By PATRICK BANDE PHD
Let me register my disappointment with Malawi government and the Joke that is the Malawi embassy in China.
As by January 2020 there were around 250 registered Malawian students studying in China. I must say that this figure might be lower than the actual number because there are many Malawians who have gone to study in China on their own sponsorship and never registered with the union at the time.
When the Corona virus first broke out it was coincidentally during the school winter break that is the end of first semester vacation. Some Malawian students returned home during this time and many more followed after China began imposing lockdown. Many like myself chose to remain mainly because it was such a critical time as we were preparing for thesis defense and subsequently graduation. But others ramained because they obviously couldn’t afford air tickets to return. A return ticket to Malawi in normal times would cost a round 800 thousand kwacha. Many average Malawians on Chinese government scholarships wouldn’t afford to buy their own tickets for vacations at home.
Now as the Virus continued to spread the whole of China went under strict lockdown. All students who remained on campuses (majority of which were Africans from poor countries) were locked down in their hostels not allowed to move out. That included Malawians. Life became tough as you would imagine. Supplies were to be bought online and most of the basic needs went up. in short life became expensive. By March when the virus was at its worst in Wuhan those Malawians students whose families could afford to evacuate them left the country. In total only around 120 registered students remained.
Life was tough for everyone and while some African countries chartered planes to bring home their students Malawi didn’t. We understand our poverty and we didn’t expect to be evacuated. By May we were shocked by the announcement by the DPP government finance minister that some money had been paid to students in China as relief. Families started asking after seeing the media reports and no one seemed to know of any beneficiary. It was later discovered that through the Malawi embassy a total of 50 names had received cash as relief from the Malawi government. It was a shock to us, nobody knew any name or anyone who benefited, Apparently the beneficiaries had agreed to remain silent and not to share information with fellow Malawians. To make things worse some of the suspected beneficiaries are the ones who left China and returned to Malawi. These are people who were comfortably at home and some even working and getting their full salaries at their respective work places. This was a betrayal to say the least.
We ganged up mobilized and formed a group of all students still in China that didn’t get any money. We wrote the ministry of finance and the ministry of foreign affairs and they both ignored us. Our embassy denied having any Knowledge about people being paid yet they are the ones who facilitated the payments. The ambassador refused to comment or answer any questions. Speculations started to spread that it was only DPP sympathisers who got payments. Our attempts to get any attention from the government never paid off.
Meanwhile we were still under lockdowns and suffering. China did not open schools for the new semester. Learning was conducted online but for those students still on campuses it meant learning from your rooms still. With the elections looming in Malawi it was almost impossible for anyone to give us any attention, but we did not give up the fight. We continued to demand answers. Some media houses published our ordeal. Even though the DPP government promised to help later on, nothing ever came up.
Fast foward to Tonse government , we were all excited that finally a listening government is here and maybe we could be remembered. Letters were sent once again the same ministries and the same text book tricks by officials were on full display. They feigned ignorance about our situation. However the new Ministers promised to make sure that everything is corrected. A recent announcement by government that money has been set aside to help the stranded students brought us a sigh of relief.
Little did we know that our nighmare was just beginning a second chapter. Firstly, instead of focusing on the 120+ students who are still in China, someone somewhere argued that every student should be on this list even those that have been in Malawi at home since January. Those of us who questioned this were looked at as being selfish. But why pay people who are at home a relief for going through a lockdown in China that they never experienced. What was the money for?
Last friday 11th September the embassy announced that the money and the list had been deposited to the banks and everyone on the list would get money in their accounts. We waited with excitement that finally our sweat had paid off. We thanked our leaders for their efforts and for never giving up. We endured 8 months of waiting. Yet by the end of business only 6 people announced that they had indeed received payment. While a 100+ people didnt receive we were still hopeful. Then Saturday came and went, Sunday went as well. We kept saying maybe it was due to weekend despite knowing pretty well that Chinese banks open every single day.
Today Friday we are still waiting and no more people have received money since then. When the embassy was pressed they disclosed that they have a different list that came from Malawi which is different from the one we have. Apparently their list has people who are in Malawi again. They claim that those people are eligible to receive money because they left China after experiencing the lockdown. (Okay, but why are we still not getting the money that our government has already approved and released to us)?
Whats the rationale for leaving out Malawians who are Currently in China and struggling to get by and paying those in Malawi first? Where is the list and why are you hiding it from us so that we should know if we are getting any help or not? For one full week we have been checking our accounts. Editing our details thinking that maybe our format was wrong, but does it even make sense for us to edit on our list when you have a seperate list from Malawi? we are doing it because of desperation.
I may not be the best person to cry about this money. I work for myself and i have never even once benefited from Government handout from Malawi. I might be lucky, but i know of my brothers and sisters here who do not have the same luck as me. This relief money even though not much can offer a life line.
I have narrated this with a heavy heart. Its been a week since the first group of people reported to have received money. And the majority are still waiting until today. There is nothing wrong with their details as on the list we provided. What we dont know is if our names are on the list that the embassy claims to have been given from Malawi.
There are many questions that need answers. Did the money go to a certain group because of politics? nepotism or just corruption. Why pay people who are already home first, when its so easy to priortize those still stuck? Are some people more Malawian than others? isnt this tax payers money which all of us and our families contribute to?
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the writer’s, they do not reflect the views of The Maravi Post or Editor.