am not sure whether life really begins at 40. In a country where they say life-expectancy hovers somewhere around 40 that maxim can be nothing but a fallacy.
That notwithstanding I think that age was arrived at because at 40 one must have a direction where one's life is going. For example, at 40 one must have pretty much be done with all the basic education and must have some defined profession.
Malawi turned 48 last Friday. The celebrations were quite muted this year because of austerity measures the Banda administration is putting in place. I know that quite a few people were not amused by that decision. Hey, during the Ngwazi days July 6 was an excuse for folks from rural outposts to visit the city of Blantyre to dance with the Life President and watch a free international football match.
July 6 rocked in those days. Those in their 40s today look back with nostalgia to those 'youth rally' days. The Malawi Young Pioneers and the MCP Youth League, despite their other 'extra-curricular' duties they were infamous for, were a marvel to watch on this day.
On this day Kamuzu was a study in discipline. I am not sure whether it was the naivety of youth in most of us but it was quite intriguing to watch the old man sit for hours without disappearing behind the dais to take a bite or catch a wee. I had an English teacher who rarely excused you to 'please teacher may I go out?' He would say: 'Look at Kamuzu, he never breaks from a function because he is disciplined at what times he drinks water or eat something.'
Then the parties would move to regions, then districts...July was a month of marathon national celebrations.
The Muluzi administration improvised on the celebrations and rotated them according to regions. President Mutharika (may his soul rest in peace) continued the same practice but added awards for achievers.
President Joyce Banda scaled down this year's events because she said she inherited empty coffers and therefore there was no money to hold a big bash on July 6.
But the partying aside, do we have - as a nation - anything to show for the nearly half a century we have been independent? Malawi has been at peace throughout its existence as a nation but it is a shame that we are still being mentioned in the same breath with Sierra Leone as a country where it is not safe to be a mother. Statistics still show that over 800 mothers out of every 100, 000 live births die in child-birth.
Our big neighbour, Mozambique, suffered 16 years of a civil war but it is now way ahead of us in terms of infrastructural and economic development.
We may be landlocked and devoid of minerals and other natural resources that spur on economic development but we Malawians have a laissez-faire attitude in almost everything. For instance, we have no sense of time. We are proud with what we call 'Malawi Time'. A cabinet minister can be scheduled to open a conference at 8.30 but when he or she shows up at 10 it is business as usual, no apologies, no explanations, no nothing.
Aleke Banda (may his soul rest in peace) was a rare exception. Aleke would tell you to meet him in his office at 7.30 and by 7 he would be already in his office. If only we had a million Alekes...
The civil service is another let down. Chakufwa Chihana (may his soul rest in peace too) stirred a hornets' nest when, in the run up to the 1994 elections, he suggested that at 120, 000 we had a bloated civil service and once elected he would work at trimming the figure by half. He must have lost quite a few votes with such a scary statement but a Jana study vindicated him a few years later.
Our service delivery in parastatals is another shame. There seems to be no hurry in having anything done in Malawi. Go to the Post Office for a postage stamp, for instance. You will either find the officer behind the cubicle busy on a private mobile phone or three-quarters of cubicles will be empty. To think that such a comatose parastatal has the audacity of hiking fees for individual postal boxes to K20, 000!
Despite the Anti-Corruption Bureau being operational for nearly 20 years it seems corruption is part of service delivery in Malawi. Try to get a passport the 'normal way'; you will wait for years. Forget the 'express' nonsense, you still need to grease someone to get the all-important document.
The shoddy service delivery extends even to the supposed private commercial entities. MTL is supposedly privatised but you still need to palm oil someone to get a line or have a fault fixed. To say nothing about banks. You cannot hope to go in and out of a bank in 20 minutes, not in Malawi. Perhaps as a sign that banks rake in lots of millions there are massive extension projects in banks. One would ordinarily think this would result in efficiency but, hell no, many cubicles remain unmanned one wonders what was the point in extending the banking halls if there are not enough tellers.
Mobile phone operators are another pain in the wrong place. They always list down help lines but you are very lucky if you are not tortured with the almost impersonal recorded voice. If someone ever answers you and you present your complaint, they make you hold until you can hold no more.
This is just a rough sample of how petty we are. But this national laissez-faire attitude to life conspire to hold back the development of the country. We seem to be in no hurry to achieve anything. We always complain of low salaries but how do we generate enough money to improve our salaries if we are unwilling to work?
Look at the way we dot around our leaders. Whenever the President is leaving the country or arriving back from a foreign trip you always see hordes of ministers, MPs and chief executives lining up to see her off or welcome her back. Ministers and MPs even leave important business of Parliament 'just to be seen by amai'.
If we begun counting the cost of our laissez-faire attitude towards life maybe we would have been talking of a different Malawi nearly 50 years later. But it seems the only thing we are in a hurry to do is over-populate the limited land we have.