If you ever you want to experience a small dose of inequality, inefficiency, and corruption in Malawi, start at Kamuzu International Airport. You can’t get past security, check-in, immigration, and other formalities without being asked for “kangachepe”. Its either for a Fanta or a small lunch.
The staff just assume you have spare change. You find the same style of corruption with road traffic police, but their approach is more of an open secret. Just ask anyone who has been pulled over. At KIA though, their methods are rather coy. While its annoying, unprofessional, and too commonplace, it’s understandable.
Most, if not all, ask out of necessity. As with most working Malawians, their salaries are miserable, and likewise, the standard of living is pitiful. That is the story of Malawi and its’s been that way for years.
Presidents and ruling parties come and go, allegiances switch shamelessly, but the conditions improve only ever so slightly for everyday people. That said, this piece is not about the Tonse Alliance or current president. However, if you read this and get upset or feel vindictive, then you are the problem. If you feel bad about our miserable state, do something about it.
When you land at KIA, immigration processes are so slow you would think five planes have landed within minutes of each other. Why haven’t we modernized our airport? Why not digitize all our processes to expedite passengers through? When someone visits your house, don’t you care what impression you give them? Are things neat? Is your house clean? Did you offer something to drink or eat? Even a glass of water shows some level of accommodation. At the very least, our points of entry should set a reasonably high standard for any visitors’ expectations. Surely it wouldn’t kill our annual budget to upgrade our systems. I can only imagine how things are done at Chileka or Mzuzu. Keep in mind these are the easier things to fix in our country. By the way, a few upgrades may just rejuvenate staff’s attitudes while learning new skills and job functions. Instead, when passengers are confused and ask questions, some staff act as if you’re asking them for money. They are quite polite and patient with Azungu though. If you know, you know.
Meanwhile, scores of government delegates attend the U.N General Assembly and other international conferences, where each one likely receives a per diem and allowance in U.S dollars. Make no mistake someone has final approval for these kinds of endeavors. Yet, these same people then whine about Forex shortages.
It’s a “nafenso tilaweko” attitude that has seriously hindered growth and development. Malawians like to think we’re a Christian nation, but I say only in theory. Most of our leaders have touted their Christianity and love for Jesus, yet their actions and inactions have only bred more corruption. They quote this and that bible verse in campaign speeches, but often fall woefully short once in power. It’s the most un-Christ like way of living. It seems that our leaders lose their morality once in office, and subsequently, the bigger picture.
Consider how Cashgate happened and only a handful of people were punished. The rest of the criminals either left the country or still live comfortably in their mansions and drive their luxury vehicles right past the poor that they claim to serve. Some even get a second and third chance at public office. If you know you know.
The reality is that a presidential term goes by quickly and being a president in Africa is the quickest way to potentially amass personal wealth. Since most African governments are still quite highly centralized, a presidential directive still yields much power. Just like that, “nafenso tilaweko” turns into ravenous guile and greed to maintain extravagant lifestyles.
Thus, it is much easier to address only the issues in select constituencies because that often guarantees re-election. One time an airport official told me “bwana ngati mukufuna kulemela ku malawi mulowe ndale.” Remember Vision 2020? There was a catchy jingle that played repeatedly on the radio about it. In fact, with a simple google search you can find the vision 2020 policy paper. Two years removed from that lofty vision, and Malawi is still dirt poor economically, and I would argue morally. It’s not one person’s fault, but rather indicative of widespread apathy from top to bottom.
Yes, we’re developing, but way too slowly, relative to how much donors have poured into the country. In Malawi, you are either filthy rich or live in abject poverty. Those in between are in a constant rat race to survive or attain a fleeting version of success and status.
Again, it’s not entirely our fault. We chase Western standards of success and development because our self-regard is in the toilet.
Blame it on Western imperialism (and now Chinese), white supremacy, capitalism, post-independent big man syndrome, and everything in between (more on that soon too). Yet still, those who dare to voice their frustrations and attempt to facilitate things with honesty and integrity are vilified and threatened – ask Martha. It’s quite hypocritical and ironic. So, the next time you land or takeoff at KIA, practice the patience of Christ and bring exact change.