Malawi is failing to create an economy that works for everyone

Malawis President, and Vice President and members of a Taskforce entrusted with conducting an investigation into the misappropriation of COVID19 Funds

Malawi has many challenges, but one our biggest challenge is creating an economy that works for ordinary people, not just the elites; an economy that helps ordinary people become financially secure.

I would suggest that this is in fact Malawi’s biggest challenge, because until people are financially secure, everything else is immaterial. Until people can afford to live without struggling, everything else is inconsequential.

Or to put it a different way, for all the religiosity surrounding many of our ceremonies in Malawi, complete with prayers before and after misonkhano, and yet unless we put in practice what St John said about Love in 1 John 3:17, we’re lying to ourselves.

Ask any non-partisan, independent and ‘sober-minded’ political commentator in Malawi, and they’ll tell you that our leaders have failed to discharge their obligation to ensure that they create policies that uplift (or at least protect) the economic interests of everyone. Simply put, for all the claims to be a “God fearing nation”, we don’t love our brothers as ourselves. Far from it.

Let’s break it down…

We all know hospitals are important, I’ve campaigned for better hospitals in Malawi for a good part of 10 years. But even if you have the best medical care, once you’ve treated a sick person who comes to the medical facility, if you then follow that exercise by sending them back to a house that …. is in a slum, that has a leaking roof, with poor sanitation, non existent or poor utilities infrastructure…the kind of setting inhabited a lot of Malawians, then don’t be surprised when in no time that person is back in hospital with the same problem or a different and worse illness.

Clearly that’s not a sustainable situation for any country or any leader to constantly grapple with.

What we lack are conscientious leaders who can see the bigger picture. Who say yes we need good roads, we need people and goods to be able to travel quickly and easily across the country and into our neighboring countries, but we also need decent housing with clean running water; yes, we need good hospitals, high quality medical facilities, but we also need well-paying jobs that will enable people to afford a good diet that keeps them fit and in good health; that yes, we need good facilities, hotels, shopping malls and golf courses to attract business executives and other high net wealth individuals, but we also have to rejuvenate our current national parks, and ensure the people who will be working in those hotels and golf courses(and who currently work in those national parks), are well paid, and do not become slaves of the rich. You get the drift…

It’s always down to the kind of leadership you have that allows people to thrive, or to suffer. And in Malawi we urgently need such conscientious leadership, because the current Tonse government is showing signs of an acute lack of understanding of this transformative kind of leadership. It’s either that, or they are blind to the scale of problems which the country faces.

In fact it is the leadership we’ve had in the past that has perpetuated the many problems we face as a country, including the problem of corruption. And you would have thought that the Tonse Alliance, with everything they promised, would have acted early on to prevent some of the excesses of the past which we’re now seeing manifesting.

I mean, with all the talk of mindset change, and of being tough on corruption, whose idea was it to take a whole hoarde of board members all the way to Dubai, for a capacity building exercise!? And not just in one Parastatal.. In 3 or 4 parastatals??!!!

Poor leadership.

I digress, but my point is Malawi is failing to manage the country’s resources so that they benefit every Malawian. And that is creating a scenario where we are struggling to create an economy that works. The often quoted sombre statement Pa ground si pali bwino is in fact a cry against the classic inequality scenario of gross inequality; where only 500 to 900 Malawians have benefitted by a total of at least least US$10 million from the Government in as many years, while the rest are either struggling or wallowing in poverty.

Where does that scale of inequality leave the rest, the remaining 17.9991 million Malawians?
What about them? Don’t they matter?

No folks, such a grossly unbalanced scenario can’t possibly be right. Not in front of God, and increasingly, not in a secular world where inequality is now being viewed as a perilously negative characteristic that needs to be urgently addressed – wherever it may be found.

What we need in Malawi is a scenario where 10 million Malawians in the same timeframe benefit by US$900 each. It’s still the same US$9 Billion which you’re distributing, except this time around you’re just sharing it to a lot more people than the initial 900, in the first example. Thats how you share resources more equitably; that’s how you fight inequality.

Friends, that is the challenge the selfishness and corruption of the last few decades has created, and fails to square up to. Because the Norman Chisales, the Lutepos, the Mullis and the Batatawalas of our country have skewed the game for everyone else.

And this brings me to my second point.

You can’t build a stable economy by empowering only your friends and political connections, or more generally, people who agree with what you stand for.

Bold statement? No. You can’t build a strong economy by depriving your political enemies and those who don’t like you, of vital resources, because you need your political enemies to be strong for your country’s economy to be strong.

There are too many Malawians who find pleasure in the idea of depriving resources from those who support a different political party, their political enemies…

“Anadya kale amenewa, nthawi yawo inatha“; si wa dpp ameneyu, aah atuluke; palibe chake uyu wa opposition, afunika awone nyekhwe

all very unwise because those politicians and political enemies we want to put down, also happen to be the very same people who support thousands of ordinary Malawians every month.

And so if you destroy them financially, they will most likely be unable to support the thousands of Malawians who rely on them, with the result that unemployment grows, the state doesn’t have enough social services to support the unemployed, …so your people suffer, your economy suffers, and ultimately your country remains weak.

I’m not saying neopatrimonialism is good. No, what I’m saying is until you have social services that can support people who depend to some extent on politicians, it’s unwise to seek to bankrupt or deprive your Political enemies…often people in the opposition party, of vital resources. And you can’t create an economy that works for everyone by doing that.

As much as it may sound self-defeating, for a poor country such as Malawi you actually need your political enemies to be strong for your country’s economy to be strong.

The Importation of Fuel into Malawi is an archaic Cartel we do not need

Oil tanker

The importation of fuel into a normal country cannot be the preserve of a few individuals or a handful of companies who effectively comprise a cartel.

And when you are an underdeveloped little country with sooo many Problems (with a capital P), you have very high levels of Poverty (another capital P), you have very high levels of Corruption (capital C), you have high levels of Inequality(the gap between rich and poor is sooo wide), how can you think it’s still okay to do things the archaic way of awarding fuel importation contracts to a handful of companies? Effectively creating small monopolies, the way things were being done 30 or 40 years ago, when Malawi had a small population, less energy needs and was a very different country ruled by a dictator?

Iyayi anthuni, it’s not right. This is a national iniquity that is dragging the country backwards, which we need to rethink.

Also, the way the fuel is brought into the country, why are we opting for the expensive route of bringing fuel into the country? Why are we choosing the harder way?

How can your country develop like that, when you are creating small monopolies instead of distributing resources to a larger group of companies?

Why on earth are we opting to import fuel more expensively, when there’s a cheaper option available?

That is not how you create wealth for your country. How can we lower fuel prices at the pump like that? Sustaining a monopoly can’t possibly help us reduce inequality and ensure that more people benefit from Government resources. Kuti Malawi azikomeladi Tonse.

Whatever the justifications of the past, no person or company should have a monopoly on the supply of fuel (or indeed any important commodity in a small country such as ours).

The supply of fuel should be entrusted to a larger more democratic group of companies. Here I’m talking tenders awarded fairly to 100+ different companies, with a clearly distinct ownership, & no conflicts of interest.

The process should be clear and transparent, and no one should lord over such an important aspect of our country.

Dziko ndi la tonse. Both rich and poor. Let’s be fair and honest, and brotherly towards each other.

Dyera, where some people want to accumulate all the resources while their neighbours struggle and live in abject poverty, won’t take us anywhere.

In fact without sustained antitrust policies, the inequality we’re seeing will simply make Malawi a more dangerous country to live in. Soon we’ll be like South Africa where the security situation in some places is really bad.

That kind of thing happens because resources are not being properly shared by the state, and too few people are being awarded all the major benefits, while the masses barely scrape a living. It’s poverty that breeds criminality.

By the way, this fairer distribution of resources extends to other aspects of life as well, all the way to the allocation or awarding of board positions in public organisations.

Zinazitu if we are to move forward as a country we will need to in the biblical words of Apostle Paul …

‘lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us’.

We need a mindset change. We need to change the way things have been done in the past to a fairer more transparent system that benefits a much larger group of companies, and through that a larger number of Malawians.

How COVID-19 is likely to slow down a decade of youth development in Africa

How COVID-19 is likely to slow down a decade of youth development in Africa

Unemployed Liberian young men seeking daily jobs at the industrial district of Bushrod Island, Monrovia, Liberia. EFE-EPA/Ahmed Jallanzo

Wim Naudé, University College Cork

Until COVID-19 hit, the quality of life of youth (age 15-24) in sub-Saharan Africa had been steadily improving. According to the World Bank, by 2019 the youth literacy rate stood at 73%. Gross secondary school enrolment rates increased from 13 % in 1971 to 43 % by 2018. Youth unemployment rates have remained fairly stable, at around 9%, even below the world average of 13.6%.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, extreme poverty among young workers declined from 60% in 1999 to 42% in 2019. Moreover, the youth literacy gender parity index, measuring the ratio of females to males ages 15-24 who can both read and write, has improved significantly, reaching 93% in 2019. And for this first time, the unemployment rate of young women are similar to that of young men (9.4%).

As an economist interested in entrepreneurship and technological innovation, I recently contributed to UN’s 2020 World Youth Report. In particular, chapter 4 of the report concerns how the youth can leverage new digital technologies for social entrepreneurship to advance sustainable development. Though written before the COVID-19 pandemic, the message may have become even more urgent. This, because COVID-19 may slow down or even reverse the positive trends in youth development noted.

There are fears that the pandemic will result in a lockdown generation, characterised by structurally higher youth poverty and unemployment.

Lockdowns, by slowing down the spread of the disease, generate benefits that “accrue disproportionately to older households”. But, the costs of reduced economic activity are disproportionately born by younger households. They bear the “brunt of lower employment”.

Reinforcing inequalities

Younger people, especially young women, are more intensively employed in sectors such as hospitality and entertainment. About 80% of youth jobs in sub-Saharan Africa are in the informal sector. These sectors – hospitality, entertainment and informal – have been among the worst affected.

Lockdowns also interrupt schooling and education. In one calculation, this could generate global future “learning losses with a present value of $10 trillion”.

The closure of schools will reinforce social and economic inequalities and exclusion. Youth from more well-off households may be less affected, for instance in having access to private internet and laptops.

While these impacts are troubling everywhere, in Africa they are magnified due to the high rate (21%) of youths who were already not in employment, education or training before the pandemic struck. The 8th sustainable development goal requires of all countries that, by 2020, they substantially reduce this rate.

Given the complications introduced by the pandemic, how can this development goal be best achieved?

Youth entrepreneurship

With formal employment growth sluggish at the best, countries are pinning their hopes on entrepreneurship. But, entrepreneurship support policy remains a notoriously complex topic. This is especially true when it comes to young people.

Younger entrepreneurs are on average more likely to fail, and older entrepreneurs’ firms on average perform better. This is often due to market failures. Banks do not have information about the quality of younger entrepreneurs (who often lack collateral). In education, meanwhile, the market will under-supply in the absence of subsidies.

Where these market failures are prevalent, the youth may fail to obtain finance for their ventures or accumulate enough skills. Supporting youth entrepreneurship would, therefore, require not policies to focus exclusively on entrepreneurship per se, but to fix market failures elsewhere in the system.

The benefits of catalysing youth entrepreneurship could be huge in Africa. With the world’s youngest population at a time of unprecedented innovations in digital technologies across the world, the African continent has a unique opportunity. It has two key advantages: digital savvy and a willingness to take risks.

Young people may have a comparative advantage in adopting and using new digital technologies. Moreover, many African countries have not only leapfrogged in the adoption of mobile communication tech, but have been experiencing an upsurge in tech entrepreneurship.

There is a deep underlying entrepreneurial reservoir in Africa. As much as 80% of youth labour market participation is in household enterprises or as self-employed activities; only 20% in standard wage employment.

Digital entrepreneurial ecosystems

Youthfulness itself should not be a serious liability for entrepreneurship anymore.

Given the scarcity of resources on the continent, turning potential into reality and best addressing the market failures mentioned will require countries to prioritise investment in, and regulation of, their digital entrepreneurial ecosystems.

It will require redoubling efforts to expand access to new digital technology and infrastructure, including the data needed on which to build new products and services. It will also require investing in information and communications technology skills – fixing market failures in provision of public goods and education.

Increasing digital absorption in this way will pay good dividends. As I argued in chapter 4 of the UN’s 2020 World Youth Report: consider for instance, that countries that do better to absorb digital technologies also tend to have a lower share of youths not in employment, education or training.

The direction of causality between digital adoption and utilisation of the youth is likely bi-directional. Better adoption of digital technologies is likely to engage the youth in either learning, education or employment. Better engagement of the youth is likely to lead to faster adoption of digital technologies – propelling a virtuous cycle.

With the COVID-19 pandemic threatening to halt a decade of progress in youth development in Africa, at a minimum a three-pronged approach is now urgent. This entails bridging the digital divide; investing more in youth education in information and communications technology and science, engineering and mathematics fields. It also requires building digital entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Wim Naudé, Professor of Economics, University College Cork

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Political Party funding in Malawi needs a complete overhaul

Thom Mpinganjira

Politics and money have a cunning way of accentuating the dishonest and desperate aspects of humanity.

I mean, even if Zaccheus – the archetypal taxman of the time, & physically challenged chief tax collector had been a tame, impressionable and honest man, even if he had possessed more than just a few ounces of feigned holiness, his relentless pursuit of other people’s hard earned cash, and his association with politicians, I suspect, might have hidden his amiable senses firmly away.

But if you needed further proof of the pervasive corrosiveness money has on people in politics in more recent times, then the attempted bribery court case involving Thom Mpinganjira (in which he has been found to have a case to answer) presents an excellent example.

Because if Mpinganjira is to be believed, then we have on our hands the latest manifestation of just how vulnerable our politicians in Malawi are to manipulation and influence by moneyed folk.

It’s something we’ve known for a while, and while yesterday it was the Makhumulas, the Mbewes, the Tayubs, the Ganis and a long list of wealthy Asians bankrolling aChair and his UDF, today it’s the Thom Mpinganjiras, the Simbi Phiris, the Mias, the Gaffars, the Batatawalas, the Karims, and the Mullis who play benefactor, or as Malawians like to say “Well wishers”, writing big cheques in donations or loans to keep afloat our Politicians & political parties.

The game fundamentally hasn’t changed. And that’s before we even get to the melee of private companies jostling for political favours from one abiggie or another.

Clearly this is not a sustainable situation, not least because universally it is very well understood that many of those who fund political parties often seek influence or payback in some way, whether directly or in more subtle ways. The loan or “donation” is hardly an innocent transaction.

Indeed there’s no shortage of tales of benefactors of all shades across the world who have tried to exercise influence over the leaders of political parties they finance, in order for those leaders to make decisions that favour the benefactors or their companies. In quite a few places, some cunning benefactors have even managed to land cabinet positions, if rumour of the shenanigans that happen behind closed doors is to be believed.

But what have we learned from this court case so far?

Thom Mpinganjira claims he donated around K100 million to President Lazarus Chakwera, more than K400 million to Vice President Saulos Chilima of UTM and over K950 million to the DPP, under former President Peter Mutharika. He claims that even former President Joyce Banda also received about K40 million.

If these claims are indeed true, and evidence of the transactions is produced to back his claims, it further confirms the fears of people who have for a long time decried the negative role money has played in Malawis politics; that as a nation most of our prominent politicians are still beholden to private interests.

https://twitter.com/onjezani/status/1392508272708669443?s=19

Mind you, this is all just coming out now, and was unknown to most Malawians last year – when the country was busied by street protests & the Constitutional Court (Concort) proceedings that nullified the 2019 “Tipp-Ex” Elections.

Some analysts are now saying these are the funds that were most likely channelled to finance the 2019 Parliamentary and Presidential elections (the aforementioned Tipp-Ex Elections), and the re-run of 2020.

But ultimately, it means in nearly 30 years, Malawi has not made any progress in curtailing the influence that unregulated and undeclared party funding has over our politics. It means we have failed to create transparency so that party funders are known – for accountability and to prevent conflicts of interest further down the line.

Unfortunately for all the fanfare of last year’s ConCort decision, we haven’t made much progress elsewhere.

Had there been sufficient progress in this area, then it’s highly unlikely that Thom Mpinganjira’s FDH bank would have bought Malawi Savings Bank(MSB), with it’s large debtors book, for a pittance. In fact at the time, many keen-eyed political analysts observed in despair the many irregularities surrounding the sale including just how absurdly little opposition the transaction faced, and how some of the debtors on MSB’s books were said to be the very same major financiers of political parties and other politically connected persons.

In light of these revelations, one can see why there was no chance of the MSB deal being scrutinized or facing the required oversight you would expect to take place before such a large and treasured piece of national financial infrastructure was sold, when everyone (including those who were expected to provide scrutiny) was in Mpinganjira’s pockets!

Further, and on a different level, the Bribery court case revelations hint at a present failure of our legislature, in 2020, and now 2021, to establish laws which work to protect the interests of Malawians. In this case, laws that create a fair playing field where merit & qualifications are a stronger determinant in the suitability of a Malawian to stand for public office, than the size of their “well-wisher” wallet.

Simply put, it means you can unfortunately not only buy oligarchical influence in political circles, but you can probably buy your way into parliament in today’s Malawi.

And unfortunately that’s not a good verdict for Lazarus Chakwera’s Tonse Alliance. It certainly does not inspire confidence in the Government, because many people will be asking (and rightly so), that who else has bankrolled our politicians including those in the current Tonse Alliance, who we don’t currently know about, but who we ought to know about?

But how do we solve this longstanding problem? What must be done to move towards a path where political party funding is more transparent and does not negatively influence our politics or create an environment festering with conflicts of interests?

In a future article I will try to explore these questions in more detail with a view to mapping a way to a set of solutions, including highlighting past and present key solutions suggested by others.

As Malawians, this is not an issue we can afford to continue to ignore year after year because it’s costing us. The sooner we begin to address it, the less likely we’ll have these kinds of problems haemorrhaging our politics in the future.

A den of thieves, a cowboy’s playhouse: The dirty shenanigans of public appointments in Malawi

The truth has a way of coming out. You see, the problem with the truth is that if you try to conceal it, you only succeed in encouraging it to want to reveal itself even more… It may take time before it’s out, and sometimes the people who get to know about it, are not always those who sought to know it ,(or lived through the times) in the first place, but out it will come. Let’s take one example from history…

Remember Stalin? The Joseph Stalin. Ioseb Jughashvili, that guy. Remember how he tried to misrepresent the events that happened in Ukraine between 1932 and 1933, with the Soviet Politburo summarising the famine which their Collectivisation policy had created in Ukraine (which killed 3.9 million Ukrainians) as ‘an accidental inevitable starvation due to Kulak Corruption and problems with the climate and harvest’?

Well, wasn’t it barely 8 years later in 1941, when an agricultural economist, S. Sosnovyi published a study in a Ukrainian newspaper of how the Soviets deliberately tried to destroy Ukrainian peasant opposition to Soviet Power, with disastrous effects, and subsequently lied that the famine had been caused by “natural causes”.

The lesson being no matter how powerful you think you are, no matter the size of your army, no matter how big your tanks are, or how deep your pockets are, if you’re hiding wrongdoing, the truth … will eventually come out.

Anyway, I digress. The decision of the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) of Malawi’s Parliament to refuse to confirm President Chakwera’s appointment of Martha Chizuma as Director General of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has caused great anger to most Malawians of goodwill around the world, and has created a crisis, which threatens to shatter certain conventions of public appointments in Malawi.

You see Malawians love Martha Chizuma. She is not only an accomplished prosecutor but is a legend who has worked diligently as the Ombudsman to stand against corruption, impropriety, misappropriation of state resources, and greed of public officials in Malawi, and has successfully investigated and concluded many cases, even during the DPP administration of Peter Mutharika, when ‘fighting corruption‘ was largely a lip service exercise by the authorities.

Unfortunately, some parliamentarians haven’t yet received the memo that these days Malawians mean business. These MPs think it’s up to them to block the appointment of a star who many people trust and love, and whose record speaks for itself.

The reasons why some members of PAC decided to score her down are simple and can be summarised into one short sentence: they’re playing politics and are afraid.

Lets just say someone who has a track record of busting graft, uncovering dirt, and forcing accountability is definitely not a safe pair of hands to lead the ACB for people with skeletons in their closets.

https://twitter.com/onjezani/status/1392079028266340356?s=19

Simply put, some people on PAC are afraid that if Chizuma becomes head of ACB, she will go after them or their party’s leadership, and investigate the tens of unresolved Political Corruption cases that have been languishing in our courts for years and years. To add to that, there’s a lot of finger pointing and laying of blame between the political parties in Malawi, even between those in the Tonse Alliance…and some people are using this episode to carve out political capital. Uje ndi uje ngoipa, gulu lathu nde labwino

Speaking with a close friend about the Martha Chizuma fiasco, he summed up the conduct of the committee as ‘A den of thieves’ and ‘a cowboy’s playhouse’:

Not only are most of them only interested in enriching themselves, fat salaries, perks ontop of perks, but the moment a really good idea that has the potential to transform our country for the better comes to the fore, they shoot it down! Its a den of thieves, a cowboy’s playhouse!”

President Chakwera, in a speech in Parliament yesterday condemned the decision of PAC, and said it slowed down the fight against Corruption. There are now calls for a detailed report for the proceedings that led to her rejection.

But ultimately there is such a thing as right and wrong. And as elected officials, MPs on the committee are not there in their own capacities or to further personal or professional agendas. We shouldn’t forget that they’re elected to Parliament to represent the people, and are therefore subject to the scrutiny and will of the people.

Thus, if the rejection to Chizuma’s appointment was a legitimate reflection of the dominant sentiments in their constituencies, then let them publish details of how they consulted with people in their constituencies before giving Chizuma a low score? Surely that would be one transparent and clear way of explaining themselves and of showing that the Malawians they represent do not want Martha Chizuma as Director of ACB?

But if they’re unable to provide that evidence, then it’s totally fair to question their motives and intentions, especially when several other members of PAC gave Chizuma a full 25/25.

And while many people do not fully agree with the presidential appointments process, right now it’s what we have. And until we adopt something else, something better, the current system needs to be made to work for the betterment of our country. It shouldn’t be allowed to function in a way that is contrary to or defeats the overall aims and objectives of good governance.

Martha Chizuma is spotless, her record is impeccable. Malawi needs someone like her to help clean up the mess and theft and rogue conduct that has defined our country’s politics for nearly 30 years, and has greatly contributed to the poverty in our country.

And for those who are making comparisons with confirmation hearings in the US, by Senate committees in matters of appointments by US presidents, my answer to that is that the circumstances between confirmation hearings in the US and in Malawi are very different.

In the US scenarios, the kind of Politics at play is very different from what we have in Malawi, and there is often transparency as to why a nominee is objected to. In Malawi we don’t even know why Chizuma was given a 1/25 score by some of the MPs on PAC. Further, if you have been following US Politics for any length of time, you’ll know that the Republican Party has been known to frustrate confirmation processes just because they want to be the ones to make that appointment when a Republican President comes into power. The case of Merrick Garland is one such example. The Martha Chizuma affair is vastly different.

Right now a freedom of information request has been submitted by the unrelenting and absolutely brilliant Idriss Ali Nassah. Let’s wait to see what that delivers, but if I were to make a prediction, my money is on Chizuma becoming ACB chief, one way or another.

Defining priorities when everyone wants to keep up with the Banda’s

The above pictures were released by the Ministry of Youth and Sports in Malawi about a tender for a new Olympic standard swimming pool and other structures at Kamuzu Institute of Sports in Lilongwe. The tender shows that several companies have submitted a bid for the contract, with the cheapest coming in at K7.7 Billion (~ US$9.7 Million), but a Chinese company has been awarded the contract.

The Government have justified the project as saying it’s necessary because Malawi will be hosting the African Union Sports Council Region 5 Games next year.

Oh, but if only they knew the wrath that would be unleashed, and what a hornets nest they were about to shake..!

A huge debate has ensued in Malawi, and Malawians from every walk of life have expressed their strong opinions, ranging from outrage to apathy on what appears to be another vanity project.

One Malawian on Twitter wrote:

Others were less diplomatic and blamed the Government of Malawi of not having its priorities in order:

Some thought it wasn’t ambitious enough

But others tried to justify it

Many of the comments against the project alluded to the expensive maintainance of another piece of infrastructure, the Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe, which recent news reports revealed was not being maintained as well as it should, and had experienced power cuts out of the failure to pay the electricity bill.

My view is that while there is nothing wrong with the sports complex project per se, and while it is a welcomed development, however before we jump onto what may end up being another vanity project, lets first create sustainability with what we already have.

And questioning the rationale of the project is not negativity as some Malawians in favour of the facility would have you believe.

Munthu ukamamanga nyumba, it’s a fair question for those whose money you’re using to build the house, to ask kuti achimwene mutha kuyang’anira bwanji nyumbayi, when you’re failing kuyang’anira boys quarter?

Most people would be supportive of the project, but there has to be a real workable plan of how the facility will be profitable or at least cover it’s own bills, and not fail as has happened to BN Stadium.

And to those who claim you can’t please everyone because different people in Malawi have different ‘priorities’, there’s something fundamentally wrong in their argument. Please allow me to explain.

If you had children who were walking miles to get to school, wading through muddy rivers on foot, without books or study materials, and wearing worn out hand-me-downs, but heard that the government would be spending K9 Billion on a sports complex, as a parent you wouldn’t be happy. Maybe you’d feel let down, possibly even disgusted? How can your government be so irresponsible and insensitive to all the poverty around you?

Children crossing a river without a bridge en route to Kalambwe FP School in Nkhata Bay, northern Malawi

Personally, I would be angry hearing that my country’s government will be spending K9 billion on a project whose return value on investment is indeterminate, if my children were in the position/ circumstances of those kids in the pictures above.


So instead of jumping with four feet into another vanity project (to add to the tragedies that are Bingu National Stadium, the Shire Zambezi Waterway, etc.), why not first devise a business case for the loss-making infrastructure that already exists, and once proved to be workable and successful, then you can transplant those formulas to other scenarios?

It is true that there are thousands of Needs and Wants across Malawi, but they’re not all PRIORITIES.

Maybe we should define what a priority actually is, because there seems to be some major confusion.

Jobs for unemployed young people, that’s a priority. Decent roads are a priority. Good hospitals, are a a priority, as are Good schools, Access to nutritious foodshelter…these are things which if not in place, it’s hard for a country to move forward because lots of things depend on them working well, or being in place.

If you don’t have decent hospitals for example and there are no medicines in hospitals, more people will be dying of things that can be cured, and lots of people will be spending disproportionately on private hospitals or on foreign travel to seek medical attention, both of which will affect the spending power of consumers and affect your economy. If your education is substandard, it will negatively affect every aspect of your society. If your roads are bad, it will negatively affect your economy…which in turn will cause poverty to persist, which in turn will negatively affect everything about your country.

Another part of me thinks this argument is also about Social class. Ask yourself honestly, kuti ana awowo akuyenda mmadziwo adya chani mmamawa kunyumba kwawo? What will they have for lunch/ dinner? Where are their school books, notebooks, textbooks, pencils seeing they’re not in the pictures? They look like they’re not wearing shoes, do they have other clothing to wear at home? What kind of a start in life are we giving these kids, when we’re preoccupied with spending lots of money on vanity projects?

In contrast the children of some of the people pushing for this project are likely to be very well looked after. They most probably sleep in a house with iron sheet roofing. They have leather school shoes and wear a clean, ironed school uniform. They’re probably dropped off to school in a 4×4 vehicle driven by a driver and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that they attend a private school…seeing it’s common for children of top Government officials to be privately educated. In short, silver spoon, after silver spoon. The kind of kids who would be dropped to some swimming pool on a Sunday afternoon by their parents…

The contrast…

So, I think before we yet again recklessly squander the country’s meagre resources on something that’s not necessary… we really need to step back and think whether these things we’re trying to do are a priority right now. Because from where I’m standing, they’re not. And I reckon millions of Malawians would agree with me.

Should the Government of Malawi increase the pay of Civil Servants?

President Lazarus Chakwera making a statement

Following the K6.2 Billion COVID19 funds scandal, in which 64 people have so far been arrested by the Malawi Police as being suspended to have been involved in the plunder of the COVID19 funds, various people have opined whether the real problem we have in Malawi is that the take home pay which Civil servants receive just isn’t enough to meet the cost of living in most parts of Malawi.

The argument goes that when you factor in the basic monthly salary most civil servants receive (below Senior posts & Director levels) and excluding benefits, it simply isn’t enough to live on considering all the expenses most people incur, including house rental, vehicle fuel, school fees and other educational commitments, food, electricity, water, mobile phone data and airtime costs and alms/ financial support to relatives. They say most Malawians struggle to keep up, and that it’s not their fault. Their pay is simply too low and has not increased proportionally with inflation levels over the years, and too little has been done to correct this anomally.

Personally, I’m sympathetic to this argument and have written about it before in the past. But considering what has been revealed in the audit report of the misappropriated K6.2 Billion, it’s necessary that tough Anti-corruption measures must first be adopted before we consider increasing the salaries of civil servants. Because the last thing we need is increasing the salaries of the very same people, who have for years been intentionally misappropriating government resources for their own self enrichment.

In a 2016 paper titled The challenge of per diem misuse: Training and travel as extra pay, Norwegian researchers Tina Søreide, Ingvild Aagedal Skage & Arne Tostensen wrote a paper for the CHR. Michelsen Institute in which they said:

‘The abuse of travel and training- related payments results in excessive expenditures and in a distortion of incentives that can frustrate development efforts. Three main factors contribute to facilitating this type of practice: insufficient controls, management (dis)incentives, and donors’ role and attitudes. Strengthening controls alone is unlikely to curb this kind of abuse, the culture of “per diem hunting” needs to be changed as part of a broader reform of the civil service. Coordination among development partners can also contribute to preventing per diem abuse.’

They went on to note that:

While per diem payments are supposed to be strictly compensatory, they can become a form of additional salary (Policy Forum 2009). In countries where salaries are generally low, these extra payments can amount to a significant proportion of civil servants’ total income. As a result, civil servants may be more interested in obtaining these allowances than in the content of the activities.’

One Oxford-based Malawian Political and Social commentator, Thandie Hara, commenting on the fallout from the K6.2 Billion allowances issue wrote on her Facebook wall:

How do you expect anyone to live on MK100,000 a month in Likuni or Ntandire, when half of that will be spent on transport? “

She suggests that a cost of living assessment needs to be done for the lowest paid civil servant, such that take home pay should be sufficient to cover the basics. As a starting point, the lowest paid civil servant, be it a cleaner or a messenger should be paid no less than MK500,000 a month. According to Hara, a review of the unrealistic pay structure is necessary because currently what civil servants are paid

does not accurately reflect the cost of living, and as a result may have inadvertently made people to believe that they are justified in stealing. “

The result, she says, is that such low pay has

“… created a looting culture with no ceiling. You will be surprised that many of the people we are calling thieves, but who see themselves as honest prayerful people. They don’t recognise theft in what they or their colleagues have been doing. It’s been normal practice for underpaid people trying to survive.

A different Malawian on twitter was less forgiving

However, we need to be sober in that side by side with the prosecutions, which the President of Malawi is fully behind and has been pushing for, some ground rules need to be laid down:

  1. Sitting allowances should be abolished in their entirety. Instead a fixed temporary salary increment should be calculated and introduced only to low pay grade civil servants – which I know begs a different question as to what are “low pay grade civil servants”.
  2. Financial controls should be introduced and undertaken rigorously, with a quarterly audit of each department by external auditors. IFMIS modules that are yet to be activated in Government departments need to be switched on, and if not switched on by a certain date, the managers of those departments need to be suspended, and asked to explain why.
  3. There should be a budget for the audit of each department 4 times a year.
  4. There should be stiffer penalties for any form of misappropriation of state funding, including confiscation of personal property, so that a strong deterrent is set to scare off would be offenders.

And after all this has been done, only then can the debate on increasing civil servant salaries begin.

It’s not a popular position when so many people have been conditioned to think allowances are the way to earn a living, and no doubt there will be loud protests from some corners regarding this. Others will also ask ‘Where will the money come from?” Ofcourse from the same allowances being milked, but if that’s not sufficient my next post will fully address that question.

But it is the right and honourable thing to do, if Malawi and the Tonse Alliance Government is really serious about fiscal discipline that protects the country’s finances.

Which African leaders will truly emulate the achievements of John Pombe Magufuli?

Presidents John Pombe Joseph Magufuli of Tanzania, 1959 – 2021.

Since his passing, quite a lot has been said about the life and works of Tanzania’s recently deceased president. And by most fair and sincere accounts, John Magufuli did have a tangible, measurable, commendable and signficant impact on Tanzania, taking the country along an admirable trajectory from a low income country up to the point Tanzania is now firmly considered to be a middle income country.

And most Tanzanians loved him for it.

And yet across Africa, although such success stories inspire millions and should in theory be common – they don’t happen very often, owing to a long list of failures, among them poor and uninspired leadership.

But if John Magufuli – who it must be said didn’t come from some grand or otherwise priviledged background that gave him special advantages – can achieve what he did in as short a space of time as 6 years, why can’t other African leaders do the same?

Power & Status

It is no secret that many leaders in Africa are drawn to political leadership for other reasons. They are not overly concerned about the problems their countries face, or the poverty and hardship. The overriding intention is not so much to provide good and transformative leadership in the way Magufuli did, instead a worrying number of African leaders are more bothered about power and status, leaving a leadership void in those countries, and consequently affecting the scale and pace of development.

These are the people who like to attend heads of state meetings of SADC, UN, AU, ECOWAS, etc. complete with stays in pricey hotels; they like to have smarmy business executives of dodgy companies attend state house to meet them – because it can be spun into an investment story; they love to be seen on the front covers of newspapers, to be interviewed by the likes of Al Jazeera, CNN or France 24 – making all sorts of grandiose promises, which years later, can’t be backed by any tangible achievements; they love to have the doors of their Mercedes Benz limousines opened by well dressed, neatly-shaven and altogether reverent bodyguards – who make them appear more important than they actually are; they like to attend every insignificant function that comes along, where they can be seen to be doing something or to please supporters – even when the impact of such functions on a national level is negligible and a single junior minister could have been dispatched to it. Increasing the salaries of top military officials or the trip to the UN General Assembly means more to such leaders than funding the education and welfare of poor kids in their countries’ ghettos; they like to see a band of protocol-obsessive allowance-seeking hand-clapping minions nod approvingly at everything they say, flanking them at press conferences, worshipping them on social media, inflating the sizes of their convoys, and generally putting out a false and deceptive apperance of competence and authority. For these kind of leaders, a picture taken with Barack Obama at the White House or with Bill Clinton or Richard Branson at some international conference means more than actually getting down to the hard work of resolving the youth unemployment crises in their own countries. They will talk endlessly of courting investors and trying to attract investment at these high level international gatherings, but years on – absolutely nothing comes out of it.

That love of glamour and status is more about pomp (the same english word where pomposity comes from) and let’s be absolutely clear when we say it is not leadership, and is exactly the kind of excess leaders like John Magafuli, Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba and even Julius Nyerere would despise.

Centralisation

It doesn’t matter how talented, knowledgeable and practical you think you are, you can’t adequately cater to the needs of millions of people on your own. Even if everyone within your cabinet was churning out tons of raw productivity, even if everyone in the ministries was ontop of their work, even if all government departments were working with superhuman efficiency and at 100% capacity, it’s still not enough to adequately cater for everyone’s needs from good healthcare and housing to employment and skills development, if things remain centralised.

Centralisation is a progress killer in African countries because everyone expects the president, the minister, the technocrats, the guy at the top to sort out everything for everybody. But the guy at the top doesn’t have superhuman powers to do justice to all the needs and requirements of the people he/ she leads or is supposed to represent. And his/ her priorities often are not the same as the priorities of the people in need.

If the impact of our Governments across the African continent is to be revolutionised, if we are to achieve more tangible things in less time, we need to begin to think beyond one man or woman being the person who authorises and pushes through some project or another to completion.

We need to democratise development to the point where we openly and unreservedly bring into the equation those people (or groups) whose lives are affected by governance failings, or under-service that’s not been prioritised, and empower them to be able to make a real difference in their circumstances, be it allowing them to organise themselves, to raise money, buy equipment, or build the infrastructure they need etc. without having to constantly seek authorisation from the central government.

In Malawi it means projects like the Neno road, a new international airport in Mzuzu, the new hospital promised to Michinji, and the Kapiri-Mkanda road among a long list of project promises should be treated as urgent infrastructure projects, and should be escalated, and a stringent implementation schedule set.

District officers and communities involved should be tasked with a new implementation schedule, provided funding that’s closely monitored, and subjected to regular monthly audits to strictly enforce the implementation schedule. They should also be free to solicit their own funding to add to that effort, and any failures, unexplained mishaps or delays should have serious consequences for all involved. That is the kind of thing John Magufuli would be proud of, and we’ve all seen the videos of his similar hard-hitting approach.

The way we fund, monitor and roll out major projects, and the implementation timelines need to be changed fundamentally, for projects to start being executed timely, and for them to be completed on budget.

Party allegiance vs allegiance to the country & the constitution

President Chakwera in Malawis Parliament

One of the qualities which is common in transformative leaders is that they are not afraid of stating the truth and offending powerful people.

In some cases this can be a negative quality and can lead to a leader’s downfall, but in most cases it is a good and necessary quality to have because a great leader needs to have a strong spine. He or she needs to be able to say No, when the situation calls for it. This is important since not everyone who will try and approach or influence an African President (however dignified the title of the influencer is, or however laundered the reputation of their organisation may appear) does so from a good or sincere place. Simply put, not everyone who talks to an African President has noble intentions.

Unfortunately there are so many examples of African leaders capitulating or giving into bad ideas, bad or exploitative deals when pressured, when they should infact have stood their ground firmly and said No.

Now here, I’m not talking about issues like COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines which scientifically have near global consensus on how to manage and deal with, in order to stem the spread of the pandemic.

What I mean is if a leader knows or has been made aware of the toxic influence or otherwise corrupt nature of say one or more of his own ministers or officials; he / she must act, and crack hard to decisively rectify that anomally. Even if individuals in his / her own party thinks the scandal should be ignored.

Similarly, a great leader who wants the best for his people should not allow his country to be heavily indebted to other countries or to international institutions. And if they find the debt when they get into office, they need to aggressively devise as a matter of urgency a workable, practical and stringent plan of managing and paying off the debt.

Old thinking vs 21st Century thinking

Employees at WhatsApp HQ

This fundamentally is about new wine and old wineskins.

The world is not what it was 40 or 50 years ago. While a Nelson Mandela, or a Kamuzu Banda, or a Jomo Kenyatta, or a Robert Mugabe were great and necessary needs for Africa 40 or 50 years ago, our countries at this moment have fundamentally changed and have very different needs and wants to the needs of the 60’s and 70’s; the kind of needs which cannot fully be tackled by using approaches or methods devised by African heavyweights dinosaurs.

That’s not to downplay the achievements of these great men, or to ignore the many rich lessons enshrined in their lives. Not at all. But having said that, many of them weren’t able to deal with everything properly. For example many such great leaders didn’t manage to eradicate poverty in their lifetimes, so even back then their successes had limitations.

A modern thatched house outside Lilongwe, Malawi.

Instead, our countries in Africa need leaders who understand the dynamics of the 21 Century; who ask questions such as:

what 20 practical things can we do to maximize the chances of the next WhatsApp being founded in our country?

The Africa of today needs young and dynamic leaders with vision who will pioneer projects for better connectivity, cheaper and affordable modern housing, attractive & inspired infrastructure, and well connected networks of affordable public transportation (modern trams, trains and road networks). Our countries in Africa need cheaper logistical costs for importation of desirable foreign goods, cheaper logistical costs for ease of export of the country’s processed goods without making them too expensive on international markets, State owned and run multi-billion dollar projects that will not only create thousands of jobs, but will bring forex – several of the kinds of things which we are now beginning to discover Tanzania was working towards. The list is rather long.

You can’t do that kind of thing effectively if you are still thinking of how to maintain a well-equipped secret police, or if your focus is just on winning the next election. You can’t do that if your parastatals and large public companies aren’t run by anyone under the age of 35, or when you don’t have enough women in leadership roles in such companies…

Birmingham City Library

It’s the difference between on one hand promising to build a stadium (whose long term impact on a poor country is debatable), and on the other hand working to build high quality modern libraries in each district and to bring free high speed internet to poor citizens and their children – most of whom can’t afford the often high data costs charged by private companies currently operating in African countries.

Continuing the spirit of Magafuli will require a fundamental shift in the way governance has been done in Africa for a long time. It will require true selflessness beyond party, tribal or national lines. It will mean breaking against party, regional and historic allegiances and doing what is best for everyone, not just the biggest or most powerful side. It will mean negotiating hard for the interests of the people, and not being intimidated by foreign powers or external pressure on matters of national or regional importance.

Magafulism has raised the bar extremely high for African leadership, and was well overdue. For now it remains to be seen just how many current African leaders will truly rise up to the challenge?

Another lesson in how not to expand the tax base.

The Micro Small and Medium Enterprise Order (2020) is being touted by some as a way for MSMEs to benefit from Government procurement.

But whats not being talked about are the far reaching effects that may result from the correct and totally lawful business registration which the order requires.

Isn’t it the case that as soon any MSME registers as a business, the taxman will at that point be entitled to show up, arms akimbo, sniffing for any tax kwachas that may be lurking around undeclared?

Jokes aside, my point is there’s no guarantee that every single business that registers will benefit from the order. This is why in some countries there is always an option to run micro businesses as sole traders where it is in fact the person running the business who is liable for any taxes that may be due.

Malawi currently has a small tax base, and a small private sector. And while on the surface it may appear like a good idea to try and bring into the formal economy as much as possible of the informal economy, in practice that only works when people do actually have significant resources, which is not the case now, for the majority of people in the informal economy – many of whom live hand to mouth. Already, many small businesses complain that they are overburdened by taxes.

What the Government should have done is to focus on the creation of new large corporate entities… beyond Public – Private Partnerships. I mean organisations that can process goods at scale and export large quantities abroad, at a profit.

You can only squeeze so much profit out of a starving donkey which the Malawian tax base currently is. If you push too hard, and burden the donkey with more than it can take, that donkey will crumble and faint. And you will lose out.

A wiser move is to bring additional resources from outside the country. Our leaders are not seeing the bigger picture in this whole equation. The money is not in asking Malawians to pay yet more taxes.

And for those of you saying it would kill local small enterprise, no it would not. Because those corporate entities can actually work with those small enterprises you mention, helping them in more ways than one, minimally, saving them money. Our leaders need to start thinking like business men/ women.

Let me give you a simple example. Suppose the Government of Malawi (GOM) started a shipping company, and bought 2 Cargo Ships. Instead of the local shipping companies paying British or Italian or Greek Ships, GOM can enter the market at attractive terms, so that those local companies instead use the GOM Cargo Ships, saving a bit of money that way. The insurance of the Ships will be provided by local companies. The trucks which collect the containers from the port will come from Malawi… the whole chain will employ Malawian staff … even some of the food, and generally provisions on the ships for the staff who will be working on deck in the weeks that the Ships navigate between the European / American/ Asian ports and African ports can be cooked or prepared by Malawian companies…

How can all that be a bad thing?

That’s just one example in the logistics field which would give GOM millions of dollars in additional revenue, if you consider the annual earnings of other shipping companies that operate between Europe / US and Africa.

It’s a model Ethiopia (and many other countries) uses quite successfully with their airline and their state owned telecom company. We can learn a lot from them.

Former President Peter Mutharika and former Secretary to the President and Cabinet Justice Lloyd Muhara ordered to pay K69 Million on attempting to dismiss Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda

Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda.

The High Court in Lilongwe has ordered former President Peter Mutharika and former Secretary to the office of President and Cabinet, Lloyd Muhara to pay costs amounting to a total of K69.5 million to the applicants in the Chief Justice case.

The ruling states that the first applicant, Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) and the second applicant Magistrates Associations of Malawi is to be paid K26 million whereas the third applicant (the Malawi Law Society) is to be paid K43 million, within 14 days.

The two defendants were found guilty of trying to send onto forced leave Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda and Justice of Appeal Edward Twea, pending their retirement in June last year after the Chief Justice sitting in the Supreme Court of Malawi had upheld a historical Constitutional Court Election decision of the High Court, which ruled in favour of the then opposition leaders, Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima, nullifying the May 2019 Election results.

Khumbo Soko, one of the lawyers for the applicants said that the case had set a new legal precedent and that public officers in Malawi will from now onwards be personally liable for costs of their misconduct.

“A message has now been sent that there will now be personal costs for constitutional delinquency. This is a warning to those holding public offices that a day of reckoning will surely come.”

– Khumbo Soko

Judge Charles Mkandawire who presided over a judicial review of the case in his earlier ruling ordered that Peter Mutharika and Lloyd Muhara should be personally liable to pay the costs.

It will be interesting to see how this precedent is applied going forward in subsequent cases, since in the past Malawi has had quite a number of instances when public officials have acted in a manner that is unlawful, and that has ended up costing the country’s public purse millions of kwachas in court settlements/ court awards, while escaping personal liability. This judgement appears to put a stop to that practice.