Area 18 Interchange - Malawi

An intertwined road Interchange in Malawi got the whole country talking

Call me a cynic, but sometimes the country of my birth baffles me to the point I wonder: Is this really happening?

And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a brief: Malawi’s capital Lilongwe recently saw the opening of a new intertwined road interchange, named ‘Area 18 Interchange’. And because nothing like it ever existed in the country before, loads of Malawians began talking about it. The excitement soon reached fever pitch, to the point people were going out of their ways to go to the location of this interchange, to see it with their own eyes and observe the traffic criss-crossing its roads. Malawi’s president even visited the site the other day and stated his government’s commitment to develop the country’s cities through construction of transformative pieces of infrastructure.

Now you might say thats not a big deal, people in the developing world get excited about all sorts of ordinary things which westerners take for granted. And you are right. But what irked me was the hero-worship that followed, in that some Malawians began to claim that the construction of the road is one of the major achevements of former president of Malawi Peter Mutharika.

At which point I snapped.

It’s just a road. A tiny road for that matter. that if you go to other countries, you’ll find bigger and much better intertwined junctions… its no big deal.

On a much more reflective note, other people rate their leaders on substantive material things they achieved in their lifetimes. Achievements of huge significance that impact thousands of people, in some cases literary changing the course of history. To give a flavour, how about ending slavery as an achievement, defeating Nazism, ending the colonisation of a country, developing a Nuclear Weapon, giving the vote to women, presiding over a large National Economic Transformation (The New Deal); ending Apartheid and becoming the first black president of South Africa, lifting over 800 million people out of poverty(as China has done) …

How ridiculous do you think Malawi appears, when faced with a list of such noble and grand achievements, we’re in some corner hollering and worshiping a former leader based on a tiny road interchange that was built under their watch?? In 2020?

Is that really how low our standards have fallen? Kamuzu Banda must be spinning in his grave…

Some of these people need to visit Durban, Nairobi, Kigali or Addis Ababa- to see what real development looks like …

Let me tell you what I believe. Its no secret that countries like Rwanda, Botswana, Malaysia, and South Korea were at one point in the 50’s and 60’s on the same level of development as Malawi. But unlike Malawi, they chose to develop and made significant strides out of poverty to become middle income countries. It was a deliberate and sustained intervention to match and be level with some of the best.

Now you might say our politics were different at that time, we had an inward-looking dictator more concerned with self-preservation, and you are right. But since the start of multiparty democracy, we’ve had 26 years in which to “catch-up”. But there’s been nothing to show for.

And yet, our contemporaries also faced innumerable challenges. Like us, they didn’t have enough money. Their people weren’t that educated. In fact if you look at where we are, we probably have more incentives to develop that countries like South Korea or Botswana had in the 60’s and 70’s. The difference is while we sometimes appear comfortable in our sorry state, these countries were not content with mediocrity or token gestures. I mean, when was the last time you heard of an aid organisation working to feed hungry children in Souh Korea?

These countries decided they needed to create economies that could stand side by side with some of the largest economies in the world. Economies that were resilient to existential shocks. And it is high time we did the same.

In Malawi, we have to be careful not to let our historical excuses and well-rehearsed pragmatism (the “Malawian standards” / “crawl before you can run” excuses), ending up being main obstacles in our path to development. I’ve said it here several times before, but we really have to raise the bar on what counts as development, and what is raw and unmistakable mediocrity.

Peter Mutharika (like him or hate him) didn’t do much to develop Malawi because he was not a transformational leader. There was no blueprint, no grand plan, no credible and actionable dream, no rhetoric to charge and fire up people’s imaginations. His leadership, busied by tribalism, corruption and deceit – left much to be desired, and there was more bluster than implementation. If you don’t believe me, just look at the promises that were made in DPP’s 2014 Manifesto and compare with what was actually achieved by 2019.

In Malawi, we say of undeserved promotions that “Anangogweramo” , meaning Mutharika just fell into it. It was an accidental selection, and he wouldn’t have ended up as a leader of a party and the country if not for his brother pulling him into DPP’s Politburo.

But this post isn’t about the Mutharikas and DPP’s woes.

Malawi has to start seeking capable operators who will move us forward as a country. We have to begin to seriously empower people who are qualified and know how to build and develop a country and have the force of character to deliver on promises. Osati zongochitikira mwa ngozi.

There’s another equally important aspect to all this.

If a tiny road intersection has got the whole country excited, what do you think foreign dignitaries will think of us, as a nation? What do you think they will report to their countries, as ways in which to pacify or otherwise impress our people? Imagine how all the ruthless and pushy countries, even a China omwewa will deal with us, when they know it takes very little to impress our people… ?

We have to press the reset button on what we regard as development. Toilets that look like ma sakasa, Airport terminals towoneka ngati khola la nkhuku, tima bridge ta make dzana… and yes your little interchange, they’re all not signs of development in the context of the 21st Century. Because there are such things as global standards, and we have to pull up our socks in this area and begin to match the rest of the world. Rwanda and Kenya are doing it, why can’t we?

In any case, how can you possibly attract investment in the form of a factory (say Chevrolet, Nissan or Kia for argument’s sake), or how can you seriously attract a tech giant’s assebling facility (APPLE, IBM, HP, MICROSOFT) and compete against the likes of Ethiopia or Kenya – who have impressive infrastructure and who are doing far more to attract foreign corporations to set up shop in those countries, when your own infrastructure leaves plenty to be desired?

Malawi cancels $145 million arms deal with SA firm: report

Original article here (via Times Live)

Malawi cancels $145 million arms deal with SA firm: report

The agreement between the Malawi Government and Paramount Group has been abrogated. That is all I can confirm and say,” Gondwe told Saturday’s Nation newspaper.

The paper quoted a source within the finance ministry as saying the government of President Peter Mutharika told the firm the deal was “illegal and expensive”.

More on original article here

Comment

I think President Peter Mutharika must be hugely commended for doing this. The relationship between Paramount and Joyce Banda was unhealthily close. The whole fiasco regarding the arms deal, and the jet bartering and the comments from the UN had an air of dishonesty and special interests about it. I don’t believe the arms deal was to the benefit of the people of Malawi, and Joyce Banda was wrong to associate her government with these guys. As I wrote here, most of these deals benefit people other than Malawians.

Having said that, I wonder what it will cost the country to terminate the contract? Wait, was there a contract? Or was this another gentleman’s agreeement? We will need to know how much it costs the country, and why the president calls it ‘illegal…’. Presumably, the get-out clause is a better devil than paying $145 million? Although what you don’t want to happen is to spend additional millions of dollars you don’t have in court cases fighting a contract that is impenetrable.

I hope President Mutharika will make do on his promises to clean up government in Malawi, and not waste time with propaganda or fighting opponents. I hope he does away with all such useless and ‘illegal’ commitments Malawians never needed. I’d like to see Mutharika revisit Kayelekera, and ‘abrogate’ the unfair Paladin deal. I’d like to see him push for the completion of the Shire-Zambezi waterway, which his brother Bingu Wa Mutharika began – it will lower the cost of goods in Malawi. I’d like to see Malawians realise real benefit from the Vale railway line. I’d like to see Malawi University of Science and Technology open and begin training students in areas which the country is lagging behind. I’d like to see the restrictive and backward thinking regional quota system for university entrance abolished, and in its place an improved open merit based system established. It will be good to see more Universities built across Malawi, and there are many donors who will support this initiative. The proposed mini Chinese city could have huge benefits in terms of stimulating trade and entrepreneurship for both China and Malawi, the president must pursue the agreement, and see its completion. Why can’t we have our own oil refinery? As the Zambians have done (see another link here). There are many ideas the government can adopt to generate income and raise funds outside of taxes. Over a year ago, I helpfully listed some here.

But most of all, I’d like to see president Mutharika get to the bottom of the Cashgate scandal , prosecute all who were responsible for the theft, and close any remaining loopholes in IFMIS. Malawi can never move forward if people continue to steal from the government – and get away with it.

So far, so good. Well done Mr President Sir!

The real reason why I oppose drilling for oil on lake Malawi

Whatever you choose to believe, here is one hypothesis you must seriously consider; That a nation that does not own its natural resources is not independent at all. That instead, what exists are different levels of servants (anchito) working for a foreign master (bwana) under a semi-sovereignity.

After all the unnecessary toiling, studying, chasing one research project after another that has preoccupied my time the last two years, I have come to the sobering,inevitable and unsurprising conclusion that there is a worrying number of people who think you or someone like me doesn’t deserve much good out of this life.

A worrying number.

Some of these people think that if you are black and were born in Africa, in a country that is considered poor, in a family that does not have strong and powerful political allies, with little or no personal ‘fortune’ of your own, that your place on the socio-economic ladder is right there where fate (or an accident of evolution) created for you, exactly in the societal ‘bracket’ in which you were born. Where social / financial progression is an unattainable pie in the sky. In this place, a dead-end job is the best you can expect, and hand-me-downs or clothes sold in ASDA (or Walmart) with brands such as ‘George‘ and ‘White Stag‘ are worn. It’s a place devoid of vacations, where Sirloin steak is an unjustifiable luxury, and where a McDonald’s burger counts as a treat; where trips to the movies and broadway featured shows are unheard of, and golf – the preserve of the extremely wealthy. Lets just say it’s a place where a gym membership is not even a consideration when one’s salary can barely cover everyday expenses. In this place £7.50 spent on 400g cherries would be an obscene expense; it’s a place where a typical evening consist of dinner that costs less than $10 for a family of 5, (and does not include wine), and typical everyday entertainment is either Eastenders or some crap show on the radio, while drinking a bottle of Carlsberg.

These same people would have you believe that such a life is ‘normal’ or at least relatively normal. They bet on showing you a worse existential state to justify that while they exploit your resources (and make lucrative deals with your country’s selfish and spineless politicians), they are doing you a favour, you are in fact getting a better deal than that guy over there, in whose country a war has been raging for years, where women are unsafe and rape is commonplace, that guy’s country has virtually no education system in place, and look, armed guerilla fighters! In a country with no local currency, courts presided by warlords and a society infested with corruption….

Such scare stories are meant to somehow pacify your human (umunthu) and natural rage against what is clearly injustice against your brothers and sisters. Injustice which in other forms sees you called black monkey’s in your own country. They are the kinds of people who in Victorian times would have suggested (or mixed with people who were likely to suggest), without qualms, that a woman’s place is in the home; that women should not be allowed to work or vote. These are the kinds of people who would have owned the cotton mills (or mixed with people who owned the cotton mills) of Manchester and South Carolina, including being at the forefront of recruiting cheap child labour – for maximum profit. They are the kinds of people who would have been involved in the mistreatment of Jews throughout a large part of  European history. These kinds of people would have suggested to Pontius Pilate that because Jesus was a friend of the poor and ‘rejects’ of society, that he indeed deserved the most severe punishment for calling himself the son of God.

The haughty demagoguery of these sorts saw them perpetrate beliefs such as Manifest destiny, Supremacism and the Slave trade, and their puppets coin phrases such as ‘Axis of Evil‘ and ‘War on Terror‘. For the purposes of this article, not least dramatic effect, I’ll call these people the Greedy architects of death.

Yet aren’t these precisely the kind of attitudes which precipitate global unrest? Is this not what deprives humanity of peaceful coexistence and harmony? I say this because beneath the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Ukraine, or even the economic troubles facing Zimbabwe, there is a simple altercation: that of land and resource control.

In the case of Zimbabwe, please reason with me for a moment. Why on earth should a country be punished with sanctions for wanting to take back land that was forcefully and deceptively taken away from it in the first place??? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in support of violence, but what is it that lies at the heart of the matter?

Another facet to their characteristics is that of standing. Here, a common trait of the architect is opposition to any deal in which they aren’t getting a cut. In other words, when others do something bad, and these architects are not getting any money or resources from that bad something, then the action is wrong/unforgivable/ atrocious etc. But when the architects do that very same bad thing, they can can sugar coat it and self-righteously justify it…with phrases such as ‘Oil for food‘ and ‘Regeneration’, helpfully assisted by their Bretton Woods colleagues, with selective use of the biased chastisement whip commonly known as ‘International law’.

annan-3But how does all this relate to Malawi and the oil drilling on lake Malawi I hear you ask? Well, because at the heart of Malawi’s problems is land and resource control, and the puppet masters pulling the strings are exactly the same kinds of people brewing trouble elsewhere.

So, assuming you’ve heard of the Scotland independence debate, then even though I identify with old fashioned views that divorce must be avoided wherever possible and people must discuss to resolve differences, one part of me says that maybe Scotland should become independent from the UK. Because maybe then will they be able to use their resources for their own country’s benefit. Maybe if independence occurs, some of these architects will begin to realise just how their selfish and greedy actions have been hurting other people across the world?

In Europe maybe if Crimea joins the Russian Federation it will not be exploited by the pro-western kingpins of resource control – some of whom have probably been responsible for financial trickery or misconduct elsewhere?

Similarly, let the people of Malawi resist (at all costs and in whatever manner) drilling of oil on their beautiful lake because in the end, it’s not the local people who stand to benefit from the profits of the oil drilling. As the Paladin episode at Kayelekera has shown (and as other examples on the continent continue to demonstrate), it’s only a few corrupt government officials with off-shore bank accounts in tax havens in Switzerland or the British Virgin Islands who benefit. It’s large Investment Banks that provide the capital to the architects who will get the lions share, it’s a handful of millionaire tycoons with surnames like Borshoff and Ichikowitz, who live in mansions thousands of miles away and whose surnames the locals can’t even spell or pronounce properly, they are the ones who stand to profit. It is the Greedy architects of death (whose actions spur domino type effects, causing wars, and thereby suffering and hardship to millions across the world) who stand to benefit.

It sounds like a tedious link to make, but what has been the number one cause of unrest across the world if not battles for resource control?

That is my reason for opposing drilling on lake Malawi. Because while there is a high risk of environmental degradation which could affect the lives of fishermen who depend on the lake for their livelihoods (it happened in the gulf of Mexico, and happens in the Niger Delta all the times [see another link here via Amnesty International] – how can anybody sane think it will not happen on lake Malawi?), and which could negatively affect tourism and life ecosystems in and around the lake, in the end, there will be tears and loss as very few Malawians will benefit proportionally from the oil resource. In the end it could create strife….

But I’m not saying that the transactions a poor country such as Malawi signs with foreign ‘speculators’ are all bad or useless, and do not bring some material benefit to the country or its inhabitants. No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that comparatively, the benefit to Malawians is too small, too insignificant, chicken feed – unsustainable. In my view, it’s no more than a trojan horse that later comes back to bite and haunt the country. Instead, the net benefit of most of these deals is significantly in favour of these architects, who come into an area, pour in their capital, make billions of dollars in profits, then move out richer than they came in – leaving behind more than just a mess. Leaving behind broken lives,in which the local man remains economically where he was prior to the ‘invasion’, or even poorer, resigned to licking his wounds, as one aggressor after another wrestle for his country’s resources.

And that is hugely problematic because no matter who Malawians elect in May 2014 elections, if the status quo of dealing with investors is maintained, where African leader treat the national purse (and national assets) as private belongings, where investors are allowed to illicitly wire billions of untaxed funds out of the continent, if economic disparities across the country are not decisively addressed (in this I mean by creating companies in which trained locals are majority shareholders and investors are minority shareholders), if the leaders of western countries continue to be hypocritical over the well-documented conduct of business leaders from their countries, poverty levels will continue to linger in Malawi and across Africa for a very long time. And come next election very little would have changed, people will be scratching their heads, and you can come back and read this article again.

By the way, you don’t have to believe anything I’ve written above 🙂 . As I said in the first paragraph, it’s just a hypothesis, a theory based on my observations 🙂 … But even so, take a look at what these people here are saying (AfDB-GFI Joint Report: Illicit Financial Flows Render Africa a Net Creditor to the Rest of the WorldSub-Saharan Africa loses 5.7 percent of GDP to illicit financial outflowsIllicit financial outflows from Africa crippling continent’s development – UN ). With such stories of behaviour which is clearly hurting Africa, should Malawians really risk another Kayelekera? Would it be wise to entrust the lake to people whose number one motivation is profit and little else? Could anybody say the country is really independent? How can you justify independence when you depend too much on the help of others for your existence?

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China Funding construction of new airport in Malawi

First it was a parliament building, then a road to connect Karonga and Chitipa, a five-star hotel, followed by a stadium, and now it seems they will be building an Airport. China is Africa’s new friend and within the last decade, they have made some serious inroads into Africa. The question that interests me looking at all the things China is doing in Africa, and considering they are not a colonialist is this: why didn’t any of the former colonialists build infrastructure comparable to what China is building in Africa today, when back in their own countries, they continued to build structures which no doubt contributed to their economies during the same period? Especially since some of these organisations had large empires which no doubt contributed to their enormous wealth….

Was it because they didn’t think Africa needed its own infrastructure? There was no plan …? Or was it because they had no money?

Anyhow i’ll ponder that another day 🙂

While President Joyce Banda should be commended for pushing through this excellent development (which is exactly the kind of infrastructure Africa needs) since it is true that our airports are outdated and in serious need for improvement, I wonder what she has granted the Chinese in return? What does the deal involve? Is the deal public? Would be interesting to see what is being offered in return…

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Fighting the waters : Diversion tactics and PR stunts

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Besides the revelations of corruption that have been levied against the government of Malawi, to me serious questions of doubt began after the reshuffle,  which retained many shady characters. At first I was willing to give Joyce Banda the benefit of the doubt, until in addition to everything that was flying around in the media (partly chronicled here), I read this report and saw this email.

Then I heard news of the 10% profiteering middlemen, people working for the government, or with links to the presidency who were demanding 10% in kickbacks or ‘commission’ for deals or transactions with the government, in which these people made themselves involved.

Among such shameless characters was one woman who frustrated a well-meaning philanthropist from donating desks to Malawi. In this deal, this lady who is very close to the presidency blocked a philanthropist, who wanted to donate ~100, 000 desks to Malawian schools. The lady – who is well-known and works at State House, and who you would think is remunerated by the Malawian government – demanded that she be personally paid commission totalling £100,000 for facilitating the desk donation deal (her job, i understand was to ensure that no tax or other charges were levied – except payment to her)?? As you can imagine, this suggestion infuriated the philanthropist beyond measure, he was shocked and disgusted by the very idea that desks meant for the children of Malawi, given for free to the children of Malawi, desks for which the philanthropist in his generosity would have to pay the cost of purchase, shipping and delivery, to a tune of over £300,000, should then be subject to an additional cost, a £100,000 ‘commission’ to be paid to someone whose job it already was to facilitate projects in the interests of Malawi…?? An already wealthy woman who was attempting to profiteer at the expense of poor Malawian children??

Sadly you don’t hear of these kinds of things in the news….even the person who told me this said the philanthropist, although upset, was afraid and didn’t want the public to know of his ordeal as he still has some interests and links on the ground in Malawi which he doesn’t want to be jeopardized by ‘political forces’…?? the kind of thing, he said, that happened to Madonna, which the public were fooled into believing Madonna was the one in the wrong, when in actual sense part of the story was that there had been a commission heist – and when Madge refused to pay up, she was accused, verbally assaulted, ganged upon by the said ‘political forces’.

In the case of the philanthropist, the desks deal didn’t go through, and the desks were never shipped… and of course the children who would have benefitted from them never got to receive them.

So, then you read that the Government of Malawi has hired a PR firm in London to clean up its image who straight away begin to point fingers to the previous regime? Playing the blame game? At such a critical time? When under your watch, rampant corruption has just been uncovered? Can Malawi, in its current state afford the PR agency? Is Joyce Banda using her own Money, or the money of the government to pay for Bell Pottinger?

When people are complaining of lack of medicines in hospitals, strikes and demonstrations because of the plunder at Capital Hill, fuel shortages and rise in prices of goods are on their way because of the withdrawal of aid, when there is a rise in child marriages revealing lack of opportunities and deprivation in Malawian society, when the country is littered with many problems, how is it justifiable to spend money you don’t have on what is effectively a PR stunt?

How much is this costing Malawi? Why not hire a Malawian PR company, and pay comparatively less? It’s such a shame. Joyce Banda’s government has hopped from one disastrous decision to the next… (see another here)

Personally, I don’t believe that Joyce Banda was unaware of the plunder that was happening at the time when she served as a minister then vice President in Bingu Wa Mutharika’s government, and in the articles above, I have clearly explained how and why I arrived at such a conclusion.

If Joyce Banda was serious about fixing Malawi’s troubles, she would have bought the medicines which are lacking in the hospitals on the ground, paid the teachers whose salaries have not been paid for 3 months, she would have ordered fuel reserves to last the country at least 2 years if the worst were to happen again, she would have spent resources on a big sustainable project that will reduce Malawian imports, a project that would create thousands of jobs, and generate substantial forex revenues. She would have pressed the Mozambican government over the Nsanje port issue – so that ships begin to enter via that route – an act that would again in itself stabilise or reduce the cost of goods coming into Malawi; Joyce Banda would have created a massive solar project for Malawi to generate its own electricity… and finally  she would have instructed independent auditors with neither links, no sympathies to the presidency, to get to the bottom of the Cashgate crisis.

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