“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted world.
Yes, you read that correct, and let me say it again; no Malawian president can curb the corruption that is deeply rooted in both the government and private sector. Ever since the dawn of multiparty every new president promises not to tolerate corruption during their tenure with a very powerful speech.
We clap hands and praise them that they are the leader we’ve been waiting for; God has chosen a leader for us – Mulungu si Jemusi!
The ACB dogs are set off on a few people, the media gets us excited, and we tweet, blog and gossip about who’s going to jail and whose assets are going to be frozen. Sooner or later the cases stall and slowly we start losing interest, next thing a scandal of some sort and a commission of inquiry diverts our attention and we quickly forget about the cases.
Former president Dr. Bakili Muluzi was right “vuto la a Malawi simuchedwa kuyiwala.”
Enter His Excellency Professor Arthur Mutharika and it’s the same old show with just a slightly different cast. I have seen such shows enough times to know how the current one is likely going to end and it got me thinking; how can I, as a citizen, play my part in the fight against corruption?
The more I thought about it the more it hit me that not only do I just sit down and complain but I am actually an active part of this rotten system. We point at our leaders and make noise while we are actively engaged in corruption ourselves.
For the sake of this article, and for starters, corruption is defined as “wrongdoing on the part of an authority or powerful party through means that are illegitimate, immoral, or incompatible with ethical standards. Corruption often results from patronage and is associated with bribery.
According to Transparency International, Malawi ranks 91 out of 177 on the corruption perceptions index (with 1 being the least corrupt country), this is not a simple ‘achievement’.
Expecting the government to get rid of corruption is nothing but wishful thinking. It is in our daily lives; in offices, markets, Churches, Mosques, the streets and numerous businesses .Not even Jesus himself can end this without our help. We Malawians live, eat, breathe, sleep and dream corruption.
I know this is a sweeping generalization but hear me out. Corruption is all around us. We have gotten used to corruption so much that it has become a norm; we only see it as a vice when someone else is doing it or when we are at the short end of the stick.
So many people openly say how they would have equally taken part in the massive corruption in the Dr. Joyce Banda and her PP administration (cashgate) if they had the chance. The main reason they want justice is not because poor people’s tax was misused but it’s because they didn’t benefit from it (at least not directly) What a bunch of hypocrites!
If you have ever done business in Malawi then you know just how difficult (if not outright impossible) it is to get awarded a tender without oiling someone else’s palms or without knowing someone influential. We give people money to do something they are ALREADY being paid to do.
Is this a function of low salaries or it has more to do with morals, greed and ethics? Well, that is a topic for another day. That K2, 000. 00 you offered the traffic police to bribe your way out of a speeding ticket, the money you gave the clerk at the Registrar General’s Office to expedite registration of your briefcase company, and don’t forget the ‘gift’ you offered the procurement manager.
What about the cash given to the accountant so that you get paid faster than others for goods supplied? Oh plus stonewalling loan applications until you’re given ‘ya fanta’ and also the ‘kangachepe’ you demand before offering an applicant a job.
Have you ever asked someone what they’ve brought you from their business trip abroad so that you look the other way and let them pass through customs without being inspected? Give me something if you want me to do or not do my job. Bribes this official and bribe that one. Bribes everywhere. Bribes, bribes and more bribes.
There is a little bit of corruption in almost every single one of us. And sometimes we might not feel guilty doing all this considering ‘ujeni’ and ‘ajawa’ stole billions when they were in power;
“I am only getting a few thousand kwachas out of this, it is child’s play compared to them”. But does that really justify our actions? Unless we are ready to make sacrifices then this cancerous disease will never be cured. If anything it is only going to get worse. Relying on the United Nations and the donor community, prayers, the opposition, the civil society or the Anti Corruption Bureau (nanji nanji amenewa) will get us nowhere.
This is a problem that needs to be curbed at individual and community level first and only then will it make a difference at the national level. We are responsible for letting it grow.
It starts with us. Our actions, no matter how small are the only ways which definitely can make a whole lot of difference. It is not just about the ruling party or corrupt civil servants, it’s about us, you and I have the power to fight against corruption and possibly eradicate it as a whole.
But, are we ready? Do we really want to eradicate corruption?
Every society anchors its ideals in its virtues. If those virtues are good, it ennobled. It grows into the image of its linchpin virtues and when those virtues are absent or perverted, there will be a down spiral in the values, actions and character of its people.
Are we Malawians, people with virtue when it comes to fighting corruption? The answer is in the question, I guess.
The problem is not that corruption is too rampant; rather the biggest problem is that our minds are bent on corruption. We need to change our mindset. We do not have the virtue.
The very word ‘virtue’ derives from the Latin word for strength.
The real danger is not the absence of virtue. There is no historical evidence of an utterly virtueless society. The danger is not the lack of any virtue. It is wrong virtues! It is tragic when men and women who understand virtue but act in virtueless ways.
But the real danger is redefining virtue as evil and evil as virtue. When that happens, the very thread which holds civilization intact is threatened.
In ancient Rome the preeminent virtue was bravery. But Roman Bravery misunderstood and untempered by love of mankind, soon became brutal and callous. Similarly, in Communist Russia, for many years, the zenith of all virtue was loyalty to the state. That virtue was perverted into a lethal poison that pumped shattered lives into Siberia like the toxic waste of systemic atheism.
During Kamuzu Banda’s era, loyalty and obedience were once the virtues of our country and corruption had no place in our society. In that time, the state expected us to betray family members even if it meant imprisonment or death.
The mighty Ngwazi professed that any lie, any act of treachery, any form of violence was not acceptable and in the cause of national building corruption, bribery, deceit and self enrichment were seen as violations of virtue.
As a society defines its virtues, it in turn is defined by those virtues. Twisted virtue means twisted culture. Suppose, for example, a certain society hate hates failure, laziness and stupidity. The premier virtues might then be success, hard work, intelligence and wisdom.
We need a virtue to change our mindset to fight curb corruption not a president