History Of Malawi

Tribute to Prof. Thandika Mkandawire.

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:

“Dear Nathan,
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.

1 comment for “Tribute to Prof. Thandika Mkandawire.

  1. March 31, 2020 at 2:33 pm

    Prof. Thandika Mkandawire’s comment on Nyasanet about the origins of education inequality in Malawi, September 2013:

    One of the myths about Chiume is that he set up a tribalistic educational system that has effects up to this day! Kanyama was minister of education for three years. During the time higher education was a federal affair which later led to a collision between the new majority government and the Federal government about sending students to the Federal University in Harare (and at great inconvinience to individual students).

    Virtually every student who went to UK and USA (who had at least Second class or Form Six) went through a system over which the new government had little control. Higher education was not its mandate. What Kanyama did instead is to use his many international contacts to find funds for those who hadn’t qualified for the UK and US scholarships. These were mainly to India and Ethiopia. Other African universities had the same requirements as the UK. I was at Malawi News at the time and we had to look for anyone who had passed form four. The numbers were not that large (as Nthenda’s lists suggests) and virtually everyone got a scholarship to these countries. This probably explains why Bingu gave Kanyama a state funeral.

    Nationalists were aware of these inequalities and a whole number of explanations were advanced- the Dutch Reformed Church was blamed for the problems in the Central region, Islam in the Lake region and child labour for the tea estates, Wenela in the labour exporting region and colonialism for uneven development in general and so forth. Chiume’s immediately solution was to turn “. every building into a classroom”. But obsviously we have not resolved these problems.

    The problem of uneven recruitment to higher universities predates Chiume. Just looking at the data posted by Louis Nthenda something like 28 of the 65 students (41 percent ) have recognisably “Northern” names. I am not sure how the figures look like today but if this is a matter of national concern then we have to find the roots of this source of conflict and address the problem. Over the years I have heard all kinds of explanation for this discrepancy – Chiume’s tribalism, manipulation of results (the Donton Factor); the “Mzuzu Corner”, pro-education culture in the North, the role of different missionaries; “nothing else to do in the north but study”. argument and so on and so forth. Many of these explanations are rubbish and will not provide a basis for addressing the problem unequal access to higher education.

    The NSO published data on school enrollement and completion rates. My quick glans suggested little difference. The data is unique and will need analysis by our educationist.

    In general we have no consistent policy about addressing inequalities in access to public services in Malawi. Just look at access to roads, electricity or water.

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