Why didn’t successive Malawi Governments act to stop the looting of US$2 billion+ from government accounts?

Photo Credit: Nation Publications Limited
Photo Credit: Nation Publications Limited

Before any talk of a new IFMIS is taken seriously, Malawians need to be told how much money is missing from government accounts, and why successive governments failed to stop the recklessness and impunity that has led to the loss of at least US$2 billion from Malawi Government accounts the last 6 years.

Anything less is simply not acceptable. And I must say that task could have some serious casualties, complete with more blood than seeped out of Mphwiyo’s gunshot wounds.

Lets see, under DPP’s watch at least US$500 million went missing. That’s only from 2009 to 2012. Who knows what happened before that? Who knows how much was lost between May 2004 to December 2008, or even before that during Muluzi’s tenure?  Do we have the audits going back all the way? Should we have such audits so that there is full accountability? In any case, if there is no accountability how can the system be fixed?

What about aMai? From the depths of her self-imposed exile, what does Joyce Banda and her people’s party have to say for themselves about presiding over the loss of at least US$400 million? And this is only from sums over MK1 million, as I tried to explain here.

I think Malawians deserve to know.

If it is accepted that at least US$2 billion has been misappropriated the last 6 years, then both the government of Bingu Wa Mutharika and Joyce Banda’s government had access to the same IFMIS reviews and reports which contained advice on how to tackle the problems in the government financial system. Make no mistake the PwC report is not the first!

This is not about finger-pointing, but understanding where things when wrong. The question remains, why didn’t Bingu Wa Mutharika, or Joyce Banda (and their officials) plug the holes to the government financial systems when they each had the chance?

When they were informed of the loopholes on numerous occasions? When people at the National Audit Office, at the Ministry of Finance and at OPC knew what needed to be done.

Did it really have to take Mphwiyo’s blood for the issue to come to the fore? And millions of dollars spent on international accountancy firms – churning out dubious reports? When numerous official reports had been commissioned previously, pinpointing the problems, and how to fix them?

I don’t think so.

Watch this space to learn why.

WHO IS CONTROLLING THE SECOND MUTHARIKA?

puppet-122915_640by Z Allan Ntata.

After almost a year in power, the dust has now settled on the hullabaloo that was the rise of Peter Mutharika to the presidency of the Republic of Malawi. What can now be observed clearly is the familiar Mutharika curse that led to the decline and fall of his late brother’s otherwise purpose-filled presidency.

Anyone familiar with Malawi and the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s presidency will testify to the fact that one of the issues that aroused the anger and disapproval of the late Bingu for many Malawians was his eagerness in allowing himself to be influenced by the Muhlakho wa Alomwe ethnic grouping. The invasion of this grouping into the affairs of state, especially the presidency, led to the kind of cronyism and nepotism that reminded people of Dr Hastings Banda’s days in which the Chewa people had over 90% of the national cake. Such behaviour was certainly one of the reasons that late Bingu’s second term ended on a note of severe controversy.

Peter Mutharika should not be deluded into thinking that Malawians have forgotten the DPP low points; the unjustified authoritarianism, the lack of essential political reforms, the governance challenges, the vain celebrations, and most of all, the Mulhako cronyism.

Although Peter Mutharika seems to have borne in mind that at one point in his late brother’s administration, about half of the cabinet was Lhomwe, he seems to have failed to recognise the danger of trusting too much in one or two confidants without proper justification.

In late Bingu’s administration, we saw at one point that senior cabinet ministers such as Justice Minister Prof. Peter Mutharika, Minister of Education Dr. George Chaponda, Minister of Tourism Anna Kachikho, Gender and Women Affairs Minister Patricia Kaliati, Trade and Industry minister Eunice Kazembe, Minister of Irrigation Richie Muheya, Deputy Finance minister Nihorya, Deputy Lands and Housing Minister T. Gowelo, Deputy Disabilities Minister Felton Mulli, Deputy Information Minister Kingsley Namakhwa, and Deputy Education Minister V. Sajeni were all from the Lhomwe belt.

We also saw that principal Secretaries in key ministries also reflected a pattern that favoured the same Mulhako kinsmen and that within the Executive big institutions were also assigned to Lhomwes. These included ADMARC General Manager Dr. Charles Matabwa, ADMARC Finance Director Foster Mulumbe, ADMARC Head of Administration George Bakuwa, Auction Holdings CEO Evance Matabwa, NFRA boss Edward Sawelengera, Immigration Chief Elvis Thodi, Anti Corruption Bureau Director Alex Nampota, Director of Intelligence Clement Kapalamula, Inspector General of Police Peter Mukhito, Chairperson Malawi Electoral Commission, Anastanzia Msosa, Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo, Clerk of Parliament Maltilda Katopola, Attorney General Jane Ansah, Secretary to Treasury Randson Madiwa, General Manager Malawi Housing Corporation (MHC) Mondiwa, MBC- Director General Patrick Khoza, Reserve Bank Governer Perks Ligoya, Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) Commissioner General Lloyd Muhara, Blantyre City Assembly Chief Executive Ted Nandolo and Malawi Savings Bank CEO Joseph Mwanamvekha.

More importantly, late Bingu was controlled to a significant extent by Leston Mulli and the top Mulhako wa Alhomwe brass that included individuals such as Jean Namathanga and Noel Masangwi. These people formed the President’s unofficial advisory council on governance, public appointments and political strategy.
The fact that Malawians are quiet now should not delude the current Mutharika into thinking that Malawians are not noticing that a similar trend has already emerged. Speaking to ministers and government insiders, it is apparent that the country is not really being ruled by Peter Mutharika, but the power behind the power that is a clique of special assistants, bodyguards and certain relatives.

But surely the learned professor of Law knows that Malawians gave a governing mandate to Peter Mutharika, and not to any of his personal assistants, doesn’t he? Does the Professor not know that the ruling mandate was given to him and the DPP on the basis, in part, of his solemn pleas that the DPP had changed and should be forgiven for past mishaps such as the nepotism and cronyism mentioned above? Does he not realise that Malawians expected that the DPP would honour that forgiveness by following a new political path, a different style of political leadership and governance, with appointments based solely on merit and in recognition of the contribution that various individuals have put towards supporting this country and their bid for the presidency?

The simple fact is that as learned as he is, the professor knows these things. The problem appears to be the fact that his administrative powers have been relinquished to his assistants and advisors. This relinquishing of his administrative powers to his personal assistant, and the warmth and cosiness that he is again displaying with the Muhlako old guard is not only disturbing, but may indeed be a cause for worry as to the direction of his presidency, and whether the so-called new and changed DPP was simply such in rhetoric only.

During its two years of exile, many talented and capable young men and women led the DPP push to power. These need to be given an opportunity to now utilise their talents in promoting a national development agenda. It will be an affront to public trust demonstrated in the vote to ignore and overlook these able individuals simply because one or two personal assistants, advisors or even valets (imagine that!) are in control and only their cronies can assist the leadership.

Indeed, it would be useful to remind the President that critics are already waiting in the wings and will soon come out of the woodwork with their pens blazing. It seems to be rather unwise to provide critics with ammunition in the form of competent CVs overlooked on important positions simply because they were not endorsed by one or two personal assistants or that they fall on the wrong side of the ethnic divide.

Furthermore, certain leadership blunders are already becoming evident: The misguided graffiti painting of Lumbadzi police cells, the seriously dubious asset declaration, the suspicious sale of MSB Bank just to name a few. Are these ideas consistent with a supremely learned professor of law with donkey’s years of experience? The answer is probably No- although anything is possible in politics!

How does one identify a puppet? You know you are dealing with a puppet when every time you try to say something to the puppet, the puppet says: Talk to my assistant, the guy pulling the strings.

Given the high intellectual respect with which President Arthur Peter Mutharika is regarded in the country and internationally, perhaps the time has come to ask the question publicly instead of simply joining those asking it in secret: Who really is controlling Peter Mutharika?

*** ~ *** ~ ***

Z. Allan Ntata is a Barrister of Middle Temple, Governance Specialist, Ex-Counsel to the President of Malawi and author of “Trappings of Power”. More details about him can be found on his website

 

Some Malawians are joining Politics for the wrong reasons

The 20th May general elections of Malawi consisted of three major political families all vying for the seat of the presidency. On one side there were the Mutharikas, on the other side there were the Muluzis and somewhere in the other corner were the Bandas. Distinctly different from this family centric crowd and very much an outsider was  Lazarus Chakwera and the Malawi Congress Party (MCP).

The three political parties, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the United Democratic From (UDF), and the Peoples Party (PP) all promised prosperity for the people of Malawi. However, the structure of Malawian political parties looks increasingly to be made up of political families who are chosen because of affiliation rather than merit. This sort of political selection leaves questions as to the credibility of some of the politicians, because a good number of them are only employed because their relatives hold senior positions in and around the executive.

Politicians are like modern-day pastors in that the prevailing ideology has entrusted them with a job which in theory can be likened to bringing salvation to the people of the world. Politics is about bringing change for countries and helping those that are helpless and living in abject poverty. Whether for good or ill, Politics has also been about ensuring that those who hold power and resources, get to keep that power, and those resources. But all good Politicians have to be patriotic, strong-willed, selfless, truthful and compassionate in the face of global societal problems. Michael Ignatieff , Edward R. Murrow Professor of Practice at Harvard’s Kennedy School writes,

All the best reasons for going into politics never really change: the desire for glory and fame and the chance to do something that really matters, that will make life better for a lot of people. You have to be one of those people with outsized, even laughable ambition, who want their convictions to mean something more than smart conversation at dinner tables. You have to have a sense of vocation, a belief that something must be done and that you’re the person to do it.

The problem we have with Malawian politicians is that most of them never had a calling to become politician. Most of them just became politicians because of circumstances and opportunities that came their way. Most of all, some people in Malawi take politics as a means to an end of all their financial problems. Some Malawian politicians think more of the perks that come with the job than the job they were entrusted with by the electorate – who are always seeking the right individuals to govern them. Further, most of our politicians who are in power or in the opposition parties are usually handed the opportunity to become a politician on a silver platter.

hand-634689_640In an article titled ‘Barack Obama: how an unkown senator became president of USA‘, Robert McGuigan Burns details how Obama from an early age at Harvard embodied leadership qualities. An excerpt from the article describing Obama’s early achievement at Harvard University and how he turned down a high-paying job to work with the community.

After finishing High School he would study at Columbia University in New York before later going to gain a law degree from Harvard University. It was at Harvard that, somewhat portentously, Obama became the first African American President of the Harvard Review. Moreover, Obama’s co-workers, notably John Owens, were already noting Obama’s presence and power early in his career. In a Boston Globe article from 1990, Owens described: “…this guy (Obama) sounds like he’s president of the country already…” (Matchan, 1990). Obama chose to decline a high paying corporate law job in favour of a small civil rights firm and continue his work in the community, later entering politics (Bacon, 2005: pp 60).

In contrast to our politicians, how many Malawian politicians have such backgrounds where they dedicate years of their lives to work with the community from an early age? How many Malawian politicians can claim to have turned down a life-changing opportunity to work with people for a meagre salary? To understand the needs of those at the bottom. To build an informed picture of what the country truly needs?

Let us talk of our current president Peter Mutharika. Professor Mutharika worked at the prestigious Washington University for about 40 years where he was a professor at law. One of the colleagues at the Washington University had this to say about Professor Mutharika when they heard he was involved in politics in Malawi,

“I guess what’s surprising is he was a quiet man in class,” said attorney John Kozyak, one of Mutharika’s first law students at Washington University in 1971, and now a friend. “So it was surprising to me a couple of years ago when I was looking on the news and saw that he had thousands of people come out to rallies for him and he was dressed in some sort of (ceremonial) garb. I never saw him in anything other than a black or gray or blue suit. I never thought of him as a real African politician.”

Indeed Mutharika today is the president of Malawi at 74 years of age. Peter Mutharika was drummed up to be the leader of DPP through his brother’s presidency. I would strongly argue that had Bingu Wa Mutharika, Peter’s brother had failed to win the 2004 general elections, It is highly doubtful whether Peter Mutharika would have seen the light of day as President of Malawi. The argument is that Peter Mutharika became a politician by chance. Primarily because his brother was handpicked as UDF’s candidate, and subsequently became the president of Malawi. Peter Mutharika did not join politics of his own conviction and drive. I don’t believe that for the 40 years that he was in the USA he at any point seriously planned to become a politician in Malawi at the age of 65. If he did, then the evidence is nowhere to be seen. No political articles written, no evidence of serious participation in Malawian or other political Pan African organisations in the diaspora. Nothing.

A similar scenario applies to Atupele Muluzi whose father Bakili Muluzi was the first democratically elected president of Malawi in 1995. The young Muluzi, having little political experience in the form of a parliamentary seat, came out of nowhere, to head the United Democratic Front, when there were other senior individuals with substantially more experience, and who had been in the party for many years, some since its inception in 1992. This incident splintered the party, and saw the exit of some bigwigs, the likes of Brown Mpinganjira. Others claimed Atupele would be used as a puppet by his father Bakili, who Malawians will remember failed to change the constitution of Malawi to allow him to serve for a third presidential term. The senior Muluzi rejected this allegation.

Similarly, the current member of parliament for Zomba Malosa  Roy Kachale Banda, whose mother Joyce Banda took over the reins of power after Bingu Wa Mutharika’s sudden death, arguably joined politics only because his mother became president. It’s probable that his parliamentary campaign was financed by funds which only became available due to his mother’s elevated profile. In any case, Joyce Banda has been active in politics since 1999, winning the same Zomba Malosa constituency Roy now represents. Why didn’t Roy join politics earlier?

There have been several other examples.

Therefore, it is not rash to conclude that a considerable number of individuals that join politics in Malawi, do it for the wrong reasons. If a member of a family joins politics, it is common that cousins, sons, daughters, uncles or aunts, all suddenly have the conviction to help serve in an official capacity, under the totally convenient pretext that they want to ‘develop the country together with their relative’ who happens to be in power. Consequently, these become helpers, assistants and other officials around the corridors of power. And while one may argue that if the rules or constitution does not explicitly prohibit employment of  family or relatives then it shouldn’t be a problem, but what about a conflict of interests? What does it say of our politics? Further, when Malawi has suffered from tribalism and neopatrimonialism for many years, how justifiable is such behaviour?

cardsI believe that political and leadership skills in general are skills that either have to be learned, and or have to be honed over the years of someone’s life. One cannot just wake up one day and decide to become a politician. The awakening of politicians usually happens earlier in life where one decides to dedicate his/her life to help others through politics. It is delusional if not dangerous for anyone to consider themselves a politician just because a father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, sister, brother, aunt or uncle has or had a position in the government at some point.

As things stand in Malawi at the moment, cronyism is the biggest recruiter of politicians, when it should have been patriotism and a desire to improve people’s lives inspiring selfless individuals to be a part of change. This is why political parties in Malawi are run as if they are family entities, complete with wedding receptions of relatives at State House almost every year.

DPP has had two Mutharikas at the helm. UDF has had two Muluzi’s at the helm. AFORD has had two Chihanas at the helm and we are yet to see the next leader of PP after Joyce Banda. My guess is he or she will be dynastically linked to Joyce Banda. Even MCP in John Tembo had a leader who was arguably connected by a dynastic ‘family’ tie to Dr Kamuzu Banda via Cecilia Kadzamira.

However this is not to argue that one cannot become a politician when a relative or family member has been in top government positions. The intentions are the issue here. My argument lies in the manner in which politically affiliated individuals ascend to roles of power when their lives previously had nothing to do with politics.

(Edited by S Nkhwazi)

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7 Essential Ingredients of Effective Political Leadership which many African Leaders lack

Lets get a few things out of the way: Firstly I am African so I think I can make the above statement without being accused of racism, arrogance or being labelled as condescending. Secondly, over the course of a good part of a decade or so, I have been closely following African politics, and have realised that the lack of certain aspects in most African leaders either renders them ineffective in their governance or are partly responsible for their failure. Finally, the factors below are not lacking in African leaders only. Many non African leaders lack one or more of these ingredients.

1. Empathy for the man on the Street

poverty-509601_1920Why did it take Goodluck Jonathan so long to comment on the atrocity of the kidnapped girls in Nigeria? Why do politicians demand massive pay hikes while the majority of people in their countries continue to suffer with abject poverty? Further, why do leaders like the late Bingu Wa Mutharika buy a private jet when the country was struggling financially? What made it difficult for him to see his people needed more help? Whatever you want to call it, for me it boils down to lack of empathy. African leaders can be so aloof to the point most don’t even know the price of Chiwaya or Kanyenya on the street. How the hell are they supposed to know how best to help the common man escape the poverty trap and live a dignified life? [Essential reading: Entrepreneurial Solutions for Prosperity in BoP markets]

2. Competent Advisers

advisorChief among the reasons why African politics stinks is one root of glaring rottenness: Bad advice. The continent is full of it. Wrong advisers who don’t care of the consequences of their advice. Officials who are uneducated (or have lied or faked their qualifications); Officials with little or no exposure to progressive ideas or development in action (so have not formulated a sound philosophy or adopted best practices and techniques that have delivered successful results elsewhere). Ignorant officials who are unwilling to learn.

These are the kind of people who are keen on titles, they like to feel important, but are completely disinterested in any form of intellectual stimulation or debate that will challenge their starved ideas or expose their narrow mindsets. To them money and material pleasures which they can solicit in the here and now is king.

Most political advisers in Sub-Saharan Africa, and in particular in Malawi, are firefighters, reacting to the narratives developing around them, instead of leading the narrative. Which is especially problematic since the narrative in their countries is often a reaction to the public (or to the Media’s) as to their incompetency. Let me give an example. A London-based acquaintance once told me a story about his encounter with a presidential adviser: He had gone to Malawi a couple of years ago to sound out the possibility of a diaspora financing initiative that would alleviate forex shortages in Malawi. This was  at a time when the country was facing forex shortages. When an adviser from State House met him one evening – at a local beer joint, he was surprised to hear the adviser question why this acquaintance wanted to begin the initiative. The adviser asked this man something in the lines of “Who do you think you are to want to institute such an initiative?”. As if that was the most important thing. Unfortunately in Malawi, such an encounter with a presidential adviser is not rare, and there have been many accounts of instances where presidential advisers solicited bribes, or refused to take up ideas because such ideas had no immediate benefit to them.

The political adviser Africa needs is a person who has devoted their life to studying the successes and failures of prominent politicians. Someone who is happy to constantly delve into leaders and prominent personalities from Mandela, Lumumba, JFK and Che Guevara, to Mao, Reagan,Truman and Churchill, and extract valuable lessons from the lives and careers of these stalwarts. What were the highlights of their achievements? How did they help their peoples? What did they get right? What did they get wrong? What could they have done better? How have the times changed since, and what lessons from their leadership are applicable in today’s society (or today’s local setting)?

Tru3. Effective Operators

Having a title as the head of state, as a minister of some department or as a chief adviser to the government in itself doesn’t mean anything unless you can deliver on promises. And sometimes being the best implementor is better than having a title.  Many years ago, I read a biography of JFK that said JFK relied heavily upon the administrative abilities of his brother Robert Kennedy – who was Attorney general in JFK’s Government. It was ‘Bobby’ as Robert Kennedy was fondly known who implemented most things of importance. And the president had absolute belief in his brother’s implementation skills. This relationship is best captured by an account according to one researcher, Christian Hald-Mortensen,  in John F. Kennedy – Leadership Qualities That Moved A Nation:

Next to McNamara and Rusk, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy was the most important cabinet member – in a class by himself. Undoubtedly, JFK’s ability to assert political control was strengthened by the presence of his own brother in the Executive Branch. He naturally became a close confidant of the President on policy matters that ranged beyond the jurisdiction of his own department. Bobby’s influence was felt throughout the government, as bureaucrats occasionally could pick up the phone and hear the attorney general requesting action on an initiative. “Little Brother is watching you” became an Administration in-joke

He [Bobby] was very assertive, to the nuisance of other advisors – the Undersecretary of State, Chester Bowles more than once went to the President and said: “Who is in charge here?”, “You are”, JFK replied, to which Bowles added “Then would you please tell that to your brother”

Most African leaders do not have enough capable implementors in government who can get things done, done properly, and done quickly.

4. Respect for the rule of Law

StopHow many times have you heard of an African leader using the police or army to oppress citizens of his own country? To disperse protesters. To frighten opponents,… even to murder dissidents. How many times have African leaders violated their countries’ constitutions in order to assert authority or suppress dissent? Hooligans hired to intimidate or censor the media. Thugs hired to beat up legal practitioners of their opponents. How many of these leaders self-examine to ascertain whether their actions are driven by selfish intentions, or whether their actions genuinely will benefit the country? How many will as soon as they leave office find themselves hounded by the very same laws they sought to undermine?

5. Seeing the bigger picture

robot-507811_640The common good is the bigger picture. Far removed from partisan squabbles, untainted by jealousies or fiscal shortsightedness, the common good is what we all should long for.

The question is, what can we as the government do for the people, whether they voted for us or not, to improve their lifestyle, their way of living, their health, to give them a vocation that can put food on the table, every day, to transform the country into a success, and to do all these things sustainably?

On any given day, the basic needs of man can probably be categorised as the need for Employment, affordable Food, affordable or at least decent shelter and the availability of Entertainment. To this list can be added accessible and affordable Healthcare, accessible quality Education, effective Transportation systems and a Social Mobility structure to aspire to. I’ve made some assumptions. For example I’m assuming  that a government is able to provide electricity (although this factor is not strictly necessary for people to be happy in the 21st century, it’s probably a must), clean drinking water, and sanitation.

In most African countries, even though most are past the 50 years + mark since they gained independence from colonisation, these basics haven’t been provided to the majority of their citizens. For example, in Malawi, about 80% of children do not have access to clean drinking water. Yet when you frequent the presidential palaces, and state residencies, there is luxury and opulence wherever you look?? What is stopping the country’s implementors from beginning a major borehole project to ensure that every village has access to clean drinking water? Instead of relying on aid organisations to dig boreholes, why can’t the government’s own Water Boards buy equipment and begin such a project?

Because leaders and their advisers either don’t care, or they fail to see the bigger picture.

I’ll give another example: Fuel. During Bingu Wa Mutharika’s government, the Malawian economy came close to collapse as donors pulled out, due in part to Bingu’s autocratic tendencies, and due in part to his refusal to devalue the Malawi Kwacha. While I did not agree with Bingu’s increasingly oppressive governance, in my view, the episode will go down in history as a squandered opportunity for Malawi to advance economically because the government could have taken out a loan elsewhere (say from Russia, Iran, Norway, China or Brazil) and began instituting self-sufficiency initiatives designed to curb Malawi’s reliance on petroleum.

They would have done this by investing in alternative fuels like bio-diesel, including instituting an industrial scale vehicle conversion project to enable cars in Malawi to run on bio-diesel. They could have reviewed their contracts with large multinationals to ensure that foreign companies paid their fair share of tax. They could have passed emergency legislation banning import of products like Tea, Coffee, Eggs, Tomatoes, and other perishable goods in preference for locally sourced and locally processed goods. They could have invested in Solar Technology to create a huge Solar Power farm to feed power derived from Solar panels into Malawi’s energy grid. They could have created Tax free zone for certain industries like I.T. and Manufacturing, (excluding heavy industry like mining, Oil / Gas exploration) to attract investors and create employment among the Youth. They could have started a media campaign, explaining to the electorate the real effects of devaluation and over-reliance of foreign goods on foreign exchange reserves and the economy. They could have revamped tourism in the country, including tax breaks to new companies that attracted tourists to Malawi. They could have invested in Bottom of the Pyramid Industries, and individual communities, including building new and improved markets.

Think about it: wouldn’t more self-reliance projects rolled out in the form of cooperative unions help a small country like Malawi? Things like collective ownership of farm machinery to redeem farming time, and improve farming practices, is something that is not only achievable at village level but desirable for communities that expend a lot of energy on working the fields.

Furthermore, donors and investors may promise you the moon, but never forget that they have their own, sometimes selfish interests. There is evidence that some African leaders are unable to see this fact clearly. Whether it’s being asked to devalue the local currency, being prohibited from buying tractors for agriculture, or whether a loan with dodgy conditionalities attached is being offered, there’s nothing like a free lunch. African leaders would be best advised to seek independent advice from those unconnected with such transactions or institutions before committing to agreements or contracts which will come back later to bite their successors. Organisations such as  Corporate Europe Observatory and World Development Movement are known as being independent, and standing up for poor countries. They are certainly better than hiring expensive ex-prime ministers of European countries to advise you on government policy.

6. Admitting and learning from past mistakes

When was the last time you heard an African president apologise for some misdemeanour or disastrous decision their administration had been involved in? Or better, when was the last time you heard an African president take full responsibility for some catastrophic failure his government was responsible for? You know why you haven’t heard it: because it rarely happens.

7. Knowing when to step down

WelcomeOverstayedDon’t try to lobby your country for a change of the constitution so that you stay longer in power. Don’t try to force a puppet leader onto your political party, and the people, ignoring your party’s executive council, so that you stay in charge. Don’t manipulate whoever takes over the reins – let the best and most competent politician run the show! Even after you are gone.

Why did Nelson Mandela step down voluntarily after only one term? He was not forced, not pushed, nor coerced. It wasn’t as a result of a fall from grace. Mandela wasn’t overthrown. The man simply decided he had done his part for South Africa, and that it was time to leave the reins of power to  the younger generations, those who were more imaginative and hopefully could implement the vision of South Africa which he and many others before him had dreamed of. And in doing this, he chose the noble role of an advisory or father figure – one that all South Africans loved him for.

Why can’t more African politicians be like Nelson Mandela?

Walking away with your dignity intact can sometimes be the best thing you can do as a leader. And it’s not only good for the leader, it can set an excellent example for those who look up to you, and are following in your footsteps.

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Strengthening Civil Society Organisations in Malawi

CSO-imageWhen a marriage has hit the rocks, one of the most common remedies in the modern world is for the couple to go for marital counselling. To visit a marriage counsellor. It doesn’t always help, and sometimes a matrimonial union will come to a bitter end no matter how many hours of counselling you throw at it. The dynamics of that marriage were such that it was eventually going to fail.

In Malawi, people go to what are known as Ankhoswe (essentially the marriage guardian) to resolve marital conflicts. In traditional Malawian society, there is a special type of principle whereby it is not sufficient for two people to be married without consulting the ankhoswe. For a marriage to be recognsised as valid, ankhoswes from both sides of the union must approve the marriage. Absence of the ankhoswe renders the marriage invalid, and when problems arise in the marriage, the ankhoswe is one of the very first people to be informed. In this case, the ankhoswe takes the role of counsellor or mediator. 

But the whole point of counselling, the whole point of a mediator, is to bring in an element of the outsider’s view. An independent viewpoint from a mature person, an expert at resolving conflicts who can try and bridge the gap; to knock in some sense, ask the awkward questions, to rebuke, and if necessary, challenge any irrational or stupid behaviour. 

There’s a parallel in Politics, in that in most democracies, there are times when the ‘marriage’ between the powers that be (the government), and the people, requires a mediator. There are times when a counsellor is essential. In constitutional democracies, this job is often one for the courts to undertake, but not necessarily its preserve. Because by virtue of courts being manned by judges  – flesh and blood who have career aspirations, political persuasions, favourites and so forth – it is not always the case that courts are independent or impartial.

Religious organisations, civil society organisations, the Media and other commentators form a group that may occasionally take up this mantle, to sing praises where such is due, to advise when necessary, to point out deficiencies in public policy, to ask the difficult questions, to lobby the government towards a particular cause, but also to criticise when wrongdoing has occured. Like the courts, there are limits to the extent to which their intervention is effective, although in some ways it can be a lot more effective in orchestrating change than the courts – since this group tends to be a lot closer to the people, and are thus more influential. Especially when they are united in a single voice. Further, like the courts, they too can be influenced (sometimes negatively) by the government, which can have negative consequences on the people. But unlike courts, the bigger player in a political marriage may not always be willing to listen to Ciivil Society Organisations.

Which presents a problem, because for this marriage to work (at least up to the next election), the bigger party to the marriage must be willing to listen to the grievances of the smaller party. The bigger party must make do on its promises. Otherwise, all hell can break loose and the government can find itself on the defensive, doing irrational and illegal things in an attempt to survive. Essentially forcing itself onto the people. A rape of sorts. Arguably, this is what happened during the last days of Bingu Wa Mutharika’s reign.

In Malawi, we are at a stage in our country’s political development where civil society is beginning to have an increasing influence in politics. This was particularly evident not only during the reign of Bingu Wa Mutharika, but also during Joyce Banda’s tenure. It was the media, the church and civil society who rebuked Bingu over his dictatorial pronouncements – hand in hand with the donor community. They were at Bingu’s throat over Mota Engil. And Mulli. It was this group which held Joyce Banda to task over the asset declaration issue, over Jetgate (and shady deals with defence contractors), Cashgate, the fleet of vehicles, even over the excessive travelling of Joyce Banda. And eventually, when May 2014 came, we all know what happened.

Today, we have a new DPP government, which I’m told is trying to complete the job they began under Bingu Wa Mutharika. In governing, it would be wise for this DPP government not to over-believe its own hype. There is need for mediators, even though there may appear to be no problems at the moment. Still, some people on the ground say that the economy in Malawi is sluggish, and things are slow. So while the environment is that of calm, it’s not exactly hunky dory. Poverty is still widespread in Malawi and money is not yet growing on trees; the land hasn’t yet morphed into a nirvana flowing with milk and honey, the union hasn’t quite reached that coveted state of marital bliss we are all looking forward to.

Which is why I strongly believe that more must be done to strengthen civil society organisations in Malawi, in terms of ensuring they are well resourced and that they can do their job without fear of intimidation. That they can function without political interference. More has to be done in making sure that they are relevant in addressing the issues affecting peoples lives. It’s important, it’s good for our country’s development.

But who’s task is it to strengthen Civil Society Organisations?

How about every Malawian’s task?

The government has an interest for their governance to proceed as smoothly as is possible, so they have to be proactive in helping civil society stand on its own feet – to be not only a check of power, but to communicate to the people the achievements, the process of fulfilling the pre-election promises.

The people have an interest for their government to be accountable, so that the government delivers on what it promised, so they too must be proactive in helping improve Civil society organisations – to ensure that CSO’s monitor the government. This is important so that the government meets the people’s demands. After all, most past government in Malawi have abused the people’s trust and plundered public resources at will. Surely, this impunity has to come to an end at some point.

Donors too have an interest in preserving and growing democracy, and in advancing the aims of the countries from which they come. For this to be possible, the political landscape has to be stable, and for that to happen, the government of the day has to be accountable, and effective (otherwise this happanes). Thus, donors are stakeholders who have an interest in Malawi having a strong and independent CSO sector.

And why should Civil Society Organisations be strong?

Because doing so is a necessary ingredient in creation of a strong democracy. The media can be bought by any fool with deep pockets. Similarly, the courts can be corrupted by power-hungry leaders, religious organisations can be partial (disowning clergy folk who diverge from their stance), the police force can be incapacitated by political implants (the likes of people like Bophani), the public broadcaster can be forced to favouritism, even a general of a country’s army can take sides.

But not all Civil Society Organisations can be compromised (even though some will falter at the sight of a hefty bribe). And that is precisely why they need to be strong.

A Public Affairs Committee (PAC) where government ministers are booed

The government in Malawi may have sunk to a new low. There was a Public Affairs Committee (PAC) last week where two ministers representing the government of Malawi, Fahad Assani and Maxwell Mkwezalamba were booed by attendees, which included members of CSO organisations.

The conference was organised following the government’s failure to provide Malawians with convincing answers regarding the Cashgate scandal, and the forensic report.

Among the highlights / questions posed in the conference were:

  • Demands as to why the police have not arrested former budget director Paul Mphwiyo, when he is heavily implicated, and whether he was being protected?
  • Why government had not impounded the property of businessman, Oswald Lutepo – who is implicated in the cashgate scandal?
  • Why law enforcers have not impounded 22 vehicles which Lutepo donated to the ruling People’s Party, when there is evidence that the money he used to acquire those vehicles was looted at Capital Hill ?
  • When cashgate cases will be concluded, and those guilty prosecuted?
  • Why the government could not account for, or was failing to clearly explain where the proceeds from the presidential jet sale had gone. President Joyce Banda had promised to sell the jet which Bingu wa Mutharika had bought, and the government of Malawi had disclosed that the jet had been sold to Bohnox enterprises, an arms dealer. Yet there was no evidence of transfer of funds, and on more than one occasion the president was seen using the same jet, to the surprise of many Malawians.

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Global 100 Voices: No 7 (Part 1)

My next guest is a true son of Malawi and a businessman who has done remarkably well for himself and his family. Based in South Africa, he is the founder and CEO of the Ulalo Group of companies, who have operations in South Africa, Malawi and China. He has a great desire to see Malawi and Malawians advance, grow and become economically independent, and I must say his experience in this regard is something we can all learn from. Mr Joshua Chisa Mbele, thank you for doing the 100 Voices interview.

[Note- this particular interview is a transcription of an audio file which will be available from this website soon]

Thank you very much for having me, my name is Joshua, Joshua Mbele, a Malawian by birth, I come from Salima, I’ve stayed in South Africa for almost 24 years, I’m married here, I have got kids, here, I have got businesses here and also in Malawi, I also have operations in China. I came to South Africa in 1989 or somewhere there, to seek I’d say I was an ‘economic refugee’; I was looking for greener pastures. Coming in 1980’s early 90’s it was not easy to settle in South Africa as you can imagine, it was a white South Africa, but I tried my luck, and persisted, buried my ways and settled, that’s the background. In terms of Malawi, I went to Robert Blake sec school, I went to Malawi Polytechnic to do Mechanical Engineering, and then I came here both to work and to pursue education. Today I am a fully fledged business person. As I indicated, I do have businesses in Malawi, I think if I’m not mistaken, I was the first Malawian who took hard-cash in terms of US$4 million then to invest in Malawian telecommunication industry, I have also invested in other sectors of the economy, we hold shares in Sunbird hotels, we hold shares in Mpico, we also hold shares in other sectors of interest and are still looking for opportunities in Malawi. Thank you.

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1.     As a Malawian, how important is Malawi’s Socio-Economic stability to you and your family?

The socio-economic stability of Malawi to me is of paramount importance. As you know that the building blocks of the society is a family, that’s the root. Now, where there is economic havoc, you have unstable family structures. To have a stable economy also stabilises family lifestyles. A family which is skilled, which has got a father and a mother as professionals, which can send their kids to school and educate them adequately, which can put food at the table every evening, it means that it has got a more meaningful role to play in the economy, an active family is a productive family. A productive family is part of a productive community, it’s part of a productive society, and the two, the productive society and social economic environment of the country, the stability of it are integral to each other, so it is very important that we stabilise both the social and political environment in Malawi. For me as a family person and as a business person those are fundamentals that we need most.

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?

Well, that’s very true…in chatting with my friends; I normally refer to myself as a founding father, to the amusement of many, what I mean by that, not that I founded the Malawi nation,  but I try to say that I was born just before the dawn of independent Malawi, because I was born in 1964, I’m as old as Malawi itself. Now, I know for sure that I have grown up seeing Malawi, we’ve grown up together I’d say so, from the dawn of the independence, Malawi made quite a lot of significant inroads, or there was significant tangible development so to speak, just to give you brief outline of that, since 1964, Malawi embarked on to be an agricultural country and Dr Banda established so many farms, tobacco, maize, cotton. We already had the established tea industries in Thyolo and Mulanje, and he went on to plant the forestry, you remember the Chikangawa forestry in the North, and not only that, he revamped what was then Farmers Marketing Board (FMB), into a corporate commercial ‘ADMARC’, which was there to serve both the growers and the market. It was the meeting point. And in terms of the infrastructure, things do speak for themselves. We upgraded what was the colonial rail from Luchenza, Nsanje, Blantyre, Salima, and later on, it was extended from Salima to Lilongwe and Mchinji under the Malawi Canada project. And also from Machinga, going out to Mozambique to Nacala port. We also had the development of the lakeshore road, not forgetting the Kamuzu International Airport. We should also not forget that Malawi established its own University of Malawi with the constituencies of Chancellor College, Bunda College, Kamuzu college of Nursing, Malawi Polytechnic  and he also planned for school of Medicine; those were Dr. Banda’s plans, not to mention the movement of the capital from Zomba to Lilongwe, to centralise administration. But, after 1994, the advent of the multiparty democracy, which I welcomed so much, to some extent we downplayed the development that we had, we did not insist to maintain the momentum of development, it seems that we threw away the bucket together with the dirty water, because we slowed down, from 94 to-date, very small tangible infrastructure projects that have taken place, compared to what Malawi achieved, from 64 to 1994, so there was progress during the era of the Dr. Banda and we have slowed down in development, even the quality of education has gone down, so  those are some of the areas that we need to look at very carefully; we can look at the congestion on the roads, roads with potholes, we can look at the dilapidated universities and schools, we can talk of the empty hospitals without medications, the clinics … up to now Malawians do not have continuous supply of electricity, not everybody has got access to clean running water. These are the basics that we should have had by now 50 years down the line, but we are still struggling, even worse we have fallen behind with our agricultural outputs, we are now a begging nation, no longer self-sufficient.

3. In view of those challenges, what do you think is the role of government and the people in tackling those challenges?

That’s a good question. I would start by saying that first, I’m not a public administrator but I would try as much as I can to define the role of the government from my personal perspective, experience as a citizen, and also experience as a business person. The government is there to take care of the social welfare of anybody that lives in the land, take care of the environment, okay; Now with that in mind, we need to bear that the first and foremost the duty of the government is to uplift the lives of its citizens; how can the government do that? That is by putting economic policies, okay, based on stable political environment, to make sure that there is tangible progress in the economy, because economy governs everybody, it also governs politics of the day; if we’ve got policies that are conducive for economic growth, the multiply effect is shared benefits for everybody, now the government role in this regard is to facilitate progress, prosperity and development; in our case to make sure that policies are in place that invites and ‘water’ the development of businesses from ‘nobody’ into ‘smaller businesses’, ‘smaller businesses’ into ‘medium businesses’, ‘medium businesses’ into bigger businesses’, that should be the trick; Private public partnership another aspect, where the government invites the private sector and say: look, these are the sectors that we would like to develop, it’s not the duty of the government alone, we want the private sector to come and join hands, here is an axe, lets join hands, so that we mobilise resources jointly and tackle the challenge together, so that we realise the benefit as a nation.

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4. As someone who has lived outside Malawi for a few years and has been exposed to modern and progressive ideas, what things in your present country of residence have had the greatest impact on you, and why?

Yes, that is very true, just a bit of a background; That as much as I’ve stayed in South Africa for so long, but I’ve reached South Africa as a spring-board. My profession took me from working for one big company to another big company; with this I had an opportunity in my areas where I worked with BHP Billiton, BHP Billiton is the largest mining company under the sun. And with them I travelled to countries and worked in those countries, for example I worked in Belgium and France, to master the aluminium technology with the Pechney company for their latest technologies, and I worked in Kwazulu-Natal for that. After that I left South Africa and went to the US to pursue some of my ambitions, so I know what life looks like in the US, I was in Miami for some time, and I commuted between Miami and Atlanta, Georgia.  But when I delved into my private business, I did consulting, in my consulting field I worked for telecommunication industries; I worked for companies like MTN South Africa, MTN Nigeria and I also worked for companies that develop the software, I happen to also work with that company in Athens, to do the Application developments for telecommunication industries, so I have seen quite a lot, I have absorbed a lot, to observe how ‘catchers’, and ordinary citizens behaviour to influence the economic development. Today I am in China, I understand where China is coming from. In 1949 it was the poorest, today it is the second largest economy under the sun. What is it that other nations are doing that we are not doing?  First and foremost is the access to skills, if we cannot develop our own skills, forget about any development, secondly innovation, creativity, skills development as a priority in whatever we do. We must re-align our educational curriculum to our prerogatives as to where we want to take the country in the next 20, 30 years; science and technology, very important; we cannot do anything without such skills.  Now, my observation is that we are lacking behind because we still believe in the ‘I am going to school so that I can be employed as a manager, as a supervisor, I’m hoping to be appointed as a CEO’ No! Each one of us, every Malawian is a CEO in his or her own right. If anybody [among] us has a hunger to succeed, we should be able to create our own jobs, and employ others. Examples are there in China, China is a thriving economy, it is solidly built on small businesses, of course there are big businesses [in china]; look at Brazil, look at India, you know, there is no major intellectual difference between them and us, it’s simply the attitude, we can be just like any other nation, which was once the poorest and today is one of the most successful. Just in History, just to compare Apples with Apples, Malawi and Singapore in 1964 were in the same basket; President Lee and President Banda were friends. Actually Lee visited Dr Banda in Malawi, in his book he (Lee) said [something in the lines of]: ‘One of my best friends which I visited was a country that was also under the British rule, Malawi’…the difference between Singapore and Malawi was the attitude of the citizens and commitment to develop themselves, long-term plans, long –term strategies, today Singapore is a first world [country], Malawi still remains the poorest under the sun, so the attitude, the drive from the government, skills development, access to resources, partnership, those things are key to take the country forward.

more-art golf early days

5.  When you last visited Malawi, what struck you the most as the greatest sign of improvement or development?

I go to Malawi very often, as I indicated that I do have businesses in Malawi so almost every year; in the recent past I used to go to Malawi almost every other month. I’ve seen the change of guards from the UDF government, 2004, to Dr Bingu Wa Mutharika, I must say I recommended him, he started very well, he did quite a lot of good work, he improved the road networks in the country, he had his own vision and I recommended him, I complimented him, you might be interested to know that I had a meeting with Dr Bingu Wa Mutharika on the 20th August 2007 at the state house, where he narrated his vision for Malawi by heart, which road will be linking which one, what building will be wherethe expanding of  Lilongwe capital city reaching the frontiers of the Kamuzu Central Hospital, creating the five-star hotels, building the new stadia,  the highways, I was very impressed, and true to that word, when you go to Malawi today, the skyline of Lilongwe has changed, you cannot miss the Malawi parliament, you cannot miss the five-star hotels, you cannot miss the convention centre, you cannot miss the road, the presidential drive that takes you from the city centre to area 18, the roundabout, it’s quite beautiful. And the roads connecting the other rural areas, Chitipa, Karonga road is there, in the south there are a number of roads going from Blantyre to Mulanje…, those are developments that happened under his first term of office. But as usual, things changed, things changed for the worse, apparently he decided also to reward himself, so what was intended for Malawi became for himself, and things went wrong I must say and its only today that we realise to what extent things went wrong, but he started very well, there is evidence to that, but unfortunately, it wasn’t like that at the end.

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5b. I note that in your description of your encounter with the late Bingu Wa Mutharika, you haven’t touched on anything to do with industrialisation – did Bingu’s plan have anything to do with increasing Malawi’s industrial output?]

I’m here to make an honest and objective assessment. If Dr Bingu drove his vision, the way he articulated everything, in the earlier days of his presidency, he was on the road to achieve that. What happened later on is that when things started going wrong, companies that were supposed to expand or small businesses that were supposed to grow were wiped out, one, It was difficult for people to have access to Forex to import machinery or to import raw materials, but most importantly, he played a cronyism card such that only those connected to his regime were developing; Now, you cannot develop a country based on family framework, or friends framework, it doesn’t work.

[Part B coming soon]

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.