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Being Malawian and the Right to Belong

Updated: Jan 21, 2020

Pic by Malawi News Now

Published in celebration of Tiunike Online's First Birthday!

A regular malaria illness, remedied by a regular dose of Lonart or Fansida, is a nightmare if you are a regular Malawian villager from Sandama in Malawi’s Thyolo District. Your health center, for months, will have been out of malaria medicines and the painkillers that would tone down high fever. You have one of three choices: either walk across into Mozambique, to a health center at which you can lure a Mozambican relation to purchase life-saving drugs for you; or take the long road, in your illness, to the government health center at Thekerani, or the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital in Makwasa, to obtain treatment, and figure out the payment after returning to health; or await chance to either naturally deal with the plasmodium in your bloodstream or allow fate to help you succumb to it. It scarcely occurs to you that your misfortune, in large measure, is because your lack of national identification encourages your medical staff to indiscriminately cater to Malawians as well as your Mozambican neighbours. And they will do this on account of Account #1, to which only your taxes accrue.

The year 2017, for having brought to you a National identification card, is a year worthy of the celebration. The national ID itself can be a lifesaver.

National identification has been the subject of much politicking, as is the norm in our dear country and indeed, as in many others on the planet. The incumbent administration usurps all the political mileage for having had the singular opportunity to coincide with a time when it was unavoidable to implement the program. Of course, every other past administration will claim they have had a hand in the process during their time in power, emphasizing the culmination of implementation being the simpler of all the requirements in the chain of setting up the process. Evidently, others are seizing the opportunity to vehemently preach of the loopholes for election rigging the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is cooking up in the background. An opportunity they should have had themselves.

Claims driven by mainly opposition political interest are absurd and should have little room in the public domain. There is no doubt national identification has been long overdue and has been an important determinant of slower growth, development and human progress for Malawians. Perhaps, the calls should be directed towards universal coverage rather than selective identification, so everyone is seen to be counted. However, for the first time since our independence, all Malawians have an equal chance to present themselves with the confidence of belonging to a state, and to exercise and enjoy their full rights within the boundaries set during the country’s colonial times. Done well, we have a chance to move beyond voter ID cards as in some of our neighbouring countries. In Tanzania, for instance, only 11% of the 50+ million people have access to national ID cards.

For the privileged few Malawians, and foreign nationals that could bribe their way into citizenship, accessing national identification in the form of passports and drivers’ licenses was always an exclusive accomplishment. For the majority, it was more the result of affordability than belonging to the real estate within our boundaries.

Probably the most basic ability that national identification aids the administration of nation and country is to know how many we really are. The current World Bank projection shows we will soon have 17.2 million mouths to feed, educate, provide healthcare and have employed, to mention only a few key public responsibilities. In spite of the relatively small land mass, we candidly would not be able to know how many new Malawians our productive, and especially idle, people are adding to global population growth at a given time. Neither do we really have a picture of how many of us are leaving due to death and emigration. An up-to-date system that will make planning a more accurate affair will be indispensable to getting many things right, even when all it could mean is to embrace the reality that we are too many to manage.

Another of prime importance is the virtuous power of national identification, which allows for the Malawian’s exclusive right to access and benefit from the public services intended for them. It is no longer news to us that our border districts, in particular, have suffered congestion in the supply of public services due to the influx of our neighbors from Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia. The most hit being health services, where foreign nationals, with whom we share borders, languages, cultures and even clanship, have found it easiest to descend on Malawi’s universal medical services when their own lie in the distance.

And yet, in examining important aspects relevant to the matter of nation building, Malawi’s national ID has carefully overlooked the identification of its nationals by ethnicity. Our traditional appeal to which tribes certain individuals pledge their loyalty has long been a cause of stagnation in our journey to development since we obtained our independence. And, whether we would like it or not, respect for ethnic lines have also been the cause of widening inequality among certain populations as governing parties have used their political and ethnic strongholds as a way of economically advancing their own. It thus helps to realize the equalizing power of the oversight on the national ID of tribal alignments in forging ahead a unique nation where we are all Malawians first. But then, so should be our allegiance in practice.

To bring it into better perspective, the scars that have been created in Rwanda’s history emanated from the easy identification of Tutsis, details which the national IDs generously shared with the world, and unfortunately, also shared with the Hutus. The result, as we all know, was the wiping out of at least 800,000 people, or about 5% of Malawi’s current population, an error the current Rwandan national ID system has learnt from bitterly, and to which it has accorded permanent redress. Malawi has, then, seized the opportunity to learn from others’ mistakes in their histories to ensure the reinvention of the same on our soil is kept at the very minimal, if our already non-polarized tribal configuration would inadequately keep tensions in check.

In hindsight, the neglect for tribal information on our national IDs should have informed our current vehicle licensing system, which should also have followed a similar pattern of thought. In 21st century Malawi, there remains a sense of difference among the country’s peoples as their vehicle registrations succeed to tell them apart, district after district. It would appear to this website that a number plate that reads DA- to identify the origins of the proprietor of the piece of mobile metallic asset is rather a misplaced demeanor. Whether Chewa or Ngonde, or Sena or Yao, a DA- number plate should have indicated the domicile of the asset owner and not to play the signal of wherefrom they hail. It should be a regular undertaking that a medical doctor called Saidi, working at St. John’s Hospital in Mzuzu City, drive their Toyota Fortuner registered as MZ-, to alert all relevant national administration systems in force that the jurisdiction under which the vehicle and owner fall is the Mzuzu District Council.

There are good things coming out of Malawi, and the launch of our national ID system is one such example. Concerns over political manipulation by the current ruling elites will always be corrected, and so our focus should – of course, as carefully as possible – majorly look at the benefits such a development will bring to the country on the overall.


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