The prognosis of our country’s governance and economic development is ominous. With rampant corruption led from the state house itself as the President fails to explain convincingly how a very dirty MK145 million that eventually had to be returned to its giver ended up in his account, public integrity has been severely compromised. The energy situation is on the receiving end of some brutal hammer-blows and the prices of both electricity and fuel have gone up. The Malawian air is rancid with talk of tribalism and regionalism, with campaigners blatantly making regionalist statements such as “here in the south, we must vote for Mutharika because he is our private part!”. One would think that in the face of such adversity, the well meaning Malawian patriot would look to unite the country and ensure that every one speaks with one voice and that all and sundry are focused unwaveringly on the goal of preserving the proverbial health of a nation almost on its death bed.
Yet it does not come as an astounding surprise that instead of emphasizing the things that bind us together and make us all Malawians, our president is advocating, indeed accentuating the very separationist ideas that have continued persistently to be an ugly blot on the Malawian social landscape and resulted in hap-hazard regional-centric development.
Peter, Oh Peter! When will you ever learn?
Instead of thoughtlessly applauding and encouraging this president who thinks Being a Lhomwe is more important than being a Malawian, shouldn’t sober-minded Malawians be questioning the wisdom of the president using state resources and the time he should be spending on solving the problems of the country to gracing that very tribalistic annual Mulakho wa Alhomwe event that is coming up in Thyolo?
While there is nothing wrong in being proud in one’s heritage, I contend that given the history of our country regarding tribal groupings, encouraging and promoting the formation of cultural groupings is simply fanning the destructive fires of tribalism. In any given administration in government, a lot of fully deserving Malawians have suffered because of belonging to the “wrong” tribal grouping, while, to the detriment of the nation, favours and sometimes even highly questionable administrative lenience have been bestowed on undeserving and downright despicable individuals because they belonged to the “right” tribal grouping.
During the MCP regime, there were many unconscionable activities carried out by government or government cliques, from the quota system to patronage and nepotistic scholarship award schemes. They were done either as a quest of the ruling potentate to consolidate power, or as a reaction by certain minorities to a feeling of being disenfranchised and marginalised. There were policy decisions made against the Tumbukas or against the Yaos and there were policy decisions made in favour of Chewas. There were administrative decisions made in favour of Senas and there were affirmative action manoeuvres made in favour of Tumbukas. Because of the silence forcibly imposed on Malawians in that dictatorial regime, all these matters were rolled under the carpet and the country’s disunited fabric was only revealed when multiparty elections arrived.
During the Muluzi and the late Bingu wa Mutharika administrations, there were allegations of development efforts being concentrated in the southern region, particularly in the Mangochi-Machinga belt, and the Thyolo-Mulanje belt respectively. There were allegations, and sometimes evidence of preferential treatment being given to Yaos in the Muluzi administration, and to Lomwes in the Mutharika administration.
Indeed, it was during the late Bingu wa Mutharika Administration that, having seen how advantageous things were turning out for those that belonged to certain tribal groupings, other tribes decided to form their own groupings and pull their own muscle to establish themselves. Suddenly talk of cultural heritage preservation was in the air and days were set aside to commemorate them. Suddenly, it was important to be known, not just as a Malawian, but also as belonging to a certain tribe- Lomwe, Ngoni, Tumbuka as the case may be.
I submit without equivocations here that the idea of having tribal groupings ostensibly celebrating their cultural heritage when in fact they are promoting a separationist agenda of patronage and nepotism is dangerous and against the spirit of unity that our country needs in order to move forward at a time when we are faced with formidable foes.
Cultural groupings do not need presidential approval and encouragement. All cultural groupings need to be banned and outlawed. I say it again- tribal groupings are corrupt, dreadful and retrogressive and must be forbidden and prohibited, not promoted and presidentially patronised!
Although it is indeed important to preserve our diverse cultural heritage, this is a task that should be undertaken by the government in a way that will ensure that it is neither divisive nor disruptive. This is the very reason why the government has a full department dedicated to the preservation of our cultural heritage. In fact, it should not only be the cultural heritage of the major tribes that is preserved, but that of the relatively minor tribes as well. Nonetheless, the current method for preserving the so called tribal cultural heritage which allows these tribes to create their own national cliques which soon end up having a political and social-economic agenda is treacherous. It will soon usher into our national fabric a cancerous disunity whose malignance will surely metastasize and turn the country into a nation of single entities without a sum of its parts. Furthermore and rather suspiciously it is people from the cities and urban areas that start agitating for these groupings and only intend to use it as a platform to advance their agendas and often have little or nothing to connect them with their village folk. The argument that the groupings assist the villagers is therefore insidious. We must bear in mind that the genocide in Rwanda was born out of such tribalistic sentiments.
That Presidents (Yes, all Malawian Presidents so far, without exception!) can subscribe and promote this devilishly acrimonious and abhorrent practice that is taking its offensive root in our country is as regrettable as it is clearly demonstrative of the lack of national vision in our country’s leaders.
In the face of serious national problems, we need serious leaders who will focus single-mindedly on consolidating the unity that will fortify the country against its enemies both foreign and domestic. Tribal groupings such as Mulakho wa Alomwe do not do that; and when our leaders go to these events and prance around like they are doing something remarkably fantastic, I observe in horror and I weep.
This country’s enemies are hunger, disease and envy. They are corruption and lack of public accountability, and a spirit of looting state resources with impunity. This country’s real enemies are greed, economic inequity and abject poverty.
But, fellow Malawians, the first enemy that we must conquer comprehensively is disunity. My fellow Malawians, united we stand, divided we fall.
Allan Ntata’s Column can be read every Sunday on the Maravi Post