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.

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.

The International minnows and their minions

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The term Minnow is an English noun used to denote a small freshwater Eurasian fish of the carp family, which typically forms large shoals.  The term has been used (among other definitions) to denote something that is small or insignificant, be it a person or an organization.

And I’m using it as the subject of this article because last week, the Hindustan Times quoted international affairs expert Dr Kanti Bajpai, who is professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School in Singapore, as saying India’s Narendra Modi’s decision not to make an address to the United Nations General Assembly at the 70th session may be interpreted as siding with an Indian school of foreign policy that doesn’t ‘..want to be in the company of the international minnows too long’

The writer of the article quotes Modi to have said of such international gatherings like the UN General Assembly, that there are “Lots of small countries with their small problems.”

It is therefore somewhat surprising, amusing let alone ironic when you read that some countries are taking large entourages to the very same gatherings at which they are somewhat frowned upon by delegates of much larger countries.

Uhuru Kenyatta travelled with 40 people, Malawi’s Peter Mutharika took an entourage said to have been around 110 members, whereas the Prime minister of Bangladesh had an entourage of 227 members!

Before he left, Peter Mutharika gave a speech which some commentators claim was effectively an SOS over Malawi’s problems. So why then take such a large entourage when he claims that Malawi is in trouble? In particular, the Government of Malawi recently conducted a Food Security assessment for the 2015 / 2016 period, which concluded that

  a total of 2,833,212 people will not be able to meet their annual food requirementt during the 2015/16 consumption period. This represents 17 per cent of the country’s total population.

It went on to state that the Government needed US$146.378 million to procure 124 thousand metric tons of maize to prevent a food shortage crisis which could quickly develop into a humanitarian crisis.

If Malawi had done some deals with investors and the economy was recovering, why would anyone sensible question the wisdom of going to the UN with a whole horde of people?

If Mutharika was taking the top 100 businessmen from across the country, irrespective of party affiliation (as most western leaders do when they travel to say Saudi Arabia, India or China)  to scout for opportunities, collaborations or business or to attend strategic meetings, why would anyone sensible question it?

The problem is Malawi is currently free-falling, Oil and gas licensing were suspended, the floods devastated land and crops, and will affect harvest, donors have pulled out of budgetary support and are refusing to resume, even the IMF has closed the taps, and you have a president taking loads of people to New York???

Between the president’s departure last week and today, we’ve learned that:-

  • The government of Malawi will be spending ~ K144million Kwacha on the airfares of Mutharika’s entourage.
  • That K238 million is being spent on accommodation alone for 111 people.  That makes a total of K352 million ($636,000) of taxpayer’s money being spent on Accommodation and airfares, without accounting for allowances, which are not coming in cheap.
  • That the president has hired a private jet – a Bombardier Global Express at a cost of US$4 million for the duration of th trip.
  • Speculation on social networks online is that the President’s step son is part of the entourage, as well as a chief and a PE teacher. We do not know if this is true, or why they went? How will their inclusion benefit the country or indeed what will they add to the trip?? Surely Malawians must be told why were they selected and what they will add to the trip?
  • Also part of the entourage is a lady who accompanied Mutharika only because the first lady is on the trip.
  • From one ministry 3 Directors went to New York, each with an allowance upwards of K9 million (US$16,000, and that’s besides the other staff members accompanying them)
  • Peter Mutharika and Ben Phiri are travelling separately so that they shouldn’t be seen in the same place, to give the false impression that Ben Phiri is not working for the government even when in reality he still is working for Mutharika.
  • There are some who claim the UN is paying for the trip, but our sources including some people close to government officials dispute this. Malawi is going to pay for their own bill, and any news that the UN is footing the bill is designed to mislead. If donors are paying why haven’t they explicitly declared so, seeing the situation in the country?
  • Last year, someone who went to the 69th Session of UN with the president blurted out in a drunken stupor,that he had been paid $10,500 for the days he was in New York. There is no reason to suspect that the officials accompanying Mutharika are being paid less this time around. Or is there?

Last year, Mutharika returned from a trip to the US and Malawians were told that he had received promises (or was it signed agreements) of investment totalling around US$600 million from some investors. While I can’t recall how many people he took along with him for that trip, how many of those investment promises he received have since materialised into real investment or real tangible projects?

I think there is need for more accountability and responsibility on the part of the presidency. Minimally, I think numbers of officials going to the UN should be capped at a figure such as 13, and allowances of officials of African government should be capped at modest sums. In particular, why should the head of state of a poor country sleep in Waldorf Astoria in New York , paying over $10,000 or is it $15,000 a night when millions of his country’s citizen are struggling with daily life, and live on less than $3 a day?  I think just as a matter of concern for other humans, for other people, just out of what in Malawi we call umunthu, expenses for all officials including the president should be capped at $500 a night. You can’t be that insensitive when people, real people in your country are suffering. It can never be right, and such selfishness is the cause of all human problems. I’ve seen this attitude again and again amongst the ruling class (even in Britain). There are some people who assume that just because they are doing well financially, everyone should be doing relatively okay. This is never the case.

So, all that these expensive trips do is give credibility to critics who dismiss them as self-enrichment schemes, which on some level they are.

When will Malawians leaders learn to be accountable? With all the poverty our country faces, should we really be throwing money around like this?

I think we should legislate to have laws that can remove representatives if they are unable to meet the expectations of their constituencies, or if they abuse their power. I think that is the way forward to counter corruption and self-enrichment.

Also, when the largest economy in Africa, Nigeria, took around 30 people (according to NAIJ.COM the number is 22) to the UN, does it really make sense for tiny Malawi, one of the poorest countries in Sub Saharan Africa, to be taking entire clans, complete with chiefs to New York?

Perspective

For those of you who say the amount Peter Mutharika will be spending is minimal, lets not forget that there are many American tech giants which began with capital of less than $4 million let alone $635,000. Facebook for example, a company now worth billions of dollars, once received $500,000 in seed funding from Peter Thiel , the PayPal Co-founder, in 2004, for a 10% stake. My point, the money Mutharika is wasting can be better invested into ventures that could greatly benefit the country in the short to medium term; it can be invested into young people, instead of blowing it on luxury and unnecessary spending at the expense of an already burdened tax payer.

One final thing … 🙂  the word minion. A minion, for those who do not know, is defined as a follower or underling of a powerful person, especially a servile or unimportant one. Where in Narendra Modi’s reality that definition places Mutharika’s 110 underlings is anybody’s guess.

Growing African economies that will work for African people

African market
Women at an African market

Tanzania just announced that it will dump English as its official language in schools, opting for Kiswahili instead. This morning, I read this article that somehow appears to suggest that this is a bad idea.

I must say I disagree, and below I’ll try to explain why.

When the colonial powers came to Africa, one of the first things they did was to impose their own languages as the language of learning in their territories. France imposed French in the various west African territories it colonised, Portugal imposed Portuguese, Holland imposed Dutch and Britain imposed English and so on. This had the effect of dividing communities which were otherwise related. The overall effect was to stop any hope of large countries the size of the Democratic Republic of Congo from ever emerging out of Africa. It was divide and rule of the purest form. Fragmentation – a cruel tactic designed to tie the future of those then colonies forever to the colonial powers.

So the english taught was not necessarily to be a conduit of knowledge transfer that would empower the colonies as some people would have you believe. Instead, it was a move to make sure that schools produced compliant subjects which could easily be manipulated, and do the bidding of the colonial masters in Europe.

And that is reason enough in my view for Tanzania to change the official language to Kiswahili, because the motive of colonised Tanzania having to communicate in foreign languages was entirely driven by foreign interests.

Secondly, groups of people often associate and define themselves as an ethnicity on various terms, but one of the most common denominators, other than ancestry is language. You identify as Chewa because your parents are Chewa and they spoke Chichewa, they lived in the land of the Chewa, their village was in the Chewa belt. Therefore you are Chewa.

This is the norm, not the exception.

So as Tanzanians, the question which the above article answers is that Kiswahili is a unifying force in Tanzania. It holds together the people, even though they are made up of 130 different ethnicities.

So why then should they conduct their lives based on an imported language when they have a language of their own?

Who’s interests does having English as an official language of education ultimately serve?

Why teach in English when students could learn in their own African language? Are people not proud of being African?

If the US, Britain or Spain is unlikely to begin teaching their students in Nyanja or Kiswahili which are African languages, why is it somewhat acceptable or expected for Africans to teach their students in foreign languages?!?

In any case, shouldn’t Tanzania develop an economy that first and foremost works for Tanzanians (if you can allow me to temporarily step out of my usual Pan-African shoes), people who are citizens of a sovereign country?

In the above article, the author quotes Ahmed Salim, a senior Associate at Teneo Intelligence, a political risk consultancy that works with U.S investors, who makes what I consider to be a hopelessly narrow-minded point:

However, in terms of overall impact, the main challenge will be felt long-term when companies set up shop in Tanzania and are left with hiring staff that are either bilingual Tanzanians or from neighboring Kenya or Uganda. This will somewhat hinder Tanzania’s competitive advantage in the future.”

Now, I’m not saying they should stop teaching English altogether, or that English isn’t an important international language. That’s not what I’m saying. Instead the argument for English is tied to this over-emphasis on foreign investment (money coming from the outside of Africa) to help and rescue Africans, to give them jobs and create an economy – as if Africans themselves couldn’t use their own resources to create economies that work for the benefit of African countries.

Tanzania has many natural resources including natural gas (See the following links Tanzania’s Natural Gas Reserves Almost Triple on New Finds ; Statoil makes another natural gas find offshore Tanzania ;  BG Group touts Pweza as its largest Tanzania gas find ). The country’s economy is growing at a rate of 7% which is quite high and above the international average. If those resources are utilised properly by the government of Tanzania for the benefit of the country’s citizens (as opposed to liberally auctioned-off to the highest corporate bidder) they could be a source of some serious economic development that would create jobs for young Tanzanians, investment into security, and used for infrastructure development, investment in Education, Healthcare and women’s issues.

That investment, derived from wholly Tanzanian owned resources, could be a serious game changer if utilised wisely.

But if some corporation is allowed to own a majority stake, or lions share of Tanzania’s Natural Gas resources, I can tell you now what difference it will make to the Tanzanian economy in the long run:

NONE.

The profits that corporation makes will be wired out of Tanzania to already developed and rich countries. Countries that needs the benefit of the resource much less, and that have billions in cash reserves to fall back on. And those profits will find their way into the fat pockets of already rich shareholders in those rich countries. Ultimately such funds will trickle down to contribute to the tax system of those already rich countries, benefitting their economies.

Meanwhile, poor Tanzanians already struggling with poverty, low incomes, unemployment, high cost of living, government corruption, who do not own property, poor healthcare in hospitals and the lack of medicines, no electricity in most areas, deforestation, poaching and lack of clean water in the villages will not have benefitted proportionately from such natural gas deals. Instead they will have to continue receiving handouts, breadcrumbs from aid organisations – when their country possesses the natural resources that could be used to create wealth for them…all just because of greed of some corporations

How absurd and stupid is that?

So the scare mongering self-serving attitude against Tanzania choosing to teach their students in Kiswahili is wrong, It’s anti-African and I vehemently disagree with such dishonest views.

Africans and other developing countries have been stamped on for too long. We must end this corporate driven theft and madness and begin to create economies which are designed to serve and benefit us as Africans, just as others have been building economies to benefit their own economies, and their own people.

Million dollar bonfire: a tale of Ivory & Debt

 

APTOPIX KENYA ILLEGEL IVORYby Mva Camverzeener

Lets sign a petition to urge our president not to burn the said 4tonnes of ivory he is supposedly burning tomorrow. the decision defies logic for any sensible individual who knows the dire state our economy is in. here are my facts:
– Ivory from elephants is not an illicit drug or neither is it contraband whose trade by law is restricted. There are legitimate markets of Ivory out there and government must source these markets and exploit them

– At the current international market value of $2,100 per kg of raw ivory, government stands to make $8,400,000.00 that could be used to alleviate many problems we face. This money can be used to shore up our already over stretched national budget, procure food and or help the recent flood victims with winter cropping for their sustenance, buy drugs in hospitals….the list is endless.

– there is no logic in burning that ivory all for the sake of pleasing a few powerful and influential white environmental lobbyists who have never even seen an elephant in their lives. GOD blessed us with these animals and it is up to us to decide what we do with them or their products, as long as if we are not negatively impacting the environment.

– Not all those elephants died as a result of poaching, some died naturally, does this mean that we should not benefit from our GOD given resources? besides, any proceeds of illegal activity which can be passed on or disposed of legitimately must be done so. Why then not burn houses built with cash-gate money aswell??? Government should dispose of the ivory to legitimate buyers and account for the proceeds.

– Ivory never killed anyone, it doesn’t have any known health risks, but Tobbacco kills millions around the world every year. we, in essence, export death every year, and here we are, with ivory, njala ndi mavuto ena ali pakhomo and we want to light up $8,400,000.00 in flames????or is it an African thing to go beg from the white man even when we have our own means of making legitimate money?

– Burning the ivory will not stop the poaching, nope. it has been tried in Kenya for a long time and the poaching never stops. Sell that ivory, buy cars, sophisticated guns and equipment for the game rangers at the national parks to match the ever increasing sophisticated methods of poachers and in a few years time we wont be talking of poaching on a large scale and our elephant and other wildlife numbers will increase.

lets for once look at our needs, and not the wants of the west.

** ~ ** ~ ** ~ ** ~ **


 

Among the comments beneath the article were :

Rest we forget hw money generated from such transactions disappears without trace

and another person who said

90% of the money will end up back in his and a few other fat cats’ pockets… there won’t be proper accountability, I say it won’t make any significant difference… therefore… FIRE BURN!!!.. BORN IT OP!!!…. FAYA FAYA FAYA!!!…


 

Comment

My view is that destroying a commodity only causes that commodity to be ever so rare, and therefore it’s price increases, attracting even more poachers who are incentivized by the high price? I think that’s what an economist would say.

So on that basis alone, it makes sense to flood the market with the commodity, be it gold , platinum, silver, oil or Ivory, because if the market is flooded then it’s price can go down… although with Ivory I’m not too sure yet how you would do that, since flooding the market would probably mean more dead elephants.

Having said that I believe job creation and long prison sentences are the only two most effective deterrents of dealing with poachers. These people go there to kill elephants partly because they have no proper employment and our parks in Malawi do not have proper security.

Wall Street isn’t happy with us

This article, a blog post by Senator Elizabeth Warren titled Wall Street isn’t happy with us is interesting and reveals the kind of greedy system the free world is up against. These people care only for profit…and sadly they have too much influence and control over the financial markets and capital that their decisions can affect things.

I’m very much inclined to replicate Senator Warren’s words on this blog:-

In 2008, the financial sector collapsed and nearly brought down our whole economy. What were the ingredients behind that crash? Recklessness on Wall Street and a willingness in Washington to play along with whatever the big banks wanted.  

Years have passed since the crisis and the bailout, but the big banks still swagger around town. And when Citigroup and the others don’t quite get their way or Washington doesn’t feel quite cozy enough, they quickly move to loud, public threats. Their latest move is a stunner. According to Reuters:

Big Wall Street banks are so upset with U.S. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren’s call for them to be broken up that some have discussed withholding campaign donations to Senate Democrats in symbolic protest, sources familiar with the discussions said.

Citigroup has decided to withhold donations for now to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee over concerns that Senate Democrats could give Warren and lawmakers who share her views more power, sources inside the bank told Reuters.

JPMorgan representatives have met Democratic Party officials to emphasize the connection between its annual contribution and the need for a friendlier attitude toward the banks, a source familiar with JPMorgan’s donations said.

That’s right, the biggest banks on Wall Street have made it clear that they expect a return on their investment in Washington. Forget making the markets safer (where they can still make plenty of money) and forget the $700 billion taxpayer bailout that saved them and forget the need to build a strong economy for all Americans. Forget it all. The big banks want a Washington that works only for them and that puts their interests first – and they would like to get a little public fanny-kissing for their money too.

Well forget it. They can threaten or bully or say whatever they want, but we aren’t going to change our game plan. We do, however, need to respond.

According to this breaking news, our 2016 Democratic Senate candidates could lose at least $30,000 because of this decision. Can you help us raise $30,000 to match Wall Street’s money right now – and keep fighting for a Democratic Senate that will work for people instead of big banks?

Now let’s be clear: $30,000 is a drop in the bucket to JPMorgan and Citigroup. Heck, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon makes more than $30,000 in just a few hours.

The big banks have thrown around money for years, spending more than a $1 million a day to hold off Dodd-Frank and the consumer agency. But they are moving out of the shadows. They have reached a new level of brazenness, demanding that Senate Democrats grovel before them.  

That kind of swagger is a warning shot. They want a showy way to tell Democrats across the country to be scared of speaking out, to be timid about standing up, and to stay away from fighting for what’s right.

Ok, they have taken their shot, but it will not work.

I’m not going to stop talking about the unprecedented grasp that Citigroup has on our government’s economic policymaking apparatus. I’m not going to stop talking about the settlement agreements that JPMorgan makes with our Justice Department that are so weak, the bank celebrates by giving their executives a raise. And I’m not going to pretend the work of financial reform is done, when the so-called “too big to fail” banks are even bigger now than they were in 2008.

The big banks have issued a threat, and it’s up to us to fight back. It’s up to us to fight back against a financial system that allows those who broke our economy to emerge from a crisis in record-setting shape while ordinary Americans continue to struggle. It’s up to us to fight back against a regulatory system that is so besieged by lobbyists – and their friends in Congress – that our regulators forget who they’re working for.

Let’s send the biggest banks on Wall Street our own message: We’re going to keep fighting, and your swagger and your threats won’t stop us. Help us match their $30,000 right now.

They represent everything that is wrong with capitalism, their behaviour is contemptible…and the words of Senator Warren proves it.

Frankly, after the 2008 credit crisis which has affected economies across the world, and hurt those at the bottom of the economic pyramid – almost everywhere, the world doesn’t need charlatans like these banks. If you can, please support Elizabeth Warren’s campaign because she is one of only a few legislators who are genuinely working for the people.

Finally, if they have the brazeness to treat the American people with so much contempt, after receiving a $700 billion bailout package from them, how do you think they (and their institutions) will treat Africans, and African governments?

The arrogance of Netanyahu

Obama-Netanyahu

The current wrangle between Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, and President Barack Obama’s administration is another clear sign of the kind of arrogance that Israel has displayed in security matters across the middle east. Netanyahu who has travelled to the United States to address Congress, bypassed all formal protocol with the white house when he accepted the invitation from the Republican Party’s John Boehner – who is speaker of the House of Representatives, even when all sensible reason advised against such a move. Despite wide condemnation of the visit, Benjamin Netanyahu who faces an election in which his popularity is uncertain, barely 2 weeks from now gave a speech attacking Tehran and its nuclear ambitions in which he not only fiercely criticises the US led negotiations in Switzerland, but left no doubt of his contempt for the US government – the very same hand that feeds, arms, protects, and even tolerates Israel’s aggression.

But what’s behind Netanyahu’s public intervention in the domestic politics of the US, so much that he is willing to sidestep Obama’s administration?

It seems like yesterday when an annoyed Bill Clinton, emerging from his first meeting with Netanyahu remarked: “Who’s the fucking superpower here?” (Others quoted Clinton to have said “he thinks he is the superpower and we are here to do whatever he requires.” )

That was 1996. This time, the attrition is between Netanyahu and Obama over Iran which has been building nuclear reactors for purported peaceful purposes. The US and other nations believe that Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb, and numerous governments have made exhaustive efforts to deter Iran from acquiring nuclear technology. Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes. Obama is of the view that the crisis should be handled through talks where concessions can be made, to deter Iran from acquiring nuclear technology. Israel believes that whatever deal that is to be reached from the talks, will still leave Iran with the expertise and materials to build a nuclear weapon. So, according to Prime minister Netanyahu, Iran should be stripped of its centrifuges and nuclear infrastructure, a move which is unlikely to deter Iran, and which the Obama administration has called ‘unrealistic’ and unattainable.

First and foremost, President Barack Obama as the supreme commander of the United States of America has the ultimate authority to shape America’s foreign policy whichever way he sees fit. The Republican Party is in opposition and despite America being a federalist state where presidential powers can be checked, it is president Obama who is in control, a fact which many Republicans don’t sit comfortably with. It is state-protocol that any head of state travelling to country A notifies the office of the president in country A. It is also not constructive that any head of state opts to travel to country A only to meet the opposition party because he/she does not agree with country A’s foreign policy. Heads of states cannot be seen to take sides in domestic politics especially when there are fresh disagreements regarding policies hovering about.

Netanyahu’s camaraderie relationship with the Republicans undermines Obama’s administration as being incompetent in the face of a nuclear Iran. In a recent interview, Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security adviser criticised Netanyahu when she said:

Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to travel to Washington to deliver the speech two weeks before the Israeli elections has injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate, I think it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship

The White house agrees with Ms. Rice’s depiction of Netanyahu’s visit and President Obama has refused to meet him. Vice President Joe Biden who is president of the senate is supposed to be present for Netanyahu’s speech, but he has said he will be travelling abroad. Secretary of State John Kerry also said he will be in Switzerland negotiating with the Iranians. The Israeli prime minister was however invited for a meeting by Democratic senators, but he declined. Senator Richard J. Durbin, a Democrat said,

We offered the prime minister an opportunity to balance the politically divisive invitation from Speaker Boehner with a private meeting with Democrats who are committed to keeping the bipartisan support of Israel strong. His refusal to meet is disappointing to those of us who have stood by Israel for decades”.

Even J Street, the influential pro-israel advocacy group criticised the visit accusing Netanyahu of using Congress as “a prop” for his election campaign, putting out a campaign to distance itself from Netanyahu.

After the speech, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said she was

“saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States . . . and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), one of nine Jewish senators criticized what she called “circular reasoning” in Netanyahu’s speech which she said proposed a better deal, but yet claimed Iran could never be trusted. How then can you have a deal when you can’t trust the other party?

“I don’t know what he’s saying: Should we work for a better deal or should we cut off any negotiations at this time? . . . It was not helpful at this point to criticize a deal that hasn’t even been completed.”

In a week where leaked cables revealed that Netanyahu’s Iran bomb claim was contradicted by Mossad, one would have thought that Mr Netanyahu’s speech would have taken a conciliatory or at least mild tone. Especially after last summer’s Gaza incursion, which left over 2140 Gazans dead including 513 children. Yet the speech was anything but mild.

The Israeli prime minister vehemently attacked international talks with Iran on its nuclear ambitions despite the rift that might be caused. Whether this was a move to infuriate Obama or some publicity stunt designed to portray Netanyahu as a strongman, with a view to drum up political support back home prior to the elections is anyone’s guess? However, what the speech did not do is make it easier for Netanyahu to have his way. From the kind of reactions the speech has received, it is clear that it’s not won him much mainstream support.

Previously, Mr Netanyahu said,

Therefore I will go to Washington to address the American Congress, because the American Congress is likely to be the final brake before the agreement between the major powers and Iran

Iran_is_a_THREAT_to_peace_by_Latuff2

Mr Netanyahu’s efforts to stop diplomatic talks with Iran must be viewed with scepticism if not suspicion. Especially after the unreliable things he has said in the past – as reported by Haaretz, Israel’s oldest newspaper here. In a volatile time in the Middle-East, the most mature thing to do is to negotiate with the Iranians over their nuclear infrastructure. In any case, unlike Saudi Arabia and others who have offered only verbal support, Iran is infact fighting ISIS, and is suffering casualties and fatalities (including losing a high profile general). What Mr Netanyahu wants is to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, and according to him, the only way to do that is through military action. Any talk of negotiations and whether the Iranians are entitled to a nuclear propgramme of sorts is irrelevant according to him. Obviously, there is no way Iran would consent to such demands, because Iran as a sovereign state also wants nuclear capability as achieved by every powerful nation in the world, including the likes of Pakistan and India.

Mr Netanyahu’s arrogance echoes of the Republican Party’s foreign policy of pre-emptive strike during the administration of George Bush. The Iraq War is the epitome of Bush’s policy where the whole campaign ended disastrously for America’s image and the Middle-East. Currently, with an unstable Syria and Iraq, it would be negligent for the world powers to engage Iran in any other way outside of diplomatic talks. It is therefore possible that Netanyahu’s siding with the Republicans is because he believes that that the Democrats are treating the Iran situation with “kid gloves”. So he probably thinks that going through the Republicans, who have a majority in both houses will halt the deal between the US and Iran.

In this regard, Republicans in the Senate are responding to Netanyahu’s address by fast tracking legislation requiring Congress to review any agreement with Tehran, and to issue more sanctions against Iran which can sabotage the talks. President Obama has made it clear that he will veto any such legislation, and after the speech – which has alienated Democrats, it looks very unlikely that the Republicans will have 13 Democratic votes to override the president.

Whichever way it goes, Mr Netanyahu’s actions are very dangerous to world peace and security. This kind of aggressive behaviour is precisely the very reason why nations seek to build nuclear weapons. So that they can deter hostile situations that arise from rhetoric such as this. Mr Netanyahu’s trip is being seen by others as the beginning of a strained relationship between the US and Israel. Yes, we may all agree that a country whose unpopular and former revolutionary guard leaders have claimed Israel is illegitiate must not come anywhere near nuclear weapons. But it is the manner which Netanyahu has sought to deliver his speech without securing authority from the highest office of the country, that has many people including the Democrats shunning him. If Israeli leaders begin to frustrate political figures from a country that supports them the most, they risk losing their biggest ally. And once the US starts sayng NO, everybody will say NO. It isn’t Iran who is a danger to world peace. In an already volatile region, it is Mr Netanyahu’s belligerence, arrogance and short-sightedness that will cost Israel peace and stability.

Selling Malawi for Peanuts

In whatever we do as a country, we need to make sure that the development path we take should be sustainable for the inter-generational cause. Our generation inherited a beautiful country and as the current custodians of this land, it is our duty to safeguard the interests of current and future generations of native Malawians.

It is my belief that those who fought to extricate colonialism were driven with the fervent desire to see this country independent of foreign dominion that was British Imperialism. It is therefore our duty to honour the wishes of those who fought and died for our Malawi by making sure that native Malawians are the drivers of development in Malawi.

David Korten, one of the leading proponents of alternative development once wrote,

The survival of our civilization, and perhaps our very lives, depends on committing ourselves to an alternative development practice guided by the three basic principles of authentic development: justice, sustainability and inclusiveness-each of which is routinely and systematically violated by current practice‘.

Today, Malawi is slowly creating an economy which will become dependent on some foreigners who are only here on temporal basis to make a fortune. Native Malawians are slowly being excluded from many vast opportunities that this nation has to offer, and I believe that the development course taken today by us, will harm the interests of our children and future generations because of our shortsightedness.

The biggest issue that is worrisome in this country is the sale of lucrative land to foreigners. According to Watipaso Mzungu’s report in the Nation newspaper of 17th January, only 5 native Malawians own business land in Limbe. It is a sad development on our part because just about 3 decades ago, native Malawians owned lucrative land especially in the cities of Malawi.  At the rate we are going, native Malawians will end up being excluded in their own country because we only want to satisfy our current intra-generational needs. I am not saying that it is wrong for foreigners to invest in Malawi, but we need to exercise caution when prime land is being sold to foreigners without securing the interests of native Malawians. A good example is that of the conflict between the locals of Masasa in Mangochi and Mota Engil. The locals claim they were not consulted about the selling of their land by the government to Mota Engil. The traditional authority tried to coax the locals to give up their land to Mota Engil, a transnational corporation which has plans to build a 5 star hotel and golf course by the lake in Mangochi. In the end, the irate locals of Masasa fought with the T/A, councillor and the police which left 2 people dead and others seriously injured. These are the situations which are unsustainable for Malawi because we are ready to deprive our own people their lake which ancestors lived with for many generations. The 5 star hotel and golf course is a welcome investment but it should not be to the detriment of the locals at Masasa. I am sure the lake has many vacant tracts of land where this 5 star hotel can be built without displacing people. Development is about including a people’s livelihoods in projects which ensure that poor local communities are not excluded from benefitting from our natural resources.

Another worrying aspect of this land issue is that there are some unscrupulous chiefs who sell large tracts of valuable customary land to foreigners without securing the interests of future generations in their communities. Malawi has one of the most beautiful natural beaches in the world and there is need for us to limit and protect the sale of this land. The large swathes of land along Lake Malawi should be protected for our future generations’ livelihoods and investment opportunities. Future generations of Malawi might have the access to the much needed capital or funds to invest in these areas, and it is in our best interests that we preserve prime land along the lake shore. It would be very selfish of us to deprive our future compatriots of investment opportunities in their own country because of our ineptitude in prioritising national and indigenous interests. According to the Africa Conference on Land Grab’s research, over 55 million hectares of land in Africa has been “grabbed” since the year 2000. These land grabs are happening without any informed consent from development managers and thus millions of vulnerable communities in Africa are at risk of being displaced from their own lands.

Conflicts between Paladin the Australian mining company and the local people at the Kayelekera mining facility shows that Malawi is not ready to manage finite resources in a sustainable manner. Foreign investors scour the earth to find countries with surplus natural resources but with weak or ineffective environmental laws, because it reduces operating costs for firms.  Paladin has been mining uranium for years in Karonga but where do the proceeds go? Can anyone really point out any structure in this country that was built using proceeds from uranium mining? Uranium is a finite resource and if we are not careful, we will deplete our reserves with nothing to show for it. Once again, Malawians are handing out natural resources to the foreigner who will only continue to exploit us.

In the midst of conflicts between the locals and Paladin at Kayelekera, we hear that the government is busy employing foreign companies to explore the possibility of oil in Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi is a source of food and income for the poor living along the lake shore, and if there was to be an oil spillage, we risk the well-being and livelihoods of current and future lakeshore inhabitants. For centuries, our people have lived in harmony with this lake and it would be very selfish of our generation and our leaders to put others at risk because of our voracious greed. In terms of attraction for tourism, Lake Malawi is all we have. I’m sure no Malawian needs any reminder of what happened with Nyika National Park. If it was not for this lake, we would have no tourists coming to Malawi because Lake Malawi is the epitome of attraction in this country. I believe that oil drilling in Lake Malawi is not sustainable because oil is finite resource and also an environmental hazard that can destroy livelihoods and the lake’s Biodiversity. Lake Malawi provides 70 to 75 per cent of the animal protein consumed by both urban and rural communities. It would therefore be negligent for the government to sanction oil drilling in the lake which provides critical habitat for an amazing array of plants and animals including bacteria, fungi, algae, plankton, mussels, snails, crustaceans, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

When our leaders go outside of this country, they are always selling Malawi to the world as a place of investment opportunities. Indeed Malawi is a peaceful country which offers cheap labour and less competition for businesses, and it is therefore a haven for foreign investors. What we have to remember is that a foreign investor is seeking to make maximum profits, and the only way to do this in a host economy is by “cost reduction”. In Malawi, a lot of native Malawians employed by some foreign companies are being underpaid and exploited for monetary gains which sometimes do not even benefit our economy. A lot of our able graduates are languishing without jobs because some of our so-called investors only employ their relatives in top-tier jobs while Malawians are employed in low-tier jobs. Foreign direct Investment (FDI) is important in modern-day economics and plays the largest part in the growth of economies in a globalised world. However, when FDI is benefiting the foreigner than the host country, there is need to improve the structures to combat unscrupulous employers exploiting the weak and poor. There are a lot of foreign owned companies in Malawi who are exploiting the local personnel simply because our institutional governance structures are either weak or corrupt.  Malawians should not just be used for menial jobs only because we have educated people in this country who can fill up higher positions in foreign owned businesses.

We also have foreign investors who travel hundreds or thousands of miles away to invest in salons, clothes shops or other small enterprise trading entities. As much as Malawi needs investors, I doubt that these small trading entities are bringing any meaningful monetary gains for the country. If our trading partners in the West were following our pattern and forms of foreign investment, it is highly unlikely that their economies would have grown to astronomical heights. Malawi is a poor country that has a high unemployment rate and there is need to protect local entrepreneurs with small business enterprises. If foreigners monopolise the smallholder business market, the local Malawian entrepreneur is at risk of losing his/her business.

If we are to sustain development, native Malawians need to be the primary drivers of the economy and not the other way round. When we give licences or contracts to transnational corporations, Malawians should also be included in these processes to ensure accountability and justice. The Kayelekera mine is a good example whereby we are giving away our uranium to foreigners without any visible gain for the country. If we cannot get a good deal with foreign mining companies, it is not wrong for us to preserve our uranium for our future generations who might be in a better position to manage such resources. In this modern age of technological advancement, uranium plays an important part in the generation of energy. As our population grows, our hydro-electrical plants will not be enough to sustain Malawi and who knows, the future generations of this country might have the capability of setting up nuclear plants! It is therefore important for us to always think for our future generations because they too have the right to enjoy the resources this country has today.

All in all, I believe that we are the generation that is supposed to build a strong foundation for the house of Malawi, and if we fail, our future compatriots will inherit a broken country with little or no promise. And don’t be surprised if at that time, your”investors” all flee, and the country is thrown into chaos and violence.

Development is about continuity and the little we can manage to do in our lifetime is enough for others to carry on. If we do not have the capability to extract natural resources today, then there is no need for us to entrust our wealth with foreigners who are only here exploit our God-granted gifts. We cannot do everything in our lifetime.

Paja amati kuthamanga sikufika!

Yanis Varoufakis: Confessions of an Erratic Marxist

Yanis Varoufakis: Confessions of an Erratic Marxist /// 14th May 2013:

I must say after all the attention Yanis Varoufakis has received in recent weeks, this video is an interesting window into what is driving the man. Looking at recent events in Greece,  it’s easy to understand why Africans countries which have a narrow manufacturing, industrial and export base, and which are laden with debt, and often at the mercy of proponents of (i) austerity economics, and (ii) a predominantly market driven economy (as opposed to a policy incorporating both planned and market driven aspects), will want to pay close attention to what this man does with Greece.

And here are some reasons why:

(1) Because like Greece, many African countries have huge debts which they cannot currently pay off, without some drastic measures.

(2) Similarly, most African countries that have sought the help of the IMF have been force-fed the poisonous pills of austerity, and the effects are causing far more suffering, disproportionately so than any hint of remedial good that has been observed.

(3) Its been a while since, a sovereign country with an electorate backing has stood up to the large neo-liberal organisations that dominate debt and lending. Arguably, not since Hungary and Iceland showed them the finger have any other leader or government’s top money honcho openly expressed disdain against these organisations. But Varoufakis has done precisely that.

So, although the game African politicians play with the likes of the World bank and IMF is starkly different, Goodall Gondwe and his boss Peter Mutharika ought to pay very close attention to Varoufakis’s fiscal maneuvering.

Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (CoST)

Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (CoST) is an initiative recently launched in Malawi

Launching the CoST Malawi website, on Monday evening, Vice President of Malawi Saulos Chilima said that:

“I hope that respective governance structures, project implementing agencies and construction industry stakeholders will take this as an opportunity to demonstrate to the world that Malawi can be a shining example of good governance and prove to ourselves that it is possible to develop our country”

Chilima said he was committed to ensure that reforms incorporate CoST principles so that disclosures cover the whole value chain of construction activities in Malawi.

This is an interesting development in the construction sector in Malawi because as some readers will know, the Cashgate corruption scandal badly portrayed the construction sector in Malawi.

So one can only hope that the sector will fully embrace these reforms, because clearly there are advantages be realised.

However, lets look at the issue in a bit more detail.

According to CoST’s international website:

It is estimated that upwards of $4 trillion annually is lost through mismanagement, inefficiency, and corruption in public infrastructure – on average 10 to 30 percent of a project’s value. These losses have a negative effect on the quality, safety, and value of the built environment. Specific investigations have found much larger losses in some cases, including projects that were paid for but never built and projects that collapsed with injury and loss of life. 

In terms of inefficiency and mismanagement one can understand why the stakeholders would want better efficiency and management. It would reduce waste and introduce a greater level of safety.

But when it comes to corruption, I’m not quite clear why a sector that has struggled with endemic corruption for decades would suddenly want to reform itself, simply because it is being asked to publish details of the procurement process?

Let me put it this way, publishing the pre-contractual process could make it harder for corrupt officials to hijack the procurement of public contracts, but does it shut the door to corruption in procurement altogether?

Consider this scenario:-

Suppose a procurement committee had a preferred provider of certain services prior to publishing of a tender, by virtue of an inside secret agreement between officials, their boss, and this particular provider. A deal that would be of financial benefit to the members of that committee. What is to stop some members of that committee from secretly assisting the preferred provider to submit the strongest bid, one that fulfills all the conditions of the tender, and is likely to be the most attractive? What is to stop officials doctoring the process behind closed doors to ensure the preferred provider’s success? Especially if the help given, is given in secret?  What will guard against such a scenario?

I think it is more logical for certain checks and balances to be established as part of this initiative, to make it more ‘foolproof’. The Vice President Saulos Chilima must ensure that some additional measures are implemented in all public procurement dealings. For example, this initiative could go much further by demanding that no prior conscious contact whatsoever must have taken place between the members of the awarding committee, or an employee of the awarding body or ministry, and prospective bidders, when they knew a contract has been published. Further, to ensure that committees awarding contracts are formed from competent yet unconnected individuals, who do not work together, and have no social relationships, awarding committees should be made up of people from different sectors, who do not know each other, who do not work together, who are not part of the same social circles, who come from across the country, and who critically have declared their political support( i.e. they support different political parties). All this is important to make it harder for a conflict of interests to arise.

So as an example, if the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining is considering publishing an invitation to tender for some goods or services it requires, an awarding committee could be made up of nine individuals:- two from the ministry itself, three from Civil Society Organisations, one ordinary member of the public, one from a religious organisation and two diplomats from different foreign consulars.

In my view, awarding bodies composed of such a makeup, although operating at a cost to the government, are highly unlikely to award contracts on political or regional lines, or in situations where a conflict of interest exists.

Further, while best practices can be imported from other CoST implementations across the world, the threshold in selecting successful bidders should be improved, so that only those with the highest rating, and strongest bids, as agreed by a large majority (at least 7 out of the 9) of the committee are awarded the contracts.

Finally, smaller players need to have their own categories, so that they are not disadvantaged merely by their size, when pitted against larger companies.

CoST Malawi is directed by a Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG) that comprises representatives from:

  • Ministry of Irrigation and Water Development,
  • the National Audit Office,
  • Accountant General,
  • Director of Buildings,
  • Anti-Corruption Bureau,
  • Office of Director of Public Procurement,
  • Malawi Building, Civil and Allied Trades Association
  • Malawi Economic Justice Network,
  • Human Rights Consultative Committee,
  • Business Action Against Corruption,
  • African Institute of Corporate Citizens

All sounds good and well on the surface. Anyone can cobble together rhetoric and words that sound heroic and purposeful. But the implementation of this initiatives is what counts. The devil is always in the detail. In my view, the essential features  are not good enough. More needs to be done to prevent abuse of process like the scenario provided above.