Three million years ago, humans were living by hunting, fishing and gathering edible items of any kind from fruits, roots like yams (zitchetche) to insects like grasshoppers (zitete) for their dietary needs.
With passage of time came specialisation, and the business of hunting was taken over by men as women focussed on gathering.
History says it was during the Neolithic Revolution (10,000 years ago) that people first discovered how to cultivate crops and domesticate animals.
Tools of that time were flint (stones) rather than the metal we use these days. Once able to carry out agriculture, humans slowly abandoned the pursuit of wild animals and digging mice for breakfast, lunch and supper and began to settle – for long periods – in locations where edible plants could be grown in sufficient quantities to seem worth tending to.
With the impulse to settle, came a need to ensure that animals remain readily available as a supply of food. And hence, herding them, penning them in enclosures or enticing them near human settlements by laying out fodder became the norm. The result was taming of animals.
From weeding around wild bushes, or perhaps watering them in a dry spell, it did not take long for humankind to upgrade to collecting seeds of the known edible plants and planting them in purpose-prepared areas where they would have a better than average chance of thriving.
And this was the birth of cultivation of crops as we know it today.
Likewise, from penning in animals so as to slaughter them when needed, humans started keeping them until their offspring were born, to shielding such offspring from predators.
Again, this was the genesis of the animal husbandry we practise today.
And by around 8000 BC, Jericho, located astride the River Jordan just like Malawi runs parallel to Lake Malawi up north, sliced by Shire River down south; was growing wheat, which was soon followed by barley.
While civilisation has now gone digital and today, we have television, androids, computers and their applications, high-speed trains, and of late cars that run on solar energy or electricity and Google has just created a car that can self-drive; many Malawians are still, if the Catholic Bishop’s recent lamentation is anything to go by, worse off than the people of Jericho in 8000 BC.
Many Malawians, this year celebrating 52 years of independence and living in the 21 century, have not moved much from the lifestyle of Stone Age humans.
If you need evidence, ask President Peter Mutharika.
Speaking right in the belt he calls his stronghold, he chided people not to starve but to borrow a leaf from stone age humans and become gatherers of yams (zicheche) and mice (mbewa) because his 21 century government has no clue whatsoever on how to preside over Malawians so as to enable them to lead lives better than the Stone Age humankind.
What a shame!
No wonder the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) is up again saying that having 40 percent of the population unable to meet their food requirements is simply not on.
I, however, beg to differ with the eminent men of the collar.
As far as I am concerned, even if it were only four percent of Malawians facing hunger, that would be – for me – totally unacceptable.
Look at this: the people of Jericho did not have half the knowhow you and I had after doing Junior Certificate level agriculture, they did not have half the technology we have, they did not have India from which to get tractor loans for their version of Green Belt Initiative nor the European Commission, Usaid, Jica and what have you, to give them grants and technical assistance.
But look at what they achieved
And now imagine that their leader, whosoever it was, had stood on a podium and told them to focus on gathering yams (zitchetche) or digging mice (mbewa) and for a change and diversity, to try grasshoppers (zitete), would we have learnt about the famous Walls of Jericho?
What hungry man would have had the energy, not to say the motivation, to put bricks upon bricks, mortar and all, building the wall?
The truth is: if the people of ancient Jericho were to eavesdrop to the President’s speech as delivered in Mulanje, they would not stop laughing at us.
Look, it is hypocrisy of the highest order and first-degree insensitivity for President Mutharika to ask the starving voters to eat zitchetche, zitete and mbewa while he constructs a state-of-the-art banquet hall where he wants to feast, not on nsima and nyemba, but on sumptuous, imported western and oriental cuisines washed down with expensive wines and whiskeys.
In an age where humans have been to the moon and back, in a country where president after president are millionaires – with their cronies in hot pursuit, it does not make sense to have anyone survive on yams and grasshoppers.
Watching the business-as-usual approach adopted by the ruling elites, it is difficult not to believe that perpetuation of the hunger and poverty situation is intended by our rulers.
If this is not the case, then one would expect that 52 years after Independence, President Mutharika should not beshepherding us back to the Stone Age.
As a minimum, his government should stop borrowing to construct toilets, halt these expensive but meaningless subsidies, and start providing the requisite 21 century leadership and policy direction so that Malawians in the rural areas can begin catching up with the people of ancient Jericho and afford their own homes and cultivate enough food to eat and spare.