Views, ideas, inspiration, vision and practical tips for a better more prosperous Malawi

Selling Malawi for Peanuts

In whatever we do as a country, we need to make sure that the development path we take should be sustainable for the inter-generational cause. Our generation inherited a beautiful country and as the current custodians of this land, it is our duty to safeguard the interests of current and future generations of native Malawians.

It is my belief that those who fought to extricate colonialism were driven with the fervent desire to see this country independent of foreign dominion that was British Imperialism. It is therefore our duty to honour the wishes of those who fought and died for our Malawi by making sure that native Malawians are the drivers of development in Malawi.

David Korten, one of the leading proponents of alternative development once wrote,

The survival of our civilization, and perhaps our very lives, depends on committing ourselves to an alternative development practice guided by the three basic principles of authentic development: justice, sustainability and inclusiveness-each of which is routinely and systematically violated by current practice‘.

Today, Malawi is slowly creating an economy which will become dependent on some foreigners who are only here on temporal basis to make a fortune. Native Malawians are slowly being excluded from many vast opportunities that this nation has to offer, and I believe that the development course taken today by us, will harm the interests of our children and future generations because of our shortsightedness.

The biggest issue that is worrisome in this country is the sale of lucrative land to foreigners. According to Watipaso Mzungu’s report in the Nation newspaper of 17th January, only 5 native Malawians own business land in Limbe. It is a sad development on our part because just about 3 decades ago, native Malawians owned lucrative land especially in the cities of Malawi.  At the rate we are going, native Malawians will end up being excluded in their own country because we only want to satisfy our current intra-generational needs. I am not saying that it is wrong for foreigners to invest in Malawi, but we need to exercise caution when prime land is being sold to foreigners without securing the interests of native Malawians. A good example is that of the conflict between the locals of Masasa in Mangochi and Mota Engil. The locals claim they were not consulted about the selling of their land by the government to Mota Engil. The traditional authority tried to coax the locals to give up their land to Mota Engil, a transnational corporation which has plans to build a 5 star hotel and golf course by the lake in Mangochi. In the end, the irate locals of Masasa fought with the T/A, councillor and the police which left 2 people dead and others seriously injured. These are the situations which are unsustainable for Malawi because we are ready to deprive our own people their lake which ancestors lived with for many generations. The 5 star hotel and golf course is a welcome investment but it should not be to the detriment of the locals at Masasa. I am sure the lake has many vacant tracts of land where this 5 star hotel can be built without displacing people. Development is about including a people’s livelihoods in projects which ensure that poor local communities are not excluded from benefitting from our natural resources.

Another worrying aspect of this land issue is that there are some unscrupulous chiefs who sell large tracts of valuable customary land to foreigners without securing the interests of future generations in their communities. Malawi has one of the most beautiful natural beaches in the world and there is need for us to limit and protect the sale of this land. The large swathes of land along Lake Malawi should be protected for our future generations’ livelihoods and investment opportunities. Future generations of Malawi might have the access to the much needed capital or funds to invest in these areas, and it is in our best interests that we preserve prime land along the lake shore. It would be very selfish of us to deprive our future compatriots of investment opportunities in their own country because of our ineptitude in prioritising national and indigenous interests. According to the Africa Conference on Land Grab’s research, over 55 million hectares of land in Africa has been “grabbed” since the year 2000. These land grabs are happening without any informed consent from development managers and thus millions of vulnerable communities in Africa are at risk of being displaced from their own lands.

Conflicts between Paladin the Australian mining company and the local people at the Kayelekera mining facility shows that Malawi is not ready to manage finite resources in a sustainable manner. Foreign investors scour the earth to find countries with surplus natural resources but with weak or ineffective environmental laws, because it reduces operating costs for firms.  Paladin has been mining uranium for years in Karonga but where do the proceeds go? Can anyone really point out any structure in this country that was built using proceeds from uranium mining? Uranium is a finite resource and if we are not careful, we will deplete our reserves with nothing to show for it. Once again, Malawians are handing out natural resources to the foreigner who will only continue to exploit us.

In the midst of conflicts between the locals and Paladin at Kayelekera, we hear that the government is busy employing foreign companies to explore the possibility of oil in Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi is a source of food and income for the poor living along the lake shore, and if there was to be an oil spillage, we risk the well-being and livelihoods of current and future lakeshore inhabitants. For centuries, our people have lived in harmony with this lake and it would be very selfish of our generation and our leaders to put others at risk because of our voracious greed. In terms of attraction for tourism, Lake Malawi is all we have. I’m sure no Malawian needs any reminder of what happened with Nyika National Park. If it was not for this lake, we would have no tourists coming to Malawi because Lake Malawi is the epitome of attraction in this country. I believe that oil drilling in Lake Malawi is not sustainable because oil is finite resource and also an environmental hazard that can destroy livelihoods and the lake’s Biodiversity. Lake Malawi provides 70 to 75 per cent of the animal protein consumed by both urban and rural communities. It would therefore be negligent for the government to sanction oil drilling in the lake which provides critical habitat for an amazing array of plants and animals including bacteria, fungi, algae, plankton, mussels, snails, crustaceans, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

When our leaders go outside of this country, they are always selling Malawi to the world as a place of investment opportunities. Indeed Malawi is a peaceful country which offers cheap labour and less competition for businesses, and it is therefore a haven for foreign investors. What we have to remember is that a foreign investor is seeking to make maximum profits, and the only way to do this in a host economy is by “cost reduction”. In Malawi, a lot of native Malawians employed by some foreign companies are being underpaid and exploited for monetary gains which sometimes do not even benefit our economy. A lot of our able graduates are languishing without jobs because some of our so-called investors only employ their relatives in top-tier jobs while Malawians are employed in low-tier jobs. Foreign direct Investment (FDI) is important in modern-day economics and plays the largest part in the growth of economies in a globalised world. However, when FDI is benefiting the foreigner than the host country, there is need to improve the structures to combat unscrupulous employers exploiting the weak and poor. There are a lot of foreign owned companies in Malawi who are exploiting the local personnel simply because our institutional governance structures are either weak or corrupt.  Malawians should not just be used for menial jobs only because we have educated people in this country who can fill up higher positions in foreign owned businesses.

We also have foreign investors who travel hundreds or thousands of miles away to invest in salons, clothes shops or other small enterprise trading entities. As much as Malawi needs investors, I doubt that these small trading entities are bringing any meaningful monetary gains for the country. If our trading partners in the West were following our pattern and forms of foreign investment, it is highly unlikely that their economies would have grown to astronomical heights. Malawi is a poor country that has a high unemployment rate and there is need to protect local entrepreneurs with small business enterprises. If foreigners monopolise the smallholder business market, the local Malawian entrepreneur is at risk of losing his/her business.

If we are to sustain development, native Malawians need to be the primary drivers of the economy and not the other way round. When we give licences or contracts to transnational corporations, Malawians should also be included in these processes to ensure accountability and justice. The Kayelekera mine is a good example whereby we are giving away our uranium to foreigners without any visible gain for the country. If we cannot get a good deal with foreign mining companies, it is not wrong for us to preserve our uranium for our future generations who might be in a better position to manage such resources. In this modern age of technological advancement, uranium plays an important part in the generation of energy. As our population grows, our hydro-electrical plants will not be enough to sustain Malawi and who knows, the future generations of this country might have the capability of setting up nuclear plants! It is therefore important for us to always think for our future generations because they too have the right to enjoy the resources this country has today.

All in all, I believe that we are the generation that is supposed to build a strong foundation for the house of Malawi, and if we fail, our future compatriots will inherit a broken country with little or no promise. And don’t be surprised if at that time, your”investors” all flee, and the country is thrown into chaos and violence.

Development is about continuity and the little we can manage to do in our lifetime is enough for others to carry on. If we do not have the capability to extract natural resources today, then there is no need for us to entrust our wealth with foreigners who are only here exploit our God-granted gifts. We cannot do everything in our lifetime.

Paja amati kuthamanga sikufika!

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One comment on “Selling Malawi for Peanuts

  1. Mkotama Peter Katenga
    February 21, 2015

    I agree with many of the points made in this paper, especially when it comes to drilling for oil in Lake Malawi and not finding mechanisms to assist indigenous Malawians to participate in the economy in a more meaningful way other than as cheap labour.

    Like

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