There has never been such a remarkable story of hard work and great achievement by a single person, than the tale of Napoleon Dzombe. A story for which if duplicated by any government institution or any well-meaning organisation would uplift thousands upon thousands from poverty. Even though there is a perception in our modern society that if someone is a high school dropout, their potential in life is limited. This outlook or perception of life is highly challenged by the success story of one man from a small village of Mtalimanja in Malawi.
Napoleon Dzombe is a highly respected household name in Malawi, a country with which Zambia shares the eastern border and a common cultural heritage. This man of immense character is neither a politician nor an academician, nor any other decorated professional. Napoleon Dzombe grew up in one of the poorest villages in Malawi, and as a child he walked a long distance without shoes to and from school. In fact, the first time he wore and owned a pair of shoes was at the age of 19. However, in 1977, Napoleon was selected to do Form 1 at Dedza Secondary School, one of Malawi’s top government Secondary Schools but his parents could not afford to pay the fees. Lucky enough for the young Napoleon, his aunt paid 25 Malawian Kwacha (MWK25) for him to start Form 1. As the year was ending, Napoleon knew that the following year his family would again struggle to find money for him to attend Form 2. Therefore, he asked his father to assist him with some money to start a small business so that he could raise school fees by himself for the coming year. His father gave him MWK25, which he used to buy some merchandise that he exchanged with peanuts, and then sold peanuts for MWK150. This profit margin of MWK125 made the young Napoleon think twice as to whether it was necessary for him to continue to rely on other people’s assistance to get through school. Alternatively, he could consider the option of going into business full-time, especially when the monthly salary of a teacher in Malawi at the time was MWK115 per month.
In his mind, the young Napoleon determined that dropping out of school was the right thing to do considering his dire circumstances. He felt that by going into business, he would eventually employ some of his schoolmates who remained in school for the next seven years. As fate would have it, this incredible young man went on to start a business with 77 Malawian kwachas (MWK77) which was equivalent to 77 US dollars at the time. In fact, Napoleon went back to his father to borrow the capital needed for him to start his business. And sure enough, it was his father who gave him a cow, which he sold for MWK77 and used this money to open a maize farm of 26 acres on his father’s land. He called this maize farm ‘Nzeru za Abambo’ (The Wisdom of My Father’s) Farm and then later diversified to growing other produce such as tobacco, bananas, rice, etc.,
Today, Napoleon Dzombe is not only known for his personal accomplishments but for his generosity and dedication to improving the lives of his people. The man who never finished secondary school went on to establish the School for Agriculture for Family Independence (SAFI) in partnership with American experts. SAFI enrolls 40 families from across Malawi at any one time, training them for free in modern methods of farming. Also, this man now employs well over 2,000 people through a variety of enterprises. Among some of his many business enterprises is dairy farming, where he makes dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese etc. He has built a hospital in Lilongwe called Blessings Hospital to serve the medical needs of the community. Also, he built the Kalipano Hotel in his outlying village, a magnificent tourist infrastructure, meant to generate income through tourism, conferences, and weddings where the people of Napoleon’s village find employment and outlet for their produce. He has constructed roads linking villages to town markets for village products, using his own resources and not waiting for government intervention. He owns and operates the largest rice factory in Southern Africa, constructed at the cost of $17 million and has been instrumental in training and empowering small-scale farmers in acquiring the skills needed to become successful rice farmers. Napoleon Dzombe is a simple man who never attained higher education but he is now a recipient of several awards, with great recognition for his humble contribution to humanity. This man is truly the embodiment of visionary and selfless leadership. Therefore, if one man can do so much in job creation, and service to his people, imagine how much more a serious government can do for its people through agriculture and hard work.
If any government is serious about uplifting its people out of poverty, and truly empowering them, I would argue that such a government should duplicate exactly what Napoleon Dzombe has done for the people of Malawi. The man understood at a young age that the wealth of any nation lies in agriculture, and with hard work anything is possible. The Patriotic Front (PF) government in Zambia will do well to encourage all sorts of investments and diversity in the agriculture sector. When it comes to feeding our people and lifting them up from poverty, our government should put politics aside and set realistic goals to achieve prosperity for our nation. I believe that Zambia will only walk out of poverty when we can successfully go back to the land and create wealth for ourselves. Our people do not need seasonal government handouts in the name of farmer input support programmes, but rather we need real empowerment in modern techniques of farming. If the Minister of Agriculture has run out of ideas on how to improve the agriculture sector or create wealth for our people through proper use of our vast natural resources, he should pave way for others to take up this job or seek real help from private individuals like our friend from Malawi who can advise any government accordingly. Maybe the government of the Republic of Zambia should organise to send some families to Malawi to attend Napoleon’s school for agriculture (SAFI). Clearly, there is a lot we can learn about rice farming and other modern techniques to improve our agriculture. It is public knowledge that Mr Dzombe’s enterprises generate about $5 to $6 million in revenue per year.
The renowned Harvard Professor Michael Sandel’s book, “The Tyranny of Merit; What’s Become of the Common Good” is a perfect embodiment of the extraordinary life of Napoleon Dzombe. In this book, Sandel argues that it is absolutely wrong for a society to focus on rewards for the common good based on merit. And then, he goes on to state that what should be the focus of any society for the common good is not meritocratic hubris of the successful, but rather the promotion of labour or the dignity of work as opposed to the emphasis on obtaining a university degree. This analysis could not be further from the truth because there is a tendency in our societies to write off or look down on people who drop out of school or have not obtained a degree of some sort as if success and wealth are tied to a college or university education. This success story of Napoleon Dzombe demonstrates that we do not have to accept our fate as handed down to us by the collisions of birth, but that we can use our talents, gifts, and skills given to us by God to make a difference and bless the lives of others. If anything, the story of this incredible son of Africa teaches us that there is need for our people and our governments to change their attitude towards the definition of success.