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.


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