Watch “Featured Documentary – Crude harvest: Selling Mex…” on YouTube

Featured Documentary – Crude harvest: Selling Mex…: http://youtu.be/MJ0vgVm1YLg

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After suspension of oil and gas exploration licences in Malawi what happens now?

Anglo American Corporation was founded in Johannesburg in 1917 with £1 million (what today would have been £75 million, adjusting for inflation according to one inflation calculator).

AngloAmerican

It has since grown into a publicly traded behemoth with a market capitalisation of £31.2 billion and revenues of £29.3 billion (2013). It’s headquarters is now in London and the company is now known as Anglo American Plc, the fourth largest mining company in the world.

Although a net ‘loss’ of $961 million was declared in 2013, Anglo American is undoubtedly one of the big boys in the industry. To give you a scale of just how big they are, Anglo American Plc owns 85% of Luxembourg registered De Beers Investments, the holding company of De Beers, another prominent mining giant which is well-known in Southern Africa. But if that’s not convincing enough then how about this: Anglo American recently walked away from a gold interest worth $300 billion, after investing over $541 million it it. Apparently, the withdrawal is related to environmental risks, in particular the threat the Pebble Mine would pose to Alaskan Salmon (there’s even a campaign), although Anglo’s chief executive claimed the withdrawal was in fact a way of prioritizing “.. capital to projects with the highest value and lowest risks.”

Both Anglo American and De Beers have been criticised over their practices in Africa, including price-fixing, low wages (for Anglo American recently in Chile here) and lack of transparency. In particular, according to a Wikipedia entry:

In 1977, the company [Anglo American] demanded that the paper it owned, Rand Daily Mail, tone down its equal-rights support after exposing the murder of South African activist Steve Biko amid the subsequent government backlash. [words in parenthesis for clarity]

Further, a British charity, War on Want, published a report in August 2007 that accused Anglo American of profiting from the abuse of people in the developing countries in which the mining giant operates. According to War on Want:

“in the Philippines and South Africa, local communities threatened with Anglo American mines have faced severe repression in their fight to stay on their land, while in Ghana and Mali, local communities see little of the huge profits being made by AngloGold Ashanti but suffer from fear and intimidation and from the damaging impact of its mines on their environment, health and livelihoods”

In response, the company subsequently published a report defending itself and disclosing its finances.

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Malawi’s first president Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda could have begun a state owned mining company in Malawi in the late 1960’s. He could have hired specialists from abroad, bought equipment from Britain or the US, begun prospecting for minerals, and by 1970 laid a foundation for a functional mining industry. The technology was available, and when Malawians had been travelling to South Africa in their thousands to work in the mines, labour would not have been a problem.

Banda didn’t begin a mining company. Instead he focussed on agriculture, which traditionally does not reap large profits as the sort which mining companies the likes of De Beers and Anglo American have been known to reap.

That decision could be a contributory factor further explaining Malawi’s economic woes today. While others were investing in assets and initiatives having huge long-term yields, Malawians were dabbling with agriculture and tobacco.

But to give him credit, while Dr Banda could have thought mining was not a priority to the newly independent country, he must have known that Malawi didn’t have enough capital resources to waste on ambitious projects whose very returns were unknown if not a gamble?

Further, having just broken away from the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, it’s understandable that while Britain could have been willing to extend Malawi a line of credit, as single-minded as Banda was known to have been, it’s inconceivable to think that he would have wanted to be constrained by such kind of favours from the very same people he so vehemently denounced. As he once declared: “We have no minerals. The soil is our gold mine”. In any case, what did a medical doctor who barely 10 years previously had been running a clinic in London know about the mining industry of the 1950’s and 60’s.

Having said this, would Dr Banda have started a state-owned mining company if he knew what treasures lay beneath the surface of Malawi’s geology? If he knew the value of such treasures on the international market?

Especially since there was information available as early as 1966 as to the Mineral deposits and mining potential of Malawi, according to a research paper titled MINERAL RESOURCES OF MALAWI AND MINING POTENTIAL by Rodney Mshali (The Society of Malawi Journal Vol. 62, No. 2 (2009), pp. 27-35 published by: Society of Malawi – Historical and Scientific ). Banda could have decided to take the risk if he wanted to.

Mineral Deposits

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Whichever way, it’s not my place to make a determination on Dr Banda’s judgement at this time.

But what does all this have to do with the current mining landscape in Malawi?

Well, as can be seen in the following links in Zambia, Chile, South Africa and Ethiopia , some mining companies have been known to be a menace to the countries they operate in. Issues of ownership, corruption, tax evasion in the form of profit shifting, low pay and poor working conditions, and of environmental degradation are often always lingering. In Malawi, recently, it has emerged that Paladin was considering to discharge ‘contaminated’ sludge kept in a dam near its Kayelekera mine into Malawi’s rivers systems for fear that if they did not do so, the rain season would cause their dam to overflow.

Thus, when news broke just under two weeks ago that the government of Malawi had suspended all oil and gas exploration licenses on Lake Malawi, so as to allow government to scrutinise and review each Licence that was issued or signed, I didn’t really know what to make of it. After all,  Malawi has had its fair share of sorry episodes of bad contracts married with irresponsible management, with the Paladin saga at Kayelekera. Although appearing diligent, uncovering any such lax agreements will just remind us all how deep in muck the country really is. It will not be a cause for celebration.

So then, what will the government do?

If they plan to review the oil exploration licenses in all good faith, and if necessary use legal mechanisms to resolve any indications of foul play -including unfair or prejudicial contract terms that do not benefit Malawians; if they plan to bring the miscreants to justice, then the suspension is a noble move.

In addition, the government of Malawi could work with charities [such as SHERPA (France), the Center for Trade Policy and Development (Zambia), the Berne Declaration (Switzerland), l’Entraide Missionnaire (Canada) and Mining Watch (Canada) ] which in 2011 filed complaints against mining companies Glencore International AG and First Quantum Minerals Ltd, to the Swiss and Canadian National Contact Points (NCP) for violating the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises including for Tax avoidance in Zambia.

However, if the suspension of oil and gas exploration in Malawi is a veiled attempt at ‘rent-seeking’, as is rumoured to have taken place not only during Bingu Wa Mutharika’s regime, but also during the People’s Party administration, then it would be unfortunate because the government would have lost an opportunity to harness the resources that Malawi has. DPP would have lost a chance to show transparency.

One more thing; how can Peter Mutharika be sure that the value of assets or mineral resources declared by Oil companies interested in prospecting, or already prospecting is accurate, and not under-declared/under-valued ? For example, if the actual value (or near estimate) of viable crude oil deposits under the basin of Lake Malawi was US$400 billion, what is to stop the Oil companies holding the exploration licenses from misinforming the government that they had found only US$100 billion worth of confirmed deposits under the lake? Especially when the government was unable to verify those figures?

Wouldn’t an independent state-owned Mining company, that had its own equipment, and that owned a stake in each exploration site, and that was jointly involved in the exploration, so as to be able to verify the findings by its own independently undertaken mapping and surveying reduce such a risk?

Finally, it goes without saying that for them to be successful, any state-owned organisation (including parastatals) should be run and managed by people who by merit are fit to do so, and not by public appointees with little or no experience in the relevant technical field or area.

Similar Links

Reuniting Africa: Infrastructure

It was delightful to hear news that Kenya in collaboration with the Chinese government will be investing $13.8 billion to build a railway line to link its port city of Mombasa with the capital Nairobi. It is hoped that the line will eventually extend to the landlocked countries of Uganda, South Sudan and Rwanda. This is great news not only because of its Pan-African connotations, but also because it’s a step forward towards getting Africa’s infrastructure interconnected and closer to global standards ( for example to the level of the Eurotunnel).

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Whenever foreigners come to Africa to visit, they always exclaim how challenging and long it can take to get from one place to another in certain areas. It’s incredible how disconnected Africa remains. The same applies to movement of goods (a factor essential for commerce and business). Often and comparatively with say Asia, it takes longer (and costs a lot more) than must necessarily be to send goods, or receive goods from one African country to another, which is not desirable.

The vastness and distances may be a problem, and environmental degradation such projects cause is also a major consideration, but that doesn’t mean that there are no workable solutions to such challenges. Often the cause of inaction or lack of progress appears to be bad politics and selfish financial interests, which end up  frustrating well-meaning projects whose economic and social benefits could be significant for a country and its neighbours, and far outweigh the negative impacts.

Take Malawi for example. Mota Engil the Portuguese conglomerate was contracted by the government of Bingu Wa Mutharika to construct a port in Nsanje (see animation of the Nsanje Inland Port via YouTube), at great expense to the Malawian tax payer.

The  project was part of a project known as the Shire-Zambezi Water Way, and whose total cost was said to be US$6 billion would have reduced the cost of importing goods by 60%.

The Malawi section of the project took years to build, and costed the Malawian government €25 million dollars. Now, almost 2 years after the sudden death of Mutharika, the first ship is yet to sail to the port. There is little or no dialogue about the way forward, the current Malawian president is in no rush to resurrect the project, even when the Malawi Trade & Investors Quarterly Magazine in 2007 wrote that Malawi spends at least US$200 million annually to import or export goods via ports in Mozambique or Tanzania. My question is this: isn’t reducing the cost of imports for landlocked countries in Africa a priority to the whole of Africa? Shouldn’t it be a priority to all Africans? Think about it… look at the US, or for that matter the European Union, and their policy of free movement of goods.

How can the countries in Africa, let alone the continent ever develop when leaders do not collaborate or are only too willing to impede such meaningful projects before they even commence? Why can’t African leaders (including the chiefs of the African Union, SADC, COMESA and African Development bank) begin to practise continuity, and put pressure on the stakeholders to get to grips with the project? Of the countries who signed the memorandum of understanding of the Shire-Zambezi Water Way, why does it appear like no one is actively seeking to resurrect and resume the project ( Is the said feasibility study Mozambique was demanding underway? If so what is the progress on that front?), since it’s undeniable that there will be mutual benefits to the greater economy of Southern Africa?

Looking at half-hearted comments from those who think they have something to lose (other shallow comments from here), you will find that the Mozambicans have to shoulder part of the blame for the stalling of the project. Against all appearance of conventional wisdom, it seem they have been dragging their feet from throwing full support behind the project, with talk of environmental assessments, etc and greater emphasis of development of roads?? Can such a massive project have been commenced and physical construction at Nsanje began without first assessing or undertaking an environmental assessment?

I’m not convinced. Either there’s something about this project that ordinary folk like us have not been told, or there was a massive miscalculation on the part of Mutharika to begin building the port. Else, it was visionary (see YouTube marketing clip ‘overselling’ the idea here), a quality often lacking within leadership across Africa.

Having said that, it is more likely than not, that the reason some people in Mozambique are unwilling to fully support the project is to do with the alleged financial loss they expect if goods are able to go straight into Malawi or Zambia and Zimbabwe, and not via Beira or Nacala.

Such a selfish narrow viewpoint undermines any potential benefit a new transportation link may create for the region. Surely, a thoughtful and better-informed African leader would have recognised the overall impact (e.g. jobs, increased trade, tourism, easier flow of resources, cheaper import costs and societal advancement)  the port will have not only to the Mozambican towns near Nsanje, but also to the greater Southern African economy of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, or even to Rwanda and Burundi.

Very few African countries geographically formed themselves into the shape they currently take. In fact only Liberia and Ethiopia were never colonised, but even their national polity formation had a lot to do with regional colonial activity around and about them. Thus, most decisions that determined the geographical shape of African countries were made by colonialists, a figment of history most Pan Africanists would rather forget. This to me means that it is shortsighted, regressive, a deficiency in intellect and a great fallacy (most often perpetuated by ignorance), for leaders of African countries today to be fighting against each other, or indeed dashing each others economic fortunes – when there is every chance that had colonialism never occurred (as we understand it), Africa could have ended up as a vast continent of undivided Kingdoms, each with access to the sea. Something that would have looked like this:

644px-Colonial_Africa_1913_Gold_Coast_map.svg
What Africa may have looked like if colonisation hadn’t occured. What Africa may look like in the future, hundreds of years from now

That is precisely why Uhuru Kenyatta must be applauded for the visionary Mombasa Nairobi railway link.

Similar Links:

Peter Mutharika attacks Malawi govt. for ignoring ‘Ndata’ University, Nsanje port in budget

MALAWI: Dream fades for inland port project

The Shire Zambezi Waterway Project is still a priority says Sadc secretariat [August 2013]

Malawi, Mozambique agree deal on Nsanje World inland port [April 2013]

Nsanje Inland Port Mw

Where is Africa’s manufacturing?

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I prefer to ask (and answer) the above question, that references to the ‘stage’ or ‘point’ (not physical location) when asked ‘Why is Africa not manufacturing?’ . I’ve been asked this question so many times, by people beffudled as to how Africa pretty much fails where everybody else has succeeded. The reason I prefer to answer the above question is because unlike popular belief Africa is in fact manufacturing, just not as much as everyone else, and just not always visibly (you don’t hear these stories on Tv, and they are rarely in the mainstream media publications – unless you read FT – although that’s arguably not mainstream)

Similar to the questions of manufacturing is that of whether the skills for the establishment of a bigger manufacturing sector are readily available for investors to tap into?

KiZerbo200

I’ll start with the bad news:- If the skills are available on the continent, then as things stand, they are in severe shortage and are not really of African origin. According to research from OECD [see BBC link here], by the end of this decade (emphasis required, that’s by 2020) 4 of every 10 young graduate is going to be either from India or China. Looking at the list of countries listed, not even a single one is an African country. What does that say? Well, a number of things; that we are not producing enough graduates, or that the number of African graduates with skill sets (and of a high calibre) who can compete with their contemporaries from Chinese and Indian universities is comparatively insignificant. Which is worrying, because it essentially means Africa’s manufacturing is nowhere, or only material if driven and held together by non-African effectors.

In the past the Education of Africans has received very little support from those who should know better. Most dictators who took over from the colonialists did too little to maintain the standard and level of Education (or Higher Education) across Africa, focussing instead of consolidating their rule. With a few exceptions, multiparty governments that came after dictatorships followed suit, by not investing anywhere near enough as was necessary. The donors that were bed-fellows with the dictators (and those that came after) arguably weren’t as sympathetic or visionary. According to an ESSA paper (quoted in this paper titled “THE ROLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION IN AFRICA” by Prof.Dr.Birgit Brock-Utne of the Institute for Educational Research at the University of Oslo) the World Bank once viewed Higher Education in Africa as a luxury:

“To meet minimally acceptable targets for coverage and quality of lower levels of education in most countries, as a general rule the tertiary sub sector’s share of stagnant real public education expenditures cannot expand further, and in some cases may have to contract. Some combination of efficiency improvements, increased private contribution to costs, and constrained growth of – in some countries and fields, outright cutback in – production of graduates must be sought.” (World Bank 1988: 95)

Expenditure on education was merely a self-serving budgetary exercise, and it didn’t matter what the result was, or whether indeed Africa would be ‘left-behind’ as a direct consequence of the under-investment, what mattered was only that money had been saved.

Without research into what their policy position currently is, I wouldn’t be able to tell you whether this view has changed or not.

Investors with the means have been to put it mildly, shy of investing on the continent let alone into skills development. A paper by a researcher named Paul Bennell which addresses the issue of whether structural adjustments programs ( these are those stringent rules imposed on African countries as part of loan agreements from the likes of IMF and World Bank) over a 15 year period have indeed achieved the desired response (i.e. increasing foreign investment in the hope of triggering technology transfer from the industrialized countries to Africa) paints a depressing picture. To quote Bennell (via this link):

Surprisingly, the share of net earnings from UK manufacturing investments in Africa remitted each year to the UK was higher than the global average between 1985 and 1990 . . . While UK companies have been keen to reinvest very sizable proportions of their profits in North America, Europe and Asia, investment opportunities in manufacturing have generally been very limited in Africa and thus, given the option, most parent companies would like to remit the bulk of subsidiary profits from the region

In other words, Africa was where you went to make your money, and not a place to reinvest your profits.

But it isn’t all bad news.

Recently, the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) approved a US$ 45 million grant for the creation of a Pan African University (PAU) that will consist of five Pan African Institutes focussing mainly on science, technology and innovation. The background to the story reads:

Africa has only 35 scientists and engineers per million inhabitants, compared with 168 for Brazil, 2,457 for Europe and 4,103 for the United States. Shortage of skills has been a major constraint to Africa’s progress in science, technology and innovation. Due to low investment in research and development, Africa ranks low in global competitiveness and productivity. African students tend to opt for economics, business, law and social sciences rather than science, engineering and technology, hampering the continent’s competitiveness and growth. The result is a mismatch between skills produced and private sector jobs.

While one would hope this initiative will be a success, and the Institutes will not falter under the common problems that beset universities and research institutions across much of Africa, it will be interesting to see how this develops.

As is well understood universally, innovation is the lifeblood of industry, and without the creation of ground-breaking and new products,  a country cannot advance or gain a competitive advantage. It was the case during the industrial revolution, during the rise of countries such as Germany, Russia, Japan and even Brazil. The exception (only to an extent) to this rule appears to be China, but that’s for a whole load of other reasons that distinguish it from the rest of mankind

But as the African Development Bank correctly observed above, in order to create ground-breaking innovations and products, and in order to influence global scientific research and technology, you need a skilled workforce. That’s why  the AfDB initiative represents a realignment of Africa’s potential in the right direction.

Across Africa, there are many success stories that are truly inspirational, although as i stated above, these are not shouted about in the mainstream media. One such inspirational story is that of Fabrinox, a south African company manufacturing sheet metal that was formed in 1993, and that has seen turnover in recent years hit US$5.8 million. Asked what had been the best decision he had made to grow his company, the company founder says:

To have followed the advice of my business mentor Johan Beyers to not restrict Fabrinox and its people to one geographical area, product or service, but to take a global view in running the business. For instance, it means that we think globally in terms of our supply chain, and are most willing to service clients beyond the boundaries of the Western Cape province in which we are located, and South Africa for that matter.

In addition to such success stories, there are also many partnerships between foreign manufacturers and agricultural producers across Africa, and some of those partnerships are genuinely beneficial to Africans. Who knows maybe some of these could one day pave way for an African manufacturing industry of its own, if some haven’t began to do so already? After all, manufacturing in industries such as motorcycle build and assembly in China began when after purchasing equipment from Japan, the Chinese assemblers began to modify the Japanese made components; fast forward a couple of decades, and China was making its own motorcycles which essentially were improvements (i.e. “innovations” more or less) of the original Japanese models.

The partnerships article above correctly points out that:

The level of mechanisation in African farming is still very low. Kenya had 25 tractors per 100 square kilometres of arable land in 2009 while Nigeria has almost seven, according to the most recent data from World Bank. That compares with an average of 271 machines in the US.

There are also some manufacturers who are looking towards Africa not because it’s ideal, but because they are getting sick and tired of the happenings in Asia (workplace safety that in recent years has become a major issue, levels of corruption, the increasing fees demanded by some factory owners, etc)

But before anybody gets too excited, look, the Chinese are planning on setting up shop in Africa! (see here and here). Although here one must wonder, does that mean Chinese labour (as they have been known to do in some African countries across the continent) or will these factories use African labour?

As for the power that will drive everything and get every bit of machinery working (in some countries – putting an end to years of intermittent blackouts), that’s about to get much more exciting. At least that’s what Obama seems to be saying.

Infrastructure

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While you’ll find several references to Infrastructure on this site, I think this time around I’ll leave it to the experts to do the convincing. Paja akulu anati mutu umodzi siwusenza denga

And if one takes time to browse through the cited references below (some of which are straight off page 1 + 2 of Google), it’s hard to argue against the fact that Infrastructure is one of the essential drivers of economic development. In this sense, and for the avoidance of doubt,  infrastructure is not limited to roads, railways, airports and buildings (for hotels, schools, Universities, hospitals, business centres, research facilities, etc), but also includes for example a good telecommunication network (internet, voice, data and the like) and power supply.

Infrastructure for sustainable development – European Commission

Intro reads: ” Good quality infrastructure is a key ingredient for sustainable development. All countries need efficient transport, sanitation, energy and communications systems if they are to prosper and provide a decent standard of living for their populations. Unfortunately, many developing countries possess poor infrastructure, which hampers their growth and ability to trade in the global economy. “

Infrastructure’s value to economic growth – Richard Lee, Partner, KPMG (via BBC)

which includes the statement : “…In fact, a recent KPMG International survey found that an overwhelming majority – 90% – of business executives said that the availability and quality of infrastructure affects where they locate their business operations…”

Needs For and Benefits of Infrastructure Connectivity – Asian Development Bank Institute
which includes the statement: “… The rapid economic and population growth of Asian economies in recent years has put huge pressure on its existing infrastructure, particularly in transport and energy, but also in communications. Asia’s infrastructure is world-class in parts, but is generally below the global average. This is a bottleneck to future growth, a threat to competitiveness, and an obstacle to poverty reduction.”
which includes the following statement: – “…An adequate infrastructure is a prerequisite to economic development. Transportation and communications are important in developing and strengthening social, political, and commercial ties. These ties must be developed before trade can be handled on a regular basis.”
Why Is Infrastructure Important – David Alan Aschauer, formerly Senior Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and now (at the date of writing/publication) Elmer W.Campbell Professor of Economics, Bates College
Infrastructure and Poverty – The Global Poverty Project
the Intro reads: “Infrastructure – physical resources like roads, telecommunication networks, schools and drains – is necessary for a society to function: people can’t access healthcare if there are no hospitals; trade can’t take place if there are no roads on which to transport goods to markets. Infrastructure facilitates the basic functions of a society that are necessary to transport resources and people, produce and trade goods, provide essential services and ultimately reduce poverty.”
it follows with ” Lack of infrastructure also leads to lack of employment by acting as a disincentive to investment. Companies who struggle to produce and sell goods in an area with inadequate roads, electricity or water supply do not want to set up the factories or businesses that could potentially generate employment, improve living standards and reduce poverty. “
and “Lack of infrastructure can also lead to poor health and high mortality. Where there are no clinics or hospitals available, or where lack of roads or bridges makes them inaccessible, people cannot access the medical services that they require to be healthy and productive. A villager in Mozambique explains “The most dangerous thing is that [cholera] has always appeared during the rainy season, and it is then that the river is in spate and boats cannot cross.”
The Broader Benefits of Transportation Infrastructure – Ian Sue Wing, William P. Anderson and T.R. Lakshmanan, Center for Transportation Studies and Dept. of Geography & Environment, Boston University [similar article here]
uses the term Meso-scale to describe their approach. A slide from their presentation is quite appropriate in summarising some of the developmental + ‘equilibrium’ impacts, and worth replication:-
infra-messo
Finance and Infrastructure: The Economic Benefits of Infrastructure Projects Procured with Private Finance –  Andrew W Morley, International Congress Washington, D.C. USA, April 19-26 2002.
Infrastructure – Engineers Against Poverty
Intro reads as follows: “Without significant progress in the provision of infrastructure services it will be impossible for many countries to significantly achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Globally, more than 1 billion people have no access to roads, 900 million do not have safe drinking water, 2.3 billion lack reliable sources of energy, 2.5 billion have no sanitation  facilities and 4 billion are without modern communication services.”
which contains the paragraph “When it comes to infrastructure development, Thailand has done very well compared with some other Southeast Asian neighbors. In fact, appropriate infrastructure, including access to power and water, has helped Thailand fuel rapid economic growth during the past three decades. Good infrastructure has made Thailand attractive to foreign investment, helped facilitate international trade, and improved the efficiency of everyday business activities. All of these led to more jobs, and more jobs led to more income for the poor. For some not-so-poor people, good infrastructure also helps them improve productivity or fulfill their lifestyles.”
RURAL INFRASTRUCTURE AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT –  Dr. Mohammad Tarique, Lecturer, University Dept. of Economics, B.R.Ambedkar Bihar University, Muzaffarpur.
Abstract reads: “Infrastructure development has a key role to play in both economic growth and poverty reduction. Failure to accelerate investments in rural infrastructure will make a mockery of efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in poor developing countries while at the same time severely limit opportunities for these countries to benefit from trade liberalisation, international capital markets and other potential benefits offered by globalisation”
Private Sector Participation in Infrastructure:the case of Thailand – Deunden Nikomborirak – Asian Development Bank Institute Discussion Paper No. 19
Road Funding: Time for a Change :- Economic Growth Benefits of Transportation Infrastructure Investment – Dr. John C. Taylor,  Associate professor of marketing and logistics at Grand Valley State University and a senior policy analyst with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan.
which contains the statement “…No, the key benefit and reason for transportation investment is from helping to make businesses and individuals more productive, across the geographic landscape. We rely on our transportation investments to increase the economy’s overall productivity – both in terms of making individual travel (business and personal) faster and more reliable, and in terms of the productivity benefits of making freight flows faster and more reliable…”
World Bank — Malawi’s infrastructure: A continental perspective: Vivien Foster; Maria Shkaratan, ISSN: 1813-9450.

As you can see, the above papers + articles present a credible argument that a good and functional infrastructure is essential for economic development.
But that’s not to say that there are no credible counter arguments against infrastructure. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m sure one can cite the prevention of deforestation or preservation of natural habitats as factors against excessive infrastructure. Also, there is the issue of encouraging tourism which could probably mean encouraging greater biodiversity, creating / preserving forests  and wildlife reserves (but even in such circumstances, you still need a world-class airport for a good first impression (the kind of impression you get when you first land at Hong Kong International); functional roads (at least 3 lanes on each side between major cities) that minimises journey times; and world-class hotels and resorts. Why should you give tourists (who in large numbers can be the source of much-needed forex revenue) less than what they are accustomed to, and expect that they will return to your country, or recommend a visit to their friends?). Never mind recommendation, how can you compete on the global stage, when your facilities are substandard? Further, why shouldn’t it be possible to build modern factories with reduced carbon footprint (see Marks & Spencer’s ‘eco-factories’ initiative here) side by side with wildlife/forest reserves?
So, considering all this, I find it hard to imagine a credible setting in which arguments against infrastructure may find pre-eminence, over arguments for infrastructure; especially for a poor country whose majority infrastructure was built  50-year ago; whose roads are littered with pot-holes, with virtually no world-class business centres; that has old airports – with poor facilities including smelly badly looked after toilets; a country that experiences intermittent blackouts almost every week; that is struggling to attract significant investment from abroad; a country where 74% of the population live below the poverty line; which is heavily reliant on agriculture and dwindling tobacco exports + has negligible industrial output; has few natural resources; has a large relatively unskilled young population and suffers widespread corruption and cronyism, even in the upper echelons of its government.

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My question to you then is: why are the leaders of such countries not investing heavily (sooner than later) into major infrastructure projects, when it is in fact a determinant factor in economic development and a serious game changer? Is it because they are in fact not cut out for the job and would be better followers instead of leaders?

Black Sigatoka Ravages Caribbean

Black Sigatoka Ravages Caribbean.

via Black Sigatoka Ravages Caribbean.

100 Voices: No 3

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My next guest is an Accountant and someone who I have known for many years.

Mr Lusayo Mwalilino, thank you very much for taking the time to do the 100 Voices interview.  But before we begin, could you please take some time to summarise your background?

My name is Lusayo Mwalilino, I am an accountant, currently working as an auditor, in Lilongwe. I come from Karonga, bachelor, challenge addict, some say I’m extremely cool, but that’s their opinion… 🙂

  1. As a Malawian, how important is Malawi’s Socio-Economic stability to you and your family? – Malawi’s Socio-Economic stability is very important to me because it gives me hope for the future and makes it easy for strategic planning, but most importantly I think it makes it possible for one to realise their full potential in such an environment.
  2. After nearly 50 years since independence, what visible progress do you think Malawi has made since independence, and in your view, what pressing challenges remain? In view of those challenges, what do you think is the role of government and the people in tackling those challenges? – After nearly 50 years , there has been  some  general improvements in the country’s  infrastructure such as roads, hospitals, schools, introduction of democracy, improvements in  ICT, although it should be mentioned that the infrastructure mentioned above is mostly in poor condition and there is still so much that needs to be done in terms of progress as a country.
  3. What modern and progressive ideas in other foreign countries have had the greatest impact on you, and why? – I have not lived outside Malawi however I have read  and heard  of modern & progressive ideas in other countries. Most countries moved from developing to developed economies by moving from  agricultural based to industrialised economies – making goods that they were able to trade on the world market, also up there is putting ones country first, collective patriotism.
  4. What lessons do you think Malawians and the Malawian leadership can learn from those ideas? – Malawians need to revolutionise their agricultural methods for example sophisticated irrigation methods and extensive R & D in agriculture, manufacturing of fertilizer etc. In addition to this revolutionise tourism, this could then fund a much-needed thriving industrialised economy.
  5. In your opinion, what is the greatest sign of improvement or development that has occured in Malawi in recent years? – I live here in Malawi so I would say the way the HIV/AIDS has been managed is quite remarkable, also improvements in ICT, it seems more people are using the internet, it also seems more people have access to clean water, not sure what the stats are though.
  6. What has struck you the most as the biggest sign of stagnation or regression? – The biggest sign of stagnation is just generally the state of the economy and of course the greedy and corrupt leadership.
  7.  Malawians will be going to the polls in 2014, to elect a new president. In your view what kind of leader does Malawi NEED, considering the country’s current challenges? And specifically, how should that leader approach the top job in terms of creating sustainable development and foreign reducing aid dependency? – Sometimes it feels like African countries are going through perpetual cycle of ‘elect and regret’; however one must remain hopeful, I believe Malawi needs an exceptionally intelligent, selfless, driven leader who is truly passionate about making changes to the country.
  8.  As you know, Tobacco is Malawi’s biggest source of export revenue. Looking at the problems that have plagued the tobacco industry in recent times, what alternatives do you think Malawi has besides Tobacco, and why are they viable alternatives? – Other viable alternatives are; cotton, coffee, supplying fresh bottled water to Middle Eastern countries, rice, fish exports. Some of these are already being done but could be done in a more sophisticated way, and on a larger scale.
  9.  Considering our troubled history with donors and funders such as the IMF and World Bank, most recently when Bingu Wa Mutharika was president, how do you see Malawi progressing from this relationship in view of the criticisms these organisations have received in the media across the world? – Malawi cannot win by depending on these institutions, which do not understand our economy, and may advise us with ulterior motives. Our leaders should strive to think of what is best for their country and not just adopt a herd mentality, fiscal discipline is key.
  10.  We now know that Malawi has some precious minerals, including Uranium, possibly oil and other natural resources. How do you think the present government is doing regarding managing Malawi’s natural resources? – I would give the present government a  4 out of 10, not very impressive. Botswana on the other hand has done well in managing their minerals [see sources 1, 2], we could learn from a lot from them.
  11.  In your view, can the government do better to manage natural resources? If so, how can it do better? – Yes they can, basically by making sure the interest of the country , not an individual or any mining organisation  are put first, come up with mining contracts that ensure this is achieved, as well as thorough reviews of these agreements. Learn from other countries that are doing it successfully.
  12. What is your answer to increasing transparency and eradicating corruption which is plaguing most governments across Africa? – By putting in systems and controls that prevent corruption from occurring, as well as a system that annually reviews progress being made on corruption and transparency , from the highest office in the land to the lowest paid civil servants  by an  independent group of audit firms. This could mean amendments to the constitution.It seems possible in theory but may realistically, be extremely hard to implement, because as long as there is abject poverty, corruption will exist, which gradually becomes a culture, even at organisational level changing an organisations culture is a difficult task, it could minimise it though.
  13. Any famous last words? We cannot let the easy seductive funk of despair, negativity and doubt undermine the critical forces for change; hope, faith and action  –  Cory Booker

100 Voices is a collection of reflections, views, opinions, ideas and thoughts by Malawians across the world, regarding the past, present and future of Malawi.