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Mlambe Foundation
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ANTHROPOLOGY: The solution to global problems

by John Mankhomwa, April 4, 2014


As I read through one of the local papers, The Nation of Friday, 18th February I noticed a very interesting article written by Stewart Maganga who ironically happens to be my former lecturer and colleague in the only Department of Anthropology in Malawi at the Catholic University. His central argument was the relevance of Anthropology in addressing contemporary issues. I must acknowledge here, such efforts are needed to unlocking citizenry understanding and opportunities for the very few locally trained anthropologists in Malawi present for this old, yet relatively new field in Malawi.


Anthropology as a field of study has achieved a lot in the present times. From its Greek meaning, anthropos - human and logos – word/study, the word itself tells us how important this field is in seeking to understand humankind from the beginnings to the present day. Many have come to realize that with the anthropological knowledge, one has the world at the finger-tips as the anthropologist is very well equipped with the basic tools, skills and knowledge in understanding and working with various people he/she encounters. Anthropology tries to understand why things happen. For example, we know how AIDS spreads medically but do not know many of the underlying cultural, social, economic and other factors. Anthropologists tackle big human problems such as overpopulation, warfare, poverty and many other contemporary global issues. As an anthropologist, there are not many limits on career choices, anthropologists work in schools, cities, towns, isolated locations and environments. This field provides many career opportunities: “adding an anthropologist to a research team is like moving from a black and white TV to colour because they are able to understand the complexity of humankind and able to devise responses to such phenomenas" (Crain).


I remember as a student how people and many of my fellow students used to query and make fun of our anthropology class on career prospects and exactly what anthropology is. This in its own is evidence that people are still in the dark, and the worst incident was even before I got admitted into the program when my mother asked me “what is this you want to study?” to her it was a new career altogether which she had never heard of before. Today I am overwhelmed to note how a lot of people are slowly embracing and accepting anthropology as one of the best solutions in understanding people and avoiding pre-conceived judgments. Careers range from Education/outreach; administration/management, evaluation/assessment, community development, human/social services, forensics, law criminal justice, market/business research, tourism/heritage management, consulting/organizational development training, social impact assessment, mass communication humanitarian efforts and a lot more to do with people. Whatever the job title, anthropologists find their way through their good analytical skills that helps them to a wide range of career options. It is also interesting to note that the first European governments in Africa and elsewhere recruited Anthropologists in administrative positions with the aim of helping their mother governments in governing Africans. A colleague at my work place was telling me about a certain Member of Parliament in waiting who has spent a lot of financial resources in identifying people’s needs in the run up to the general elections. I was baffled as some of the things I take for granted are indeed a problem to some people. I was thinking to myself how relevant Anthropology can be in doing such projects to determine people’s needs in this area and how this can greatly help in developing good manifestos which can improve the lives in both rural and urban settings.


This can only be realized if the society recognizes the role of anthropologists and get a good understanding of this field. I consider myself honoured and humbled to have worked with a great deal of anthropologist both during my time as a student and as an assistant lecturer. As I am currently studying for my MA in Development studies at the University of Malawi, Chancellor College. I find most of the material in Development Studies very much related and similar to Anthropology and I have come to realize that most development issues are anthropological issues in the sense that wherever human development is being initiated, there is a need of understanding the people’s cultural perceptions and opinions on whatever life changing programs taking place within their locality. I hope with that knowledge I can change my students’ stereotypical perceptions towards the field of Anthropology too, which has always been mostly associated with the study of the rural arenas and the “other”.


It should also be mentioned here that there is a need to train more anthropologists to work in both public and private sectors as their knowledge can be of great use in addressing many of the issues facing Malawi and the world at large. Effort and commitment should be taken by the private sector and government through its Ministry of Culture to fund anthropological projects and give room for the growth and enhancement of Anthropology as a field of study. Research grants and permits should be made readily available if government is keen enough in promoting such initiatives. Gratitude and appreciation should go to Mlambe Foundation for the various efforts, materially and financially for assisting needy students at Catholic University of Malawi as well as foreign students who visit Malawi for various Anthropological and Archaeological projects to realize and achieve what could have not been achieved if not for the assistance rendered. I am proud to be one of the many beneficiaries of such study grants with part of my current tuition fees being funded by the same. This has changed the landscape of the field in Malawi as people have started appreciating the rich-form of our heritage and problem solving. It is high time the general public should encourage the enhancement of this field by encouraging their children to study Anthropology so as to tackle the many socio-cultural problems facing development agencies, partners and government in implementing different projects.



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