The problem with Malawi is everyone wants to be president. Whether this is as a direct result of enduring bad and inefficient government for so many years, under several clowns who somehow managed to lay claim to the crown of public office, or whether this phenomenon is a misinterpretation of what democracy actually is, by a largely closed-minded and ignorant rural population – I do not know for sure.
What I do know, is every noisy little fella (and it’s often a man), with his 2 tambala of broken english wants to be the president. Just buy him a few bottles of Carlsberg and play some Afrobeats tunes, bokobo, doro bucci, skelewu or anything like that and within no time he’ll begin telling you what he’ll do if elected president, even though he’s never held public office let alone been a member of any political party.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against competent people being of service to Malawi. My worry is incompetent people wanting to undertake such service.
I’ve been around many a drunk fella. From the carefree high school days of imbibing on Redds outside the benches of Chichiri shopping mall in Blantyre, admiring the beautiful girls ordering take-aways at Hungry Lion (or was it Wimpy ?) – then catching a minibus to Ndirande in time to get back into school before the 6pm head count; I remember the pub crawling days at Nottingham Uni. – when you’d return at 3 or 4 am to your bed (and the next day fail to remember exactly how you got back, or who the person sleeping next to you was). At that time, you were still expected to be at your lectures at 9am, and yes a register of attendance was taken; I remember the nights at Kwacha in Nottingham, where Malawians would argue with Nigerians over as simple a concept as whether the free movement of people in the SADC region was helpful…trust me I’ve seen many a caroused character.
But strangely, it’s only Malawians who uncover their political ambitions when drunk?? None of the Nigerians, Kenyans, Tanzanians, English, Australian, American or Malaysian nationals I’ve encountered at pubs or drinking places in the past talk of politics when drunk?? Maybe it’s also down to the people I’ve mixed with…?
But still, it makes me wonder: Is the Malawian attitude to politics (if such a thing can be said to exist) part of the problem. That too many of us want to have a crack at steak on the bone, when we have no teeth, and can barely tackle porridge? When, in the proverbial sense, we are but babes.
No wonder then that too many of our politicians have no clue on what running a country entails – as evidenced by bad decision after the next. Because they got into politics for the wrong reasons, they fell into it: As they say in Chichewa, Anangogweramo. They have not studied Public administration, or been working in an official capacity, discharging or administering a public service or function to the public, for any considerable length of time, how on earth are they supposed to know what the business of government is all about? Sadly, many assume that being in power equates to doing anything you like – often with public funds? And funny enough, the people, those being governed (who elect the officials to power), also wrongly assume that ‘boma’ can do pretty much anything they like.
Or I’m I missing something?
This is the challenge facing Malawi: of ‘rampaging’ public officials drunk with power, abusing their positions in the face of an ignorant, resigned and powerless populace; neglecting their responsibilities in preference to self-enrichment.
All this is happening on the full-watch of toothless Civil Society Organisations, and in the face of the donor community, who it appears are happy to look the other way.
Here, a comment is appropriate. Seeing that donors have refused to resume budgetary aid, because of the corruption and looting of public funds, I wonder what else they can do – to ‘encourage‘ good governance?
Lets speculate for a moment.
Is it conceivable, I wonder, for donor countries who have in the past supported Malawi via budgetary aid, to begin funding entrepreneurs? Not throwing $200 to the guy selling charcoal or tomatoes, or mbewa by the side of the road in Dedza, no, not that entrepreneur – if you can even call him that.
What I mean is why can’t donor countries support the kind of entrepreneurs who can create wealth for hundreds or thousands of people in Malawi? As in the cooperative which is trying to buy a plough and combine harvester to farm 50 acres of land; or the activist who is speaking out to power, demanding good governance, and has a sizeable following… Maybe let me rephrase the question… Why don’t donors begin funding Social entrepreneurs, including ACTIVISTS – if both groups can be assisted to create jobs for other Malawians? With the understanding, a very clear understanding that their impact should be designed to have a domino effect towards achieving wider developmental outcomes?
Malawi needs everything. From a mental and political transformation (often talked about by many other far better placed commentators), to decent and well resourced hospitals, Malawi needs to improve its security (or a sense thereof), it needs reliable utilities (Water and Power), quality education … better customer service, the whole lot.
But the common denominator that stagnates any prospect of change, in all if not most sectors, and that is in critical shortage, is resources in terms of funding. Instead of looking away, donors should transform the way they work in Malawi and other African countries, and begin providing resources to those people or organisations who truly want to make a difference. I’m not saying its easy or simple. What I’m saying is it is necessary.
Some people may be asking how this is going to work? How practical is this? Well, I think it is practical, because how many other ways can you create self-sustainability that does not involve the government, if not dealing directly with the people?
What they could do is create a portal (which I can create for them by the way) where requests for funds for certain projects can be made online? The donors can then have a team that will vet and review these requests and respond accordingly.
What about those people without access to the internet? Well, what about an application process by post or in person, communicated to unconnected communities for example using radio adverts…or if they want to do more, a mobile awareness campaign using a van such as the one below, which would have a team on board to review face-to-face proposals in the communities they broadcast?
They could even partner with TNM and Airtel to market such a scheme, and utilise the reliable networks of these telecom companies.
In the past, the usual responses to these kind of questions is we are already funding entrepreneurs. And that’s not our role, usually communicated in sentences that include words such as ‘ambit’ and ‘mandate’…
If the ultimate goal of donors is to encourage good governance and effect development, then it is within their mandate to help provide resources. It’s all well and good providing funds for food, education and healthcare, but if after you’ve cured peoples diseases,and educated them, they have no job to go to, or no sustainable way of earning a living, what’s the point of giving them aid in the first place? If they then have to struggle to get by. Isn’t this exactly the kind of thing that creates dependency?
A nonprofit that practices social entrepreneurship, on the other hand, relies less heavily on donor funds because it creates social programs that are meant to be self-sustaining. Social entrepreneurs manage donor contributions in an effective manner, investing in social ventures which can then generate their own revenues to sustain themselves. More here
But why does it matter Sangwani, why is it important? Why should anybody care?
Well, firstly as a Malawian it matters when I see so many competent young men and women who are not utilising their full potential because of lack of money. That’s a real concern which I’m sure is shared by thousands if not tens of thousands others.
But it also matters because in a centralised governance system such as that in Malawi – where everyone looks to the president to sort out all their little problems, lack of resources is holding back well-meaning people from acting independently to develop their part of the country. It’s a waste of talent and it’s holding them back from helping plug the shortfall in the different aspects of our economy; especially since the government is not doing many of the things they should be doing.
And this situation is not sustainable because too many capable people are powerless to effect the kind of change Malawi needs – with the result that the country is not moving forward. And come next election, in 2019, the largely ignorant rural population I mentioned earlier will be conned again into voting for another white elephant, and the vicious cycle will repeat itself all over again, worsening the living condItions, and bringing Malawi ever closer towards becoming a poor failed violent state. In the ranks of Somalia and Yemen. Surely, neither donors nor Malawians want this.
Also, there is evidence that successive governments in Malawi have taken advantage of this lack of funding to abuse their positions, and engage in dodgy deals, costing the tax payer. There are too many examples to cite, but two that come to mind are the Jetgate (the alleged sale of a presidential jet by President Joyce Banda – the funds of which were never accounted for), and the recent report that showed that $2 billion had been misappropriated by government officials the last 6 years. How come none of the CSO’s sued the government on behalf of the public over these major instances of misappropriation of funds? Further, why does it look increasingly likely that many of the perpetrators of such misappropriation will get away with it?
Finally, lack of funding encourages corruption because otherwise decent people are forced to go begging to the government, the presidency or the presiden’s party – because they have no money – instead of them speaking out against bad governance and government’s failures in tackling societal ills.