Spoken Verse in Malawi: the uncertain road

On Sunday, 11 December, I sat in the audience at Kwa Haraba Arts Gallery in Blantyre. For an event dubbed Rise of spoken word poetry. I wrote an article for The Sunday Times of 18 December, 2016. I publish the article here as it appeared in The Sunday Times

The promise was that there would be a rise. At Kwa Haraba Art Gallery in Blantyre. Of Spoken Word Poetry. On a lazy Sunday of 11 December.

The expectation, as well, was that there would be a rise. A shocking event even, positively. Something that you would compare with international events of a similar nature.

It was normal, to expect such a rising. The advertising had been on point: posters of a similar design yet with different messages and personalities had heralded the day. 

From the intros of the Spoken Word artists, however, on the material day one could almost get the feeling that the message that it would be the rise of Spoken Word poetry was maybe not the correct phrase. It was catchy, eventually, but not very correct.

The actors, tipping in favour of the male sex of course like in most artistic acts, made one statement clear with the intros: they had been subjected to a demanding rehearsal prior to the event.

Beyond that, the rehearsal, there was the usual stage fright, superficially explored themes and a style too common that you would hardly separate the actors from each other. They were not only children from the same poetry family; rather were identical twins hatched poetic minutes apart.

Somehow the usual host for the Blantyre Spoken Word fests, Yankho Seunda, appeared to already have an excuse for the uncertainty in the acts.

“We started two months ago,” he said in his welcoming remarks to the sizeable audience.

In art, unlike politics, two months is undoubtedly a short time to expect a lot. Thus, the audience certainly had to be kind – it appeared he was intending to say. These acts before them were definitely not rushed but also not very mature.

Monotonous, superficially explored themes
Aside the intros, in which all the nine poets attempted to introduce themselves in a way that would forgivably pass for artistic, the other themes that paraded seemed to merge into a few. One can count them with the fingers of one hand. Even then, not all the fingers would be used.

There is no problem in having a monotonous theme, it might even have been a plan, but it was the superficial way that the themes were covered that was worrisome.

Of course, there was a brighter moment in the thematic coverage when Brian Kalinde and Matthew Chimwaza decided to tackle HIV and AIDS. The wariness with which they broached the subject, combining the knowledge of a doctor and the myth of the common man, would have salvaged the flaws of the rest of the team.

Also, when Mwai Simbota decided to tackle paedophilia with an artistic carefulness – save for the flaws in presentation a careful mind would note – there was a kind of diversity.

Otherwise, most of the works waltzed about an imaginary Africa. A theme they feared to really go into depth to excavate and critically present. They were, in a way, sitting on the shores of a sea whose history they had heard, but not read. Yet they still believed everything they had heard, even the obvious propaganda.

There was hardly any love theme (prevalent in youthful literature), but the emphasis on Africa with neither a clear direction nor from an informed perspective rendered the acts less appealing to the critical mind. The gullible, of course, would have basked in celebration that finally a generation so young was beginning to pay attention to the continent; although one poet opted to present Africa as would Joseph Conrad: as a place where phada and chipako are the favourite – where Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram are yet to be known.

Let’s erect our tents around Q
You can hardly talk about the history of Spoken Word Poetry in Malawi without referring to Q Malewezi. Actually, it is Q who can have the bragging rights that he gave rise to Spoken Word Poetry.

But, Q is not Spoken Word Poetry. He is a part of it. He might be the Chairperson of a movement – if we are to call Spoken Word in poetically political terms – but the movement is not him.

Yet, the Spoken Word Poetry displayed at Kwa Haraba at the ironically named Rise of Spoken Word Poetry was mostly centred around Q. The internationally acclaimed poet is not just a source of inspiration to the young poets, he holds them by almost a hypnosis quality. He is a demi-god such that you could tell from the intonation, the gesticulations, that most of the team were borrowing from Q – heavily.

That identity of the poet, their own, was either lost or completely non-existent.
It is a good thing to have role models, but it is a tragedy to lose your identity and take on the form of the role model.

There were brighter moments, of course, with Rabbi Kondowe defining his own style. Performing deeper and meaningful poetry that was not tailored around the style and presentation of Q. For most, however, it showed that they had detached themselves from learning from others – even those among them such as the host Yankho Seunda – and had all trained their eyes on Lilongwe. On Q.

It was a tragic flaw, for those who have been exposed to so much of Spoken Word Poetry. From home and abroad.

Music rose
It is the case in performing Spoken Word Poetry that music becomes a part. Sometimes, they have to be at par with each other – the music and the poetry – while in other cases the poetry has to be dominant. It is Spoken Word Poetry, after all.

However, at the Rise of Spoken Word Poetry it was music that was nearly eclipsing the Poetry. From Sam Shaba to Agorosso, it appeared that the musicians were well aware of the how and when to interact with the audience. They performed. Not just recited.

Once, when Panacea Phiri partnered with Agorosso for her piece it finally appeared that Poetry and Music were finally agreeing to rub shoulders as equals. The flaw could have been that marriage of an established artist with an up-and-coming. It appeared Agorosso nearly eclipsed the poet. He is established, anyway, with his guitar being unique. The Poet might have planned to ride on the waves of that fame yet somehow it did not work like that. A fellow up-and-coming guitarist for her would have left the audience hang on to her skilful way of playing with words in her piece instead of the guitarist.  

When will this rise be, Poet?
The announcement was that it would be a rise of Spoken Word Poetry, yet certainly there was no rise. It was, of course, more of a routine well-rehearsed performance. Convincing in one breath, disappointing in the other.

Nevertheless, from the passion and the commitment of the actors it was clear that there is an ability and the possibility of them raising the Poetry – the Spoken Word – from wherever they assumed it had been laid to rest.

If the efforts of all the players could be harnessed, the team gets open to other alternatives (accept that there are equally other important players in the field whom they can learn from – both within and without the borders of Malawi), remain open to criticism, hold events and rehearse on a frequent basis as they most likely did for their first ever ‘public performance', something good might come up.

The only big question would be: when will this something good come up? Another two months, maybe.

Still, their efforts now are little uncertain steps. With the positive being that they are still willing to take them, and they lead them into the light – where there are people willing to embrace them. Even with the shortfalls.  



Faulting Dictatorship

If there is an easy thing to do, it seems, is to fault dictatorship. And dictators. Simply because they are dictators.

It is as if by virtue of them being dictators, all evil is theirs.
Take Gambia. Yahya Jammeh.

A few days ago, Jammeh shocked the African continent. In what appeared to be a predictable election, with him as a winner, Jammeh lost. He did not only lose. He conceded defeat. Long before the Electoral Commission in the country officially declared the winner.

It was unprecedented. Both the loss and the concession. For, Jammeh in his dictatorial rants had once said that he would rule the Gambia for a billion years -- if Allah would will.

However, when the loss was in the air, he resigned to fate.

The optimists celebrated, the loss and the concession. They said Africa was slowly maturing, in its democracy. The pessimists, however, were not sure of what to make of Jammeh's loss and the concession. It seemed surreal.

Not long after, the Breaking News appeared on our Facebook timelines and their televisions: Jammeh had withdrawn his concession of the loss. He was calling for a fresh election. The reason being that he considered the election flawed. Not only did he consider that the electoral process was flawed but the Chairperson of the country's Electoral Commission had indeed accepted that there were irregularities with the process, especially the tabulation of votes.

Yes, the results did not change who the winner was but they narrowed the gap between the winner and the runner-up. Adama Barrow, for that is the name of the 'President-elect' of the Gambia was not anymore a very clear favourite over Jammeh, the runner-up.

This prompted Jammeh to take to the television waves of Gambia to annul the election, the results and his concession.

Drama. Typical of dictators.

Not long after, the public intellectuals came on Facebook. Jammeh is a dictator, they said. He is preparing a civil war in Gambia, they said. Their choruses were echoed by the international community. All those voices were merged into one: Jammeh had to do the right thing, step down for Barrow.

The way the international community and everyone has rushed to slam Jammeh would make you think it is a clear cut issue. But, personally, I think it is not as clear cut.

It is easy to fault Jammeh, more because he is a dictator; but I hold that Jammeh is not to be faulted.

If anything, the people to be faulted are the members of the Electoral Commission in Gambia who presided over the election. The callousness with which they conducted their voter tabulation is the one that has led the Gambia to where it is.

Jammeh was accepting defeat on the supposition that he was accepting defeat in a free and fair election. But was the election free and fair? I do not think so with the revelations and confessions made by the Gambian EC that they were on the wrong on vote tabulation.

That, the mistake they made at tabulation, has ripped the whole process apart. It has created room for doubts, fears and mistrust of the whole electoral process. No dictator, surely, would accept defeat in such an election. And, not just because he is a dictator but because he is human.

It needs a greater sense of statesmanship to accept the result in such a flawed election. And, Jammeh, we all know is nowhere to being near that honour. Even if he had graciously accepted such a flawed result, we know we would never have had him in the same regard as the statesmen of this world -- or the continent. He has such a dark record that could not be washed away by a simple peaceful transition of power.

I was lucky, for a stint, to have worked in an electoral support organisation. Any issue that deals with elections, to politicians, is sensitive.

We were advancing causes on electoral reforms but one could feel the mistrust from political players. To them, everything to do with election is a potential live wire, with the propensity to set the whole nation ablaze.

I do not think that is only the case in Malawi. It must be, also, in Gambia.

Considering the sensitivity of such a process, if there is anybody to be blamed in the whole Gambia fiasco, it is the Electoral Commission and the lackadaisical approach with which they did to the election.

It is easy to blame dictatorship, yes, but dictatorship usually starts and flourishes under the support of weaker institutions. In this case, Jammeh's dictatorship has been urged on by the weaker institution that is the EC.

Maybe when we move beyond faulting personalities, and start faulting institutions, can we then expect a healthy democracy. This, the case in Gambia, presents us with a better place for that: the faulting of institutions.      


There is no space for dialogue here

A few hours ago, and maybe even until now (the time of writing), I was involved in a bitter argument with friends and foes alike – on Facebook.

I had asked, in one of my extended thinking, what the grounds were against the legalization of abortion in Malawi. I added, I did not want religious sermons. I wanted arguments grounded outside theology.

I should have known.

What I had imagined would be a civil discourse turned bitter. Sometimes, ugly. Even, horrible. I am thinking some people have even struck me off their friends list. Others, I saw them claim, have suddenly switched from a kind of adoring me to hatred. They would kill me, had they had the opportunity. Yet, they think aborting an unborn foetus is a crime, immoral, punishable and – of course – sin!

The moment I wanted that debate, I had asked myself questions on the subject of abortion yet I found that some of the grounds those against it are standing on are shaky. Actually, I established that they are mostly against abortion either because religion advises them to or just because they can be against it: the rational ones prefer to call that morality or the idea of right to life or somethings like that.

Such reasons, to me, appeared shallow and unconvincing. They sounded more of a tyranny of the majority just for its sake. So, I wanted something that would convince me that giving a couple – or just a woman – the choice to either live with a pregnancy or terminate it is wrong.

Unfortunately, almost 24 hours later nobody had come forth with the reasons for being against abortion outside the safety of Bible verses and because their religious authorities feel like it is wrong.

I tried to stir the water further. I argued that the issue of abortion, its legalization, is a gender issue much as it is a class issue. Yet no one, from the other side, moved forth comfortably – armed with facts – to disprove my argument. Instead, they employed emotions and madness. Those who know some dark secrets about me nearly resorted to throwing them in my face to blackmail me into silence.

Those courageous enough to be chickens finally moved out of that space, to a new space, where they leveled every argument against me – the person – and other people holding a stand such as me. We have either been labelled ‘bought’ (by the West of course because the West is a vast swamp of like-minded individuals with a lot of money to buy off people like me to propagate everything un-African – whatever this African thing is), ‘stupid’, ‘brain-and-white-washed’ and some other unkind terms exchanged in the privacy of Facebook and WhatsApp inboxes.

The reactions have had me thinking: what space do we have in this country to engage constructively, to dialogue and appreciate the other’s viewpoint? I feared if we have such a rational people ready to shift gears if presented with overwhelming arguments against their stand.

Not long ago, I faulted the US ambassador to Malawi, Virginia Palmer, on the way the advocacy for LGBTQI rights were being advanced. In a conservative society such as Malawi. I found her approach to have been harmful and risky, not to herself but the people whose rights she was advocating for.

I sensed that there was an alienation. Two schools operating from completely different realities. The debate I aimed to have – yet degenerated into a free for all bout, not of ideas but emotions – on abortion just alerted me to the chasm that is existing in this country each time an issue that sharply divides us appears on the scene.

We have quietly embraced our fundamentalism on issues. This has been exacerbated by the inability to distinguish people from the arguments that they make.

To us, these days, anybody who does not share a viewpoint is not to be one of us. We may be from the same family, even, but the moment they think night starts at 6 while the entire household thinks night starts at 5 then we are free to label them, abuse them and we would even kill them. 

We can no longer accept that people can take a different view from us and still be normal. Normalcy is sharing a viewpoint.

When I raised my arguments as to why abortion should be made legal – basing on the power and class perspectives -I steered clear of the religious leaders who are to be leading a march against the legalisation of both abortion and homosexuality. To me, as I remarked elsewhere, I had no problem with them protesting. I would actually provide them with water to make their journey manageable.

I thought it was – and it really is – important for all arguments to rest on reason. A bit of emotion, yes, but much of reason. I was ready, and I still am, to move from my point of view if somebody convinces me with constructive arguments on the issue.

Yet, for colleagues across the aisle, I found a few sober enough to appreciate fallacies, lies and attacks from their own side and call them out. Most are just relishing the prospect of being in a majority and, as long as they are in a majority, then their tyranny is welcome. Do you know what they call this tyranny? A democracy!

I think that is an abuse of the term: democracy. But, if that suits someone to abuse it, I think I should let them live with it. Which is what really is the problem in this nation: living and letting live. 

It seems, for a majority, man's only freedom can be ascertained if he does what they do. When man wants to do anything different, suddenly they should be bound. Use the law, if you may, or if it appears that rationality is creeping into the lawmakers then use intimidation. The fear is, this intimidation will soon degenerate into violence. 

That has to be a fear of any rational and righteous person: the prospect of violence for disagreeing with a viewpoint!    


These are interesting times, for the media

The day it was announced that Donald Trump had triumphed over Hillary Clinton, a lesson went almost unnoticed. In this part of the world.

Somewhere else, somebody might have picked it up but for most of my friends -- expressing themselves on the social media -- this lesson was not really noted. Nobody, at least from the people I know, made a comment on it.

All that people were being bothered with was how much a Nigerian televangelist lied in his prediction, how much they had been right all along that Trump would pull a surprise, how much the world was slowly growing cold.

Yet for people like me who like the media, I decided to observe something: the shifting trends in the power and influence of the media.

It is undeniable that Trump was a least favourite of the traditional media. Apparently, while his contender got a ringing 200 endorsements from the traditional media, Trump had only gotten 20 from not-so-influential media.

It would have had been a last nail on Trump's political coffin. Yet as we all know, it never was.

It is a situation that should prompt those who like the media, like me, to ask why.

The answer eventually is not far: social media.

Trump did not only build his campaign on controversy, he also built it on the Social Media.

One day, in my sojourns on the cyberspace, I decided to visit the Facebook pages of the two rival candidates. I started with the number of people who liked the pages. While Trump's numbers were soaring on the social media, Hillary's were abysmal -- only relaxing in the comfort of being better than Trump's media endorsements.

It was not really an anomaly. Trump's Facebook page looked lively, Hillary's...well...not really dead...but not inspiring either. There was engagement on Trump's page, active and brutal engagement. There was a kind of civil nuanced engagement on the one for Hillary.

On Trump's page, you would not comment negatively and get away with it. On Hillary's, the first comments that welcomed you -- floating above all the others owing to their being liked by a majority -- were crucifying Hillary. And this was not about censorship on Trump's page. It was about having a people who believed in his course and knew how to make use of the modern space for engagement: the social media.

Trump himself was the god of Twitter, fueling jokes that were he to win -- which most of the jokers really felt was impossible -- he would be throwing orders and leading from Twitter. And there was hardly a dull moment in his Tweets. It was either controversy or...another controversy. But never dull. He must have known that controversy sells. It sold for him.

It is interesting really, if one looks at it closely. How the social media has started giving power to people and eventually relegating the traditional media to a footnote of relevance.  


Our love for suffering

Have you ever heard of an inspirational story from our football national team, the Flames?

If you have, how did it start, did it start with the team playing brilliant football, attacking with exceptional talent and giving the hope that we would carry the day or emerge victorious in that tournament?

I bet it really started like that. The question is: how did it end?

I can predict: with all those hopes dashed, a loss in the dying minutes. Poet Robert Chiwamba already covered the fate of the team in the famed Flames Sidzamva!

It is not as if he recited anything new, he told us what has been our football ailment since about 10 years ago when it became so worse.

The loss of our football national team, now, is a result of a lot of issues among them uninspired an underpaid players, alcohol-infested players, a negative media (yes! a negative media) and - most importantly - football administrators.

These football administrators, usually, are behind the other problems. They fleece the players, suck their benefits dry and steal anything and everything that can be 'stealable'. I bet if the football pitches could be a thing that you can steal, they would have tucked them away in their kids' bedrooms.

It is not as if we do not know that these people are clueless about running football, we know. Even if we do not know but the experience we have had from flirting with them tells us loudly that their knowledge of ruining football is excellent than of running it. Yet when their term runs out and they come jostling for votes from the few they handpick to vote what happens?

They win again. Resoundingly. On the wave of tired and replayed promises that cannot bear any fruits.

It is as if we love them because they have not brought any smiles on our faces. It is as if they are darlings for their exceptional talent in being inspirational.

Somehow, you would be excused to think, we love suffering.

Like Yesterday, Sunday, in Blantyre. I was passing by the filling station at the Shopping Mall. At the shop there, there was a queue. Long. On a Sunday.

I asked around what they were doing on that queue in that cold.

"They are buying electricity."

All that queue, for electricity? I was really surprised.

I tried, on my phone, to use mobile payment and see if the system was not down for electricity services. It was not down. One could easily buy on their phone. In the comfort and warmth of their homes.

What was worse? More than half of the people I saw there were busy on their phones. On their smart phones. Busy typing 'Amens' on fake posts bearing the names of some self-claimed Prophets, thinking they will get some miraculous money or a long life or a job by typing on that post. Others were busy celebrating over some scandal, most likely.

These people who manage to feed that phone money in Airtime could just not know that they could use their phone to buy electricity. They opted to bask in cold, shivering, and suffer for something they could do at home.

They are not alone.

You should see the queues that form on the banks during month end. On ATMs. Those who have an account with National Bank line up in longer senseless queues to get their money while just across the road there is an FDH Bank ATM lying idle.

It is not as if their cards will not work on that ATM. It will work. But, perhaps, for the love of suffering they choose to stand in the sun, rain or cold for something they can do urgently. With ease.

Also, that day. A small pick-up had packed to the brim. People were overflowing from the body with some only holding on to another person who was also on the verge of falling off.

Each time the car swerved, the mass of humanity in that car swerved along. It looked risky. Like just a simple brake while the car is driving would have been a mass death.

In that car were fathers, brothers, uncles and friends. Risking their life.

I asked around: why are the people in that car risking their life, which company dispatches that as a transport for its staff, which senseless boss really does that?

I was told the people were just heading home after a long day of work. That was a cheaper transport.

Cheaper by how much?

K50. If they boarded a 'proper' minibus, they will be asked to pay K150 while that death-trap aonly asked them to pay K100.

I sighed. Feared. And thought: how much really is K50, how much do these men spend on beer, sex with other people than their wives, cigarettes or church offering? I thought, seriously, they could save from that and use it for a 'decent' and 'safer' modes of transport.

But then, I remembered it is as if we are programmed to love suffering. And, that explains our choice for leaders.  


Teaching America democracy

This, the task, feels like one that was before Warsan Shire who had to teach her mother how to give birth.

For, to most of us, America is the ideal for democracy. It is the place that does not only pride in being the most democratic, but also it appointed itself to be the dispenser of the democracy pill across the world. Rogue dictators who think they are gods or something divine only have America to fear. African generals and 'buffoons' who easily forget the principles of democracy are either threatened or manipulated by America and they remember their ways back to democracy.

One can eventually say that without America, our tatters of democracy would have been sewn into full garments of dictatorship. It is to America, and her allies, that we owe our periodical elections. It is to America that we owe a semblance to sanity in our politics.

Trust me, many leaders especially in Africa can either justify their actions or be challenged on the basis of how America acts. If America wakes up today and decides that once a President is voted in then they should stay in office until they die, I can assure you that before Americans understand such a law most African countries would have already had it passed in their Parliaments.

Even these noisy anti-imperialist chanters still make reference to America in one way or the other.

It is for this reason that some, like me, are worried with the way America is choosing to redefine democracy.

I have been following the US elections, from a very distant. I had actually opted not to comment owing to the way I see people busy commenting and taking sides on an election that they cannot participate in. I have told myself that there is already too many commentators on the election on my Facebook feed for me to join in.

But, you cannot really think that it is possible to completely not follow the election. I follow that election and always tell myself not to pick sides.

I am, however, intrigued with the rise of Donald Trump and the media reaction to it. The media reaction is the most interesting part. And, the reason is simple...

When elections are being conducted in places where America has prescribed the dose of democracy, it is the media that 'their' observers are really concerned about. And, it is for a good reason.

When there are elections in Malawi, the media is encouraged to be impartial in their reporting. Regardless of their party affiliations and political economy, media houses are encouraged to mutate into saints that are objective and impartial. Contrast this to the way the media is grilling Trump...

You just have to watch one television station - any - and scroll through all these established media houses' websites for you to see that impartiality is nowhere near the coverage of the US election.

Each media house is currently trying to outsmart the other in painting Trump the bad and dull colours. It is a war in which the ultimate prize is the fall of Trump and every other media house wants to be the one that fires the last shot that will take down Trump.

The other day Ben Carson decided to endorse Trump. The announcement was carried in tiny prints in the media. It was as if nothing actually had happened. You just need to compare with the hullabaloo that surrounded Mitt Romney when he went to town demanding Trump's head. Suddenly, the same media houses that had laughed at Romney in his failures to be the tenant of White house were falling over themselves to crown him the only true Prophet of our time, a saint, a truth speaker and even the US President de-facto.

I understand, Romney is newsworthy than Carson but the actions of the two when contrasted could not really outweigh each other with a bigger difference and margin. They could have been at par. But, it was the media that created a storm with Romney and decided to muffle Carson into a calm breeze. I can vouch that if Carson had decided to break all the ranks and switch sides and endorse Hillary Clinton, the pundits would still have been weighing in on the issue until November. They would have been finding all the tiny bits and links to Trump. Trump would have been blamed again.

We, therefore, who understand the need for the media to be impartial need to teach America something about democracy. We should send a team of our trainers in election reporting to meet with American journalists and teach them on how to report on elections. Tell them they do not need to inject their opinions in the reporting. Tell them they should keep their choices private. Tell them this and that about election reporting in a democratic context and, if they cannot adhere then we should tell them to renounce democracy.

We do not want them to create an excuse for the next African dictator to fully control the airwaves in times of elections spewing this and that propaganda on the pretext that 'even in US elections, the media was (is) biased.'

I should also add that I have been dismayed with the way the media has gloated over the violence that happened in Chicago when Trump was about to meet with his supporters. 

The American media needs to know something: a violence is a violence regardless of whom it is being administered to. Trump might hold unpopular views but that does not warrant violence against him or his supporters.

And, to the Protesters, they also need to learn the basics of a democratic election. People should have the right of assembly.

Here, where you planted the seeds of democracy which I can now confidently say have outgrown the tree from which the seeds were picked from, we let people hold rallies everywhere and let them speak their mind.

Of course, we have instances of violence here and there but we believe it is one of our ways of learning. Remember, we are just seeds.

We are, therefore, shocked that in America people can no longer stand another candidate speaking and meeting his supporters that the only way out is to disturb their rallies and make chaotic scenes. That is not just bad and primitive, it is criminal. In a democratic election, perpetrators should be arrested and brought to book. Or, if that is hard then we can let our Police come and drill your Police in how to handle themselves in this season of elections.

Such scenes, being celebrated by a media that has shaped the world view, will easily be replicated in African elections. Any question over such a conduct will be met with clips of supporters and protesters fighting in America. We pray that you handle that before contaminating our pure seeds of democracy this side of the world.

The posts on Facebook of people congratulating their friends in Chicago for the insane and uncivilised way of disagreeing should equally be stopped by Facebook. What is that? Celebrating violence! No, that is a criminal act that should not be tolerated.

Of course America, we understand this is not what you expected. But, you see, that is what the democracy you are spreading in the world does. It brings people you never expected, you least expected. It is, nevertheless, imperative on you to respect that. Democracy is about respect for the self and the other. Sadly, this redefinition is not talking the same language as what I am saying. Worse part is that this redefinition will cause havoc across the world.   



No, this land is not beautiful!

I had to rush here, on this space, to write this.

Once, not so very long ago, I found this land to be beautiful. Despite all the shortfalls. I had read Alan Paton's Ah, But Your land is beautiful and had seen beauty everywhere. If Alan Paton could see beauty in an apartheid South Africa, I could as well see it in Malawi.

So, with all the poverty and hunger and envy and tribalism and crime and nepotism and everything bad that can come to mind when you hear Malawi after experiencing it as a disadvantaged citizen, I still thought it is beautiful.

I thought of the safety of traveling from home to distant places without being stopped by a suicide bomber in the tracks of my life and, I said, this land is beautiful too.

I am not the only one.

I was, minutes ago, reading some literature on something and something. As luck would have it, I chanced on a dissertation by one foreign student who did her research in Malawi. I was impressed. I like to see myself from the prism of another. This was an opportunity.

Her opening remarks to the acknowledgments are heart-warming and lovely. They say a million positive things for our tourism industry than all the adverts we have tried to put across advertising our lake we now are intending to defile.

She captures our poverty yet in the same breath, in equally fascinating beauty, she captures our spirit. And the resilience we have.

She says Malawians are nice and good people. She says we smile a lot. She says we are happy. She says we are religious and respect the word. She says we are this and that, this and that, this and that. All those rolling into one adjective of nice.

The way she writes about Malawi, you would be forgiven to think that she is writing about one big bar of chocolate whose only mistake is to be found on the toilet sink.

She is not the only one.

I once met a person. We talked about a lot and when she pressed to ask where I was from and I said Malawi, her eyes popped out.

She had ever been to Malawi, she said.

A beautiful country, she fell over it again if her expression was anything to go by.

With lovely and nice people, she said.

I was kind of happy in some sense. It is encouraging to be placed among the lovely and nice people. I know of people whom once they mention their countries of origin, uneasiness settles in. If there was laughter, there come in mirth of mockery. If there was niceness in the air, hostility comes in. It must be sad to hold a citizenship that is such.

I was, therefore, happy to be associated with smiling faces that are used in adverts made by donor agencies celebrating of their success stories.

But, now, I have come to question that narrative of niceness. I am not only questioning it but I am actively seeking to disagree with you if you think that narrative is correct and it is nice. I aim to hold that we, Malawians, are not nice people. We are not lovely people. We are nowhere near to being that bar of chocolate on a toilet sink.

Do you know, under all this niceness we exude to the world we have fathers that rape their children? Now, that is nowhere closer to being nice. That is outright crooked, disgusting and criminal. However, the worse part is that we have a whole system and structure that aims to shield and protect those vultures. We have families and communities that have decided to live with the everyday violation of young ones. Nobody says a word. Everybody sees nothing, hears nothing and says nothing.

It is still under this same veil of niceness and smiling faces that we have people (read: beasts) who are butchering albinos. These beasts apparently live with us and congregate with us in the same gatherings. They can easily pass for a smiling face for a TV advert of some NGO proclaiming insurmountable successes in Africa.

The worse part is that these people, evil and shrewd as they are, are not lone criminals. They have dragged the entire country with them. Thus, owing to our silence and half-hearted condemnations when an albino gets killed, we are conspirators to the crime committed. I believe that for our ability to carry on living as if everything is normal while right before our noses a genocide to purge off albinos is happening, we are actively participating.

I could say more about our inability to be nice to ourselves yet highly able to be nice to someone who is not from a similar context with us, but somehow I have to stop.

It is evident, it is clear, we are not a warm people. We are a people so unkind, cruel and evil that we actively participate in genocides or keep quiet as it rears its ugly head. That, my friends, I would not say is a mark of niceness.

No, we are not nice. This land is contaminated by our evil nature. 


Which guy asks a girl for sex?

Let me start from there:

Which guy, in his right or drunk mind, lies on a bed in a University room and ask his girlfriend for sex in a plain, boring and straightforward manner?

I mean, imagine this:

You are a guy. Drunk. In a room with your girlfriend. You have been dating for months. Your blood is boiling. Hers, you can assume, is as well boiling. Do you say:

“I want to have sex?”

Pardon me, please, but this sounds so unreal. I know how sex is launched. I mean consensual sex among couples – whether married or not is besides the point.

I know better how it is launched in the event that the two are unmarried. And is consensual.
I will take you through the publishable basics: you kiss, fondle and whatever. 

But, you don’t just lie on the bed and demand: ‘I want sex!’

And, what does the girlfriend do?

She says no but before long once the guy is about to take exit for being denied sex, after asking in such a boring and childish way, she changes her mind. She offers the raw sex.

Now, this sounds childish. And, I may add, plainly boring.

Yet this is a scene I have just pulled out from a Mzuzu University students production of the famed Alufeyo movie. Yes, by Malawian standards it is famed. 

It is such a scene that has made me recoil and fear the kind of movie industry we are creating. One would expect University students – evidently active in sexual activities and most importantly mastering the core issues in drama and acting – would act better a sex scene. But, that was the best they could offer. 

I am disappointed, with that scene! 

Of course, I would say it is a better production. That is if it is weighed against the things that parade on local television, from local producers. But scenes such as this make the critical eye in some of us stand up in arms and wail before – or after – the producers start celebrating of a mature production.

Again, how do the police interrogate suspects?

In the movie, the Police are trying to extract a confession from a student who is busy dodging them. What do they do? They meet with the registrar, confess the person in question is dodgy (which would make him a prime suspect) and use their own phones to ask for a meeting with the suspect. Why not use the registrar's if it is really pinning down a dodgy suspect?

I am assuming if he knows he is guilty and has been dodgy to the Police, what will he do once the Police tell him they are in the registrar’s office? Ha! No prize for guessing.

I am not commenting on the individual acting. Just two scenes ruffled me the wrong way while I was watching and I could not wait to finish before writing something. That is why my brief commentary does not tell how the production plays along to the mythical HIV narrative.

I am also not writing how the production is the typical ‘good boy turn bad and gets consequences’ production.

I am shunning from writing a lot that I could about the production, especially the sensitive themes it throws about with callousness. 

But, watch it. Make an independent opinion.


Another sham election just finished in Africa

In Malawi, in 2014, we had 'successful' elections.

Successful because an opposition party won - which really says a lot about the independence of the Electoral Commission. Successful because there were no people who died after the results were announced - if we can just forget the officer and a civilian who died during campaigning. Successful because the losing parties accepted the results - if we ignore all those desperate attempts to hold on to power by the sitting President at the time and all that crying from the opposition.

However, it is not as if on the day of releasing the results there was no tension. There was tension. Palpable tension that spread in the veins of the country.

Apparently, even before it came to the time of releasing the results, there was drama all the way through.

A friend told me that one day, while we were still waiting for the results to be announced, he was in town. A gentleman, whether in the spirit of exercise or high on something, decided to start running. Nobody waited to see what was chasing the gentleman. As characters in a badly choreographed dance, almost everyone joined in the running.

From what? Nobody knew.

It was just a reaction to the tension that the country was harbouring.

Fast forward to 2016, in Uganda.

At the time of writing, Ugandans have just finished voting. The results are trickling in and, unsurprisingly ( at least to me), they show incumbent Yoweri Museveni leading. Not with a small margin.

At this point, apparently, it is safe to say Museveni has gifted himself another five year term. Straight from presiding over the affairs of Uganda for thirty years!

I have a few friends in Uganda, I follow a few pages on Facebook that are Uganda based and they discuss their country. This time of elections, I should say, I had the pleasure and privilege of following their rationality and irrationality from a distance. It has been largely exciting and, also, has given me the time to reflect on the whole process of elections.

Before the voting time, you could easily see and observe that the electoral process in Uganda was in Miuseveni's favour. Critics abounded on Facebook, yes, but everything that the people were participating in had the sole aim of validating Museveni's stay.

From being invisible to the prying eyes of the electoral commission that saw every little step the opposition took to the arresting of Museveni's top contender, Kizza Besigye, as an outsider I could easily tell that Museveni was getting another term in office. With a majority.

And, I think I was right this far.

I monitored the comments on social media and most of them were largely against Museveni. However, it was the systems that were not against Museveni. The electoral commission and the police were tactfully acting on Museveni's commands. It is a shame that anybody expected to unseat Museveni from his position in such a structure.

What more?

The reports circulating on social media further indicate that it was not only the process to voting that was a sham. The voting in itself was, as well, another big round of comedy.

Emulating the Malawi Electoral Commission in 2014 when electoral materials took long to arrive in some parts of the country, the body in Uganda made sure it act directly to the script that their counterparts in Malawi had ever used. They delayed materials in some areas and when the people were angry and rioted, they postponed to the next day the elections of that area.

You would think at such an action people would accept that Museveni is the life President and any act of expecting the opposite was an act of delusion, but no! People were still optimistic for Besigye thinking by some last minute machinations he will pull a fast one over Museveni. I knew he would not. And, it is not because I have some Prophetic powers. It is because every other person could see that the election had been made into a parade with the ultimate goal of validating a dictatorship.

So, there were monitors and everything and anything on the ground. They will go away with reports and noise of an election being 'this' or 'that' or failing to be this or that. But, their reports will not change anything. It will still remain a sham election in which the voting did not matter but the counting did.