Top Down: Is Malata and Cement Subsidy a Solution to Malawi’s Problems?

In his famed 1943 paper titled “A Theory for Human Motivation”, Abraham Maslow presented the hierarchy of needs theory that has served as the utmost reference point for understanding personal and social needs. His pyramidal conception of needs can hardly be dismissed today. For the sake of this article, I will briefly highlight the primary needs lying at the bottom of the pyramid.

Maslow posits that humans place the need to survive above everything in life. What else can a human pursue in absence of life? We have seen it, the struggle to have food, water, shelter and air, it all boils down to humans need to survive.

In Malawi, one has to grapple to access or produce the above necessities. Folktales of X’s and Y’s that shoulder us have always been greeted with enthusiasm even when we are ignorant of X’s demands, when we do not even know that we have been shouldered to serve as a happy meal.
Remedying poor housing problem in rural areas, government introduced the Decent and Affordable Housing Subsidy Programme (DAHSP) popularly known as the Malata and Cement Subsidy in 2014. I have to admit here, this is a proactive step by our government. How would it be to wake up one day and witness the splendour it has brought to the nation?
A glance at the mathematical quantities, if that be appropriate, the tentatively 15 440 households tabled for first phase, to me speak volumes of governments commitment to banish poverty. Currently, both the print and electronic media has been immersed with success stories. You know the alphabet of stories. Perhaps, they are not a disguised praise songs designed by praise singers who always chant hymnals to buy a seat at the high podium.

In her tenure, Joyce Banda tried to build some houses for the poor across the country, but in a brink of an eye the provision suffered criticism and made her unpopular to various political critics. Was it the case that it was a matter of merely politicising the programme or it exposed a lot of weaknesses? Critics would always reason. How many are the beneficiaries? How are they being identified? How much funds are pooled into the exercise? And so on, and so forth.

During the launch of Malata and Cement subsidy, the president Peter Mutharika forewarned politicians and traditional leaders against politicising the programme. Historically, there has been a problem in Malawi that every programme adopted by government whether good or bad, would be sceptically analysed and criticised. Some would just criticise it to gain popularity while they achieve their political ambitions.

Now, if we can look at the programme, sometimes we may be so much interested to know how it is going to benefit the country without even examining other areas. We just see it as a project designed to assist the poor in rural areas by offering them cement, iron sheets and other building materials at a subsidised price. The past two years have yielded us nothing but a tragedy. A tragedy we will recite to our children on how heavy floods followed by drought left us as soldiers returning from a defeated battle. A tragedy that sold our faith to stories of miracles.
The rainy season has started again, the small traits of hope are sunk in fears. Malawians have nurtured a broad culture, a culture of avoiding uncertainties. It is within these bounds that a question comes. Is Malata and Cement Subsidy programme a solution to problems of a Malawian in the village?

When Malawi is declared the poorest nation, what does it mean to us? Do we need to delve into the theoretical diagnosis to understand our sickness? The difference between patients and doctors is simple, the former feels or sees the defect, the later provides medication as advised by their scientific guides. I am certain that people in the village know their sickness. Perhaps, it is only a matter of admitting that the proverb “Kulemela ndi kudya” lives. When Samuel the prophet visited the Jesse’ house to anoint Saul’s heir, he made it clear that the outward appearance matters less hence he amused Jesse by anointing David the shepherd. We have underestimated our sickness by dressing it in colourful regalia so that people should see our oiled faces smiling in front of Chinese cameras. In the break of day, we have chosen to fool our visitors by dressing our poverty. What will it matter then, to live under iron-sheet roofed houses and fail to put food on a mat?

I know our government is baking a cake for Jim and Jack, and that the Malata and Cement Subsidy Programme is the share for those in the rural areas who cannot afford a decent house. But why should the number of Fertiliser Input Subsidy (FISP) beneficiaries be slashed yet we are still in the caves, peeping for the dawning of dawn? Does it not benefit these people?

Someone said we are in the third wave of civilization, an era that has witnessed economic rise based on creation and sharing of information. I think it should not be all about implementing policies but trying to come together to see which policies would serve the nation in the best light. I think as people bemoan problems to do with electricity, public universities, water, health and others it is only information sharing that can rescue us.

When I was still doing mathematics, I learnt one principle (though I am not a mathematics devout). There are formulas to every problem, and some problems can be approached diversely but success is not measured with a number of formulas we memorise. Answers. Yes, answers are the most important thing of mathematical life. Perhaps it is high time we have listened to melodic formulas that are recited time and over again. We need to leave this theoretical field and embark on more practical activities and see if these formulas will solve our real problem.

Either we tackle the real problem, or it sees the remains of our strength being weakened into pieces. We can do better as a nation. We can rise atop the rabble, and rebuild. We should rethink our situation, and ask, in the final analysis, like T. S. Eliot in The Wasteland: “Shall I put my house in order?”


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