Many times, I have seen pictures in Malawi’s newspapers showing the plight of pupils learning under a make-shift grass-thatched classroom or under trees.
People react to such pictures with many emotional comments. Some with anger and others with indignation at their government.
They say, the government does not care! Education standards have sunk to miserable levels! Malawi is a poorest country where its children learn under trees like birds! Malawi will not change!
Yet, the irony is that these grass-thatched classrooms are found amidst a village where there are strong men and women living in descent iron-roofed houses. These strong men and women go about on daily business and care little about where their children sit for schooling.
The other irony is that these grass-thatched classrooms are found amidst abundance of water and wood which people can use to mould and burn bricks and build a better place for schooling of their children.
I mean the emotional reactions should first be directed to the strong men and women of that villages that choose to condemn their children to such poor-open grass-thatched classrooms.
I mean people have to look beyond the pictures and ask why people in the areas where children have no proper learning environment, failed to organise themselves and construct better learning class-rooms for their children.
Did our ancestors not used to organise themselves to build great kingdoms using their bare hands?
We have great lessons from history of the great African kingdoms which build magnificent structures that awed the world.
The great architectural monuments, for example of the giant sculptured stones of Aksum in Ethiopia, the Egyptians sphinxes and pyramids, the Tunisian great city of Carthage, the great ruins of Zimbabwe, as well as the legacy of the ancient universities of Alexandria of Egypt and Fez of Morocco speak to this African of spirit of unity in work that was among our ancestors.
People in these kingdoms worked as communities to develop their kingdoms and areas. They worked with stones, wood, water, et cetera to produce great works of art.
Now where is the African spirit of communal works gone to?
If we had the African spirit that was with our ancestors, we could not always wait for the government to give all our infrastructure development needs.
Look! People in Neno have for many years since independence faulted every government for failing them because of the poor road in the district.
What if the communities along this road organised themselves from way back in the 1990s, gather the stones that are plenty in this district and put gravel on this road. By now, they could have gone hundreds of miles in preparing their road.
Look! The communities in Phalombe district have the same problem. From the 1990s they have been victims of political propaganda of a district hospital. What if the villages in this district gather their architects, builders, electricians and start their way into the project.
If the communities in Phalombe had started this project in the ‘90s, they would have been at roofing them now. Maybe the government would have come to their help in the last minute to provide them with necessary materials such as iron sheets and furniture. This act of self-reliance itself, would send a strong message to the governments that have neglected them for years.
The cases of Neno district road and Phalombe district hospital demonstrate the greater picture of what communal works can do in our areas.
There are many small projects that communities can do without assistance from government. Yet, we wait for the government to provide all our infrastructural development needs.
If we had the African spirit that was known with our fathers, we could build clinics, schools, roads and security infrastructure with little government assistance.
This is not to suggest that the government has no responsibility for people’s development. The government has an obligation for the development of the country. Rather this is to suggest that communities can take over responsibility of development where the government is apparently failing.
This is also not to suggest that we have to return to the primitive life of Africa of the earliest kingdoms, rather we can draw some lessons from the African spirit that was the main work ethos that helped them to develop their areas.
We can only adapt this spirit to the modern world and challenge some of our governments that as a people we can also do great things by ourselves.