Radio interviewed African Tribal Prince, James Nyondo, recently. The story
of his conversion from a hater to a follower of Jesus Christ inspired
Compassion Radio listeners. These excerpts from an article by Robert Seltzer
of the San Antonio (TX) Express-News is an interesting follow-up to that
Posted: 05/15/2005 12:00 AM CDT
San Antonio Express-News
Webster’s New World College Dictionary lists
five definitions for “democracy.”
But none of those definitions boasts the
grandeur of the one James Nyondo carries in his heart and soul.
To Nyondo, “Democracy” means the future – the
future of his beloved Malawi, a poor African nation.
Nyondo is a prince in his homeland, but he
wants to become the president, so he has come to the United States to learn
about our system.
An international business major at the
University of Texas at San Antonio, Nyondo knows what many Americans do not:
Democracy is not just a concept – it is a powerful force.
But is it powerful enough to overwhelm greed,
corruption and, perhaps more important, tradition?
Nyondo thinks it is.
If he is wrong, his countrymen face a future
as dismal as their past.
guilt of privilege...
Nyondo knows about privilege. He knows about
the comfort it brings, the security and freedom from want. But he also knows
about the dark side of privilege – the guilt it inflicts when those around
you are mired in poverty, their dreams crushed by the struggle to survive.
Dreams? Many of his countrymen
no dreams. Because they cannot see beyond today, they have no future, no
hope for themselves or their children.
Nyondo is not one of them. He has a dream –-
to create a better life for his people. And as a man of privilege, he
believes he can fulfill it.
“If I have and others do
not have, I
cannot be happy,” he said. “You cannot be held hostage by the past.”
Than includes his own past, with a line of
royal succession that goes back hundreds of years. His father is chief of
the Lambya tribe, one of three tribes in Malawi. The groups are autonomous,
so consumed by their own issues that they make our red state/blue state
flare-ups look like afternoon tea parties.
“I don’t want to become chief,” he said,
laughing. “I hope and pray my father has a long, happy life.”
Nyondo is ambitious, but his goal is to become
president, not chief.
“We must educate our people, show them a
better way,” Nyondo, who intends to run for office in 2009, said.
At 36, he is approaching the life expectancy
of his countrymen. In Malawi, “Middle age” comes during adolescence. The
life expectancy is 37 for men, 38 for women.
Poor and corrupt
Bordered by Tanzania on the north and
Mozambique on the south, Malawi is a country of 12 million people, most of
them living in poverty. The annual per-capita income is $158. Most of the
people are farmers, and they work the land only six months a year, Nyondo
“I’m optimistic,” he said. “But before you ask
someone to move into a better house, you must know how to
A democratic country, with a president and a
parliament elected by the people, Malawi is undermined by corruption, Nyondo
“In America, the politicians serve the
people,” he said. “In Malawi, the people serve the politicians.”
Nyondo is a student, but his classroom is the
“He sees everything through the prism of
Malawi,” Richard Gambitta, a UTSA political science professor who is
mentoring the prince, said. “Now, each time he sees a comparison, I see a
comparison, too. It’s like looking at the same mirror.”
Nyondo and his wife, Brenda, arrived here in
2002, lured by a system he sees as a vast blueprint for his own dreams.
“It is the most successful democracy in the
world,” he said.
But why San Antonio?
“I met a pastor in South Africa, and he took a
great interest in me,” Nyondo, who earned his law degree at the University
of South Africa, said.
The pastor was Theo Womarans, who met Nyondo
at an orphanage in Johannesburg.
“The conditions in the orphanage were
terrible,” Womarans said. “But James was doing amazing things.
Two-way culture shock
While Americans have been gracious toward
Nyondo, some say he has jarred their expectations.
“In Malawi, I would sometimes wear my
traditional dress – a robe and loose pants, like pajama pants,” he said.
“Here, I wear suits. I’m amused because people think I should be wearing
From food to television, Nyondo and his wife
have experienced the culture shock that afflicts every visitor to a foreign
If he condemns some aspects of the society, he
does not condemn its framework – democracy. But the prince is not naïve. He
knows democracy is chaotic, unwieldy, focused on the people, but not always
devoted to them; he knows because he has visited the Legislature.
“The first time I took him to the Legislature,
he was shocked at how rude people were,” Gambitta said. “People were walking
around, talking, arguing, and no one was listening to the speaker on the
floor. He was aghast. I told him it would be very painful for legislators to
have to listen to each other for four, six, seven hours attentively.”
Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, recently
introduced Nyondo on the floor, recognizing him for his efforts to help his
“I love to see the legislators in action,”
After the introduction, Sen. Rodney Ellis,
D-Houston, ushered the prince into his office across the corridor, showing
him some artifacts he had bought during trips to Africa.
“I have to keep that here,” Ellis told Nyondo,
pointing to a gourd on a shelf. “It has something to do with fertility, and
my wife doesn’t want any more children.”
While he has learned about democracy, Nyondo
arrived here with a strong foundation in democratic principles, most of
which he learned on his own.
“In Malawi, women are disrespected, and for
many years, I hated my father,” said Nyondo, who is the son of his father’s
first wife. “I hated him because of the way he treated her. He has many
women, many wives, but she was the first. She wanted to go to school, but
she couldn’t. She was unhappy.”
In America, he sees fathers who play with
their children, nurturing them while maintaining their roles as
“I never played with my father,” Nyondo said.
“His only concern was the tribe. He always told me, ‘You have to be a
When I met Brenda in South Africa, she was the
woman for me – the only woman,” he said. “I will not be like my father.”
Nyondo and his wife are quiet and reserved,
but their voices surge with emotion and their eyes gleam with passion when
they discuss their dreams for their homeland.
“We want to be builders,” Brenda said.
Nyondo, who is finishing his degree at UTSA,
plans to study government at Harvard next year, after which he will return
to his homeland.
“We have great hope for James,” Rodwell
Munyenyembe, the speaker for the Malawi Parliament, said during a telephone
interview. “He is doing what he must do to help his country. He is learning
about democracy in America.”
Will Nyondo succeed?
“I’ve been fortunate, as a professor of almost
30 years, to see many students with greatness in them,” Gambitta said. “It’s
always an intriguing question as to how that greatness will unfold. There
are those of whom I am very proud because they have used their greatness to
change the quality of the lives of thousands. James has the potential to
affect millions – and millions who are in dire straits.”
Nyondo is so optimistic about his chances to
become president that he is already considering his career beyond the
“I want to become a U.N. diplomat,” he said.
It is all about a simple work with nine
letter, three syllables and five definitions – “democracy.”