January 6, 2008


‘i’ll come over tomorrow’ ‘i’ll vote for you’, ‘i’ll call you later’… confident, friendly, smiling; but do people in malawi mean what they say? it has been said that we are becoming internationally notorious for not speaking our minds.

is it possible that a non-verbal culture sprung up in the days of dr. h k b when underlings gave good – but untrue – reports to avoid sacks in rivers? maybe employees began to make glowing - but inaccurate - presentations to the boss. perhaps people took these habits home and learnt to lie through their teeth to their families and friends.

lets confess that here in malawi we duck and dive to avoid confrontation. our good intentions and nice ideas build a happy warm dream world; we tell you exactly what you want to hear; ‘i’ll be there’, ‘your lecture was great’, ‘there’s no problem’, ‘i’ll write the report’, ‘see you at ten’, ‘lets meet for lunch this week’, ‘i’m coming’, …

afraid to tell the truth? a lazy way to avoid giving offence? a passive-aggressive protest? or a round-about way of establishing solidarity? whatever the explanation, we have become completely incredulous. noone expects the promised visit and only the naïve hold their breath for that phone call.

apparently it’s a unique phenomena; west and east africans are much more frank, not to mention our friends in europe who wear their hearts on their sleeves. a quick apology ‘i won’t be able to make it’, a blunt ‘i don’t like the way your are speaking to me’, a straightforward ’that will not be possible’. they probably enjoy honest opinions, the root of the problem, the whole truth, realistic plans, reliable promises, and taking things at face value.

people in malawi do not trust the spoken word; actions speak louder, symbolism is alive and well. a strong culture of lengthy diplomatic discussion and negotiation has developed. but critics should note that avoiding confrontation has made malawi one of africa’s most peaceful countries.

i’ll post again tomorrow!


  1. Unfortunately your sentiments ring resoundingly true 'acacia'..in fact i have distant memories of hearing that strong voice of Dr Banda emphasizing the importance of 'peace and stability' in his propaganda speeches...however, consider;
    1- the docile nature of the people that results- it does have its advantages; but if you are going to bemoan the state of your economy and your status quo then do something about it- don't complain and then retreat into your docile shell in the typical Malawian way. I'm afraid this is the result of our peaceful nature- we are peaceful even to the extent that we are unwilling to help ourselves for fear of ruffling the feathers of? whoever!
    If one is unhappy in ones job one wont go and talk about it to ones boss...one will sneak out in the middle of the night so as not to be seen or have to say out loud that ones pay is insufficent...ultimately no one wins- we just continue subsisting in a world were every body is polite to each other and everybody is starving.

  2. The warm hearted smile of Malawi. yes welcome to utopia.

    Heck it sucks. But why are we so afraid of the truth? Its like complaining of a bad marriage but not walkin away. complaining of poor samoosas from sum restaurant that upset ur stomach and still go buy em again and again.

    A nation of Worriers?

    But we do generalize dont we? There are those "I-dont-give-a-fudge-what-u-think-of-me" Malawians who will tell you the Ngodya zinayi (Four cornerstones) as they are without condiments and embellishments.

    Sometimes of coz it depends on how the truth is spoken and why methinks. The bible admonishes us to Speak the truth but in love. Sometimes the truth is a poison laced blade, anointed and crafted to destroy and maim.

    But face value charade type or relating, not good for us as human beans oops beings. We build friendships, relationships on sandy lies that soon crumble in a heap of frustration of how cud u? How cud they? coz thats not who they really where

    I too have fallen foul of this crime one too many times


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