By Nathan Chiume.
It’s only now, a couple of days after the tragic news of his passing, that I can muster the courage to say a few words about Uncle Thandika Mkandawire.
Professor was a special person to me! Everything about him reminded me so much of my father, Kanyama Chiume. His wit, intellect, vivid and memorable stories captured my imagination. His affable demeanor was endearing. I had known about him for many years – since my father talked about him often. But we didn’t connect personally until 2011, four years after my father passed after I emailed him to introduce myself. He was delighted to connect, and he promised to let me know when he was going to be in New York next time so that we could meet.
And indeed, we met there in 2013, 2014 and again around 2016/7. During that time, I helped to lobby the Africa America Institute (AAI) in New York, the organization that gave him a scholarship to study in Ohio, to present him with a Lifetime Award during their gala in 2014. He gave a rousing speech in-front of Pres. Allasane Ouattara of Ivory Coast, who had also got a scholarship from the same organization.
Over the years, he also acted as an informal advisor to our family’s legacy preservation project for our father. As a matter of fact, he had agreed to be in Malawi later in the year as a guest of honor when we launch activities around this project.
It was partly due to his friendship with Kanyama and his association to other rebel ministers, that he couldn’t return to Malawi after going to USA for studies in 1960s. He met Kanyama when he was a secondary school student and my father was a Minister just before independence. Dr Cromwell Msuku, who is a childhood friend of late Prof. Thandika, recalled to me taking the Ilala steamer from up north with Prof and his older brother around this time. They got off in Usisya, where they were guests of Kanyama, who later drove them to Bandawe after sleeping over at this place in Chikwina, along the way making lifetime memories.
I have seen many people describing Prof. Thandika’s loss as akin to a library burning down. And indeed, this is very true. What is most striking, however, is that this is exactly how he described my father’s passing in his first email to be in 2011:
Nice hearing from you. your father was my mentor and only a few year ago I spent the New Year with him in Nkhata Bay at his lodge. I had hoped I would come back with video equipment to interview him. He was a a living library but as West Africans say, “When an old man dies a library burns down”. I have some photos of him and my family that I deeply cherish.”
I will equally deeply cherish you Uncle Thandika! My family and I offer our deep condolences to Professor’s family and to his close friends and colleagues. Thank you for sharing him with us, and we all wish you peace and strength during these difficult times. We pray for the peaceful repose of his soul in heaven, Amen.