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