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.

Who is interfering with MACRA’s mandate?

It’s a sad state of African politics that sometimes influential people attempt to hijack the institutional and democratic processes of doing things, for personal gain. Often money, lots of it, must have changed hands, and you end up with bigwigs attempting to influence or hijack decision-making in matters such as awarding of contracts, in legal or constitutional affairs, when the law is clear about how such things should be handled. This is bad for our countries across Africa, and is singularly the most common reason why our institutions fail to function properly. Leading to abuse that deprives the continent of billions. Because some people are willing to sacrifice the common good. In Malawi, a few days ago a story broke out on Nyasa Times alleging that one Ben Phiri is apparently pulling the strings behind the scenes to influence the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) to award a licence to Lacell Private Limited. Now Lacell has an interesting history in Malawi. In 2008, they failed in its bid for a mobile license because they did not meet the criteria.  Lacell came 5th in the tender process after the other participants were either disqualified or pulled-out. It seems that after months of lobbying politicians (see another link here) they threatened to sue the Malawi government, claiming that they had been led to believe that they would be awarded a license. That they had participated in pre-contractual negotiations and had invested in Malawi, therefore deserved a license. But the ‘license’ they claimed, for which they received some media coverage, never got authorised, let alone gazetted. The Malawi Communications Act 1998 stipulates that a license is not awarded unless it has been gazetted. You can engage in negotiations or receive political promises but unless a tender has been advertised, bids received and reviewed, the bidders vetted and the preferred bidder selected, the succesful bidders are then passed to the president through the relevant ministry…and after some obscure governmental protocols at the highest level, a winner selected. The resulting licence is gazetted, and only then is the licence said to have been awarded under the laws of Malawi. Any contract award that does not follow this set out procedure as laid out in law is in contravention of the law. Thus, for renegotiation with Lacell to begin out of the legally accepted procedure stipulated by the law, outside the tender process, is not in line with the laws of Malawi.

But this resumption of talks is not entirely surprising. In appointing boards of MACRA, the Department of Statutory Corporations [which is part of Office of President and Cabinet (OPC)] issues lists of competent persons which are recommended as members for nomination to parastatals. The President then approves such appointments. But for the current board of MACRA, which was appointed in November 2014, rumour has it that the recommendation list was largely ignored, or the legal process was not entirely observed. Whether this was politically motivated or not is anybody’s guess. What is clear is that when selecting a new board for a regulatory authority, it is required that the composition of the board have people who possess the skills, knowledge and expertise relevant to the functions and mandate for that institution. For MACRA, the Communications Act states that certain numbers from the outgoing board should be retained for continuity. This makes sense because a new board unversed in the operations, intricacies and current affairs need time to adjust. To examine all the issues which the board has been wrestling with, and come up to speed. But when more than half, or all of the previous board have been replaced, what’s to stop a noisy, disgruntled and desperate former bidder who for years has been claiming the moon, to take advantage of the situation and try to bulldoze its claims, perhaps helpfully assisted by some monetary gifts to important people within a newly elected government. This it appears, is where Lacell comes in. Because  the last board of MACRA was replaced in its entirety, and surprise surprise, Lacell, who popped up during Bingu’s regime causing many headaches, who showed up again and again during Joyce Banda’s tenure, has once again showed up.

According to the OPC website: The Department of Statutory Corporations mandate is to ensure parastatal sectors optimal utilization and management of resources, in compliance with Government regulations, thereby contributing to national development. The Department provides financial, administrative and managerial oversight to the parastatal sector. Doesn’t the in compliance with government regulation mentioned in this mission statement mean that MACRA must operate by the law? Why then is Kondwani Nankhumwa, the minister of Information, Tourism and Culture, talking as if a deal with Lacell could be hashed outside the law? Disregarding the lawful processes. And the institutions that have been mandated to police and protect the processes?

Something fishy is going on. President Peter Mutharika would be best advised to put a firm stop to this fishy business, because it is not going to help Malawi in the long run. Our public institutions must be allowed to operate independently, without duress, and in line with the law.

Why motorcycles could help Malawi’s Police

Many years ago, when I was still a child, one of my earliest memories was seeing my mother on a motorcycle. I can’t remember what make /type of motorcycle it was, but I remember that it was small. That was nearly 30 years ago.

Today, in some Asian countries like Vietnam and China, motorcycles (or scooters) play a pivotal role in transportation, and to support trade. In Vietnam, motorcycles are the most common means of transport, in that out of a population of 90 million people, 37 million motorbikes have been registered, against only 2 million cars.

Further, there are many reasons (see others here) that support the view that motorcycles are better over cars, not least that they are cheaper to buy, run and maintain.

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A courier waits to take samples from a facility in rural Malawi to the main district lab. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and Riders for Health

So, while there are health workers in Malawi who deliver care using motorcycles, it came as a surprise when a relative told me of an encounter between a family friend and the police in Blantyre, Malawi : – It seems the family friend had been involved in an accident, sometime last week, and as happens in such things, they rang the police. Predictably, the police didn’t have any transportation to get to the scene of the accident, so they asked the family friend to go and pick them up ??!!!? And that was when the least damaged car, belonging to the man this family friend struck, went off to the police station, and after returned with the police to the accident scene. The Police took a statement, then asked to be dropped back to the station???!!!?? So again, while a recovery vehicle towed the car below, the 4 x 4 it struck took the police back to the police station.

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It left me wondering, what if everyone had been injured seriously they couldn’t move? What if there were no passer-by to report or help the people injured? Like if the accident happened at night in a remote or rural part of the city. Why is policing still below elementary in Malawi, 50 years + from independence?

Also, why can’t the government buy motorcycles to help with peacekeeping and such like. I’m not talking about high-end all singing all dancing a thousand mile range motorbikes. Something like this

boston-copsNo, that’s not what I’m talking about. If motor sports can use bicycles such as these:

motorcycle-1I’d imagine it shouldnt be very difficult to solicit phased out or second-hand models that although not top of the range, are still very much functional, and could help police get around a city like Blantyre. But even if it was expensive to source such, why can’t the government appeal to development partners for such an important donation that is material to keeping peace and order? Surely if charities can donate motorbikes to help in re H.I.V care, it should be possible to organise the donation of say 90 motorcycles or so for the police forces of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu?

What if they get stolen? Well, why can’t you put trackers on them? To monitor wherever they go, and ensure they are not misused. Also, when was the last time the Blantyre or Lilongwe police department got broken into?

There would be added advantages, for example lesser fuel expenses compared to if the police were using cars. It would create employment for a few mechanics. And at least you wouldn’t get such unbelievable encounters where the police ask victims of a burglary or members of the public to come and pick them up!