Embracing the African philosophy of uMunthu to bolster anti-corruption education

Lilongwe, Malawi, 20- 24 February 2023 — In Chichewa, one of the indigenous languages of Malawi, there is an old saying: “Kali kokha nkanyama; ali awiri ndi anthu”. Translated to “No man is an island,” it stems from the African indigenous philosophy of uMunthu and reflects the notion that no single person exists as an isolated individual, but rather as a member of their broader community.

The values of ethics, integrity, altruism and empathy that reinforce uMunthu are also those key values that inspire and shape the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)’s work around primary education. Through its methodology to build a culture of rejection of corruption amongst young people around the world, UNODC’s Global Resource for Anti-Corruption Education and Youth Empowerment initiative, or GRACE, works directly at the intersection between Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 (quality education) and SDG16 (building peace, justice and strong institutions), to foster the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

UNODC strongly believes in the progressive change that indigenous philosophies like uMunthu can bring when correctly integrated into formal education systems, while at the same time fostering Pan-Africanism and corruption-free societies.

To advance this, GRACE, the Anti-Corruption Bureau of Malawi (ACB), the Malawi Ministry of Education and the Malawi Institute of Education (MIE), in collaboration with UNDP Malawi, have been working to support the development of primary educational material based on this important African philosophy.

The aim is to create a ‘sourcebook’, i.e. a scripted manual with lesson plans and activities on ethics, integrity, and corruption for teachers to deliver in primary school. By embodying uMunthu values, attitudes and behaviours, the belief is that together it is possible to build just communities where corruption is ultimately rejected.

Ahead of the finalization of this important tool for teachers and the start of trainings in the country, representatives from the partner institutions and the two UN entities held discussions across Malawi. During the dialogues, the perspectives of students, teachers, parents, traditional and religious leaders and civil society were collected on the best way to approach this task and ensure the content is both context-specific and age-appropriate.

“The consultation experience was so enriching and changed the whole perception of the concept of the sourcebook,” noted Catherine Nkhoma, Principal Public Education Officer at the Anti-Corruption Bureau of Malawi and a former teacher herself. “After the consultations, we realized that the material we develop needs to speak to children!”

Over a period of ten days, 180-plus community members, primary school teachers and pupils from Blantyre, Lilongwe, Machinga and Rumphi were consulted.

“We are going to change Malawi. With this, we have an aim to achieve!” said one enthusiastic teacher who was consulted at Henry Henderson Primary School in Blantyre after reading the first unit of the sourcebook.

Currently, all the feedback gathered is being aggregated and will be included in the final sourcebook, which will be used as the foundation to develop a teaching methodology and start training teachers across the country.

Behavioural change is a long-term process, but youth deserve an opportunity to design better futures. As Ms. Nkhoma commented, “While we know corruption is a difficult and cross-sectional problem, we need to start somewhere.”

Source: EMM/ Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations