must have taken lots of bribes. A sad example is Kampala building near the mosque in Lilongwe as you go to the main bus depot. Built like a kindergarten arts and crafts model, it’s an eyesore.
It’s only the late Bingu Wa Mutharika who had a better sense of quality and used his international exposure to build structures that even the current mediocre Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) led by old and tired Professor Peter Mutharika is quick to show as it’s own achievements. For me, there was DPP under Bingu and there is a watered down DPP under Peter Mutharika with nothing spectacular to show as it’s achievements in the last four and half years.
Under Peter Mutharika, roads are eroding away one or two years after construction. Roads with double lanes for just a few kilometers and a roundabout are being lauded as something out of this world. Yet this is an internationally exposed professor approving substandard roads and buildings. Designs of buildings are terrible. An example is a bat shaped building that was launched this other day.
Strangely, some Malawians want us to believe we can’t do better than the Kamuzu days. Some like MCP leader, Lazarus Chakwera, are actually promising to do things the ‘Kamuzu way’. Malawians should not be blinded by low quality, poorly designed infrastructure. This country can do much better. There are a lot of areas that need better roads and buildings. Short low quality roads and extensions of school campuses used as bait for unsuspecting voters should not cheat us.
Our politicians know that many people’s meaning of quality is low. That’s why they exploit us with poor projects. Politicians use substandard roads, stadiums, flyovers, bridges, rented generators, sports tournaments and many other things to convince voters that they know what Malawi needs in terms of development. Some of them, like Peter Mutharika, lived overseas for decades and saw high quality infrastructure but came back home to implement mediocrity. They are not ashamed because some people applaud inferior projects.
No wonder when visionary people like UTM President Dr. Saulos Chilima say they will bring high speed trains, these dodgy politicians lead their supporters in saying it’s impossible for Malawi to jump from the current poor state of infrastructure to a much better one. They will do anything to maintain implementation of shoddy projects because if they execute the best, there will be no money left for them to steal and do personal projects. Malawians should demand the best and avoid giving power to crooks who just want to steal tax payers’ money to build mansions and lodges as well as buy fleets of expensive personal and party cars.