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.

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?

Malawi needs a full lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19

Last week two cabinet ministers in Malawi died of COVID-19. Yes, you read that right. Two ministers in Lazarus Chakwera’s government died of COVID-19 in a single day…

So far 396 Malawians that have been lost to the pandemic, out of 16,049 confirmed cases. The deaths include two other high ranking government officials.

All deaths to COVID-19 represent a sad premature loss of life. And given that sombre picture, it’s easy for Malawians to be fearful, panic, or lose hope. In any case, if government officials who are viewed to have access to the best medical care (some with access to pricey private medical care) in the country are ‘perishing to the virus‘, to quote a friend, what hope is there for the poor masses?

But going forward requires decisive action because inaction is not an option. If we’re to deliver the kinds of results necessary to stem the spread of the virus, then certain painful measures need to be put in place.

President Lazarus Chakwera, in his press conference last week declared a state of national disaster, and appealed to the international community, UN Agencies, NGOs and the private sector for more assistance and contributions to meet the challenge of the pandemic. Chakwera also called for an emergency meeting of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 to explore additional measures to combat the pandemic. He also instructed several of his ministries (Health, Homeland Security, Education, Civic Education, Local Government, Justice and Information) to work together with the Vice President to review Malwi’s COVID-19 guidelines for curbing the spread of the virus, and recommend to the Taskforce any amendments to be made to those guidelines, and enforcement of those guidelines.

All well and good. However, depending on what Chakwera means by ‘additional measures‘, and depending on what additional amendments the ministries will recommend, I believe a full lockdown is the only way to resolutely stop the spread of this virus in Malawi.

The reason that’s the only sure-fire way is because if you look at countries that have successfully managed to control the spread of the virus, especially those with minimal fatalities, a full lockdown was one of the most important key measures taken.

NEW ZEALAND

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gives a coronavirus media update at the New Zealand Parliament. Photo: Mark Mitchell – Pool/Getty Images

The Australasian country of New Zealand has had a total of 2,267 COVID-19 cases and 25 deaths. 2,178 people in New Zealand have recovered from COVID-19 as of today. The success of New Zealand lies in early decisive action the country took, declaring a stringent lockdown as early as March 26, 2020 and taking an approach designed to “flatten the curve” of infections. The entire country (apart from essential workers & essential businesses) was required to self-quarantine at home, and after 5 weeks the lockdown was lifted. During this time, most workplaces, schools and public meetings were closed. Contact Tracing and Quarantine for visitors was put in place, introducing border restrictions to Non-citizens/ non-permanent residents, with all arrivals (regardless of where they came from or their symptomology) being made to go into managed isolation or quarantine facilities (mainly repurposed hotels) for 14 days. Those in quarantine where required to take Covid-19 tests on day 3 and day 12 of their time in quarantine.

Scientists’ modeling showing the effectiveness of the lockdown in New Zealand. Photo: Te Pūnaha Matatini

Public events were cancelled, and by May community transmission had been stopped, and in early June the Pandemic had been declared over in New Zealand. Following a further outbreak New Zealand brought in another lockdown in August 2020.

TAIWAN

Lessons from Taiwan (Atlantic Council)

Taiwan which has so far only recorded 7 deaths from COVID-19 from a total of 881 cases. After suffering from the SARS epidemic in 2003, the Taiwanese Centre for Disease Control very early in the pandemic begun screening all passengers arriving from Wuhan, and in collaboration with the Central Epidemic Command Centre (CECC – a body created to manage outbreaks, who in 2004 helped create a national health insurance smart card for each citizen, linking health records to travel history) ensured that each citizen had access to masks, and helped hospitals to be aware of potential COVID-19 cases in real time. The screening was soon extended to all arrivals from high-risk countries. Taiwan also created a digital quarantine system, whereby those who arrived from abroad were sent to a “quarantine hotel” – a hotel that has been repurposed for the pandemic – and were not allowed to leave their rooms for two weeks. This was supplemented by a track and trace system of in-person checks.

People who lived in a flat with their own bathroom were allowed to quarantine at home. Critically, those who were quarantining – be it in a hotel or at home – were monitored by a “digital fence” using their smartphones, cell towers and mobile phone carrier data. Anyone who ventured out of their area, was immediately contacted by text, and the health authorities informed – who would immediately send someone. If your phone run out of battery, a health officer would show up at your door.

The start of the new semester for schools was delayed for 2 weeks and by march there was a ban on large gatherings of 100 if indoors and 500 if outdoors.

In addition, citizens were paid monetary incentives, including £27 a day for staying in their room. Breaking the quarantines resulted in very high fines, as high as £27,000!

Taiwan also used the media to rebut false information, with press releases, viral memes and texts, encouraging wearing masks and importance of washing hands and using hand sanitizer. CoFacts, a collaborative fact checking service enabled those using chat apps to send something they suspected to be misinformation, to be fact checked.

LIBERIA

Photo: Flickr

Liberia, which so far has recorded only 84 deaths from COVID-19, has had only 1,901 cases. Several lessons underscore Liberia’s Response to COVID-19

Strong Leadership — President George Weah took decisive action against COVID-19 in that after the first confirmed case on March 16, all travel was suspended if the countries of origin had more than 200 cases. In addition, Weah declared a national state of emergency as well as a 14 day stay-at-home order. Citizens were ordered to stay at home unless if going out shopping or to get supplies. Wearing masks in public was made mandatory.

Community Response — The Active Case Finders and Awareness (ACFA) Team, who had been instrumental in fighting Ebola, were instructed to fight against COVID-19 using many of the same tactics developed during Ebola, including recruiting and training contact tracers, setting up hand-washing stations as well as convincing businesses not to serve those not wearing masks.

Respect for Local Cultural Beliefs and Perspectives — To stem the spread of misinformation, the ACFA began to go door-to-door, while observing the social distancing guidance of 6 feet away from people, to follow contact traces as well as inform the community about facts of COVID-19, and to dispel myths.

Last Sunday, Chakwera said his government had released additional funding for use by various clusters of  the Presidential Taskforce. He also outlined his priority in managing the recent surge of hospitalisation and providing emergency care to the critically sick, employing an additional 1,000 healthcare staff, among several measures.

But considering what the above countries have done, and contrasting that with the President’s measures, and looking at the rate of spread of the virus, I find that the measures announced on Sunday fall well short of what the country actually needs to stop the spread of the virus.

This is because the measures Chakwera has announced do little to stop community transmission, and do not prevent People coming into the country from abroad from breaking the self-isolation guidelines.

Also, since Pandemic fatigue has set in as wet weather makes going outdoor less inviting even in a country known for good climate, some people are still meeting friends (or people of different households) indoors, including in religious establishments like churches. This coupled with the open borders, in particular travel from South Africa and a large essential workforce, including people who have to go out every day for their sustenance (with many such people living in crowded or dense housing), has created a confluence of suitable conditions for the pandemic to flourish.


Prototyping & Product Development


And Malawi is not alone. Countries like Brazil, India and the UK have all experienced something similar as some people burdened by months of lockdowns and stringent restrictions have let their guard down.

Many of us relaxed our vigilance against the virus and now we are paying the price

Lazarus Chakwera, in a radio address on Sunday 10th January 2021

The rise in home remedies

Watch this video on YouTube here https://youtu.be/2ZoBb-ngk5k

The video above shows the many home remedies that have been suggested as preventative, alleviating or managing some of the effects of COVID-19. And while with the exception of only a few studies there doesn’t appear to be any  consensus from health authorities across the world as to the efficacy of such remedies, there are indications from anecdotal evidence that some such remedies are effective.

I think health services in countries which do not have as many resources to procure medical equipment lose nothing prescribing some such sound home remedies, be they blue gum leaves or anything else, especially when there is some evidence as to their efficacy, and the remedy itself is undertaken while observing strict health and safety measures. To qualify this point, you may remember that even the World Health Organisation (WHO) has made mistakes, in that in January 2019, while some of us were advocating that everyone must begin wearing masks in all public places, the WHO said there was no evidence that masks are effective in stemming the spread of COVID-19?! Poor advice which even the British government fell for??! A few months later the WHO began recommending that everyone should wear masks…?!

Pioneering procedures

Similar to the issue of home remedies, I am of the persuasion that certain pioneering procedures for the treatment of COVID-19 need to be further investigated by our Medical Agencies in Malawi. And the above video shows one such example, trialed in this case by Dr Emmanuel Taban in South Africa.

Epidemiologists and Surgeons at College of Medicine in Malawi need to take note and begin seriously looking into this procedure, and the use of IVERMECTIN(see video above) and others that have been flagged, for example the testimony of Dr Pierre Kory below- which advocates using anti-inflammatory steroids in critical care.

Preventing Infection transmission

And while the numerous fundraising efforts are commendable and very much necessary considering the circumstances, preventing the spread of the virus means stopping the infection transmission from one person to another.

It means proactive measures beyond mere reactionary fire-fighting in epidemic response and virus containment efforts.

This includes stopping any and all gatherings of people anywhere in the country, from State House all the way to the Tavern. It means borders must be closed again as was the case last year, preventing visitors entering the country, and restricting domestic and international travel to only necessary travel by residents/returnees returning home, and goods vehicles bringing in medicines, fuel and supplies. It means everyone who comes into the country must be quarantined in state run isolation facilities for a period of at least 14 days. Such measures will create the conditions that make infection transmission difficult.

In any case, a busload of people from South Africa will probably carry a much higher risk of bringing and spreading further infections into the country, than goods vehicles drivers traveling alone or in pairs. Further, it’s probably easier to test, quarantine and trace a handful of drivers passing through border entry points every now and again, than quarantining busloads of passengers who are expected to self-isolate- even when the authorities know very well that such people would either go on to live with relatives (spreading the virus to them) or wouldn’t be able to stay indoors for 14 days, as they’d need to go out to buy food or to work.

This issue is important in light of recent figures which showed that migrants returning from South Africa accounted for 40% of Malawi’s COVID-19 cases.

Malawi is a deeply religious country and President Lazarus Chakwera appears to be doing his best. His conviction and Christian faith are treasured leadership qualities which Malawians should cherish in terms of not only bringing people together, inspiring hope in the ‘divine intervention’, but also in the pursuit of collective resilience when faced with a killer disease.

But beyond subservience to a divine power and coalescence of people’s resolve, Chakwera’s government will need actions that can be quickly implemented beyond words. The type of action that has delivered positive results elsewhere!

This is important because some Malawians are already voicing concerns regarding Chakwera’s lack of decisive action.

There are also allegations that the request for funds which the president put out doesn’t make sense when his “bloated” cabinet is costing the tax payers nearly K1.6 Billion.

But that aside, only the most effective measures will reassure Malawians that the Tonse Alliance government is up to the task. And in my view, those measures must include a full lockdown.

Vaccine

India has donated 1 million vaccine doses to Nepal

Malawi needs to procure thousands of emergency vaccine doses for healthcare workers. This is important so that those at the forefront and in frequent contact with the sick are protected from the virus. Appeals to Indian, Chinese, European & American Pharmaceutical companies should be made as a matter of urgency to procure vaccines first for healthcare workers, followed by doses for high risk groups.

But because getting a vaccine could take time, then a lockdown is one of the drastic actions which the government can take right now, to stem the spread, especially in light of the recent “South African strain” which some health experts are saying is easily spread, and which appears to be more deadly.

Who will pay for it?

I’m not suggesting that a lockdown is an easy step, but I strongly believe it is necessary to stop the spread of the virus. In any case, if you prevent the spread of the virus, people will not be getting sick, thus will not be needing to be hospitalised. Thus, in the absence of a vaccine, a lockdown is a measure that tackles the root cause, as opposed to tackling symptoms.

In terms of funding, some of the COVID19 funds that so far have been set aside by government or which Malawi is receiving from donors need to be diverted into community support, to help those who are most vulnerable with food and supplies. Here, US$50 million needs to be set aside for a huge logistical and food aid operation that involves teams of tested healthcare workers going around buying food locally and distributing such food to communities, so that these people can stay at home for 2 or 3 months. Such an operation should be repeated several times as more funds become available.

Further, if such healthcare teams could receive the vaccine before such an exercise, it would improve the efficacy of the exercise.

Otherwise, the K72 Million which Chakwera said had so far been spent on protections and social support cluster to sensitize the public on the increased risks and evils of gender-based violence during the pandemic as well as to support victims and their families with materials and cash transfer, is in my view not enough. A lot more needs to be done.

This is the main reason Malawi wants to be friends with Somaliland

Somaliland’s Parliament Building

If you were presented with a picture of the rather unassuming building of Somaliland’s Parliament for the very first time, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the place was in fact the site of Prakash Patel’s Tandoori Curry Bazaar in downtown Limbe.

Yes, looks are not everything, but the building is reminiscent of a glorified third-rate Bengali restaurant in a dusty part of town than the bonafide parliament building that it actually is. It looks more like one of those places where families go to after a sweaty day in Church, for Sunday dinner – complete with Biryanis, Chicken Kormas and Lamb Vindaloos.

So, what on earth is Malawi looking for in Somaliland?

Shouldn’t we instead be cosying up to the Singapores and South Koreas of this world? The glitzy success stories whose ‘breadcrumbs’ can catapult our tiny economy into the 21st century….no?

I mean, if we are serious about implementing a tried and tested formula of economic development which other countries have been using to develop their economies for decades then surely an official trip to New Delhi or Jakarta sounds more like it?

There’s been quite a bit of speculation as to the real reasons why Malawi is interested in Somaliland, and I won’t tire you by rehearsing those reasons here.

The adminstration of Somaliland has put out what to me sounds like regurgitated diplomat-speak.  A cut-and-paste statement that is too generic to be meaningful or taken seriously. The government of Malawi too hasn’t provided a convincing reason for its interest in Somaliland. In any case if the issue was truly about Somaliland seeking support from Malawi for it’s national recognition on the world stage, then surely it should have been officials from Somaliland visiting Malawi, and not the other way round. As the Chichewa proverb goes, phiri siliyendera nyani koma nyani ndi amene amayendera phiri (A mountain doesn’t follow the monkey, it’s the monkey that follows the mountain)

What’s surprised me from the commentary about the visit in Malawian publications is to see almost no one pick out the most probable reason why Eisenhower Mkaka (Malawi’s Foreign Minister) visited Hargeisa – the capital city of Somaliland, which I’m quite sure most Malawians hadn’t previously heard of before Mkaka’s visit.

I think the real reason Lazarus Chakwera’s government is looking to befriend Somaliland is to do with Oil. Yes, it’s all about Petroleum. Why this is the most likely reason is because in recent years, there’s been quite a lot of talk about investment into Somaliland. Only last year, the London headquartered Genel Energy announced it had increased his stake in the SL10B13 block in Somaliland to 100% , after acquiring a 25% state that had been previously held by East African Resources Group. That block alone is said to comprise several interests each containing at least 200 million barrels of crude oil, with some analysts estimating that there’s at least 1 Billion barrels of oil underneath that one block. That means Somaliland as a whole could have significant petroleum reserves, possibly of the size comparable to those found in several of the neighbouring countries.

And that’s a big deal.

Further, when friends are hard to come by as has been the experience of Somaliland (which is still regarded as an autonomous region within Somalia, and hasn’t been officially recognised by any country) any sort of trade can make a significant difference. As other marginalized states (including sanction-laden states such as Venezuela & Iran) will tell you, any takers of your output including oil in circumstances where other countries are afraid of the consequences of trading with you can be a lifesaver.

In addition, Somaliland in 2016 signed a 30 year contract with the United Arab Emirates’s DP World, the third largest port operator in the world, to manage and expand its Berbera Port. Last year, a US$400 million road project connecting Ethiopias border town of Togochale to Berbera was launched, a route which some analysts say will be an alternative transit point for imports and exports out of Ethiopia. There’s been several other significant and notable investments…

But if the oil quantities are as significant as some think, its only a matter of time before a refinery is constructed. Already in the south Ethiopia is looking at building it’s first oil refinery. This follows the shelving of a Blackstone Group LP-backed fuel pipeline project 2 years ago. Thus, given the frosty nature of diplomatic relations between Somalia and Ethiopia, it’s not inconceivable for Petroleum from Somaliland being refined in Ethiopia in the near future, before being sent back to be shipped from Berbera to destinations across the world.

Malawi needs oil at as cheap a price as can be found. Thus if you can sign contracts with ‘friends’ who are relatively new to the oil game to sell you oil at ‘friendly prices’ (as opposed to Market rates) in exchange for support regarding the friend’s sovereignty, then theoretically everyone stands to benefit. Malawi gets its relatively cheap oil at prices it can afford without having to deal with the baggage of the likes of Nigeria, Somaliland gets some Forex, and a measure of the international recognition it very much craves, there’s a boost to intra-African trade. Everyone’s a winner!

This is how I would deal with the Tony Blair issue

If you didn’t already know, Tony Blair (like him or not) is back in town.

The former British Prime Minister is going to be working with the government of Lazarus Chakwera to …. do something? According to the website of Blair’s Institute for Global Change, Blair and his people will be ‘ …looking to set up a new project to support the govt of Malawi to strengthen its delivery and implementation mechanisms. This is likely to include a delivery function in State House, but also support other parts of the Presidency e.g. communications, international affairs…‘ and ‘…to strengthening delivery in the Presidency, the Project will seek to strengthen connections with other key ministries such as Energy, Agriculture, Industry and Trade, and the Ministries covering infrastructure‘.

But already, some Malawians are up in arms about the news. They are not happy with what suspiciously looks like a useless intervention. Among the protestations is the allegation that when Tony Blair came to Malawi to assist Joyce Banda in 2012, when she was President of Malawi, there wasn’t much that was achieved back then, and Malawians have never been given solid evidence that his involvement at that time was beneficial to the country, despite the significant cost his involvement incurred.

There has also been the allegation that considering the long-term effects of Britain’s foreign policy when Blair was British PM – which saw the UK support the US led illegal invasion of Iraq, among other misguided military campaigns, associating with Blair now apparently tarnishes Lazarus Chakwera’s near-perfect image, and is a regression of the very idea of a new corrupt-free Malawi. The architects of this accusation essentially say that some people will be asking “Why is that small poor African nation paying a fortune to a war criminal?” to quote just one twitter user, who no doubt is not a fan of Blair.

Finally, there are those who are resentful that the West including Tony Blair did not speak up or help Malawians when the former president Peter Mutharika, to quote one complainant, “tried to rape the constitution” in stealing the 2019 election (which was over-turned because of widespread irregularities). They say it was only when Lazarus Chakwera won this year’s Election re-run and ascended to power “that they came running” to quote the same complainant.

The government of Malawi in defending the collaboration with Blair has said that those who are against his involvement are xenophobic, which if you ask me, is about as lazy a response as any tired press officer could muster in his sleep.

But putting aside the unhelpful bickering, is Blair’s version 2 foray into Malawi worth the time and money?

This is how I would deal with the issue, if it were up to me:

I think some people who are opposed to the idea of Tony Blair’s services to the government of Malawi are getting the wrong end of the stick on two distinct but important things.

Firstly, they wrongly think that Tony Blair’s involvement is an admission that we don’t have any capable Malawians able enough to to sell Malawi to the world, which ofcourse we do. This criticism says that by employing Blair we are failing to recognise or advance the talent of hundreds of Malawians who can do pretty much the same thing just as competently – which is not true. The second fallacy in all this is that advice as to developmental issues should be free, or paid for by someone else other than the country that stands to benefit from such advice. This thinking too is misguided, and if you can excuse my Chichewa: ndi maganizo wa anthu ozolowela ku vencha.

Let me explain why.

The real question here should be what is a fair price for a poor country to pay for High Level access and investment due diligence?

The reason answering that question matters, or should matter, is because there are “doors” (figuratively maybe ‘corporate doors’ is more accurate here) out there which a Finance minister/ Business Development official of Lazarus Chakwera won’t be able to open on their own, but which with just one phone call from an influential person such as Tony Blair will land a face to face meeting.

Let me give you an example: Would Felix Mlusu (Malawi’s Finance Minister) or Eisenhower Mkaka (Malawi’s Foreign Minister) be able to easily land a meeting with the head of Citigroup Michael Corbat? Or the CEO of Tesla Elon Musk? Or of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, or say, Berkshire Hathaway’s CEO Warren Buffet, or the Chief Executive of GlaxoSmithKline Emma Walmsley, or the Chairman of Dyson Technology Sir James Dyson, or Richard Lutz the Chief Executive of Deutsche Bahn – the largest European railway operator, and second-largest transport company in the world… I could go on and on, but all these meetings being for investment talks into Malawi?

I doubt such would be as easy or straightforward for any of the ministers or trade officials in Chakwera’s government.

But I can bet you that Tony Blair probably has the direct line of at least one of these executives in his mobile phone right this very moment. I am also certain that if he doesnt have their number, he personally knows someone in his network who has their direct phone number. And that even if he didn’t personally know the executive, the mere mention that Tony Blair is on the line to any of the executives would ensure that phone call is put through.

And it would be such a simple and straightforward exercise to arrange high-level meetings between a development team from Malawi, and senior executives of those companies.

That kind of access is valuable, and it’s high time Malawians learn this undeniable fact.

Thus, I think the questions Malawians should be asking should instead be (1) What is the Return on Investment (ROI) on using the services of people like Tony Blair; and (2) Can Malawi afford it?

I think someone has to sit down and talk to Blair’s people, crunch some numbers, and then explain to the Malawian people in detail the benefit of what they (or the so called “well-wishers”) will actually be paying for, so that there is less misunderstanding regarding these kinds of issues.

Of course we need to learn the lessons from 2012, but working with Blair ought to be a case of having a solid and strong contract between Tony Blair’s Institute For Global Change and the Government of Malawi, listing 11 or 12 targets or deliverables, an execution time period, and a non-performance clause:

  1. We want a joint-venture between GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) – the large British Pharmaceutical with revenues of £33.75 Billion (2019)- and the government of Malawi, to manufacturer drugs locally in Malawi, in which the Malawian government owns 51% of the joint venture, assuming GSK invests £200 million of hard cash into the facility and the development of the local area, development of downstream industries that supply big pharma, and to employ hundreds of Malawians.
  2. We want Citigroup to open a state of the art Investment & FinTech hub in Lilongwe to lure other financial industry heavyweights, and to help our FinTech entrepreneurs and local Finance sector companies tap into international capital markets. We would like them to invest at least £80 million into the facility and make it their East Africa headquarters, giving finance jobs and training to at least 200 Malawians.
  3. We want Amazon to open an East African Headquarters in Blantyre, Malawi, and regional Logistics Hub (Warehouses and fulfilment centres) for East Africa. We would like them to commit to investing $250 million into the venture, and to employ 400 young Malawians.
  4. We want Dyson Technology to build and open a state of the art Engineering University like the one they have in the UK, to train and equip hundreds of Malawian young people with practical engineering skills.
  5. We would like Tesla to invest $1 Billion in an electric car assembly factory and automotive battery manufacturing plant that will give jobs and technical skills to hundreds of Malawians.
  6. We would like to invite Berkshire Hathaway to invest between $1 Billion and $3 Billion in two large Solar farms to be built in Malawi, with assistance from one of the companies in their investment portfolio (Berkshire Hathaway has invested at least $16 Billion in Solar and Wind, and is looking to invest more in the sectors), in a 50:50 joint venture with the Government of Malawi, so that we can solve our energy deficiency challenges.
  7. We would like two Supermarket chains from Walmart/ Sainsbury’s/ Marks & Spencers/ Cooperative Group Food Limited to partner with another two local Malawian supermarkets in a 30:30:20:20 Joint Venture to open 10 brand new supermarkets across the country and invest at least $400 million in infrastructure, job creation for hundreds of people and adoption of best practices gleaned in other markets.
  8. Can Tony Blair persuade the leaders of the construction behemoths Laing O’rourke (£2.75 Billion -2019 revenues), Kier Group (£3.42 Billion – 2019) and Balfour Beatty (£8.4 Billion -2019) to join two carefully selected African construction companies in forming a Malawian Consortium whose members collectively invest a $500 million loan into the building and fitting of a new state of the art Public Hospital in Mzuzu, the loan being repayable over 15 years at a fixed interest rate of 20%.
  9. We would like to do deals with four world-renown hotel developers / chains with a good track record, including sound employment practices, to each help build and establish a 4-star / 5 -star hotel / golf resort along the lake, one in Monkey Bay, another in Salima, a third in Nkhatabay and a final one in Karonga, all being near the lake, with the government owning 35% of each hotel/golf resort , and a veto on major decisions.
  10. Can Tony Blair’s organisation convince Heathrow Airport Holdings and the SmithGroup (who helped design Hartsfield -Jackson Atlanta International Airport – the world’s busiest airport by passenger travel since 1998), to partner with the Department of Civil Aviation to upgrade the country’s airports and invest $1 Billion for a 40% stake in Lilongwe International Airport and Chileka Airport.
  11. Similarly, we would like to do a joint venture with DHL, UPS and ParcelForce for an Air Cargo company operating weekly cargo flights from JFK International Airport, Manchester Airport, Dubai International Airport and Shanghai Pudong International Airport directly to Lilongwe International Airport, to help Malawians to cheaply import things, with the government of Malawi owning not less than 25% of the joint venture.
  12. …. Some other important investment imperatives you can think of…

if Tony Blair’s team can deliver on some all of these important investment commitments, and see through the signed contracts with these corporations, I wouldn’t have any qualms for the government of Malawi to even pay Tony Blair and his associates £5 million a year for the duration of their contract, so long as the projects above actually happen and there is Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) associated with them coming into Malawi, and clear, quantifiable, independently verifiable and unmistakable value to Malawi’s economy, as a result of Blair’s intervention.

Failing that, I would have a clause in the contract with the Institute saying that if for whatever reason the deliverables have not materialised within 10 years from commencement of the contract, then the Institute should repay Malawians 100% the full cost of the consultancy fees plus interest.

Development – even to a poor country, does not come cheaply, so let’s be pragmatic and accept the reality.

Also, let’s make another thing very clear: Just because you have dealings with a former world leader whose politics is far from palatable doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with each and every aspect of their foreign policy.

For the longest time, Malawi had dealings with all manner of dodgy regimes like Apartheid South Africa, Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique) and the People’s Republic of China (PROC), let alone the Mugabe’s and the Gaddafi’s of this world. These days, we are cosying up to Israel’s Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s MBS – who are far from faultless. But we didn’t (and don’t) necessarily endorse or agree with any of the controversial or plain wrong things which those leaders and their regimes did/do. Our alliances with them is purely business.

Why does South Africa like to needlessly invite the anger of other Africans upon itself?

Listen to this article here.

If you were to allegorize all of the largely self-inflicted scandals in which the South African state has been embroiled in since 1994, into one being, you’d be forgiven for arriving bang on bullseye at a spoiled child brat; one who despite plenty of warmth & affection bestowed upon them, doesn’t fully appreciate the sacrifices others made (and continue to make) on their behalf.

And here I’m not referring to the antics of Msholozi (Nkandla, Guptagate, to name just two), nor the other character failings like that time Jacob Zuma absurdly claimed that having a shower protected him from H.I.V; or that dizzyingly ridiculous episode when Thabo Mbeki, an intellectual among Presidents (not just African Presidents), falsely believed that HIV treatments could be poisonous, so withheld proven, life-saving anti-retrovirals (ARVs) from those in need; a lot of H.I.V stories I know, but stories nevertheless that caused real embarrassment to Africans the world over.

No, I’m not talking about all that. I’m also not referring to the embarrassing disasters, like that time during Mandela’s memorial, when the A.N.C clumsily solicited the services of a fake sign language interpreter who was, “signing rubbish” (according to many deaf people who watched the live broadcast) next to international dignitaries – the likes of Barack Obama.

What I’m referring to instead is the vexatious and totally unreasonable behaviour of some people within South Africa who do or say things that no one sensible can ever put a finger on, but which have far reaching consequences, not least tarnishing everything that’s good about brand Africa.

Like that time when the Zulu King Zwelithini sparked xenophobic violence (some say the correct term is “afrophobic”) against immigrants living and working in South Africa, leading to the death of at least seven people ; Or last year’s attacks that killed at least 12 people, and forced the South African government to issue an apology to Nigeria & Ghana. Cyril Ramaphosa even apologised for the violence at Mugabe’s funeral, a pacifying act that turned boos to cheers…as if the special envoys sent to the countries whose citizens were mostly affected by the xenophobic violence – Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania, the DRC, to mend relations weren’t a sufficient enough diplomatic gesture. I’m talking about the brawls that keep breaking out in South Africa’s parliament (there was at least one in 2017, and another in 2018) . Then there was that almighty near-miss in 2015, when the whole world watched in horror as Oscar Pistorius nearly … nearly escaped justice.

That’s even before we get to the uncomfortable topics – like the drink-driving and associated high motor vehicle accident rates in the country, the gender violence, in particular the killing of women; violent crackdowns like the Marikana Massacre, the huge societal inequalities… the list is rather long.

And so, when just over a week ago it was revealed that some military officials at Waterkloof Air Force Base had crafted a situation that forced President Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi to delay his departure from South Africa for 7 hours, over an outrageous suspicion (involving one ‘Prophet’ Shepherd Bushiri and his wife skipping bail), that shouldn’t have been levelled in the first place, Malawians across the world got really angry.

Here, I must declare an interest. Being a Malawian national, this fiasco was particularly insulting for quite a number of reasons. I must also state that for reasons that will become clearer below, I fully support the statement released by Malawi’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, a few days after the fiasco.

Firstly, whatever the transgressions of Shepherd Bushiri and his wife – and yes they must face justice in a fair trial if compelling evidence of wrongdoing exists, it was extremely stupid of whoever decided to delay the plane’s departure, to drag President Lazarus Chakwera into that hoo-hah. That action alone speaks volumes of South African authorities; the foolishness of those who became suspicious and thought that the Malawian President would stoop so low as to help a wanted person / fugitive escape justice knows no bounds. They’re a liability to South Africa, and the proper functioning of South Africa’s institutions.

Secondly, when it is the case that a leader like former Sudanese president Omar Al Bashir, who had an ICC arrest warrant hanging over his head for genocide in Darfur, visited South Africa in 2018, and pranced around the country unchallenged without so much as a cotton thread tweezered off his garment, how dare South Africa’s police go as far as search president Chakwera’s plane…!? How disparaging is such rabid behaviour!?? Incredible… simply astonishing. What happened to diplomacy?

Now, I understand that South Africa’s police is not a perfect institution. I mean, the country recently fired its Deputy Police Commissioner, because of corruption. Yup, the second chap in command of the police was involved in a corruption saga, and was showed the exit door. So I understand that there is a bit of a quality/ standards problem there. But just because you have nincompoops in your crime fighting forces doesn’t mean that you should transpose the apparent lack of integrity that afflicts some of your institutions onto other countries. Let’s be absolutely clear, we’re not all crooks, and assuming so is extremely ignorant.

Thirdly, I very much doubt that the Hawks would have done exactly the same thing had another leader, say Vladimir Putin, or Angela Merkel been the visiting dignitary instead of Chakwera. And that’s a big problem in South Africa’s national psyche. Imagine that the Bushiri-type saga involved a German or Russian fugitive. It’s almost unimaginable that South Africa’s police would have marched the German or Russian entourage out of the plane, back to the airport concourse, passport in hand, for these so called “security checks”. They definitely wouldn’t have searched their plane, gone through their luggage, and dehumanised the officials of another sovereign state. No chance. You know why, because of all the reasons that anyone with half a brain can think of, it is extremely unprofessional to do so. But doing it to Malawi’s president reveals the kind of attitudes those officials hold towards fellow Africans.

Which begs the question: why do some South African officials seem totally incapable of freeing themselves from from a propensity of generating dishonour? From a tendency of ‘crafting’ high drama?

As an outsider, this erratic and at times self-sabotaging behaviour coming out from the rainbow nation is not only perplexing but extremely annoying. More so because South Africa happens to have the word “Africa” in the country’s name, but at times they behave as though they aren’t even African. And if some foreigners look at all the unhinged behaviour, no wonder some of them disrespect the rest of us (“Shithole country” etc). That sort of behaviour gives Africa a bad name.

Mind you, this is the second largest economy in Africa, this is the land that produced greats not only of the stature of Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu, but also the likes of Steve Biko, Desmond Tutu, Albert Lithuli, Miriam Makeba, Brenda Fassie, Trevor Noah…and Elon Musk, internationally recognized personalities the world over who command a lot of respect, for some to the point of a cult following. You really really want to stand back and ask: Where has the excellence gone, what the hell is wrong with these people?

If this all sounds somewhat remote to you, let me try a different angle: If you are an African, do you get pangs of embarrassment or slight discomfort, when someone who is not African, anyone who is not African, during conversation veers into that troublesome topic of … the stereotypical but nevertheless real phenomenon of the Nigerian scammer? That cringey feeling! Like, oh here we go again.

Some apologists say South Africa is a young democracy still in its infancy. That despite the relative economic development, the country is still but a babe learning from it’s mistakes. That with time, things will be ok. As optimistic and soothing to the ear as that may sound, I’m not sure I buy the argument entirely. Unlike countries like South Sudan – which have also had a tumultous and violent history as South Africa has had, but whose national polity arose from a tiny city-state province, South Africans gained their freedom at a point when institutions within their country had already been established and were already arguably strong; with some of the leading Universities in Africa, sprawling cities, a sound legal system and a mature financial system. Thus, the mere addtion of democracy (i.e. majority rule) to that equation ought not to, ordinarily, lead to too much dysfunction. So something else is going on.

Other sympathisers say South Africa is still trying to catch up; that the country is still in transition. The proponents of this argument say that while other African countries have had decades-long headstarts to properly educate their peoples (without discrimination), and many more years to cement their various versions of Pan-Africanism, Black South Africans couldn’t get the kind of quality education necessary for the rebuilding of a stable, functional and fair society for a very long time. And so, the dysfunction and blunders associated with the post-Apartheid South African state are just a natural if not inevitable consequence of that deficiency; what in Chichewa we would call “Chimizi” for lack of a better term. Similarly, the Afrophobia is but a dredge of the hatred that was once thrown at black south Africans by Apartheid. But even this explanation is not entirely convincing.

I think some South Africans just don’t want to learn. I also think too many South Africans don’t know as much of their country’s history and the role other African countries played in securing South Africa’s freedom, as they should; that there is this lazy, ignorant, drunken almost schizophrenic tendency in some people in South Africa to always blame others for their own failures or misfortune.

You see it the way some South Africans hate Zimbabweans” a friend told me recently. “Instead of getting up and actually working as hard as the Zimbabweans who they like to blame, they find it much easier to just hate and blame them”

Another friend said South Africa’s problem is its misplaced sense of superiority:

Too many people in South Africa have this high-mindedness that they are better than other Africans. And that creates a problem especially when the people you’re looking down on happen to be the very same people who helped you gain your freedom

Malawi returns to the polls to re-elect a New President

Dr Lazarus Chakwera & Dr Saulos Chilima of the MCP-UTM Tonse Alliance

Malawi goes to the polls today for an election re-run to elect a new President, after the previous poll held in May 2019 was overturned in February this year for being marred by massive irregularities including use of corectional fluid known as Tippex.

The re-run comes amidst the COVID-19 crisis, which has had a significant impact on many countries economies. As of today, Malawi has has 803 confirmed cases with 11 deaths.
But Malawi has many other more pressing problems.

Since the start of multiparty democracy in 1994, the country has struggled to create a thriving economy with ample opportunities for it’s citizens. Poverty, Tribalism, Cronyism & Corruption are rife. The private sector is small, poorly funded and largely dependent on government contracts. There is insufficient power generation, and power cuts / blackouts are commonplace. There is high youth unemployment and few avenues of young hard-working people to escape the poverty trap.

Tobacco sales, the largest source of government revenue, have been dwindling in recent years, in part because of a successful global anti-tobacco campaign. Unfortunately, this has meant less revenue collection by the government.

Years of economic neglect, under-investment in infrastructure, lack of diversification in the economy, misuse of natural resources, plus successive phases of bad governance has led to a situation where most of Malawi’s 18 million inhabitants live hand-to-mouth, the large majority living on less than $3 a day. Consequently, women, especially those living in the rural areas comprise one of the most disadvantaged groups in Malawian society. This inevitably affects health and educational outcomes for children.

All these have made life quite unbearable for many people, and the demonstrations we saw last year and early on this year show the level of frustration in the country.

But there is Hope. However gloomy the picture is, today Malawians have a chance to voice out their frustration & change the direction of our country at the ballot box, onto a better path. One of inclusive prosperity for all irrespective of where one comes from. A path where food is affordable, hospitals have medicine and government contracts are awarded fairly and transparently. A path where promotion is based on merit not party or tribal affiliation; where here are educational opportunities for young people, and where financial institutions do not take advantage of people in financial hardship. A Malawi where there are plenty of opportunities for citizens, young entrepreneurs can take out loans with relative ease and at low interests and fighting corruption is not merely lip service. A path where tribalism, regionalism & cronyism are tackled decisevely and the interests of the country as a whole, and the collective good is put before the interests of a party, before appeasing party loyalists.

I look forward to the opening of a new chapter of hope & shared prosperity in Malawi’s history. I look forward to a thriving, growing, optimistic and vibrant Malawi.

And for the avoidance of doubt, no one is saying such will not have its own challenges.

But this blog endorses the MCP -UTM Tonse Alliance as the best Political party in Malawi right now able to heal the wounds of divisions that exist and to orchestrate the much needed changes our beloved country urgently need.
Vote #MCP-UTM #TonseAlliance. Lets make today count and welcome a new future!

Should Malawi’s next Government have a Code of Conduct for Political Advisers?

lady holding a card with words Code of Conduct written on it

I’m reviewing the code of conduct of special advisers to the UK government.

It’s an interesting read which lists in quite some detail a lot regarding the role, status and transparency with which special advisers to the UK government should operate. It also talks about how contact with the media should be handled, and how involvement of politics in a private capacity can be undertaken.

As a form of background, Special Advisers in the UK are classed as temporary civil servants in the different legislatures of the countries that make up the UK, and are thus exempt from being appointed based on merit. However, that doesn’t make them exempt from accountability or scrutiny over their actions.

So you might ask what does that have to do with Malawi? Well, since Malawi has seen quite a fair share of controversy and other drama involving political aides, presidential advisers and even a president’s bodyguard, considering an election is just around the corner it seems topical to venture into this topic at this time.

Anyhow, among the stipulations of the Code of Conduct are that Special Advisers may:

  • give assistance on any aspect of departmental business, and give advice (including expert advice as a specialist in a particular field);
  • undertake long term policy thinking and contribute to policy planning within the Department;
  • write speeches and undertake related research, including adding party political content to material prepared by permanent civil servants;
  • liaise with the Party, briefing party representatives and parliamentarians on issues of government policy;
  • represent the views of their Minister to the media (including a party viewpoint), where they have been authorised by the Minister to do so; and
  • liaise with outside interest groups (including those with a political allegiance)

In working with Civil Servants, Special Advisers can

  • convey to officials Ministers’ views, instructions and priorities, including on issues of presentation. .
  • request officials to prepare and provide information and data, including internal analyses and papers;
  • hold meetings with officials to discuss the advice being put to Ministers; and
  • review and comment on –but not suppress or supplant –advice being prepared for Ministers by civil servants.

It’s important to note that when undertaking their duties, Special Advisers are not doing so in their own capacities, but on behalf of their minister / the government.

However, Special Advisers may not:

  • ask civil servants to do anything which is inconsistent with their obligations under the Civil Service Code or behave in a way which would be inconsistent with standards set by their employing department;
  • authorise expenditure of public funds or have responsibility for budgets;
  • exercise any power in relation to the management of any part of the Civil Service,except in relation to another special adviser;or
  • otherwise exercise any statutory or prerogative power.

All important and necessary stuff . Necessary because when it is broken, there are usually consequences. Obviously, the UK’s troubles are not like the problems we face in Malawi. In fact you might say their problems are rather tame, than some of the allegations special advisers have been accused of in Malawi. And that’s why the part of public funds is in bold.

The Code of Conduct goes onto say that:

Special advisers are able to give direction to such civil servants in relation to their day-to-day work for them, and their views should be sought as an input to performance appraisals on the basis that these are written by other civil servants. However,special advisers should not be involved in the line management of civil servants in matters affecting a civil servant’s career such as recruitment, promotion, reward and discipline, or have access to personnel files of civil servants.

It also says the following:

Special advisers are bound by the standards of integrity and honesty required of all civil servants as set out in the Civil Service Code.

Special advisers should not disclose official information which has been communicated in confidence in government or received in confidence from others. The Preparation or dissemination of inappropriate material or personal attacks has no part to play in the job of being a special adviser as it has no part to play in the conduct of public life.

Special advisers must not take public part in political controversy,through any form of statement whether in speeches or letters to the press, or in books, social media, articles or leaflets. They must observe discretion and express comment with moderation, avoiding personal attacks, and would not normally speak in public for their Minister or the Department

Special advisers are required to declare details of gifts and hospitality received in accordance with the rules set out in their departmental staff handbooks. Departments will publish,on a quarterly basis, information about gifts and hospitality received by their departmental special advisers and details of special advisers’ meetings with newspaper and other media proprietors, editors and senior executives.

It goes on and on.

Now, given the perilous history of political advisers and presidential aides in Malawi, and what we know of how such people have behaved, especially in terms of amassing unexplained wealth, or otherwise being caught up or named in one scandal or another, shouldn’t Malawi’s next Government ensure that there is a strong and functional Code of Conduct for Political Advisers?

I think it is of the utmost urgency for Malawi’s next government to have an effective Code of Conduct for Political Advisers. It should be drafted with a view to curbing the corruption that has embroiled Political Advisers in Malawi’s history. The Code of Conduct must be drafted by an independent panel of legal professionals and CSOs, and must be reviewed every 3 years to ensure it is functional and fit for purpose.

Further, and in the interest of curbing corrupt practices, a new supranational body, the National Fraud Agency (NFA) with powers to levy fines, powers to cancel contracts which are not in the best interest of the country, and with powers to impound, detain and forfeit goods, and to go after foreign property of officials or citizens (which is suspected of being bought using the proceeds of corruption) should be established specifically to look at the issue of declaration of assets, to scrutinise government spending, tender awards and contracts, and to prevent extortionate prices being charged for goods supplied to the Malawi government. The NFA can work with the Anti-corruption Bureau, but it has to be independent of the ACB, and parliament and PAC should establish a framework that decides how the NFA’s powers are to be exercised. This is important to make sure that the theft of public resources that has occured in the past in one guise or another, perpetrated by public officials including ministers, should be firmly put to an end.

Thus, such a Code of Conduct together with an NFA would encourage transparency and accountability, and would establish a high standard of ethics in Malawi’s politics. It would also ensure that if wrong-doing occurs, a course of action that swiftly and resolutely rectifies the situation can be implemented. It means unscrupulous officials can be cut off from the business of government sooner than later, and cannot run away abroad with the proceeds of corruption. It means every political adviser would know in black and white exactly the type of dutiful conduct which is expected of them.

Why African Governments should Strongly Condemn the Xenophobic attacks against Africans in China

The last couple of days have brought depressing headlines that show Africans living in China being persecuted, in some instances at the hands of the police, as a new wave of the Coronavirus pandemic hits parts of the country.

This is unfortunate news because China seems to have been trying to build economic partnerships with several African countries based on mutual respect and a win-win cooperation.

There’s also an irony here because not too long ago, Chinese nationals and other Asians were complaining of suffering physical attacks and hate speech amid xenophobic calls by some political pundits in several countries for Asian migrants to be denied access to medical services.

Indeed the hashtag #IAmNotAVirus trended on twitter a few weeks ago.

Thus, at a time when there has been calls against calling the Coronavirus the ‘Wuhan Virus’, or the ‘Chinese virus’ as some have been doing, with people across the world standing in solidarity with Asians who were experiencing this hate speech, it’s disheartening to see Chinese people attacking Africans in this demeaning and insensitive manner:

In the weeks since COVID-19 has been circulating, Asian-Americans and Asians around the world have noted a spike in discrimination and xenophobic attacks. Public transit riders have encountered hostile interactions and people simply walking down the street have experienced microaggressions — which I prefer to call veiled aggressions, because there is nothing “micro” about them for the person on the receiving end.

Dr. Marietta Vazquez, Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Infectious Diseases & General Pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine; Vice Chair of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Over the last few decades China has worked hard to court African countries by presenting itself as their alternative economic partner in a global competition against western countries. Using loans and infrastructural development assistance promises among other measures, bilateral agreements have been signed and investment into various sectors across African countries has followed.

China even hosts a summit for Africa (called Forum on China–Africa Cooperation) every three years.

Indeed such has been the level of Chinese incursion into Africa that in some places even obscure villages have Chinese communities numbering several hundred people.

Generally, Chinese investment into Africa works as follows: China gives African countries cheap loans (and or buyer’s credit), access to relatively cheap equipment and technology, help in infrastructure development such as building roads, railways, factories, hospitals and stadia, but without the IMF-type conditionalities, and without any paternalistic intervention in the recipient country’s domestic politics. In return African countries give China raw materials (of which minerals remain a significant part) and a growing market where Chinese companies can flog their wares, or offer their services. What is often left unsaid (but is perfectly understood) in these transactions is that African leaders should not criticise China in public.

Thus, with such strategic investment and presence on the African continent, a presence which China is keen to emphasize as not interfering in the internal state affairs of African countries, and which is not colonialist, you’d think the Chinese government would be at least careful about how it handles matters regarding African people.

However, looking at some of the videos coming out of China in recent days, it’s disappointing that the authorities, including the Chinese police seem to be partaking in the actual harassment of citizens of African countries.

And unfortunately, it’s not the first time that foreigners in China have been viewed as a threat to public safety. In 2016, local officials in Beijing ran an awareness campaign cautioning Chinese citizens against dating foreigners, who they said could be spies.

While the police in China may struggle to understand that human rights of all people must be protected, given the repressive nature of the Chinese State, and given China’s well-documented intolerance of freedom of speech, but surely they must know that repression of foreigners is out of bounds.

It’s one thing to be fast and loose with your own citizens, quite another to do it to someone else’s people.

This is why African countries must stand together in being firm against China to explain what exactly is going on. It’s not good enough to merely express “extreme concern”, when your country’s nationals are being attacked and harassed in this way. Not in a world where Africans the world over suffer demeaning insults and discrimination on a daily basis for all manner of things.

Thus, Foreign Offices across the African continent who have knowledge that their citizens have been affected should summon Chinese Ambassadors in their countries to explain what is going on, and why the police are not clamping down on the xenophobic attacks?!? They should also request an explanation of what will be done in terms of restitution to those who have been affected, and within what timeline. This should be handled as a matter of urgency.

Usually China is quick (some will say ‘harsh’) at dealing with civil disobedience and clamping down on unrest. Indeed there are many examples throughout China’s history one can pick from. So why are we not seeing Chinese police officers protecting Africans in the Chinese city of Guangzhou for example?

Further, over the last 40 or so years China has been accused of many things, mainly by politicians and companies in western countries. Among the accusations is the allegation that China is lax on infringement of intellectual property rights by its citizens. But in recent times, the country has been trying hard to clean up this reputation, however unfair the perceptions that remain may be. In particular, there have been promising strides against counterfeiting and strengthening of China’s intellectual property laws, with admirable progress worth shouting about.

But the current xenophobic attacks stand squarely to undermine any such glimmers of hope. China will struggle to win the world’s hearts and minds with such grim headlines. And the criticism is not western media bias as some Chinese officials have been keen to dismiss them as. The stories of residents being kicked out of their apartments are real, and there is video evidence available across social media to prove they occured. They smack of illegality and the trampling of civil liberties in the face of the authorities. Blanket denials will not help China’s cause.

Defeating the COVID-19 pandemic will require a global united front. It will need not only lockdowns, a range of personal hygiene measures, social distancing, respirators, masks, protective personal equipment and a vaccine, among other things. But it will also require firmly and truthfully stamping out the darker impulses of human behaviour when faced with calamity; it will mean clamping down on physical attacks and hate speech against minority communities. And since the overwhelming evidence of the origins of COVID-19 points to Wuhan in China, the Chinese government above everyone else ought to be at the frontline of the effort to protect minorities.