Why President Lazarus Chakwera shouldn’t have visited former president of Malawi Peter Mutharika

The Christmas holiday season is a strange time. One where friends, families, acquaintances and others who don’t fall into any of these categories meet to catch up, for food, celebration, for worship and generally for festivities. Suddenly, far removed from the ordinary day to day preoccupations most of us are usually accustomed to the other 11 months of the year, the petty-dislikes, by December many of us begin to plan for Christmas. Where we’ll spend the day, with whom, and for how long: we begin buying presents, buying gifts for the children, close friends and family, our choice of Christmas cards (even for those who we’re only obligated to do so), we begin planning the feast that is the Christmas meal/dinner, complete with all manner of indulgences from expensive drinks we don’t usually buy to calorie-rich desserts that do no justice to our health. It happens everywhere, even in countries where Christianity is not a big deal

President Lazarus Chakwera & the first lady meeting the former president and former first lady.

And so it was no great surprise seeing President Lazarus Chakwera and the first lady stop by Mangochi to visit the former president of Malawi Peter Mutharika and his wife.

However, Malawian are divided as to whether the visit was a smart move, and there has been a lot of harsh words on social media as to whether the visit should even have taken place. There are some hailing the visit as a sign of leadership and of building unity. But others think in terms of preserving the integrity of the presidency and giving out the right messages, the visit wasn’t a smart move.

As a private person, Lazarus Chakwera has the right to visit who he likes, when he likes, and at a place of his choice. But as the President of Malawi, I believe those personal liberties are constricted by the office of the presidency, and need to be exercised a lot more cautiously.

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The above picture is a beautiful picture of two leaders spending some time together, but I think the concern for most Malawians is that any interactions between Lazarus Chakwera and Peter Mutharika should not influence due legal process, or give the wrong signals to those in charge of discharging that due legal process.

There is also the idea that a President who won the country’s support on the back of the noble and overdue anti-corruption ideal “of cleaning up the rubble” to quote Chakwera’s own words should not associate with a former president who is either facing an impending investigation, or whose very close associates are facing corruption / embezzlement charges. And refusing to associate with a former leader whose colleagues are under investigation is not tantamount to punishment. Instead it’s saying that the Presidency should be above disrepute, and so any associations that can potentially tarnish that Office must be avoided.

That’s the reason why some of us were very angry with what some South Africans were suggesting regarding who smuggled the controversial self-proclaimed ‘prophet’ Shepherd Bushiri out of South Africa.

In any case, now you have a man of integrity in President Lazarus Chakwera – by any measure an honest and conscientious leader. But what happens the day Malawi somehow gets a dishonest and rogue leader; a tinkerer who after such a visit to a former president starts insinuating without proof that the former leader is in fact innocent? Or starts casting doubts or throwing aspersions on the legal process, or interfering in any impending investigation? What happens if at a different time and in different circumstances a Malawian leader indulges in behaviour – much like what the outgoing US president Donald Trump has often done in the US – to try to undermine Malawi’s institutions and legal process?

That’s when Malawians will realise that it’s not a great idea for a sitting president to be chummy with someone who has a grey cloud over their head, or in Mutharika’s case – someone who presided over the monumental racketeering of state resources, embezzlement of government funds and wholesale corruption like never seen before in Malawi.

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

What does a Pro-Malawian Position on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Malawi look like?

  • Listen to this article here

Last week President Chakwera took part in a webinar hosted by Invest Africa. (https://investafrica.com/event/malawi-insights-for-investors-with-his-excellency-lazarus-chakwera-president-of-the-republic-of-malawi/ ). It was a good decision that minimally should show that he is proactive in attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Malawi. However, there are some painful lessons from the past that must be learned.

I think as far as Malawians are concerned, one of the main concerns is how the Tonse Alliances policies of President Lazarus Chakwera in regards to attracting Investors will translate into tangibles that will positively benefit and impact people’s lives.

Specifically, people will be interested to know how The Government of Malawi’s (GOM) policy on FDI will affect them in terms of employment, environmental protection and a stake in the national wealth creation, not only for the short term, but in the long –term.

Besides these concerns, Malawians will want to know what level of transparency will be established to safeguard against and prevent the corrupt practices of past administrations whereby influential party cadres illegally benefitted from contracts awarded to foreign companies via backhanders and by charging investors “access fees”.

This means that President Chakwera would be best advised to structure his policies on FDI to focus on Inclusive Prosperity for all Malawians, as has been his theme in many of his speeches, especially now that with the COVID-19 pandemic there sadly are many people who have been laid off work, and whose livelihoods have been disrupted and are uncertain.

Thus, the Tonse Alliance Government must publish its position on FDI, including deliverables and should enshrine into Law Investor Responsibilities towards the Malawian people, including how such will be monitored, and the penalties for failing to abide by such laws. This is important to give confidence to Malawians that the Tonse Alliance, unlike previous administrations is truly serious about creating shared prosperity for all Malawians.

Let us put an end to the days when an investor would come to Malawi, invest a couple of hundred thousand dollars, use low-pay Malawian labour, utilise Malawian roads, and our weak labour laws, to extract raw materials (including minerals), export those raw materials abroad, refine and add value to those exports, then sell them at a large profit to reap tens of millions of dollars from their investment – while the people of Malawi do not benefit proportionally.

I am not against investors making money, far from it. But in a poor country such as Malawi, with so much want and poverty around, the benefit to Investor versus the benefit to Malawi should be proportional and acceptable. It is not right for an investor to walk away from their investment extremely rich, but pay little or no taxes, and critically, leave behind impoverished communities that have not benefitted or been empowered beyond the token gestures (bad roads that soon disintegrate, mediocre school blocks built hurriedly with little thought, no decent hospitals, no decent services, poor infrastructure, no pension plans for former employees, no facilities for children of former employees, etc.).

Another reason why things must change is that unfortunately some investors in Malawi have left behind problems including polluted rivers / lakes/ grounds, deforestation, environmental degradation including soil erosion, sick former employees and suchlike. This is simply unacceptable in the 21st Century and should not be allowed to happen.  

A well thought through legal framework will reduce the likelihood of such omissions happening in the future.

There are some lessons from what countries like Tanzania, Rwanda and Botswana are doing, which Malawi can learn from. There are even lessons from China! For example, Rwandair is owned 51% by the government of Rwanda and 49% by Qatar Airways (See this).   Similarly, Airtel Tanzania is owned 49% by the Government of Tanzania.

These companies contribute millions of dollars to the state coffers of these countries.

So how much more are such resources required for a country such as Malawi, where ~ 70% of the population live in relative poverty? I propose that as much as FDI is desired, and as much as it is needed, the deals that are signed can no longer be about only appeasing the investor with disproportionate ownership stakes, while the people of Malawi who are supposed to own the resources are left with next to nothing. This can’t possibly be right.

You can try and justify investor ownerships stakes of 80%+ or 70%+ of industry in poor countries whichever way you like, but with the current global levels of inequality, such type of disproportionate ownership stakes just don’t cut it.

FDI under the Tonse Alliance Government of President Lazarus Chakwera should be about how to ensure the Malawian people are stakeholders who actually benefit from investments into Malawi. Enough with the rhetoric of the past, right now show us how investment will actually pull people out of poverty.

So Government of Malawi FDI policy should be about protecting the people from the exploitative and corrupt practices of some companies, which leave far too few long-term positive benefits or sustainability in the areas they invest in.

Of course protection of Investor Rights and strong pro-Investor Laws are necessary, even essential to ensure that the private sector flourishes. But there has to be a balance in that equally Strong Labour Laws that protect workers should be established, complemented by Strong Environmental Laws and strong Consumer Protection Laws to ensure that Malawians are treated with dignity, and that there is fairness; to ensure that each investor receives written obligations / responsibilities towards consumers/ people living in the areas which will be affected by the FDI.

It’s not a zero sum game, so both groups can benefit from the investment.

Such a policy position is also important for social cohesion. For example if you go to any township in Malawi today, and ask people what they think about certain companies, you’ll find that some companies (and the senior people who work there) are disliked by large sections of the populations in those areas because those companies are perceived as exploitative and not doing enough to empower the local man on the street. Yet such companies benefit from locals – who buy their goods, or provide cheap labour. Clearly this is not a desirable situation.

So while Malawi is open for business, when an Investor comes to invest, be it into a resource, or to extract a raw material, it should be the Government’s clear position that the company will be expected to establish a development fund, where 10% of the profits must be invested, to develop schools, to build decent housing, hospitals, roads, transportation links, to provide electricity, high speed internet, & to provide scholarships & loans to children in the area including children of employees and former employees. All this must be in black and white, enshrined in the contracts which are signed with each investor. Otherwise there is a real danger, based on past experiences, that verbal promises some investors make will amout to nothing.

What everyone needs to understand is that historically, most investors who come to Malawi walk away having made a lot of money. Our weak laws, poor bargaining, corrupt officials and poor implementation of measures designed to protect against exploitation are the reasons why we have failed to benefit proportionally from the profits that FDI has generated the last 25 years or so.

Thus, if you really want to develop the county, then the state can no longer be a mere passive observer in terms of ownership stakes and management of major industries. Malawi should have a greater stake in industry, so that, as a developing poor country, the proceeds from these interests can help catapult us forward economically.

This means deals of 51% GOM ownership (like Ethiopia and Kenya are now doing), and Botswana has done for a long time, whereby the investor holds no more than 49% of the stake in each major interest / industry / company,  should be standard.

That can still translate into profitable returns of millions of dollars for the Investors. But the difference is that GOM, and Malawians will benefit proportionally than has been the case in the past.

Mind you, these are Malawian resources we are talking about, for Malawians to benefit from. So 51% ownership by GOM by 49% ownership to Investors is quite generous. In my view that is how you create a win-win position.

There will be criticisms to such policies, as has happened in other countries. But such criticism is levied by people who :-

  • are thinking only about themselves
  • do not understand where our country is coming from (and the level of poverty/ want in our villages)
  • believe incorrectly that Africans should be subservient or otherwise in deferment to what Western Capital dictates – including unfair geopolitical neoliberal policy positions on resources, agricultural produce & raw materials.

What the Tonse Alliance Government should do is to communicate to any interested investor that while Malawi is open for business, essentially they will be dealing with a deprived man, who has been taken advantage of and abused for a very long time; who has few resources and who needs every penny from those resources to move forward, to rebuild his ruins and to feed his young.

That deprived man will only do business on his own terms. And with investors who care beyond just about making profits.

Ultimately, there’s always another fairer, more ethical, more responsible, more empathetic and more compassionate investor down the road …

Has the Tonse Alliance Cabinet Declared their Assets?

  • Listen to this article here

When Joyce Banda became president of Malawi, following the death of Bingu Wa Mutharika in 2012, a lot of noise was made by some Malawians regarding Banda’s declaring her assets.

Similarly, when Peter Mutharika was elected President in 2014, Malawians demanded that he declare his assets to the Office of the Director of Public Officers’ Declarations (ODPOD).

So then, now that we have a new government led by MCP and UTM in place, have the Ministers and other officials in the Tonse Alliance Government all declared their assets? And if not, when will they do so?

It’s important that this question is asked, because as President, Lazarus Chakwera said this governement’s ethos includes servant leadership. So it is only right and proper that all members of his cabinet, all MPs and other officials declare their assets. If not for anything else, then at least to inspire confidence and trust from Malawians

Also, who is monitoring and verifying these declarations, to ensure that they are accurate and not over-estimated? Maybe this job shouldn’t be entrusted entirely to ODPOD?

I think, in the interests of promoting public confidence in the new government, and in order to abide by the stipulations of Malawi’s constitution, and in the interests of protecting the country’s resources – so that we do not go back to the failures of the past, it is of the utmost importance that all public officials disclose and declare their assets.

Malawians need to know what assets public officials own, not only in Malawi, but also abroad. What interests including property do they own in foreign countries, and what is the value of those interests. How long have they had them and suchlike?

It is up to Malawians to demand that this is done, and to ensure that the process is honest and transparent. Otherwise you risk the failures of the past where people connected to the presidency or people with links to public officials began to suddenly accumulate so much unexplained wealth, and there was few ways of knowing or verifying whether such was acquired legitimately or not.

Malawi’s new President has named a new Cabinet, but Malawians are not happy

The problem with political promises is that they raise expectations. And if the promiser doesn’t hit their mark to promisee’s liking, too many people get upset.

Yesterday evening, Malawi’s new president Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera announced the appointment of a 31-member cabinet. Among the appointments were old MCP stalwalts (Lingson Belekanyama – appointed minister of Local Government), UTM faces (Patricia Kaliati ~ Minister of Community Development and Social Welfare) and other newer less experienced faces (Ulemu Msungama ~ Minister of Youth and Sports; Nancy Tembo ~ Minister of Forestry and Natural Resources).

However, public opinion in Malawi gauged through comments on social media, WhatApp messages and analyses by media houses appears to show that large numbers of Malawians, including MCP and UTM supporters are not happy with the new cabinet. Sentiments range from questioning whether the ministerial appointments truly were based on merit (as Chakwera had promised all along during campaigning, and when articulating his Tonse Philosophy), to questioning why certain ministries (for example the Ministry of Gender and Children) were missing from the list of announcements? There was talk of an anti-climax to the appointments and people feeling under-whelmed by the new cabinet. Some people even mentioned that Chakwera had torn apart the widely praised inauguration speech made a few days ago by making such appointments.

Other reasons for displeasure vary from those who think that some appointments are mere reward tokens or appeasements to loyalists who supported or played a role in campaigning for the Tonse Alliance or who otherwise helped the new government on its way to power. Similarly, the presence for example of MCP vice President for the South Sidik Mia (Minister of Transport and Public Works) and his wife Abida (Deputy Minister of Lands), or of Kenny Kandondo (Minister of Health) and his sister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda (both from the Kamuzu family) has been criticised as returning the country to the much hated and discredited era – where certain families wielded too much influence or had disproportionate control of political affairs.

There are also calls for the new government to explain why there are far too few women or young people in the new cabinet, and how the government arrived at questionable appointments such as that of People’s Party (PP) vice President Roy Kachale Banda (to the Ministry of Industry portfolio) with some people concluding that he was only appointed because he was Joyce Banda’s son, and that there were other more capable people in Malawi who can probably do a better job at that Ministry.

Other criticisms centred on how Gospel Kazako (appointed Minister of Information) would avoid a conflict of interest when he owned a Media House (Zodiak Broadcasting Station)? Similarly, questions have been raised about Rashid Abdul Gaffar (appointed minister of Mining), whose family have mining interests and also own a cement company among various businesses.

Finally, there are those who say that the cabinet is tribalist and nepostistic, in that most of the positions have gone to people in the central region; a not too different scenario as that which Peter Mutharika’s DPP was accused of, with the Lhomwe belt accounting for a disproportionate number of cabinet positions and public appointments.

However supporters of the government have quickly pointed out how some of the appointments are of people who risked it all to ensure Malawi voted for change.

In one widsely-shared post that has been doing the rounds on Facebook last night, one writer wrote in defense of the appointments that :

The President said, on choice of the cabinet, he would not look at tribe, religion, or where someone comes from, but he would choose on people’s abilities to do the jobs.We clapped hands. Now we are finding fault with the Cabinet, not because of competencies of people, but because some people are related.We talked of a cabinet “to serve” , not one that is ” rewarded” , so where is the “adya okha” attitude coming from, as if we thought being appointed a minister is a reward? If people are married or related, they do not stop being individuals. They are in parliament on merit– we found nothing wrong with that. Why should we now start pairing them? I don’t envy these ministers. They have a hard  job ahead of them to bring results from a system that has been used to mediocrity and underperformance. We won’t treat them as mini-gods, but as public servants; they won’t be allowed to reward themselves illegally in kind or cash- we will be watching; each aspect of their lives will be scrutinised by a very suspicious citizenry. I am sure the President is smart enough to know that there are potential conflicts of interest for some members of the Cabinet with regards to businesses they own. I would be surprised if mitigation measures have not been discussed already. In due course, the citizenry will want to know that these measures are in place and are satisfactory. Before  we start saying women have been given deputy positions, let us first understand the rationale, which the President is yet to explain. I once was in charge of Equality, Diversity, Inclusivity at a large university in the UK, and used to be quick to say, “few women in top positions”, until I saw how the university would struggle to get CVs from qualified women for the top positions. I also found that some women actually want a deputy role and not be the head honcho (I was deputy head of school and Associate Dean for many years and really liked these positions and did not seriously want to be Head or Dean).  We don’t know if these women are capable, want the senior positions, or are in transition and want to learn and build confidence. It does not minimise their contribution by being Deputy Minister as long as they have well-defined roles. In due course some may gain the experience and confidence to manage the politically charged ministerial positions, or choose to be deputy. I am reserving judgement on that. I will give the President, VP,  and all cabinet ministers the chance to demonstrate their competencies, or lack of. I will assess them by what they achieve in their duty to us the citizens, by their Integrity, Fairness, Inclusivity, and Ethical conduct. Anything else is a waste of time.

It will be interesting to see how the Tonse Alliance government responds to these criticisms and expressions of support. Lazarus Chakwera had previously said he would not look at tribe, religion or where someone came from when determining selection to his cabinet.

The Tonse Alliance is made up of 9 political parties.

Hybrid Economies – 5 Practical Solutions for fixing Malawi’s Economy

Malawians have huge expectations of the new government in Malawi.

If you speak to anyone who has been following politics in Malawi the last few years, you’ll understand why. Malawi is a country that has many problems.  However, before I get into some of the most pressing of those problems, please allow me to first make an introduction.

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word hybrid within the field of biology to mean, the offspring of two plants or animals of different species or varieties.

If you dig a little deeper you will find that some hybrids inherit the best qualities or characteristics from both parents; essentially the desirable genes from both species may feature in a hybrid. This can include resistance to disease, greater fortitude and stamina, more desirable crop yield, more patience and less obstinacy (in animals). This means a hybrid can be a much better specimen than both the parents, with characteristics which make the hybrid more desirable (or more valuable) than organisms within either of the parent families.

In economics the name Hybrid Economies has been used to mean a mixture of commercial economy and open source / sharing economy (see more here). In the ‘Hybrid Economies’ series of articles, I’ll use ‘Hybrid Economy’ to mean a quasi-planned economy that uses Commercial Agriculture, Financial Services, Technology and Manufacturing as methods of generating income for the government.

So, what are the 5 things the Tonse Alliance Government of Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima must do right now, to turn the prospects of Malawi’s economy.

  1. Revamp Public Institutions & Parastatals to become productive Again

Dissolving and suspending the bloated boards of all parastatals was a necessary and welcomed move. But a lot more is required.

The truth is Malawi’s parastatals and public bodies are inefficient, operate at a loss or are simply not productive. Certainly not to they extent one would expect a state owned institution to be, with all the advantages such can have.

Revamping state institutions and public bodies is long overdue, and it must involve bringing in implementors, managers, technocrats and scientists who are qualified to lead change, and who know how to turn-around failing institutions. It means employoing people from all sections of Malawi and beyond, to contribute to the new Malawi. This is necessary so that the lucklustre performance we are all so accustomed to, at bodies such as MACRA, ESCOM, MBC, MRA, NOCMA and many others is transformed, and these bodies begin to be led and managed by competent professionals who can actually transform them for the better. The process must also entail weeding out those people who found themselves in positions of authority or who got jobs only because of cronyism, nepotism and tribalism.

The Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) should instruct the Anti-corruption Bureau (ACB) to review all civil service appointments that have occured the last 5 years, in these Parastatals, and even government ministries, and ascertain whether such appointments were undertaken in accordance with the law, following all procedures, and based on merit. If not, such appointments should be terminated, and the positions re-advertised

2. Issue low-interest Sovereign Bonds as a way to raise money without taking on too much external debt, & to prevent being bound by restrictive conditionalities

Malawi is indebted. We owe the IMF, the World Bank & co lots of money. We owe the Indians lots of money, we owe the Chinese lots of money. We even owe the African Development Bank … lots of money.

2 years ago, that debt stood at US$4.1 billion, which was 62.91 % of GDP.

We have to do something decisive about this debt once and for all. We have to try and emulate countries like Japan which has been known to raise significant funds from their own institutions and their own citizens, and use those funds to create new revenue streams for their countries coffers. It’s not good enough to say “All countries have debt” (which is one response I often get when I raise this issue) because developed countries don’t suffer from the same problems (nor to the same extent) as most poor countries.

Further, and this is an important point; if a country goes to the World Bank or IMF to ask for a loan, that country will be expected to operate within the rules and conditions set by those institutions. They’ll control the narrative, and dictate any penalties. You will have no choice but to play by their unfair rules. However, if you issue Sovereign Bonds, you control and set the conditions of that issue, and can adjust the terms to suit your economy. You’re free to invest that money in a way that has the greatest impact and benefit to your country’s economy. You can play by your own rules. I’ve said this several times in the past, and it is my hope that the current government in Malawi will begin to think critically about these things.

3. Create an International Money Transfer arm of the Malawi Postal Services (MPS)

I have written about this issue before, here. It’s important because those of us who form the Diaspora, and who regularly send money back home use private companies- that (unfortunately for us) make significant profits out of our hard-earned cash. In 2018, the market size of remittances made using companies the likes of Western Union, Money Gram, Ria and Transferwise was a mouth-watering $689 billion dollars (See this). When some Money transfer companies are charging up to 10% of the transfer amount in fees, this is prime potential territory for innovation, which the government of Malawi can take advantage of. Because why should I pay £50 to a private company when sending money back home, if a state run institution could provide a comparable service that helps me move money relatively cheaply, with the added advantage that the transfer fee I pay is instead used to help my country raise the funds it very much needs for development programs.

And it doesnt have to be a complicated affair. Initially, it can be a case of incorporating MPS branches in countries with significahnt Malawian diaspora populations, like South Africa, the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, Zambia and a few others, to facilitate a peer-to-peer money transfer service. This can be followed by opening bank accounts in these countries, and developing an App, much like that developed by World Remit (which works with Airtel Malawi’s Mobile money wallet) or like that developed by Transferwise.

4. Lower the cost of phone calls and Internet data

Pretty much every month, we hear stories of people complaining about how high the cost of making phone calls and data is in Malawi.

Last week, someone published a complaint that their 10GB data bundle disappeared within three days, even though they were not using any data intensive applications. It’s a story that is all too familiar, and while I’m not suggesting of any wrongdoing on the part of the major Telco operators in Malawi, including Airtel and TNM, the government ought to look at this issue to see if there is something they can do to help the country’s citizens. This is important because ideas are the bedrock of the 21st Century economy and if people are not able to communicate cheaply or face impediments in accessing content, it will have a negative effect on the country’s capacity to adopt progressive ideas, the capacity to deliver digital content, improve learning and be an active participant in the world economy.

In discussions with a friend who once served as the Technical Director at MACRA, one quick solution to ensure citizens get value for their data and voice call costs is not only to lower the taxes levied on these, but to ensure full implementation of the CIRMS at carrier sites.

Yes, Malawi is a country with a free market economy, but where things are not working, good aspects of a planned economy are necessary.

5. Launch a ‘New Deal’ program for major Construction Projects, Jobs and Entrepreneurship

Malawians have been crying for development for too long. It’s time for the Tonse Alliance to heed this cry and truly build a country that works for all. This is where the vice President Dr Saulos Chilima in his new ministerial portfolio can truly shine.

Our country needs better roads (which won’t disintegrate within a few years), our country needs better hospitals with high quality standards to match hospitals in South Africa, England or Malaysia, our country needs infrastructure fit for the 21st century. It’s not just about building hotels, golf resorts or holiday resorts for the rich that will bring jobs, jobs and more jobs. Indeed with creative planning half a million to a million jobs can be created within 4 – 5 years if you factor in employments in building new factories, new commercial farms, new schools, new Universities, new bridges, new airports, new business centres and new conferencing facilities … across the whole country. Also, how many people are going to be working in some of these new places?

Yes, we will need a lot of equipment, yes, we’ll need large amounts of capital (already addressed above) with which to purchase all the equipment that will be needed, and a lot of technical expertise (something I will address in a few weeks). But it is achievable, if we put our minds to it, and work together.

It should no longer be the case for politicians to fly abroad in search for medical treatment. Why would they need to, if we build state of the art hospitals in our cities across Malawi?

Malawian children should no longer be learning in leaking mud shacks that have thatched roofs and no desks.

A welfare system should be established to assist those who for all manner of reasons are unable to work, or are in hardship, with a priority given to orphans, households where the bread-winner is a child, people with a disability, and the elderly and infirm.

Malawian youths need low interest loans, guaranteed by the government. Because many of the current financial providers have taken advantage of people for too long. Interest rates on personal or business loans should no longer be over 10%. You cannot build a functional economy when Financial services Companies are predators, who predate on people’s poverty and vulnerability. Loan providers’ first mandate should be to help businesses and individuals make money, and achieve financial independence, and not to make extortionate profits from vulnerable and underpaid citizens. This also calls for strong government regulation within the area.

Further, where will a smart 23 year old graduate with a 1st class or 2nd class degree, who is fresh from University find collateral with which to support their loan application? Not everyone comes from an affluent home….

Zinthu zikufunika zisinthe. Malawians have spoken. It’s time to act now.

Links

Lazarus Chakwera Elected 6th President of Malawi

Malawi’s Opposition Leader who is the leader of the Malawi Congress Party, Dr Lazarus Chakwera has been elected as President of the Republic of Malawi, on a ticket which included UTM leader and Vice President Dr Saulos Chilima as running mate. Taking 58.57% of the vote, Chakwera and Chilima’s Tonse Alliance took over 2.6 million votes out of the 4.4 million casted votes in what is a historic election in Africa. 

The vote was a re-run ordered by the country’s Constitutional Court, following a disputed May 2019 election that was annulled because of widespread systemic irregularities, and mishandling of the election by the country’s Electoral Commission – which had declared incumbent Peter Mutharika winner in the 2019 disputed poll. Mutharika, who has been in power since 2014, won 38% of the 2019 discredited vote, while Chakwera and Chilima won 35% and 20% respectively.

Chakwera will be Malawi’s 6th President, and the first from the opposition Malawi Congress Party in nearly 30 years.

Chakwera’s victory was given impetus mainly by the votes which his running mate Dr Saulos Chilima brought to the Tonse Alliance (which included nine other opposition parties and figures such as former Preident Dr Joyce Banda) which boosted Chakwera’s figures significantly to achieve and surpass the required 50% +1.

Malawi’s courts changed the interpretation of the definition of a “majoritiy” in it’s constitution earlier this year, such that a leader is only lawfully elected as president if they get at least 50% +1 of the vote, instead of the first-past-the-post that was used in previous elections.

Chakwera’s victory brings to an end many months of demostrations against Peter Mutharika’s DPP government, which has been accused of tribalism, corruption and significant mismanagement of the country’s economy.

Dr Chakwera and Dr Chilima will be sworn in today, Sunday 28th June 2020, in Lilongwe, Malawi’s Capital.

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!