Age just a number 

Age just a number 

Malawi and Zambia have many things in common historically, culturally, politically and otherwise. But the differences between the two countries are also stark and startling—sometimes like night and day. For example, at a time he Malawi government has extended the retirement age for judges of the High Court and Supreme Court to 70 years, Zambia trade unions are pushing to have the retirement age for all employees including judges reduced from 65 to 60. The unions are citing the need to pave the way for productive youth to take up the vacancies. 

Similarly, for a country with half [8.8 million] of its 17.56 million population as youths aged between 10 and 35, according to the National Youth Policy (2013), the Malawi Government should not be raising retirement age for anyone or how would it create spaces for the unemployed youths now at 9.52 percent?

Historically, apart from a long border from Chitipa to Mchinji that Zambia shares with Malawi, both countries are inhabited by Chewas, Ngonis and Tumbukas who migrated from the same region. Chewas and Tumbukas are believed to have migrated from the Democratic Republic of Congo while Ngonis came from South Africa. Inevitably, the tribes are culturally conjoined. Politically, both Zambia and Malawi are former colonies of Britain. Both countries got independence in 1964. The parents of the founding presidents of the two countries—Kenneth Kaunda and Hastings Kamuzu Banda—were Malawians.

Kaunda’s father a Malawian from Nkhata Bay went to Zambia as a missionary from Livingstonia Mission while Kamuzu attended his early education from Livingstonia Mission. But that is almost all there is by way of commonalities between the two countries. Their differences are equally startling.

Zambia has a robust economy largely from its bustling and developed mining industry.  In 2020, Zambia ranked 92 in economic complexity (EC!—071) and 85 in total exports ($11billion). The same year, Malawi ranked 156 in total exports ($937million) and does not have data regarding ECI.  Malawi has the world’s largest rutile deposits. Kasiya in Lilongwe has just been discovered to have the largest single rutile deposit in the world. No other known large rutile deposits have been discovered in over half a century, according to Sovereign Metals, Rutile is used as feedstock to produce pigments for colourants in paints, paper and plastics. This means that as God endowed Zambia with gold, the bounty for Malawi is rutile. But while Zambia wasted little time to start mining its gold before independence, for decades Malawi has just been grazing its cattle on the land with vast rutile deposits. At best the country has just been growing tobacco on the boon.

Colonialists were not interested in establishing rutile mines in Malawi because they wanted to use the country as a source of cheap labour to Zambia and Zimbabwe for their gold and diamond mines, respectively.

 When Kayelekera in Karonga was discovered to have Africa’s second largest proven reserves of 2.8 million tones of contained uranium oxide and would become Paladin’s second largest uranium mine and its second in Africa, something not out of the ordinary for Malawians happened. Those who pull the strings connived with the investors. They started mining uranium but left Malawians with next to nothing while their offshore bank accounts were bursting at the seams.

Today, taking advantage of the recent change of Government in Zambia, the Federation of Free Trade Unions (FFTUZ) opened debate on retirement age. FFTUZ wants the new government under the Hakainde Hichilema United Party for National Development (UPND) to review the Retirement Age Act to have the retirement age at 55, as before, and not up to 65 years. So Zambians are fighting the UPND administration to reduce the retirement age to pave way for productive youths to fill the vacancies.

But here in Malawi with an economy that creates few jobs, we don’t want to open up the job market for new entrants. Where do we expect the youth to go when they graduate from the country’s 21 accredited universities and over 30 tertiary learning institutions?

Besides, why only increase retirement age for judges? What special characteristics do they possess to retire at 70, when everyone in the public service retires at 60? The judges should retire by the age of 60, so that younger judges with good intelligence and sharp brains can take over. The trend in most neighbouring countries—Zambia (65), Zimbabwe (60), Tanzania (60), South Africa (70), Mozambique (65), Botswana (65), Namibia (65)—is towards keeping the retirement age at between 60 and 65. By the way, is there a cap on how long one can serve as chief justice?

The discrimination caused by raising the retirement age for judges will cause employees in other professions to also start agitating for an increase in their retirement age. The youths, who are a majority in the country and vote need to work and they need to find space in these work places.

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