Political Party funding in Malawi needs a complete overhaul

Thom Mpinganjira

Politics and money have a cunning way of accentuating the dishonest and desperate aspects of humanity.

I mean, even if Zaccheus – the archetypal taxman of the time, & physically challenged chief tax collector had been a tame, impressionable and honest man, even if he had possessed more than just a few ounces of feigned holiness, his relentless pursuit of other people’s hard earned cash, and his association with politicians, I suspect, might have hidden his amiable senses firmly away.

But if you needed further proof of the pervasive corrosiveness money has on people in politics in more recent times, then the attempted bribery court case involving Thom Mpinganjira (in which he has been found to have a case to answer) presents an excellent example.

Because if Mpinganjira is to be believed, then we have on our hands the latest manifestation of just how vulnerable our politicians in Malawi are to manipulation and influence by moneyed folk.

It’s something we’ve known for a while, and while yesterday it was the Makhumulas, the Mbewes, the Tayubs, the Ganis and a long list of wealthy Asians bankrolling aChair and his UDF, today it’s the Thom Mpinganjiras, the Simbi Phiris, the Mias, the Gaffars, the Batatawalas, the Karims, and the Mullis who play benefactor, or as Malawians like to say “Well wishers”, writing big cheques in donations or loans to keep afloat our Politicians & political parties.

The game fundamentally hasn’t changed. And that’s before we even get to the melee of private companies jostling for political favours from one abiggie or another.

Clearly this is not a sustainable situation, not least because universally it is very well understood that many of those who fund political parties often seek influence or payback in some way, whether directly or in more subtle ways. The loan or “donation” is hardly an innocent transaction.

Indeed there’s no shortage of tales of benefactors of all shades across the world who have tried to exercise influence over the leaders of political parties they finance, in order for those leaders to make decisions that favour the benefactors or their companies. In quite a few places, some cunning benefactors have even managed to land cabinet positions, if rumour of the shenanigans that happen behind closed doors is to be believed.

But what have we learned from this court case so far?

Thom Mpinganjira claims he donated around K100 million to President Lazarus Chakwera, more than K400 million to Vice President Saulos Chilima of UTM and over K950 million to the DPP, under former President Peter Mutharika. He claims that even former President Joyce Banda also received about K40 million.

If these claims are indeed true, and evidence of the transactions is produced to back his claims, it further confirms the fears of people who have for a long time decried the negative role money has played in Malawis politics; that as a nation most of our prominent politicians are still beholden to private interests.

https://twitter.com/onjezani/status/1392508272708669443?s=19

Mind you, this is all just coming out now, and was unknown to most Malawians last year – when the country was busied by street protests & the Constitutional Court (Concort) proceedings that nullified the 2019 “Tipp-Ex” Elections.

Some analysts are now saying these are the funds that were most likely channelled to finance the 2019 Parliamentary and Presidential elections (the aforementioned Tipp-Ex Elections), and the re-run of 2020.

But ultimately, it means in nearly 30 years, Malawi has not made any progress in curtailing the influence that unregulated and undeclared party funding has over our politics. It means we have failed to create transparency so that party funders are known – for accountability and to prevent conflicts of interest further down the line.

Unfortunately for all the fanfare of last year’s ConCort decision, we haven’t made much progress elsewhere.

Had there been sufficient progress in this area, then it’s highly unlikely that Thom Mpinganjira’s FDH bank would have bought Malawi Savings Bank(MSB), with it’s large debtors book, for a pittance. In fact at the time, many keen-eyed political analysts observed in despair the many irregularities surrounding the sale including just how absurdly little opposition the transaction faced, and how some of the debtors on MSB’s books were said to be the very same major financiers of political parties and other politically connected persons.

In light of these revelations, one can see why there was no chance of the MSB deal being scrutinized or facing the required oversight you would expect to take place before such a large and treasured piece of national financial infrastructure was sold, when everyone (including those who were expected to provide scrutiny) was in Mpinganjira’s pockets!

Further, and on a different level, the Bribery court case revelations hint at a present failure of our legislature, in 2020, and now 2021, to establish laws which work to protect the interests of Malawians. In this case, laws that create a fair playing field where merit & qualifications are a stronger determinant in the suitability of a Malawian to stand for public office, than the size of their “well-wisher” wallet.

Simply put, it means you can unfortunately not only buy oligarchical influence in political circles, but you can probably buy your way into parliament in today’s Malawi.

And unfortunately that’s not a good verdict for Lazarus Chakwera’s Tonse Alliance. It certainly does not inspire confidence in the Government, because many people will be asking (and rightly so), that who else has bankrolled our politicians including those in the current Tonse Alliance, who we don’t currently know about, but who we ought to know about?

But how do we solve this longstanding problem? What must be done to move towards a path where political party funding is more transparent and does not negatively influence our politics or create an environment festering with conflicts of interests?

In a future article I will try to explore these questions in more detail with a view to mapping a way to a set of solutions, including highlighting past and present key solutions suggested by others.

As Malawians, this is not an issue we can afford to continue to ignore year after year because it’s costing us. The sooner we begin to address it, the less likely we’ll have these kinds of problems haemorrhaging our politics in the future.

Why many people I know are not that keen on the COVID-19 vaccine

A petri dish, pills, a mask and a syringe

Throughtout my life I have received all the vaccines which I was told I needed. My children too are fully vaccinated, and I am perfectly at ease with that. I continue to be supportive of vaccination as a proven and effective way of achieving immunity against certain illnesses. And I intend to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to me, so that I am protected agains the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

But many of my friends and some family members are not that keen on the COVID-19 vaccine. Here I outline some of the reasons why.

But first a couple of disclaimers:

This article is not about Anti-vaxxers or people who for some scientifically illiterate reason are opposed to vaccinations.

Also, I’m not a Virologist, Biomedical scientist or an Epidemiologist. I’m not a healthcare professional, have never undertaken vaccine research and my background and specialisation lie primarily in Electronic & Software Engineering. So some of the notation in this article may neither be precise nor depict accurate terminology. More importantly, I’m not writing this article to endorse, support, defend or otherwise give credence to any medical stance, let alone the numerous views, sentiments and feelings of some of the people I know or is acquainted with.

World Health Organization. Draft landscape of COVID-19 candidate vaccines. WHO https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/draft-landscape-of-covid-19-candidate-vaccines (2020).

Our traditional medicines are useful.The fruit trees that we have outside our houses, avocado, blue gum, their leaves are good and help a lot. We should encourage everyone to use our trees as herbal remedies. We should also ask our leaders to learn from Tanzania and Madagascar. Their leaders have shown leadership. We need to stand against the threat of the COVID19 vaccine.

However at a time of so much uncertainty and a multiplicity of views, I think their perspectives, questions, fears, hesitancy and concerns are valid and matter. They must not be dismissed but must instead be heard as legitimate concerns in a global debate, irrespective of what people sitting on the other side of the table think about such “fringe” views.

I have paraphrased some of the questions and concerns for clarity and to shield the respective identities of the people whose views I seek to replicate. I have also substituted some statements with similar views expressed online by other people I do not know but whose views more coherently mirror the original statements of the people I know.

Finally, it is encouraging to note that some people who previously expressed concern or feared taking a COVID-19 vaccine have since agreed to receive it, after considering in-depth information on the science behind the different vaccine candidates and how they are manufactured.

Watching this transformation from skeptic to convert happen has been delightful.

1. How effective will this vaccine really be?

“For How long will the vaccine protect me from the virus once I have received it?”

“I don’t like needles so don’t want to be receiving a vaccine for this virus every year or every few years.”

“When I was young, I had the BCG vaccine for TB, I’ve never needed another vaccine for TB, so why the hell I’m I being asked to be vaccinated twice for COVID?”

“What guarantees are there that when I receive this vaccine it will protect me against COVID-19? I know people are dying but if my body can produce an immunity response and protect me from further infection, how does what my body can naturally do differ from what the vaccine will be able to do? Give it to the old people with poor immunity, I’d rather let my body protect me naturally than having more chemicals injected into me”

Nigeria eyes domestic vaccine production to tackle COVID-19 (AFRICA BRIEFING)

2. Why do I feel like this vaccine is different from other “normal” vaccines?

A Campaign from NYC Health + Hospitals encouraging people to receive the vaccine.

There is a feeling among some people that the COVID-19 vaccine is different from other vaccines.

I know that there are several vaccines (and vaccine candidates) being rolled out, being researched or being trialed, and that they use different approches or incorporate different techniques to target the virus. However, several people have told me that they feel that these COVID-19 vaccines are not normal. Sentiments here range from those who believe the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine will alter their DNA, to those who think the speed of development should be met with alarm or at least extreme caution.

“Let us agree to disagree that change through COVID has come therefore let us embrace the change and live with the virus. One thing I don’t understand is how come COVID does not have a direct cure, but people recover like the way we recover from Malaria. That doesn’t happen with Polio??Or with HIV?? It’s not all of us who recover of diseases with cures but I think this virus is confusing and different, so we need to know more, otherwise let’s treat it like any other infectious disease.”

“This vaccine is preventing people getting the virus, it doesn’t cure COVID-19. There is the need for civic education about vaccines, which historically can sometimes be a gamble “

Professor Dale Godfrey…told newsGP the idea of whether two month represents an adequate period is not a straightforward answer as things are more likely to go wrong earlier in the renting phase that was the end

Matt Woodley, News GP, Is two months long enough to monitor for vaccine safety concerns?

“I work in the healthcare sector. I have been involved in discussions at the Mosque with lots of people and while the Imans are saying we should go talk to our GPs and are recommending taking the vaccine, some people in my community think we don’t yet know if this vaccine is safe, so I’m on the fence for now.”

“Bruv, is this shit real? Had them vaccines, all of them since i was a kid I’ve had, masteni ndi madala made sure I got them, but this Covid shit lame.”

Forgive me if this is a mistake, but remember they say ‘having little knowledge is more dangerous than having no-knowledge at all’ so i need to ask: As a way of ruling out all skepticism and mistrust, can’t there be an initiative of engaging our local experts to certify or rule otherwise if there’s something wrong with the vaccine? We have Malawi Bureau of Standards which certifies products manufactured either locally or imported. They inform the citizenry whether a product is worthy of consumption or not. Isn’t there a board that deals with medical products, medicines and poisons too? Whatever it is, why can’t we ask them about these vaccines and let them issue a statement on the safety of each vaccine? By the way, they are funded by taxpayers money 🤷

3. Is it normal for a Pharmaceutical company to seek advance government protection from legal action in the event that the vaccine harms some people?

As mentioned in the introduction, EU officials have informed Reuters that product liability is one of the biggest contentious issues in European efforts to secure a vaccine. AstraZeneca have reportedly come to a deal with Europe, although the commission has not yet commented on the details of liability. According to a Reuters report on the 26th August, the EU commission would only offer partial protection to manufacturers against liability, ‘hampering deals in contrast to US policy.’ The administration of the vaccine therefore lays in the balance of political, economic and sociological interests.”

– By Wouter PorsEvelyn Tjon-En-Fa, Flora Peel, A vaccine for COVID-19: risks and liabilities from an international perspective (Bird & Bird)

Why is AstraZeneca applying for protection from prosecution from national governments and the likes of the EU, in the event that their vaccines cause adverse effects, which could include death? Although any brief research will show that this is not entirely unheard of, especially for vaccines that have not completed Phase 3 trials, some people think it is not normal.

Sangs, if I come to you and say: I’m selling this car, but its only 66% safe for use and can’t guarantee that it won’t develop a fault that causes an accident while you are on the motorway, so if you buy it, and it causes an accident and you die, I can’t be held responsible.

Will you buy that car amwene?

No, you won’t voluntarily take such a risk. Your better senses, your intuition, will prevent you from taking that step, even if the car happens to be your dream car.

So, why are we being asked to take a vaccine where the maker of that vaccine is requesting protection from prosecution and won’t guarantee its safety and won’t be held responsible if it fucks us up?

Za chamba eti”

“My family and I have decided not to take this vaccine. If Malawi makes it compulsory, we will move and live in Tanzania. If Tanzania also makes it compulsory, we’ll go somewhere else. We need independent tests and full transparency on what’s going on first. “

4. Will the vaccine cause an adverse reaction when I come into contact with coronavirus?

Pathogenic Priming.

Here’s a nifty medical term I didn’t previously know about until recently. Much like “Furlough“, which I also only first encountered last year.

Another word related to pathogenic priming, which you may never have heard of before is Antibody-dependent Enhancement (ADE) or Immune Enhancement. This phenomenon according to several sources is when your body’s immune system reacts badly to the virus AFTER you have already been vaccinated.

Anyway, there are some people who believe the vaccine could cause an adverse reaction in some people, when they come into contact with the virus. The basis of this concern appears to be in the well chronicled Pharmaceutical blunders of the past. I’ll let the experts explain what the term actually means:

ADE is one form of immune enhancement, a poorly understood group of phenomena occurring when components of our immune system that usually protect against viral infections somehow end up backfiring. It’s a concern in situations when people are continuously re-infected with particular pathogens, and with vaccines that work by injecting snippets of virus to mimic a first infection. Some immunizations, such as those against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), have been observed in the past to make disease worse when vaccinated individuals contract the virus.

Katarina Zimmer, COVID-19 Vaccine Researchers Mindful of Immune Enhancement (The Scientist)

“My husband was sick for a whole week after getting the flu jab last year. They were offering it via his workplace and he said ok why not. He was in bed for a week, had splitting headaches, yellow mucus coming out of his nose, a fever, lost appetite and was a wreck. I know COVID is not a flu, but I’m not having the COVID-19 vaccine! I’ve told him if you want you go receive it yourself, me – no! “

5. Will I still be able to have kids after I receive the vaccine?

A pregnancy test

How will the vaccine affect fertility in say 3 years? 5 years? 10 years? Is there credible information on this, I’ve been asked a couple of times.

“I want to have kids, but not ready to have kids now. How will the vaccine affect my fertility later on down the line?”

– a 20 year old daughter of a cousin

“There’s no evidence antibodies against any coronavirus cause infertility. If coronavirus spike proteins did lead the immune system to attack the placenta, we’d see widespread infertility after common cold seasons, which are caused by a range of viruses, including coronaviruses.”

Archa Fox, Associate Professor and ARC Future Fellow, University of Western Australia, Not sure about the Pfizer vaccine, now it’s been approved in Australia? You can scratch these 4 concerns straight off your list (The Conversation)

But what about Male fertility? Does anyone know the effects of a COVID-19 vaccine on male fertility in 4 years? 10 years? In one article, an opinion of one medical journalist that suggested freezing sperm got some people worried:

Study investigates effects of COVID-19 vaccine on male fertility

6. How will the vaccine affect my other organs in the long term?

Not just the effect on my lungs and the respiratory system, but on my kidneys, my heart, my eyes, my brain, my liver, my digestive system and so on.

“What research has been done to find out the effects of the various vaccines on different organs in the long term? I’m going to receive the COVID-19 vaccine but I think it’s only right that before we ask everyone to receive the vaccine we have to show them some conclusive evidence that it won’t affect other organs in their body in the long term, and if we can’t do that then it shouldn’t be mandatory to receive the vaccine, until after we have that evidence”

“What I know is that pregnant mothers receive a vaccine before a baby is born. And also when the baby is born the baby is vaccinated, and so while I don’t see anything wrong with the COVID-19 vaccine, maybe we should be told what happens in the long term.”

7. Will the COVID-19 vaccine contain nano robots?

This one is rare but there have been at least two occasions when an ordinary conversation with a friend veered into the less heard of but nevertheless real subject of nano robots?

For those not familiar with the term, Nano robots are nanodevices at the molecular level and are a known healthcare innovation within nanotechnology and nanomedicine.

One proposed use of nano robots is in Smart Drug Delivery System and some people are wondering whether the COVID-19 vaccine contains nano robots.

This concern was a lot more pronounced at the beginning of the pandemic, when the internet was awash with bizarre and nonsensical conspiracy theories about the links between COVID-19 and 5G.

8. My Faith in God will protect me from COVID-19

A post on a social media page.

Pretty much every crisis that the world has faced has at some point been met by these types of religious (or pseudo-religious) claims. And often there is little thought as to how such a stance affects other people, which itself may be a verdict on the lack of empathy of the person holding such views. In any case, no one lives in a vaccuum, and our actions, whether good or bad, often impact other people around us.

Considering all of the above views and concerns, it is clear that national governments everywhere have a tough job on their hands. Never mind sensitisation and countering of false information, if a significant percentage of society is opposed to the COVID-19 vaccines and are not willing to be vaccinated, for whatever reasons, it may ultimately defeat the whole global vaccination effort. This is because new viruses (against which the current vaccines have little or no effect) which will inevitably mutate in unvaccinated ‘pockets’ of the population will in no time be transmitted back into the vaccinated population(s) across the world – triggering a whole new pandemic!

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.

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

Should Malawi’s next Cabinet reflect the country’s demographics?

So you’ve managed to get the May 2019 Presidential election results nullified. Great! And since February the 3rd of this year, your beloved Malawi, the beautiful country which you love has become a shinning star, the gold-standard in judicial independence anywhere in the world.

Fantastic news!

Media outlets everywhere are praising you, Africans are congratulating you, everyone who knows you are Malawian talks positively about the developments in your country in terms of free and fair elections and an independent and competent judiciary. You feel proud. Fabulous!

Look! The FT has called the Constitutional Court decision… a victory for African democracy’. (Yes, the same Financial Times with revenues of $500 million). Favourable publicity doesn’t get any better than this, does it? All great, all wonderful stuff.

But let’s not get too excited too quickly here. Let’s not celebrate too much … yet. Ask any honest person who follows politics in Malawi, and they will tell you that while the victory against the fraudulent enterprise that is the Malawi Electoral Commission is one important victory battle in a war of many battles, there is unfinished business and on-going tussles that must be won in order to to clean up the structural rot in Malawi’s public bodies.

As Professor Danwood Chirwa put it here in his brilliant analysis whose intro was “The rearguard action has begun“, some people will fight tooth and nail to resist any meaningful change.

For example, there are Malawians who still think it is okay for a president or a government minister to decide which contractors should be awarded lucrative government contracts?? Then, there is the matter of public appointments; why should the heads of statutory corporations or parastatals still be appointed by the president, under a system that is definitely not merit-based – see [1], [2] for reference?  What about the boards of statutory corporations, shouldn’t their composition also be merit-based, and shouldn’t they be appointed by an independent body? What about public sector reforms. Didn’t the commission heading the initiative say the lack of political will was the reasons why bringing in the reforms had failed, with the UNDP comenting that: “Reforms call for transformation of organisational structures, a merit-based public service, transparent processes and procedures for improved service delivery.” (source: ‘Reforms on deathbed’, Rex Chikoko, The Nation)?

“Reforms call for transformation of organisational structures, a merit-based public service, transparent processes and procedures for improved service delivery.”

There is also the issue of the independence of the graft-busting body – the Anti-corruption Bureau (which in the past has been accused of being partial and having factions controlled by the executive); there is the matter of the independence of the police (who have at times used violence and acted shamefully against Malawians as if they were merely an unruly mob of the ruling party – see [3],[4]); there is the issue of the taxpayer-funded MBC, and how biased and unprofessional it is – see [5],[6]); there is the issue of political advisers, party honchos, strategists and other minions (some who like to call themselves “ana a daddy”) amassing fortunes and large amounts of unexplained wealth…

I could go on and on, and on.

And then there is the issue of the make-up of the Cabinet (which in past administrations, not only Peter Mutharika’s administration, has not reflected the country’s demographics). Wouldn’t it be fit and proper if Malawi’s next Cabinet more accurately reflected the country’s demographics, and was more than just a reflection of the president’s inner circle, party loyalists, cronies and tribal buddies?

Shouldn’t such be a given, that in a 21st century young democracy, one with (unfortunately) deep seated tribal allegiances, we should have a Cabinet that reflects the country’s ethnic make-up?

In any case, how are we to get rid of tribalism, cronyism, regionalism and nepotism in public office in Malawi, if we ignore the problem, and certain ethnic groups continue to be favored whereas other ethnic groups are sidelined and discriminated against when it comes to ministerial appointments, or more generally public appointments? You can’t say you have a genuine interest to get rid of tribalism, cronyism, regionalism and nepotism, but fill your cabinet positions, parastatals and board posts largely with yes-men, people from your village, chiefs, cronies from your region, members of your enthnic cultural association, and family members galore. That can’t possibly be right! Those state bodies can’t possibly excel.

If Malawians are going to fully capitalize on the Constitutional Court’s decision, and clean up the country’s many ills and failings (let’s be honest, there are many) for the benefit of every Malawian, then important undertakings like public appointments, cabinet positions and ambassadorial/ foreign mission postings must not be rewards for patronage or loyalty, but must be transparent merit-based exercises which reflect the country’s demographics and in the best interest of all Malawians.

Noam Chomsky: America is the gravest danger to world peace

Iranian grandfather and his grandson
Iranian grandfather and his grandson

This article titled Noam Chomsky: America is the gravest danger to world peace from Salon is beautifully written and I can’t help but comment.
I think in a world where western countries have in the past used their economic advantage to suppress dissent or force countries which do not agree with them into line, or to punish countries which disagree with them (e.g. Cuba, Zimbabwe), such carefully articulated views must be more widely disseminated in so far as showing who is in the wrong and being unfair.
In my view, it can never be right or fair for some countries to be at mercy of other countries which have an economic oligarchy / monopoly … and greater military power. The average Iranian has never done anything wrong to any American, so why should they suffer as a result of economic sanctions on Iran for the decisions of their leaders? And why should they suffer at all – just because their country’s leaders fundamentally disagree with the Americans?

In the past Americans through doctrines such as Manifest Destiny have pursued imperialist ambitions culminating with their defeat in Vietnam. And when the Shah of Iran, the puppet leader the American leadership installed in Iran was ousted, and the Islamic Revolution took off, it seems some have harboured this unreasonable anger against Iran since then. In my view it is no more than a hegemonic attempt to control other people, to exploit their resources, and suppress dissent that is driving America into conflict, and you don’t need to refer to the hacking of communications of world leaders by the NSA to see this kind of poisonous mindset.

The opposition to this nuclear deal is frankly disgusting, and for me it shows a number of things about some American leaders including:-

  • there are too many warmongering American leaders who still believe it is up to them to police the world, and tell others how they should live their live.
  • the United States is partial and dishonest about nuclear power, as it is about carbon emissions ( do as I say, not as I do)
  • If you are willing to indiscriminately bomb iran, its children, its women, what does that say of how you see the Iranian people? ……………………   Would those same leaders be happy if some country bombed New York or San Francisco?….. It’s people, its women, its children causing deaths of hundreds of thousands of people?…………… Of course not….. So why then is it acceptable or somehow even a consideration for the American airforce to bomb the people of Iran, just as they’ve done in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya – causing untold devastation and suffering, causing deaths of over a million people and leading to the rise of ISIL? Why is it acceptable to bomb a middle eastern country but not acceptable to drop bombs on the people of California? The answer to that question is this: because those hawks and others who think like them, advocating military action or heavy economic sanctions against foreign countries, are racists who do not view Iranians as people in the same way that they view American people; they don’t see Iranians as people deserving peace, happiness, prosperity and security. They see them via a patriarchal lens that categorises people based on their skin colour, where they were born and what they believe in …..
  • If it was possible for some of the leadership to have normal family relations with people of Iranian / Iraqi heritage, say grandparents of a spouse in Iran, or had married Iranian women/ men, and got to visit Iran, and see the ordinary lives of the Iranian people; people who just wanted to be part of the global village, to send their kids to school, to be able to afford groceries, to be able to afford nice holidays, to have safety and security, I think some of them would realise the flaws in their thinking, and begin to see things differently. But as things stand, it’s stunning just how offensive some of the rhetoric is – which I think points to being closed minded.

Such type of divisive conduct is what made dictatorships such as Nazi Germany, and such type of thinking is what was responsible for everything from the holocaust to Colonialism and Slavery; that certain people have more value than others; that certain people deserve to be treated better than others; that certain people should be subservient to others.

I totally reject such type of thinking.

All people are equal and valuable under the sun, before God, irrespective to where they live, their skin colour, their nationality, their sexual orientation, gender or age, irrespective of where they were born, or how much money is in their bank accounts.

You may not agree with the Iranians or the Afghan people or Iraqis over one policy issue or another, but that doesn’t authorise you to bomb their country and bring death and devastation to their lands… what happened to your Christian values – if you claim to have values? Would Jesus Christ – the same Biblical character who courted the poor – authorise the bombing of Iran? Bombing another sovereign country unprovoked, and for no sensible reason only shows you to be a coward akin to a school playground bully. If he can’t get what he wants he fights.

But even if you were not Christian/religious, what about simple and old-fashioned humanity and decency? What about propriety?

I don’t believe Iran is capable of bombing Israel, if anything they are more troubled about the plight of Palestinians, as is every true muslim. Let’s be honest, Palestinians are in a much worse situation than that which black people of Apartheid South Africa ever were, and if I were a muslim I too would be more concerned than I already am.

So this ridiculous fallacy that Iran is a threat to world peace must be put to bed sooner than later, and Chomsky does a good job at this. Over the course of my life in the UK, I’ve known a few Iranians, and they tell me their country cannot attack Israel or some other country because the military wouldn’t have the support of the people. Army officers would simply refuse to effect any such nonsensical order. The establishment may have gotten away with rigging elections during Ahmadinejad’s tenure, but they would never get away with such an atrocity. The rhetoric of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former president, was largely because being a volunteer to the Revolutionary Guards – he may have felt obliged to appease his fellow hardliners, the same camp he may have had to return to after serving as president. So, far from his talk being threats, it was just theatrics.

Also how would the world react against Iran if they indeed fired even a single missile into Israel? The Iranian leadership is not stupid not to know that such would be the end of the Islamic Revolution. It’s a disingenuous western lie by an unholy alliance of the right-wing media and dodgy alarmist politicians who are drumming up the hatred against Iran, for some other motive – my guess a financial motive. The same kind of lies that claimed Weapons of Mass Destruction existed in Iraq.

After all the ills of the last 200 or so years, each country should decide what they want to do, and how they want to do things, it should not be up to Europeans or Americans or anyone else! to dictate to the rest of the world how they should live their lives or how they should generate their energy or what kind of policies those countries should adopt. After everything the Americans and Europeans have done in the past, which history can testify to, it sure is high time to get off the high horse.

Why China should help Mozambique and Tanzania develop their Natural Gas production Capacities

I refer to the section 3.1 titled ‘Addressing General weakness of the economy’  and section 6.1  titled ‘Unchecked Greed and Resource Conflict’ of the above document, which has the following interesting paragraphs:

Given the prospects of high revenue earnings from economic rents of oil and natural gas, unchecked greed of business, political or other social leaders can foment and precipitate “resource conflicts”, which manifest as civil wars, regional conflicts involving neighbouring countries which share common borders, as well as in-country social divisions which weaken national solidarity. In the extreme they become a prelude to secessionist tendencies, with intent to draw new territorial boundaries curving out the regions with rich resource endowment and to declare them as independent sovereignty. That is the “resource curse” per excellence! Resource conflicts destabilize nations hosting unchecked greedy “resource seeking investments” and increase the risk to human safety, natural resource extraction infrastructures, as well as raise the overall cost of doing business.
… The discovery of huge natural gas resources has engendered heightened expectations for Tanzania with respect to revenue receipts and the likely spending power of the government. People think Tanzania can immediately get out of the poverty trap and move into the middle to high income bracket. Such popular view does not appreciate the level of investments required, the engineering challenges to be overcome and the time required to move through all the process steps before commercial gas production commences. The timeline is
between 5 to 8 years activities.

While there may be few dream images of the erstwhile Middle East and Persian Gulf countries as models for sharing national prosperity of the new gas economy, there are also nightmare images of the bad experiences of the Niger delta being repeated in the Ruvuma delta. It is common knowledge that oil production in the Niger delta has resulted in environment degradation on a massive scale, which has totally damaged the traditional local economy and livelihood which was based on fishing and agriculture. In that regard, the local communities feel “left out” of the growth and economic benefits, which have accrued to Nigeria as an outcome of exploitation of the petroleum resources. Then local communities have come to be viewed as a security threat because they have engaged in hostile activities against both the Government and the Oil industry. …

But first, lets deal with China. I’m not completely sold about them. I like their organisation and unity, and how they can achieve seemingly heavy tasks, in very short periods of time, and at a fraction of the cost west companies would undertake such tasks. But there can be a price. On quality in particular. Further, I don’t like the controversies that they tend to leave behind, or rather the alleged conduct of some Chinese companies, neatly dissected here, regarding their practices in Africa, and the implications of such practices. I also wish Chinese politicians and officials could at least raise human rights issues when dealing with countries such as Uganda, Sudan (where they’ve sent 700 troops), DRC, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.

But that’s besides the point. Some readers of this blog will know  that there have been large Natural Gas finds off the coasts of Tanzania and Mozambique. The estimates of the finds range from  46 trillion cubic feet(tcf) to 55 tcf. for the deposits in Tanzania, and 50 tcf. to 70 tcf. for the deposits in Mozambique. In plain English it’s a fortune!

According to Standard Bank, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) will add $39 billion to the Mozambican economy over the next 20 years, boosting GDP per capita from approximately $650 in 2013, to $4500 by 2035.

The trouble is, it is being claimed that billions upon billions will be required to put in place the technology, infrastructure, structures and logistical capacities to realise the benefits of these reserves.

And I simply don’t believe it will cost that much.

Now, I may be an engineer – one who knows how to build certain things cost-effectively, but I’m not a geological engineer. I’m not a surveyor, or an industry professional within the natural gas or petroleum industry, and my contention is based purely on rebuttals such as these – in this case of the corrupt practices in the construction sector in Malawi. But having said that I can find some credible industry professionals who can provide an honest unbiased opinion of the costs involved.

In other words, the $10 billion that is claimed in the above paper as the cost of building capacity, how exactly did they arrive at such a costing? I’m not disputing it outright, I’m just curious to know how they computed the figures…. since as I stated earlier, contractors and other infrastructure developers have a bad habit of quoting say £10,000 for a job that in real terms will cost £1000 to build (that is in real money the cost of raw materials, labour, logistics). The extra £9000 goes to profits for the company …and it is this that I have a probelm with because in my view it is hugely inflated.

So if someone says some project will cost $10 billion, alarm bells automatically start ringing in my head. I begin asking, is that $10 billion the real cost of raw materials and labour, or are we factoring in wastage in terms of corruption, the profits you want your company to make – off the coffers of the undiscerning African government, and off the backs of the helpless African people??

In the long term this translates to tax payers who must be taxed heavily to pay off the debt that will be taken by the government to finance such a project. Pensions that will remain meagre, because the African government is still paying that $10 billion loan they took…school children who will continue to have poor facilities, because…well, there’s no money to invest in modern educational facilities…salaries that will remain low…lapses in security, because, well, there’s simply not enough money about to improve security or pay decent salaries… I could go on.

My point is if the Mozambican and Tanzanian governments asked the Chinese for greater degree of help, in establishing the industry, employing professionals, while maintaining ownership of the whole project and resource (or atleast a large % of it) – as opposed to letting any foreign corporation have the lions share – the governments would most probably be able to build everything cost-effectively, probably for less than £2 billion, and Tanzania and Mozambique would come out stronger than any arrangement that gives ownership (or  the lions share) of the finds to a foreign private company.

Bad & Deceitful Counsel: Malawi’s unutilised advisers

YouthDevelopment2

There’s an old Ghanaian proverb that says When a King has good counsellors, his reign is peaceful.

This proverb essentially means a leader is defined by the circumstances and people around him. If a King is surrounded by good and honest people, wise men and women of good repute, truly knowledgeable and full of wisdom and grace, it is highly likely that they will provide sound advice to him; it is also highly likely that they will foresee potentially troublesome situations well in advance.

The result will be that the King will make good decisions, and fewer mistakes; the advisers will shine a torch for him, to see where the potholes are, all of which will benefit the people of the land he rules.

On the other hand, if a King’s advisers are unwise, evil or plain bad, if they are more interested in accumulating wives, wealth and personal possessions, and power, their advice is unlikely to be sound or helpful. They are more likely to give that King the wrong kind of advice, and if he listens or implements such bad advice, it is likely that his reign will be disastrous. Indeed many mistakes will be made, and the people of the land will be the ones who will suffer most.

The assumption implicit in these scenarios are that the King does listen to his advisers, since it is possible to have a wise King who happens to have a few bad advisers amongst the majority good ones, but who is strong enough (mentally) to filter out the bad advice he receives, selecting only that which is progressive and helpful for the realm, leaving out the crap.

There are too many examples of sayings or scenarios similar to this proverb throughout history, although a few are worth a mention.

In Genesis chapter 26 verse 26, we are told that Abimelech, the Philistine King went to Beersheba to see Isaac from Gerar with his adviser Ahuzzath and Phicol the commander of his army. This is one of the earliest mention of the presence of an adviser in the Bible and some scholars say Ahuzzath may have been a  ‘friend’ or ‘minister’ to Abimelech. But whichever way, if you read the story in full, you will see that throughout the period Abimelech lived at peace with Abraham’s son, save for a few minor scuffles between their herdsmen. It’s quite possible that this peaceful co-existence was largely due to the advice the Philistine leader received from his advisers. Indeed many stories in the old testament testify of the eventual downfall of Kings primarily because they listened to the wrong type of advice, ignored the right kind of advice, or sought no advice at all.

For those who disbelieve the Bible, dismissing it as a collection of fairly tales, maybe the influence of Piers Gaveston on Edward II of England will convince you. He was an adviser to Edward II and according to one account here

 Piers Gaveston was a knight’s son who had been Edward’s friend since boyhood. When Edward, still a prince, feuded with important officials in his father’s court, Gaveston was seen as the cause, and was sent to exile. Summoning him home was Edward II’s first royal act. Gaveston was made Earl of Cornwall, but his political fights with the existing nobility would define the rest of his life, which didn’t last long. The nobility, without whose money and prestige and feudal armies Edward could not run the country, forced Gaveston into exile twice more in the next five years. He was never openly attacked for his sexuality, but instead was hated because he gave advice to the king that was no good, and the king should be taking the real nobility’s advice, anyway. In 1311 a committee of aristocrats and bishops imposed a series of Ordinances on the king, which declared that “through bad and deceitful counsel, our lord the king and all his men have everywhere been dishonoured.”

Bad and deceitful counsel. It’s one of many stories but it always ends pretty much the same way.

Although it doesn’t mean that even wise counsellors don’t get it wrong sometimes. In Daniel chapter 2 verse 24, we have Daniel pleading with  the executioner Arioch, who King Nebuchadnezzar had appointed to execute the wise men of Babylon (after they failed to interpret his dream) “Do not execute the wise men of Babylon. Take me to the king, and I will interpret his dream for him.”

More recently, during President Ronald Reagan’s administration, despite a somewhat positive and respectable legacy, the US government was involved in so many controversies many of which were the result of bad counsel perpetrated by more than just a few dodgy advisers. Reagan’s White House aide Michael Deaver and national security adviser Robert McFarlane were convicted of various offenses. MacFarlane pleaded guilty in 1988 to four misdemeanors of withholding information from Congress and was sentenced, but later pardoned by George H.W. Bush. Deaver was convicted of perjury for congressional testimony he submitted to a congressional subcommittee and federal grand jury investigating his lobbying activities with administration officials. Then there was Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger who was indicted but later also pardoned by Bush? The question is why didn’t Reagan refuse to authorise all these botched schemes?

At this point let us consider the well-known English idiom Birds of the same feather, flock together, and ask the question under what circumstances will a sensible leader allow people who are unlike him to influence him in some material way in terms of making decisions that have particularly far-reaching implications? After all what do crows (akhwangwala) know about hawks? Isn’t one bird a cowardly scavenger ever pursuing after leftovers, whereas the other is a bird of prey that is not only an able hunter, but belongs to the same group from which the King of the birds come. Shouldn’t there be an exercise of judgement?

But what has all this got to do with Malawi?

Well, these days as I talk to Malawians from all over the world, and read what other progressives are writing about in terms of development and the general climate on the ground in Malawi, I’m left surprised by the sheer number of good ideas they have. From the writing by one Malawian originally from Salima,  to those of another (who is not from Salima, but is nevertheless inspiring), I feel these kinds of ideas should be listened to? In any case, just because someone opposed a certain thing doesn’t mean that what they are advocating is not valid.

On this blog, I’ve purposely chosen to echo some of such views not because I’m sunk in an illusory world of familiar opinion. Instead, I believe that in the right hands, with the right leadership and mechanisms of oversight, with driven effectors, those same ideas these people advocate can help transform our country positively.

I mean take a look at the recent news headlines coming out of Malawi, can you see anything that you can point that has a chance of transforming a country with 14 million people? The Banning of Satchets? Breaking up Escom? Tobacco Sales (the country’s largest source of export revenue) in Lilongwe Suspended again

The news that populates the airwaves is not that of innovative ways of helping young people, or of increased Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as a result of a clean and conducive investment climate. Something which Paul Kagame in Rwanda has strived and just about achieved. No, the news on Malawi news channels is filled with accounts of dubious court cases (some on prosecution of embezzled funds by government officials, and another – a recent one –  in which it is alleged the president is suing a well-known UK-based activist); you hear of a presidential aide who is said to have bought a PhD from some serial con-artist – brilliantly seared here by one Pasteni Mauka (himself said to be a DPP insider in concert with other disgruntled DPP insiders, now turned against the clique running the show at Capital Hill);

As if this is not enough, then you read of charities pitying Malawians and sending them token gestures. And celebrities – all of which also serves to remind us all just how terrible the country’s situation is. Every single day I get about 3 different stories in my inbox, on various charitable efforts happening in Malawi. That’s over a thousand a year! What concrete progress has those efforts achieved all these years, especially in terms of sustainability and ensuring that the recipients stand on their own feet?

Here please allow me to digress: when was the last time you heard that some famous star had gone to Mauritius or to Malaysia to give alms? When did a wife of a billionaire wear a sari, mingling with the women who live in the slums of Mumbai? There are poor people in these countries – just as there are poor people in America, and in England. But such places are not ‘headline grabbing’. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but the fact is you rarely hear of such charitable visits…Instead it’s always a poor African country at the receiving end of do-gooders (most of whom I doub’t know these facts). Most recently it’s increasingly becoming fashionable to go do something charitable in Malawi. Malawi is fast becoming the Oxfam of the continent, if it hasn’t already done so.

It seems it’s easier to give Malawians fish, instead of a fishing rod. Because if you give them a fishing rod, you probably won’t be able to go back in 2 years time and pose for carricatured photos demonstrating your charitable kindness. Photos which you can then put up on Instagram and twitter for all the world to marvel at your fantastic heart.

Then there’s the regionalistic hatred (‘Ntumbuka’ uyu, ‘Mbwenu Mbwenu’…azipita kwawo) spewed shamelessly on the comments of these news sources I refer to … which frankly speaking shouldn’t be authorised on any news site; there are stories of police beating up innocent people – over some lame vendetta. And oh, I almost forgot – a presidential press secretary who writes a memo encouraging government ministries to advertise on a radio station with links to the presidency. And then accuses the radio station of forgery???

And in most of these things one must wonder where Peter Mutharika or his advisers are. Fine, you can’t expect a leader to hold everyone to a leash, but there has to be some ground rules, some responsibility, some direction. And when people screw up at government level -be they advisers or otherwise, they need to face the music. That’s the only way to restore public trust in politics.

So then, next time you meet a King or a leader, remember When a King has good counsellors, his reign is peaceful.

Jeremy Corbyn – Socialism DOES Work

Jeremy Corbyn could become leader of the Labour Party, the main opposition party in the House of Commons (UK Parliament), after he received the most nominations from Constituency Labour Parties and unions.

If Corbyn does emerge as winner, after a final ballot that will begin on August 14, then it could represent a fundamental shift towards the left of the political spectrum for the Labour Party.

Listening to Corbyn’s address to the Oxford Union (video below), I get the sense that he talks a lot of sense.

And yet many people (including senior members of his own party) don’t want him to become leader. They say he is ‘too left-wing’ and that such can ‘scare-off voters’.

Lately politicians have been saying some very insensitive things in the media, and it’s not surprising that some are being alarmist about Corbyn.

But how can a person who says there is too much inequality in the UK (and in the world in general), and that something needs to be done to address it (not just empty rhetoric) possibly be wrong by stating what is clearly a fact?

How can someone who calls for workers rights, an end to poverty, re-nationalisation of key industries, increased taxes on the very wealthy, and the scrapping of Britain’s Trident be the devil?

Are you saying you really want corporations to continue evading tax? For utilities to be controlled by profit-driven corporations? For £100 billion to be spent on a nuclear deterrent which will never be used? For the likes of Rupert Murdoch to continue hijacking the media agenda, influencing politics to the detriment of state power? Is that what you want?

In my view, if we had more politicians like Jeremy Corbyn, more leaders like Elizabeth Warren, conscientious politicians like Bernie Sanders  … who are capable of identifying the real issues, communicating effectively how those issues need to be addressed; issues such as corporate tax evasion, unnecessary foreign wars, inequality and poverty… if we had more leaders who are incorruptible and not part of some revolving door,  I think the world would be a better place. Minimally, there would be enough oversight to ensure that corporations pay their fair dues and behave responsibly even when conducting their affairs abroad. Public institutions would be protected, developing countries would not be preyed upon, and there would probably be greater respect for human life.

These are the kinds of  Leaders Abraham Lincoln if he were alive today would count as true friends. And it’s because there are many leaders who are out of touch with ordinary people, whereas a few can see what is happening on the ground, how actions of corporations are affecting ordinary people, how actions of leaders are endangering people, and are rightly concerned.

Why do I say this?

Giving a few examples, since when has it been known that inequality is the real cause of poverty across the world? Since when has it been known that the actions of corporations, including in paying bribes to officials, deprive developing countries of resources which they desperately need to effect development? Since when has it been known that the structural adjustment policies of the likes of IMF and World Bank are counterproductive against the narrative of poverty eradication? Since when has it been known that tax havens and secret accounts facilitate if not encourage corruption?

When all these have been known, why is it easier to start wars, than to fix these things which would do so much towards helping the poorest countries?

WS-pigsReferring to a point Corbyn made about the IMF in the above video, many people underestimate the damage structural adjustment programs (SAP’s) do to developing countries. They take for granted that the conditions the likes of the IMF prescribe put countries in a very difficult position – with no money to spend on the weakest in their societies.

And as you would expect, most of these people who attack socialist policies have never lived or spent any considerable length of time in developing countries, let alone had personal hardship that threatened their existence. They don’t know what poverty is, or what it means to have no money. It’s a bit like Ian Duncan Smith (British Conservative Party Politician who is Secretary of State for Work and Pensions ) calling for people to live on £53 a week, when he’s never had to live on £53 a week, and flatly refusing to do so when challenged.

They just talk because they think they know, when the truth it they don’t really know.

For once, I must say it is refreshing to hear a prospective political party leader of a big economy describe the likes of the IMF for who they really are. Architects of destruction.

On a practical note, it would be helpful if some of the people advocating for SAP’s spent some time period in the countries which borrow from the IMF/ World Bank. Let them go and  spend say 3 – 4 years (not just a couple of days where they pretend to blend into the culture) in Malawi , or in Cameroon, or in Senegal, not living in expensive hotels or exclusive suburbs where all the rich expats are having a dip in their swimming pools. No, but living amongst the people, ku ma line kwenikweni, in the districts where working people such as bus drivers, nurses, teachers and civil servants live. There they will begin to see the effects of SAP’s. There they will find the hatched eggs of the serpent.

This week, a lot has happened. There was the story of Cecil the Lion, then a few days ago,  David Cameron used an animate term (‘swarm’), to describe migrants; describing humans who are fleeing terrible living conditions, using a term which he couldn’t possibly use to describe Europeans, or Americans.

No wonder in the past some activists have hit back with images such as these:-

nhs

Being left-wing is not a bad thing. Being left-wing amidst other things means you care about other human beings, and you are not so narrow-minded, so self-absorbed and selfish, so brainwashed by individualistic ideas (‘trickle down economics’ , ‘survival of the fittest’ and other nonsense) which are senseless, do more damage than good to society, and do not have practical application in the real world. I’m not saying that those who do not identify as being left-wing are these things, but in my view, on the bare minimum, on the surface, thats what being left-wing must be.

I’d like to think many left wingers have a greater appreciation of inequality than their detractors;  that they get it when circumstances beyond people’s control push them to the brink. And these circumstances vary from corrupt African politicians (who receive bribes from unscrupulous investors, in exchange for favourable investment agreements which do nothing for the people of that African country) to selling off a public hospital to a private company (which then lays off staff as a cost-cutting exercise – leaving vulnerable families with no income – purely for profit).

I’ll end with a story I once read of a South African woman. Her parent’s two storey house was confiscated during the apartheid regime, when she was just a little girl. Subsequently her parents couldn’t pay for her education, so she was forced to work as a cleaner. Today she’s still unable to rebuild her life, with no qualifications, living in a country where she can’t earn enough to put herself through school, as well as look after her own family. With little prospects to advance in life other than to continue working, she is stuck in poverty.

And the house? She still remembers it, it’s still there, but up until now her family has not been able to get it back.

Not everyone who is poor is poor because they are lazy and don’t want to work. Someone please ask Jeremy Corbyn ‘s detractors to go and witness with their own eyes these types of scenarios.