And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire. – Matthew 18:9
In ancient Greek and Roman times, the forum and senate were the venues for great public discussions that had great social significance, in our modern times such forum exists in the name of social media. Watch a nation’s social media platform and one will see the soul of that nation. in the past three weeks, Malawi’s soul has unfolded the type of people that the world could label us. It’s not pretty, acceptable, or positive. The picture is one of a people that are thieves, conniving, and self-serving in nature.
Former President Dr. Kamuzu Banda used to threaten that he would come back and haunt anybody that mistreats his mbumba (women). It would not be far-fetched to desire that the former leader returns and haunt the self-serving and daylight bands of people that are mushrooming up all over the country.
Three examples of Malawians gone haywire, on a runaway train heading toward disaster, and completely out of character of who we have been as a nation. the first is of capital city officials in villages conducting tasks that were the mandate of traditional leaders. The second is the love for foreign trips that spells allowances, a euphemism for the second salary. The third, and major calamitous and catastrophic of all damage to our national image, is that of diplomats double-dealing and operating as wholesalers of duty-free alcohol.
In this situation, it is apparent that the heavyweights from Lilongwe are usurping the role normally and ably performed by traditional leaders. The cited social media post shows the length Malawians are going to line their pockets. The post reports that at a community meeting in Katoto, Mzuzu, the officials were determining which citizens would qualify to get the Social Cash Transfer benefit. It goes without saying, traditional leaders not only know his or her community members, but also the ones that are struggling and therefore be eligible to be placed on the beneficiary list.
There were several concerns with these capital-based officials, one of which was the inflating of persons that would lead to funds evaporating. Another concern was of understating who was needy. The underlying takeaway from this zealous and inefficient imposition of capital human resources was the out-of-station allowances.
The allowances to out-of-station are small change compared to allowances on foreign trips. To show its disgust of the flamboyance of the Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (MACRA), Malawi’s leading human rights watchdog HRDC, asks the country’s leadership to dissolve the executive board. In its June 13, 2021 press release, the HDRC, bemoans the fact that it has “learned with a great shock of the extravagance and abuse by the Board of Directors of the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA), who decided to go to Dubai for a two-week governance training at a time when Malawi’s economy is bleeding.”
There are at least five African countries, a host of in-country experts on governance, and also in the time of COVID, they could have gone into a Zoom conference. But what is obvious is the insatiable, ravenous appetite for travel allowance. And so, to Dubai, we shall go to the governance training!
The humongously atrocious display of the new Malawian came to light when social media was first to report that Malawian diplomats in South Africa was operating wholesale businesses of duty-free alcohol, the South African government slapped the entire embassy with a persona non grata status and given three days to leave the country. Everybody, high commissioner, deputy, first secretaries, and counselors, and their families, were no longer welcomed in the country and the embassy (high commission would be bolted.
A diplomat is a representative of a country. The ambassador/high commissioner is the representative of the president. While in the foreign land, these representatives (ambassador and diplomats) are in the country not as themselves, but as the president and as Malawi. Like the famous South African Swizi Banzi is Dead by Athol Fugard, diplomats’ names die, they become simply “Malawi” to people they interact with during their tour of duty.
And because diplomats are accorded duty-free statuses, various taxable items can be purchased without paying the tax. Reasonable purchases are two to eight or 10 cases, the latter being for parties and other social functions or as gifts. But acquiring warehouse spaces, accumulating wall-high cases of alcoholic beverages, hiring or buying trucks for exporting the consignments, and seeking cross-border buyers, is going beyond the limit of the privilege of a duty-free persona. It is far away from the calls of representing a country let alone a head of state.
With the new set of ambassadors and diplomats about to take flight into new postings, the training of representatives must be double and even triple underscored. The government must also implement the creation of career diplomats. Many African countries have moved from away deploying mainly political party loyalists to the diplomatic posts; they have instead implemented the creation of a corps of professional diplomats. It is time Malawi moved from just filling posts with party loyalists and relations.
Malawi should stop looking at diplomats as professionals that are on a holiday. Being a diplomat is hard work that requires reading reports, knowing our country’s position on issues, and writing reports to your country post and to the capital. A crucial element of being a good diplomat (and all diplomats must aspire to be “a good diplomat”) is remembering that you are representing Malawi, everything you do, Malawi gets the credit. Make sure it is good credit.
As a nation, everyone has a role to play to turn the situation around. We can stop the corruption, stop the self-serving, and be the nation that warms the heart of our visitors. Malawi can be a nation of good people, we just have to stop the selfishness, and try harder to make Malawi, the envy of the nations.
Malawi, my Malawi, let’s do this!