Sunday, November 28, 2010

From Pakistan, with fond memories

This afternoon, we went up the Margalla Mountains here in Islamabad. There is a fine restaurant there, perched right at the top, such that you can see the entire sprawling Islamabad starting from the foot of the mountain.

I should think that on a less foggy day, one might see as far as Rawalpindi, the city that got its international fame when the great Pakistani politician Ms Benazir Bhutto was gunned down there a few years ago while campaigning to become President of Pakistan.

The great Pakistani lunch was at the invitation of a very wonderful Pakistani family. The wife hosted us as she would have done in her own home. The husband who invited us made us feel welcome all the time.

The daughter, about to enter university to study commercial law, happens to share a passion of poetry with me and is writing a book of her own. She insists that I should find time to recite some poetry to her, but, of course, there will be no such time. I have one hell of a very busy week ahead, after which, I sadly return to the snow of Geneva, far away from the warmth of these wonderful people.

The son also has an engaging personality. At 17, he has 2 years to go in high school. He is studying in an American system and speaks like an American.

He told me he wants to study electrical engineering. I told him about how good electrical engineering is.

I mentioned to him, as I often do when the subject of discussion is electrical engineering, that one of my greatest friends of all time, Matthews Mtumbuka, with whom I share an alma mater, studied electrical engineering before winning a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, where he got his PhD at the age of 27, having completed it in a record 2-years-and-a-half.

You could see the awe in the boy's face.

Later, I asked him, pointing at a tall building in the distance: “What is that building?”

He told me its name, a very difficult Urdu name I instantly forgot, and added: “They want it to be the tallest building in Asia.”

“That,” I said, “would make it the tallest in the world then, because the tallest building in the world at present, Burj Khalifa, is in Dubai, which is Asia; and the second tallest, Taipei 101, is in Taipei, Republic of China, which is also in Asia.”

Later, the wonderful, cheerful boy pointed at the Faisal Mosque in the distance, “The largest in Asia,” he said.

Again I had to correct him: “The largest in South Asia,” I said, “because the largest mosque in the world is the Masjid-al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, with a capacity of 820,000. The second largest is also in Asia, the Imam Reza Shrine in Iran, with a capacity of 700,000.”

The boy taught me a lot about the geography of Pakistan. Finally, he pointed out for me the mountain where the aeroplane crashed 28 July this year, not very far from where we sat, where 152 lives were lost.

So many memories from Pakistan.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

On the Gay Pardon

President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi has pardoned two gay men, Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, a decision announced as the President jointly addressed a press conference with the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, in Lilongwe, Malawi. This means Tiwonge and Steven have been saved from 14 years of imprisonment with hard labour, which, instead, has been served for only 14 days.

We all know the pardon was not just a mere change of heart. Britain put some burning charcoal under the feet of the President, to pressurize him. So did America and many other countries. There are few leaders with the spine of Robert Mugabe, that we must know, so our President relented. This was in spite of the fact that the law against gays was enacted by the British themselves in 1946, during the time they ruled our country as colonialists.

When the President supported the conviction, party fanatics praised the wisdom of the President in not bowing to international pressure. They hailed him as a wise leader who was determined to uphold the sovereignty of our nation.

Now, as it turns out, the President has caved in to pressure. He has changed his mind.
And so have his supporters. It turns out the President is a wise, listening leader, they say. Whatever decision he makes is good for Malawi.

It baffles me that we have in Malawi today some pathetic individuals who have surrendered their capability of thought, blinded, as it were, by loyalty to the President. They are incapable of having their own opinion. If the President were to order that primary school children should be going to class at night instead of during day time, the fanatics would say he is right. If, instead, he were to change his mind and order that the pupils should be going to school during day time, these brainless idiots would still say the President is right.

Nkhani yavuta pa Malawi is seeking favours from the President. Some people are so afraid of pointing out any wrong decisions made by the President lest that prevent them from eating the crumbs falling from the high table as the President eats that national cake he is fond of referring to.

As to my views about gays, well, I am a liberal. If given the chance to lead the nation, I would follow the example of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela to have the law repealed and let gays and lesbians be free to do as they like. But until the current law is repealed, since Malawi respects the rule of law, let the law take its course on offenders. Any efforts to have this law repealed are welcome and I support them. I support the repealing of any repressive laws that are still present in our penal code.

One lesson from the gay debacle: a poor nation cannot claim sovereignty. Our independence is an illusion. In America, they have just convicted a polygamist, whose five wives cried in court in support of their husband. No single person has raised a finger against America. Nobody, including polygamist Jacob Zuma, has spoken in defence of the American convict. Why? This is because America is truly independent, rich and powerful. As for us, well, that would have been declared an abuse of human rights, first and foremost by America and Britain. Isn’t it a monumental shame and a colossal disgrace?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Leadership: First World Vs Third World

Somebody on the Media Institute of Southern Africa - Malawi Chapter - forum, where I am a member, circulated this:

Hosni Mubarak ( Egypt ) age 82
Robert Mugabe ( Zimbabwe ) age 86
Hifikepunye Pohamba ( Namibia ) age 74
Rupiah Banda ( Zambia ) age 73
Mwai Kibaki ( Kenya ) age 71
Colonel Gaddafi ( Libya ) age 68
Jacob Zuma ( South Africa ) age 68
Bingu wa Mutharika ( Malawi ) age 76
Average: 74.7

Barrack Obama (USA) age 48
David Cameron (UK) age 43
Dimitri Medvedev ( Russia ) age 45
Stephen Harper ( Canada ) age 51
Kevin Rudd ( Australia ) age 53
Nicolas Sarkozy ( France ) age 55
Luis Zapatero ( Spain ) age 49
Jose Socrates ( Portugal ) age 53
Average: 49.6

Oh, God, why does Africa never give a chance to the younger blood?
What has not been said, besides age, is how long most of these African leaders have been in office. And how many have stayed in office with the genuine blessing of their people.
God bless Africa.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

If Gordon Brown Were Malawian

If Gordon Brown were an African leader, he would have refused to resign. You see, after the end of the British elections, nobody won. One would say Brown did not win, but he did not lose either. The winner, the Conservative Party aka Tories, did not get enough votes for them to have a clear, undisputed mandate. In such a case, the Labour Party had a chance to stay in power. They could have, for instance, knelt down before the Liberal Democrats until a deal was reached. In the end, Labour would still have remained in power, 13 years after Tony Blair led them to the high table.

But, in a twist to the tale, Tony Blair announced his resignation Monday. He will not seek to remain in No. 10 Downing Street after the dust has settled. He will not canvass for any candidate vying for the post of leader of the Labour Party in the race for his replacement that shall follow after this announcement.

If this was back home, Gordon Brown would have announced, instead, his intention not to leave. There would have been no shortage of the atidyenawo bootlickers to urge him to stay. By now, so-called “concerned citizens” would have been jostling for space on state radios and the television, trying to lament what a loss to the nation it would be for the leader to step down. In fact, so the argument would have gone, the leader cannot be allowed to leave without, ahem, “completing the development projects he has begun.”


Or, if the worse came to the worst, he would have stepped down but, for fear of losing the cabinet perks and all that, he would have chosen to cling to the post of Leader of Opposition for life. He would have been contented to live to the age of 82 and still be Leader of Opposition; after all one gets the perks of a cabinet minister plus a car and all that.


There is no such thing as civilized politics here. The politics of our nation is merely for self-aggrandizement and perpetuating one’s stay in power even after overstaying one’s welcome. Take Muluzi, for example, he tried his best to push for a third term. At the time of doing this, we even had some so-called intellectuals arguing that he needed time to complete his “projects.” Which projects, for God’s sake? Now, the same people who stood on anthills looting for Muluzi speak about how bad it would have been for the nation to have a Muluzi third term.


We need to learn from the civilized politics of the West. People have to learn not to think they are the only ones that can lead. We need real democracies here, where leaders should be chosen by the people in a free environment, not merely appointed and hedged into their positions. We need to give power to the people. We need leaders who know when to say goodbye.

There are many talented people around who can lead. We need philosophies that encourage genuine participation of all the people. We need to discard political gamesmanship. We do not want to be told: “The people have chosen this one,” when, in fact, you are the one that chose someone and cajoled everyone to support your choice. Our leaders should learn not to turn themselves into our gods.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Vampires of Kazomba - a poem by my friend Benedicto Wokomaatani Malunga

The vicous and vociferous vampires
Of Kazomba are pathetic desperadoes
Who can miserably no longer
Overrate their waning marketability
As they languish in bitterness
On the rubbish heap of neglect
Created for them by the harshness
Of changing times they never foresaw
Now lashing at their swollen egos
Deflected by decent men who dropped them
Like Pharaoh's hot bricks due to their
Despicable moral bankruptcy and rottenness
Springing from contemptible self-deceit
Emanating from naked malice
Of unscrupulous impatient gold-diggers
Stuck in debts carelessly incurred
With their delusion of grandeur
Only fools entertain when
In the company of showy braggarts
Pretending to be rich when they
Call the political shots only to become broke
When their time of temporary glory is over
The stinking vindictive vampires of Kazomba
Pray at St Michael's in the morning
And drink human blood in the evening
With cheering home boys hoodwinked
By tribal solidarity bordering on naivety
They function like typical ruthless whores
When they meet naive journalists
Willingly vulnerable to manipulation
When a bribe like a carrot
Is enticingly dangled before them
The slanderous vampires of Kazomba
Are shameless blood suckers indeed
Wanting to reap where
They never sowed
Desiring to milk a cow they never fed
They turn green with envy and red with fury
When they see those they blindly despised
Rise to the acme of society gently and majestically
With a cornucopia of carefully honed God-given talents
Meticulously nurtured with sweat and diligently cultivated
With patience, practice and wisdom accumulated
Over the years when others were loafing stupidly
The uncouthed vampires of Kazomba
Are empty attention-seekers glorified by fools
Overwhelmed by paper qualifications
That do not mean much beyond the rhetoric
And the ink with which they are written
The vampires of Kazomba are social misfits
Falsely occupying a stage meant for solid luminaries
Capable of enlightening a nation with erudite
Views enriching a country wishing to move
Forward steadily and constructively
They do not understand why art is created
They do not differentiate between fact and fiction
Like the animals they are the vampires
Of Kazomba comfortably ride on the backs of idiots
Masquerading as intellectuals in borrowed robes
Failing to see beyond their short african noses
As they get used and abused by bitches
Who have nothing to lose even when they
Think and behave like dogs on heat
When I meet the vampires of Kazomba again
I shall spit scorn befitting their harlotry with impunity
And hope that their protege scribes will go back to school
To learn how to be humane humans with a conscience.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


We Malawians, like any other nationality, have a hunger for business. When we get some money, we immediately begin to think of investing in some enterprise. However, few businesses succeed. Indians, Pakistanis, Nigerians and Chinese come here, do the same businesses we do but end up very successful. What is our problem?

Problem No. 1: We lack innovation. If my neighbour has a mini-bus and is making a lot of money with it, I, too, should buy a minibus. So does the next neighbour and the next and the next until there are too many mini-buses and too few passengers to board. Clearly we cannot succeed this way.

We need to be innovative. There are many things one gets to see in countries not so far away from here that could attract a lot of customers back home. We need to learn what the others do. Let us not be lazy and simply copy what the next person is doing. Let us come up with new ideas.

Problem No.2: Misuse of capital. The Malawian businessman, after making hardly enough, dips his hand into the capital to buy a big, expensive Mercedes Benz. He wants to shine in town. The Benz will keep consuming more and more money until the capital is dry. In the end, the business collapses.

Let us learn from the Chinese, the Lebanese, the Indians, the Pakistanis and the Nigerians. We should not be envious of them. We should copy from them and beat them at their game. Take an average Indian, for example. He comes here a poor man. He opens a shop, mostly using loans from friends and relatives. He chooses to sell nothing more complicated than paper bags. In no time, the business grows. He becomes the key supplier of paper bags in the whole city, then in the whole country. What is his secret? He separates personal expenditure from business expenditure. He will not use the capital to buy rice and chapatti for himself and his family. He can suffer in any way but the capital will remain intact. He will instead let it grow.

Problem No. 3: Dependency Syndrome. If our uncle has a shop, all our eyes will turn to the uncle. If the uncle does not assist us, he is a very cruel man. We will go about town telling everyone how bad the man is. We will even create stories that the uncle is Satanic, knowing fully well we cannot even prove it, that it is all a lie. We will not work hard to reach the level of the uncle. All brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces will line up for help. Yes, it is good to help, but there should be a limit. Make sure you tell them the capital is out of bounds. You will not use your capital to help others.

Problem No. 4: Lack of desire to learn business theory. A good entrepreneur must learn. That is what Mike Chilewe of Mike’s Trading did. He went to Harvard University for a course one summer. Naturally, he paid a lot of money, but it was an investment well made. Look around, even within the country. The Malawi Institute of Management offers a lot of short courses that might help, as do the Malawi College of Accountancy and the Staff Development Institute at Mpemba. Try to learn the basics of running a business. Intuition works, of course. There are plenty of examples of individuals who have never been to anybody’s school but are hugely successful in their businesses. But the world is changing. Those that attend these courses are not being na├»ve. They learn quite a few things that might be very helpful to their businesses.

I know the list is not exhaustive, but these are what, I think, are the major reasons businesses run by indigenous Malawians mainly fail.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Julius Malema - Zuma's Frankenstein's Monster

Until yesterday, I had not yet watched President Jacob Zuma's video as he sings his favourite song, Umshini Wami, translated as "Bring Me My Machine Gun" - He is a marvel to watch. He sings to entertain and to excite the crowd. He is an excellent stage performer. I love to watch the video over and over.

However, I decided to take time to watch Julius Malema sing "Kill the Boer" on I watched it once and never want to watch it again. It is a song performed with anger, designed to frighten and not to entertain. It is a song that must not be sang by someone with good intentions.

For all intents and purposes, Julius Malema is a Frankeinstein's monster for the African National Congress. He will pull the party down and South Africa with it. He has the charateristics of a Chenjerai Hunzvi of Zimbabwe - the man who led Zimbabwe into the farm seizure controversy.

The party has all the machinery to discipline him. They let him do what he does for a reason. One day, when South Africa has become another Zimbabwe, someone will look back and wish they had done something before matters got out of hand.