Visa facilitation as a means to support tourism growth, socio-economic development and job creation

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Yesterday an update appeared on the Malawian president’s Facebook page, in which she informed her social media followers that she had participated in a ‘.. Ministerial Roundtable of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation at Victoria Falls’. The topic for discussion at the forum was ‘visa facilitation as a means to support tourism growth, socio-economic development and job creation’.

Considering that the themes of infrastructure, airports and increased cross-national trade within Africa have popped up several times in discussions and articles on this website (for example here, here and here), I think her angle on the issue is commendable, and deserves a mention.

Recently, the Sudanese Billionaire, Mo Ibrahim expressed his displeasure during his address at the 11th Nelson Mandela lecture, with the visa regimes in Africa, saying:

“..The second issue is African economic integration. Only 11% of our trade is amongst the Africans. We refuse to let our people travel from one country to another. We always need a visa. And l also say, sadly, although being Sudanese, whenever l travel in Africa l always carry a British passport, because l am welcome.

My colleague here, a Member of our Board, had huge trouble in getting a visa to be able to join me here. He was a Secretary General of the United Nations, a board member, just to get a visa here is a major trouble. But with my British passport l am welcome here through your immigration lines. Is that acceptable?..”

One can only hope that these kinds of initiatives — which clearly will have a tangible economic benefit to Africa – do eventually get implemented by the countries concerned, and do not end up onto the large pile of broken promises by political leaders past and present.

The full update on the Facebook page is as follows:

Good evening my friends

Today I attended a Ministerial Roundtable of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation at Victoria Falls, on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia where I addressed participants on the topic: ‘visa facilitation as a means to support tourism growth, socio-economic development and job creation’.

I addressed participants that our continent possesses many places of great beauty and I went on to talk about our beautiful country, Malawi, which happens to be one of the most beautiful countries for tourists attraction as we are blessed with a large freshwater lake, surrounded by white sands and full of a diversity of fish species and country boasts of wide open skies, beautiful rolling hills and mountains that offer rare experiences to climbers, bird watchers and adventure enthusiasts.

I made it clear that Malawi’s description as the ‘warm heart of Africa’ does not just refer to our inviting climate or the deep red of our sunset. It aptly describes the welcome you will receive from all Malawians as we are indeed very friendly and “warm hearted people of Africa”!

While talking about tourism I addressed participants that , tourism promises immense opportunities for growth of our economies and job creation; however millions of people continue to face unnecessary barriers to travel. These barriers include complicated and expensive visa processes; difficult and therefore expensive transport connections, lack of integrated border management systems and security threats.

For example, according to research by the United Nations WorldTourism Organisation; and World Travel and Tourism Council, facilitating visas among the G20 countries alone would create an additional five million jobs by 2015. This is a clear indication of the impact simplified and user friendly visa system can have on our economies.

It is my view that Visa Facilitation has the potential to enhance regional integration, intra-regional trade and easy movement of capital and people between countries and regions.Therefore, visa policies and procedures are among some of the most important instruments influencing tourism and investment. The development of policies and procedures for visas as well as other travel documents is closely linked to the development of tourism. Furthermore, the quality, reliability and functionality of visas have a direct correlation to number of arrivals at a destination.

In lieu of the above reasons I am calling for regional interconnectivity amongst our nations which may entail improving the current state of transport and telecommunications infrastructure and facilitating institutional improvements to optimise the efficiency and capacity of road, rail, water and air transport and the social sectors in education and health.

I believe that this in turn has high potential on enhancing economic growth; thus contributing to overall objective of poverty reduction. The link between tourism and poverty reduction is well known as one of the fundamental contributions is job creation which is part of our government’s economic recovery plan that my government is pursuing.

Thank you all for your support and prayers

May God bless you!

Good night!

Dr Joyce Banda
President
Republic of Malawi “

Reshaping the African Politician – Nick Wright

reshaping-african-leaderIn my quest to find progressive views and forward-thinking ideas which if embraced could potentially improve Malawi’s economic situation, I found myself interviewing Sir Edward Clay, the former British Ambassador to Kenya, whose interview will be posted on this website soon. He spoke about some very interesting things, including introducing me to another individual, a  British historian in the form of Nick Wright, who has spent several years in Africa, including some time in Malawi. It is my pleasure to share with the readership of  this website his insightful observations:-

1. You’ve had some exposure to Malawi and Africa in general… if you were to summarise your experiences, what has been your African experience?

My wife spent several years as a physiotherapist in Mulago Hospital, [in] Kampala. We had several Ugandan friends from that experience. After leaving our jobs in Australia, we enrolled in the (British) Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO): I as teacher of English in Chimwankhunda Community Day Secondary School in Blantyre, Malawi; she as physiotherapist at Malawi Against Polio (MAP), also in Blantyre. We were there for two happy years. I became interested in Malawian politics at that time and started as Malawi correspondent for the London-based Africa Confidential. Journalism of this sort continued for several years after our departure from Malawi in 2001 and obliged me to make several return visits to Malawi in order to conduct interviews. I met the leaders of all major Malawian political parties and the heads of some government departments, foreign embassies, aid-agencies, newspapers and business enterprises.

2. Most of the African countries in which you spent time in gained their independence around early to mid-1960’s. And at the time, Pan-Africanism was probably at its peak, with a freedom fervour sweeping across the continent, something that can probably be compared to what we recently witnessed in North Africa with the so-called ‘Arab spring’; It’s now close to 50 years since those ‘glorious days’, but to what extent in your view have the goals or overarching expectations of ‘independence’ conceptualised by the founding fathers of African countries been realised for the majority of their citizens?

Nkrumah’s pan-African ideal of the 1960s was never adopted because arrogant African presidents, like Hastings Banda, were (and still are) too attached to the trappings of a threadbare sovereignty to be able to surrender all the flags, palaces, UN flummery, and motorcades. I think the Western powers had an interest in divide and rule, too.

I once wrote an article which mourned the collapse of the East African Federation for just such reasons: “Central Africa’s Sovereign Issues”. Regional federations, as stepping-stones to wider unions, make good sense for Africa – especially for land-locked, resource-poor, Malawi – and they must not be allowed to remain the modern taboo that Kamuzu Banda made them.
This is another example, I’m afraid, of too much power in the hands of Presidents who scorn institutions like Parliament, the Judiciary; the printed media; the Civil Service, the Constitution which are set up to be their “checks and balances”. Presidents are told by everybody around them (until they are toppled) that they are God Almighty, and they come to believe it. Only Nyerere came close to the ideal of a model, modest, president, and his modesty was treated with contempt by the others

I developed a healthy respect and liking for individual Malawians but a very strong feeling that Western aid policies were failing Malawi badly. Why? Because: (1)they fed complacency, idleness, irresponsibility and corruption within the Malawian elites; (2)they fed arrogance amongst the expatriate community who were forever in the company of grateful and respectful poor people; (3)they created passivity and feelings of helplessness in ordinary Malawian people, including those in government who had their responsibilities taken away from them. Whilst being aware of the many individual benefits brought to poor Malawians by individual aid- projects, I felt that the real beneficiaries of aid-money in Malawi were: (1)state-presidents and their family members, friends, and hangers-on; (2)the staff of a multitude of NGOs and aid-agencies, and (3)expatriate consultants expensively employed by DFID, the EU, the UN etc to write expert reports. Bingu wa Mutharika was on the right track with his angry denunciations of Western aid but his protestation was undermined by his own lavish personal spending and his grotesque toleration of corruption. How can a person who makes all the decisions in Malawi and whose immediately previous experience was in minibus driving and in the corrupt bureaucracy of COMESA(Bingu) or small business (Muluzi), be trusted to act solely in the public interest of Malawi? Bakili Muluzi was more likeable as a man than Bingu but identical in his failure to distinguish between personal and public.

3. And if such goals and expectations have largely not been met, what are the main reasons as to why they have not been met?

Far too much unchecked power is in the hands of individual Malawians, especially the President, because of the “Big Man” [similar link here] culture which prevails in the country and the weakness of public institutions. The independent national newspapers, like The Nation, do a reasonable investigative job but are easily intimidated by threats to their advertising revenues and by their own lack of resources; the MBC public broadcaster is entirely under government control and biased in favour of government; the Malawian churches retain a sporadic consciousness of their responsibility as “public conscience” of Malawi but are often distracted by their own factionalism. The Parliamentary committees occasionally exercise oversight on public spending but only when in session and they are often starved of vital evidence by government departments and tend to divide on party-lines. The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) is widely considered to be only for “small-fry” financial criminality, and firmly under presidential control where corruption itself is often centred. Western embassies, (individually and collectively), sometimes exercise a restraining hand on the presidency through their aid-policies, but their staffs are usually too comfortably entrenched in their own luxurious lifestyles, and too suspicious of each other and of China, to risk serious confrontation with the president. The Executive arm of government (effectively the President) is overwhelmingly powerful in Malawi, and this patrimonial model of government filters down to all levels of administration. “L’etat c’est moi”

4. While there has been visible progress in some parts of Africa, when one travels in other parts, especially the rural areas, the story of suffering is the same. If it’s not wars and ethnic violence, then it’s disease and poor healthcare, or famine and hunger, else it’s lack of resources, poverty, corruption…the list goes on.  After over 50 years of foreign intervention and billions of dollars in aid, what in your view is preventing Africa from getting its act together?

Aid is ruining Malawians’ self-respect and their natural honesty and capacity for hard work. Its gradual removal will cause as much consternation in Western donor capitals (“What will Bob Geldof say about all the hungry people?”) as it will in some of the poorest households of Malawi (“See how our politicians can’t provide “Development”). But it is a “bullet” that must be “bitten” for the greater long-term good of Malawi. The Fertiliser Subsidy (FISP) which absorbs most of the agricultural budget has become a millstone around the neck of Malawi’s agricultural development.

The subject of overseas aid is a very important one and for the reasons explained above. Why should the presidency take note of competing institutions when the Executive is virtually guaranteed free money from overseas? Why should government departments do their jobs properly when overseas experts with university degrees in International Development seem to know all the answers? Why should Presidents feel the necessity of proper financial accountability?

All aid should be phased out. The endless tinkering between “good” and “bad” aid will not do for Malawi any more. It is ALL bad! If its abolition means the collapse of Western-style democracy in Malawi, then let it go. It will return in a different, better, African, form!

5. One of the problems that has been cited as holding back the growth of African economies is the relatively low levels of Venture capital investment into Africa, when compared for example with the Venture capital investment that has been flowing into Asia or South America. Do you agree?

Venture capital is largely absent from Malawi, except in uranium-mining at Kayelekera, and in tourism (i.e where Malawian control and profit-taking is minimal)

Nick Wright has worked in the History Department at Adelaide University (1975-1991) and for Africa Confidential as its Malawi correspondent (2003-2010).

Other Articles by Nick Wright:

 

Product Appeal: Winning hearts and minds

feridies-peanuts-us

Remember my post here, on Corporate Longevity?

Well, a friend recently talked about something similar. He suggested that one of the reasons why most African companies, and their products do not receive widespread appeal worldwide is because they make very little effort to win the hearts and minds of the consumers, or of potential customers. Their main focus is too narrow, and they do very little to win customers beyond the horizons.

“It’s as if they know the domestic customers are there to stay and have nowhere else to go get the product” he said

He cited a recent article(OP-ED) (I think I may even have sent this link to him) written in the New York Times,  titled The Romantic Advantage, by David Brooks, which argues that Americans are better than the Chinese at creating well-known brands because Americans put that little bit extra into their brands. Because most of the branding specialists are essentially romantics who see brands more as artistic creations (apparently some even see them as spiritual creations), and not just generic names of products.

“How can they find buyers here, if the product doesn’t look good? Consumers here are demanding, they are sophisticated and want more” he says, and adds  “Never mind what’s inside the can, if the outside is not convincing enough, how will buyers of retailers here or in America even consider it?”

I find myself agreeing with him, that essentially the branding of the product must look good to make it to the shelf. Over the last few years I have studied some of the packaging and products out of Africa, including some out of Malawi. Mainly, foodstuffs and other small commodities. I have compared these with some of the branding and packaging of products from Europe and Asia (for example South Korea, Malaysia) and other parts of the world. Not necessarily like-for-like products. To my dismay, most of the products out of Africa simply don’t look good enough, in comparison to those from elsewhere. The quality of branding is somewhat substandard, at times it’s as if it were done in a rush. Some even have spelling mistakes!!

I’m not saying that the branding on all products of African origin (or out of Malawi) is bad, or that the products themselves are no good. No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is I think there is quite a lot of space for improvement in terms of the allure of the branding of some of these products.

And while in some cases a company’s cost-saving exercise dictates the amount of money that is spent on branding, such cost-saving can be ‘overdone’, with the consequence that you end up with a product whose appearance is bland and devoid of any appeal. One which does not attract customers, but instead repels them. Branding which will not sell, at least not in markets beyond the home market. Obviously, this is not an ideal situation as it limits the potential of the product. These manufacturers may be losing money simply because their products do not appeal to a wide range of customers, and this anomaly could ultimately dictate the success of the product (or even the company making it)

Below is a random collection of pictures of products from within African and those made outside Africa (which includes the ‘Malawi Mango‘ juice from Bai, an American company)

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