Local production is probably the answer

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In 2016, a friend of mine fell victim to an egregious trespass at his home in Manja Township, Blantyre, under the shroud of night. Villains, with nefarious intent, breached his vehicle, absconding with sundry and possessions, among them the car battery. In a display of sacrilege, they even took away some. Bibles. Thus did my friend, in lament steeped in incredulity, exclaim, “My Malawi, my Manja!”

In Malawi, anything electronic is thieves’ hot target. In 2009, thugs broke into my bedroom at 2:30 in the morning. They knew I was around but that did not bother them. They shattered the glass panes, sheared the burglar bars like cheese and gained access to the room. In the meantime, I and the only other occupant at the time, my high school going son, had to take cover. They ransacked the bedroom, stripping it bare of all electronic paraphernalia – computers, hi-fi equipment, remote control units and anything they could lay their hands on. I, therefore, fully understand my friend’s sigh, “My Malawi!”

In or around 1982, a British lady volunteer was murdered at Chancellor College. She and a colleague were living in the Chaplain’s apartment outside Umodzi Hall of Residence. One night, two thieves broke into the apartment and attempted to steal a wireless set. Refusing to relinquish her grasp upon the radio set, the lady incurred the ire of these unwelcome guests. One of them reached out for his knife, plunged it into the lady’s chest and left in haste. Both perpetrators swiftly vanished into the shadowed labyrinth surrounding the hostels. By the time help arrived, the lady had breathed her last.

The following morning, the news reached the head of state, Dr. Banda. Deeply perturbed by the diplomatic ramifications such an incident would inevitably incur, Dr. Banda ordered that the police should put all their efforts into finding the malefactor. Under the able headship of Inspector General, MacJ Kamwana, they did, and eventually apprehended the culprit.

It is frightening that some people are prepared to trade human life for something as cheap as a radio. The truth of the matter is that electronic gadgets are over-valued in Malawi. I want to submit in this article that this is so because we do not make these gadgets locally. As a result, they are both rare and expensive.

When I went to primary school, we had a subject known as “Art and Craft”, which encouraged us to craft all kinds of items from locally found materials. I remember having once made a hat from maize cob covers. My teacher put on my hat on closing day, which made me feel so proud. I cannot imagine a situation where somebody would be driven to take the life of another individual over a hat crafted from maize cob covers.

Now, suppose our students had the ability to make radios or amplifiers or handsets, as part of their school work. Our communities would be awash with these items. Anybody wishing to have one would either make one themselves or ask a colleague to make one for them. Therefore, electronic gadgets would not, if I may postulate further, be hot targets for robbers. The murderers of the British lady mentioned above would not even have bothered to leave their home in the middle of the night, seeking to forcibly grab a radio from an innocent volunteer, ending up grabbing both her radio and her life.

As we search within our culture and our education system, let us institute ways of exposing our students to the process of manufacturing simple items. Let manufacturing so permeate our communities that electronic and other manufactured gadgets will look ordinary and will, therefore, not unduly attract the attention of thugs. Competence in manufacturing should be woven into school curricula. Those who deliver science courses at secondary school and higher levels should be well versed in the making of things and should be able to give appropriate examples to their students.

Programs like “How It Is Made” aired on Discovery Home channel should be taken really seriously. Those that show aptitude in making things should be given all the support they need. This support could be in the form of special recognition by an institution or indeed Government, or monetary and other awards. In short, let the manufacturing culture proliferate in our country.

In 2016, A Belgian friend of mine (now deceased) ran a guitar making course in Blantyre. He was targeting technical college tutors but the lot that turned up comprised carpentry students, whose command of English was next to zero. Half the time they did the wrong things. Appropriately qualified students should attend manufacturing courses.

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