BY ROGER SIULA
Son of the soil, William Kamkwamba has harnessed the planet with his self-tailored story knitted out of a humble innovation he dared, deep in the remote corner of Kasungu District. The depth and breadth of the story touch on elements that formulate the undertone beyond the pictures, language and action. The story harnesses themes that mirror and resonate out of the screen to real life.
PASSION, POTENTIAL, PERSISTENCE
William, young, orphaned thus underprivileged, had invested his passion in science as a core subject in school. The odds were against him throughout. From inability to raise school fees, to compromised access to a decent school library and of course, lack of basic needs chances of William making it in life were slim, actually next to nil. However, William believed in his potential, his eyes were on the ball and he persistently pursued that which he believed in–that he would make magic with a simple bicycle dynamo which would generate power to rescue the village from pangs of hunger. Ultimately, that dynamo also powered his biggest breakthrough to become a global asset, the William Kamkwamba he has become to this day. His character echoes the passion, potential and persistence boiling in his youthful years to steam the reality of his dreams in high definition using simple available instruments.
Quite a number of times, in different scenarios, we tend to give up our passion thereby burying our potential because of lack of persistence. Hundreds of thousands of young people have been diverted into industries that they have zero passion for. This could be attributed to parents or guardians who dictate what they want their wards to be, the system which, at times, disregards and twists students’ choices of career which has a repercussion of them failing to apply diligence in their pursuit.
The story of Kamkwamba insistently resonates defiance against poverty and limitations.It is an inspiring story that one man can change the fortunes of a community. A tale of how one can find gold in the rubble of communal privation.
RELUCTANCE TO ADOPT INNOVATION
When William dared his father to give him the bicycle to bring his innovation to life, the dad resisted and rebuked the young man several times. As they struggled to till the dry land, William persistently urged his father that he has got the solution to save the people.
Despite reluctance from the dad, William’s peers were quick to embrace his efforts and believed in his potential. There is a scene in the movie where he gangs up with his friends to confront his father and demand the bike—the most wanted—to enable William finish the mission of harnessing the wind. This portrays the traditional conflict of generations where the rigidity of old guards is confronted by the zeal and flexibility of youth to embrace progressive innovations. The father did not want to take a risk of losing his invaluable bicycle to enable young William create a bigger thing, an innovation that would catapult him into a boy whose story will later defy the borders and command global attention –a game changer from humble beginnings.
Malawi is stuck, not because of lack of resources, but because of its inability to support and encourage innovation.
In 2016, Felix Kambwiri of Dowa built a helicopter out of scrap material, the civil aviation officials have grounded him to this day. And a standard 7 drop out, Mulanje-based Gabriel Kondesi, was arrested after setting up a pirate radio in his village, and had his talent nipped just like that. These are some of the quick dominant examples of strides made by inborn talents in addition to various applications and breakthroughs that students from various universities in Malawi do. This leads to making the essence of brewing domestic innovations futile.
POLITICAL INTOLERANCE, POLICE ABUSE
Hunger tears apart lives of the people in William’s village. It is a crisis that tortures lives and relaying this reality to the political powers landed the chief in trouble. The political authorities unleash police brutality on the ‘honest’chief, kicking him left, right and centre, torturing the old man and subjecting him to an early death. As a representative of the people, his only crime was to speak out the truth about the hunger that tormented his subjects.
The movie depicts that when it comes to telling politicians the truth, they hate it. It underlines how soft politicians are for people that worship and praise them, their pride in being told lies, their intolerance to criticism and how the police go scot free in disregarding human rights by torturing people. This is still the practicetoday, people have lost their lives and jobs simply for holding opposing views to the political masters.
In 2011, Chief Mponda of Nsamala Village in Balaka was beaten up and stripped naked by ruling party members.
WOMEN EMPOWERMENT, GIRL CHILD EDUCATION
William’s sister fails to go to the University because the family could not raise enough money to carter for her education. Poverty steals her prospects to a better life. Circumstances forced her into early marriage, burying all potential and passion she had to pursue further studies. This is a common situation most girls in Malawi experience which ends up a major hindrance to their dreams.
As commonly said, educating a woman equals educating a nation –there is a confirmation to this in the movie through the character of the librarian. She was incredibly helpful to William’s passion for sciences and research. She fought against the Head teacher’s move meant to bar William’s access to the library, she believed in the young man’s potential and passion.
The flip side of women empowerment are also depicted when bandits take advantage of the absence of William’s father to harass the mother and sister, forcefully confiscating their only bucket of maize flour amidst despite ravaging famine. The man took advantage of women’s vulnerability.
POOR EDUCATION FACILITIES
The school that William went to was shambolic, its library was dilapidated with a handful books, and the infrastructure was yet another mess signalising Malawi’s under investment in the education sector. And the situation in rural areas is worse. The movie attempts to remind authorities that with the right amount of investment in the education sector, Malawi could breed more and more innovators. It is sad that children still learn under trees and absurd infrastructure in some rural areas of Malawi. Worse still, there have been sad incidences of deaths due to poor tragic deaths of infrastructure.
In 2018, four learners at Natchengwa Primary school in Zomba died and more than 30 others were injured when a wall of the school block collapsed on them.
ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION, FOOD INSECURITY
Midway in the movie, poverty dilutes a sense of communal ownership in as far as the preservation of trees is concerned. Trees were cut wantonly, with no regard to the impact of calamities such acts would trigger. No wonder a dry spell hit the area, leaving the community destitute and hungry. This even affected the cultural artefacts of gulewankulu –their habitat, survival and energy was all drained.
Perhaps this aspect highlights the multi-faceted impact of environmental degradation, leading to climate change that threatens life of all living things.
The famine, forcing families to live on a meal or none per day, not only threatens healthy lives but in essence stimulates fresh calls for Malawi to achieve food security and improved nutrition through the promotion sustainable agriculture.
Whilst William Kamkwamba harnessed the wind, his story exposes a tremendous amount of gullies threatening the domestic topography of livelihoods like lack of access to basic necessities –food, water, proper housing, hospitals, roads, clothing etc.
Most of the thematic areas highlighted in this analysis are directly related to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. The bits and pieces of the storyline of the movie are a reminder to Malawi and the rest of the world to go an extra mile in meeting the urgent environmental, political and economic challenges facing our world.
The unity and collective communal approach portrayed towards the end of the movie underlines the essence of being purpose driven. That alone stirred more inspiration and motivation in William to harness the wind, save the community from hunger and fire up communal excitement.
All in all, William harnessed the wind, flew beyond borders and is now a global figure. Malawi needs to harness so much more disciplines in order to fly high and escape the brackets of being an impoverished country basking in the ranks and files of the world’s least developed countries. The boy read from his school’s deprived library and managed to translate theory into action –this element challenges all of us to be action oriented; act on our knowledge, act on our policies, act on breathing life into our potential and make use of available resources to defeat various social and economic barriers.