Why I’m not excited about Roger Federer’s investment into Education in Malawi

Early this week, many people in Malawi were excited by the news that Roger Federer (ranked world number 2 best tennis player by the Association of Tennis Professionals), had launched a childcare centre at Lundu village, about 10 Kilometres outside Lilongwe, the Capital of Malawi.

While there is good reason to be happy about such news, whereby a big sports star has decided to use his time and resources to help Malawi in this area, a part of me thinks otherwise.

A part of me thinks that Malawi not only needs help in terms of pre-schools and child development centres, but also over the whole educational system – which is archaic, and needs to be revamped.

And here’s why:

Firstly, whats the point of giving children a great pre-school start only to disappoint them later on in primary and secondary education? How so? Well, according to Ripple Africa, a charity with a base in Nkhata Bay district:

… The government of Malawi recognises the importance of pre-school education, and encourages communities to set up their own pre-schools, but does not support pre-schools financially. With no funds to support pre-schools, most of them are run on a voluntary basis and are unregistered. Most teachers work for free, and have no resources to help them teach, lacking the very basics including blackboards and chalk, let alone books and toys which might commonly be associated with pre-school education in the West. It is rare that pre-schools have their own school buildings, and many pre-schools share facilities with local churches or other buildings built for a different purpose

It goes on to say

Although primary education in Malawi is free, students are required to purchase their own school uniform, pens, and notebooks, which many families find difficult. Rates for drop-outs are high, and, according to UNESCO, only 58% of children will complete a full course of primary school, and 20% of children repeat one or more school years, often several times, if they have had to take significant time out of school and have fallen behind. It is very common for children in Malawi to come in and out of school depending on their family situation, employment responsibilities, pregnancy and marriage at a young age, sickness, and more. By the time students leave primary school, many of them are far older than primary age, having repeated several years, and many lose interest and drop out all together.

If you read further, you’ll find the usual problems across the whole education board: poor infrastructure, lack of materials, unpaid untrained teachers even at pre-school level…  the usual.

How can you help children learn if schools have little or no study materials, and teachers are not properly trained? Before you do anything for the children shouldn’t you first make sure that their teachers have the right qualifications, and there are suitable facilities available for them to use in teaching.

So, in addition to improving pre-school education, I think the initiative should go hand in hand with improving the standard of education across the board, and not just in pre-school education.

In any case, we know from reports from employers that many people who come out of form four (or even Universities) in Malawi lack the basic skills needed by most employers. A scenario that probably is a result of dysfunction within Universities themselves. This dysfunction was summarised by The Nation News paper a few years ago:

In some public universities, for example, there is acute shortage of books or even chairs in classrooms, leading to students standing throughout lectures. Some of the faculty members also need to upgrade their qualifications; so, too, do catering and accommodation need improvement, among other facilities.

The above article by Ripple Africa also mentions the lack of buildings.

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image from typicalmalawian.wordpress.com

 

Malawi needs more school buildings, more resources such as desks, black boards and stationery in both primary and secondary education (including properly resourced dormitories in boarding schools). This will cost money, but the government needs to upgrade these facilities across the whole country. It cannot be piecemeal or random, because then it will not be effective. It has to be planned and transformative and must be made a top priority.

This is important because a child who undertakes their pre-school in a well-furnished nursery (complete with chairs and tables) is not going to be assisted if they then have to be downgraded and sit on the floor during primary school.

Never mind early education, primary and secondary school, what about tertiary education? Should the government be doing more to invest in tertiary education?

Recently in June 2015, Grant Shapps, UK International Development Minister, at the announcement that the UK would pump £11.6 million into Malawi education sector said:

“Malawi’s future doctors, nurses, IT experts, teachers and entrepreneurs will help build a nation eventually independent of foreign aid and with our own historic links to Malawi, particularly those of Scotland, this is also in the UK’s interest, because creating a more prosperous world will benefit us all in the long run”

The question is where will they be trained, and who will foot the bill? Is £11.6 million enough to train doctors, nurses, IT experts, teachers and entrepreneurs for a country with a population of 13 million people? Adequate training that will help Malawi compete on the global stage…? And not only provide Doctors and Nurses for Europe…?

There are other factors other than pre-school education that must be addressed if the education sector in Malawi is to be improved.

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Factors such as the effect H.I.V has on teachers. These need to be looked at, in collaboration with charities such as Theatre for a Change. It’s important that resources are dedicated to address them.

Aside from the education front, the other question politicians and stakeholders should be asking is after these children become young adults who have been ‘educated’, where will they work? No point training them when at the end of it all, you have no jobs to give them. A youth unemployment crisis which many western countries including the UK, Spain, Portugal and Greece are currently facing. Does Malawi have enough jobs and an economy that can support its young people of working age? How can the country create more jobs and assist its citizens to be resourceful?

Looking at the statistics of youth unemployment across Malawi, I can tell you that the country definitely doesn’t have enough good jobs, and this is a situation which could become a crisis if not addressed urgently.

Furthermore, Malawians must not rely solely on donors or foreign companies who have their own interests to come into Malawi and create jobs. This also extends to our educational system.

We must stop relying on foreigners to come in and sort out our problems.

When for example will Malawian corporations emerge that are owned by Malawian nationals, and employ thousands of Malawians?

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I’ll end with a personal story. A few months ago, a cousin-nephew who lives in the city of Blantyre in Malawi told me he wanted to study IT, in particular he wanted to work in Software or web related technologies. I told him to learn programming, and referred him to the City Library in Blantyre to find a book on the ‘C programming language’ which he could use as a starting point, since being trained as an Electronic and communications engineer I know that my education in programming began with C programming (as has been for many other people working in software and IT). So I was keen to get him down a similar path in this sense.

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A few days later he told me he had gone to the library but was told that they didn’t have any book on C programming. Further, he doesn’t have a computer, so even if he did have a book, there’s no where to practice how to code. Also he wasn’t sure whether he could install educational software on some of the public computers he has used in Internet Cafe’s. I wondered how it was possible for a library of a major city of a country to not even have a single book on C Programming, let alone computers for the public to use…In this digital era.

If things are like this outside the classroom, in a city, in 2015, I could see how easy it was for teachers to be frustrated.
Today, my thoughts are punctuated by an article I remembered, written by Steve Sharra titled Malawi at fifty One: the education legacies of Malawi’s presidents hitherto in which he argues that the failure to utilise the higher educational system to improve the quality of teaching and the teaching professions has negatively affected the country’s developmental process. In the article, Sharra writes :

However at primary and secondary school levels the problem of teacher morale, the most significant of the problems afflicting Malawi’s education system is getting worse. Today, anger amongst Malawian teachers has become so pervasive it severely corrodes the education system. In the first of 2015, salary delays took a turn for the worse. With communication from the ministry not forthcoming, teachers resorted to asking fellow teachers on Facebook groups for updates. It is frightening to imagine how these angry, bitter, frustrated and demoralised teachers are treating children under their care.

So here I am seated in a central city library in Nottingham (East Midlands), which has recent issues of magazines published in India, several copies of Der Spiegel, (including a May 2015 copy), and even an East Midlands Polish publication, let alone books on computer coding;

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I’m surrounded by both young and older people – all oblivious of my observations, getting on with their lives ; and I’m thinking how I can send a netbook with a compiler pre-installed on it, and a book on C programming to Malawi. I’m also thinking about all those young people who want to study IT related subjects across Africa(some of whom are being taught under trees), who greatly desire to tap into similar knowledge as is scripted in the pages of these books on the shelves next to me, but who can’t find a book anywhere to help them … who don’t have anyone to send a computer to them.

That is why I’m not excited about Roger Federer’s investment into pre-school Education in Malawi

Practical Community led Activism

Now that the UK general election is over and done with, people this side of the world can get back to work, and begin focussing on the difficult issues facing Britain.
Among the terms that have been used by some commentators lately (often referred to together with the notion that the UK needs a federal system), is ‘Community led Activism’. This is probably very similar to the much talked about concept of a Big Society.

But what would Community led Activism actually look like? You hear it talked about, but few take time to really spell out how it would relate to everyday life.

I was curious, so after some thinking, probing about online, and studying various articles on the subject, I’m inclined to think any form of Community led Activism is incomplete without the following ingredients:-

(i) Change management strategies

(ii) Local ownership of change

(iii) Introduction of practice guidelines / best practices; and

(iv) Regular evaluation.

Community-led-ActivismBefore we open up churches as centres that are eligible to administer healthcare, before we begin community projects that serve communities while giving jobs to local people, and before our cities’ libraries also become art galleries, music venues-cum-coffee shops that operate for profit to raise money for communities, (as well as having free services for the most disadvantaged in society), before we increase local food production, before we have cooperatives in charge of local generation of green energy, before we bring back manufacturing from China, before we begin opening up parts of the greenbelt and brownfield land for building of affordable residential accommodation…

internetbefore we invest in information technology education to empower young people to be equipped with the necessary skills for the digital economy,..before all that and more, there has to be a general function that powers Community led Activism. Think of it as a macro level approach, underneath which everything else sits.

The best way to explain this is to look at a number of areas in which the above four ingredients may be useful.

Lets take Education for example. If you want to have devolution of powers from London to communities so that they get authority to decide on Education Policy as they see fit, there must be change management strategies employed in each of the communities concerned. This may come in the form of a new culture instilled at the devolved locality which establishes an effective management system to oversee, administer and evaluate the new policies, and move away from what hadn’t worked. Since the people who are already working in the environment are stakeholders, it is crucial that they are not maligned or resistant to the new proposals.  In fact Educational Authorities (or whoever is eventually given the responsibility to run the scheme) would need to embrace any new changes (and from experiences of the past this is not always easy, as Michael Gove’s stint as Education Secretary proved. See another link here).

Thus, change would need to be brought forward from the bottom-up (as opposed to top-bottom). Just as well, because Local ownership of change is also an essential ingredient. This is important since there will be localities which are happy with their current systems – which deliver desired or at least satisfactory outcomes, and so need not be interfered with too much. For such communities, Local ownership of change is empowering as they don’t have to do what they do not want; as will be for localities which have special needs by virtue of having different circumstances, and so which need slightly different solutions to the schemes/ solutions which others in the same country are adopting.

Similarly, for communities whose Education sector is lacking in some ways (be it in performance levels, funding or otherwise), if change is ‘owned’ at local level, then people are empowered to be able to find solutions that are tailored to the needs of their community. Since it is in the best interest of the community for certain results to be achieved, that change will be embraced quicker and more willingly if it is ‘owned’ at local level, and driven not by consultants hired by HQ, but by the stakeholders at local level.

But what about Introduction of practice guidelines / best practices? Well, lets take Job Creation & Employment legislation for example. Practice guidelines lay down the rules, to ensure there is uniformity across a region/ country. Employment legislation protects employers and employees across a jurisdiction (be it a state country or region) from abuse or unwarranted harassment. If a community seeks change in the labour market, for example to improve conditions for workers, then practice guidelines will be needed once that change is achieved (or even before) to ensure that the desired change is sustained, and is not short-term. Practice guidelines ensure consistency. They help everyone know what their particular roles are, and when such must be undertaken. And in relation to Employment legislation, guidelines at community level will enable employers and employees to know what their responsibilities are towards each other in the general scheme of things, without necessitating a change in the law at national / state level. This means if there is a problem in an industry that is concentrated in the North west of England (or say in a specific industry such as the hotel insustry), guidelines can be rolled out affecting the north-west (or that specific industry), without tinkering with the law at national level, thereby not interfering with the practice elsewhere.

Finally, there is the matter of Evaluation. This is important, because it means improvements or new policies can be reviewed, and if they are not doing as well, a better solution or alternative found. It allows the community to ask: Are we really doing as good as our research stipulated? And if not, why? It enables you to change course when new policies at community level are not having the desired effect.

You can apply the above ingredients to Residential property development, Healthcare, Tax policy, Welfare, Immigration, Pensions, Sustainability and Conservation… the list is endless, and I believe it is possible to make some good progress; even in a country which some people think is suffering a hangover of the politics of fear.

Does Education matter in Malawian Politics?

We vote for politicians because we want our country to do better. We stand queueing for hours to pick a president and member of parliament of our choice. We wait anxiously by the radio for results, but it seems that no matter who we elect in Malawi, we end up being disappointed. By now we all know that most Malawian politicians are opportunists who have over the years acquired impeccable skills in ‘party migration’. They are skilled in image reinvention and tactful only when their personal interests are on the line. For years, politicians in Malawi have played this game with us and I wonder whether education has a part to play in all of this.  Is it because we have set the bar too low for politicians in terms of education?

Politicians are a special people because billions of people in the world  depend on them to solve the many global societal problems. In representative democracies, politicians are employed to make policies which reflect the wants and needs of the electorate. Through political manifestos, the electorate make choices on who is better poised to govern and through the ballot box, politicians are entrusted with the most important jobs on earth. It is therefore important that the electorate through their choices pick the best men and women who have the ability to achieve positive results for their countries.

box-321776_640The phenomenon of globalisation has changed the nature of international politics through the interconnectedness of different states in the world. Transnational Corporations have sprung up all around the world. States co-operate with each other on inter-state relational matters through international organisations such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation to name a few. The game of politics has changed at the world stage and competition between states through international treaties requires witty  politicians to make positive gains for their respective countries. For countries to win, there is need to employ politicians that have the necessary skills in international politics to compete with their counterparts. The international stage is where all the treaties concerning trade, security, the environment and other pressing national matters are negotiated. It is where our fate as a country is sealed through our negotiation skills and capabilities.

Malawi being part of this competitive global world needs brilliant minds to compete at the international level with other countries. Whatever politicians do at the domestic level still has an impact on us as a nation because we are living in a globalised world. We need capable minds that can be able to sit and challenge ‘hand me down’ policies that have for years held African countries down. Malawi needs people who can initiate policies that can increase our comparative advantage in the area of international trade. I therefore believe that it is only through education that we can be able to disseminate the complex world of inter-state  relations in the new liberal world order.

It is therefore questionable that the most important jobs in the country only require an ‘o’ level certificate as the minimum qualification.  Some of the leaders we elect in our parliament only have an ‘o’ level certificate and it is highly doubtful that knowledge attained at this level can produce minds that can initiate structural transformation in Malawi. Politicians are responsible for developing countries, and the content and scope of knowledge at ‘o’ level is insufficient  for one to grasp the intricate world of development theories. If we are serious about advancing our standing at the international stage, an ‘o’ level mind will not be able to compete with the many brilliant minds out there. The international realm is about competition and if we are to have a chance at diversifying our economy, then a Malawi School Leaving Certificate will fail us.

This country fails because we employ people who are not qualified for their jobs. We have seen ministers heading ministries with the wrong qualification or without any tertiary qualification on their portfolios. We have seen ambassadors being appointed to head embassies without any prior qualification or knowledge in international relations/politics. We have some members of parliament who only have an ‘o’ level certificate and then we wonder why these MPs spend 5 years just clapping hands as solutions to our problems. We have councillors that do not even know what town planning is all about and then we wonder why a nightclub is opened next to people’s homes.

This is why our parliament is passive when it comes to enforcing the clauses in laws in section 65. This is why our presidents to not even care to declare their assets at the start of their term as required by law. Parliamentarians are supposed to ensure that the constitution of Malawi is respected by all political parties. However, time and again, our MPs let us down because most cannot even realise the seriousness of not upholding the constitution.

I therefore firmly believe that Malawi needs tertiary educated politicians starting from top to bottom. And if they are educated, their qualification should be at least relevant to their posting. We need politicians who are qualified to grasp the challenges facing a developing country such as Malawi. Most non governmental organisations doing developmental work at the district level in this country require staff with a tertiary education. It is then absurd that the most important jobs in this country only requires a secondary school education.

America’s rotting empire: Billionaires galore and a crumbling infrastructure

This is an article from May 2014 by CJ Werleman, which appeared on Salon.com, which I think is quite interesting, and some of the observations therein probably apply to African countries more than it applies to the US Education system:-

…There is a defined correlation between literacy, numeracy and technology skills with jobs, rising wages and productivity, good health, and even civic participation and political engagement. Inequality of skills is closely correlated to inequality of income. In short, our education system is not meeting the demands of the new global environment, and the outlook is grim,

But the correlation between a strong public education system and social mobility is demonstrated clearly in the OECD report. A 2006 report by Michael A. McDaniel of Virginia Commonwealth University showed that states with higher estimated collective IQ have greater gross state product, citizens with better health, more effective state governments, and less violent crime. In other words, were we to invest more in public education, we’d be instantly more intelligent, healthy, safe, and financially sound….

But the conclusion sums it up best:

…The principal force for convergence [of wealth] — the diffusion of knowledge — is only partly natural and spontaneous. It also depends in large part on educational policies,” writes Thomas Piketty in his 700-page bestseller Capital in the Twenty-First Century. In other words, if we really want to reduce inequality, and if we really want to be a global leader in the 21st century, we need to invest more into our education system, which requires the federal government to ensure the rich and the mega-corporations pay their share…

What makes a leader?

Meaning what forms them? Are they born with leadership qualities, or does experience propel them into leadership?This question has captivated scholars for decades.

In my attempt to provide my angle on this question, I’ll look at one individual, Jimmy Carter and posit that while a certain disposition and possibly ‘genes’ may contribute to one’s leadership abilities, maybe education and experience more than anything makes a leader who they are. But firstly the not so rosy part – from the horse’s mouth:-

Jimmy Carter’s Biggest Failure as President via bigthink

To me besides knowing what he considers to have been his successes or failures, what’s really interesting, at least in as far as experience is concerned, is Carter’s background:-

Jimmy Carter is the 39th president of the United States. He was born in 1924 in the small farming town of Plains, Georgia, the son of a peanut farmer. He received a bachelor of science degree from the United States Naval Academy in 1946. In the Navy he became a submariner, serving in both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets and rising to the rank of lieutenant. Chosen for the nuclear submarine program, Carter also took graduate work at Union College in reactor technology and nuclear physics. In 1946, he married Rosalynn Smith. When his father died in 1953, he resigned his naval commission and returned with his family to Georgia, where he took over the Carter farms and became active in the community, serving on county boards supervising education, the hospital authority, and the library. In 1962 he won election to the Georgia Senate. He lost his first gubernatorial campaign in 1966, but won the next election, becoming Georgia’s 76th governor in 1971.Carter served as president from 1977 to 1981. During his presidency he negotiated a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, signed the Camp David Accords and the SALT II treaty with the Soviet Union, and established diplomatic relations with China. On the domestic side, the administration’s achievements included a comprehensive energy program conducted by a new Department of Energy; deregulation in energy, transportation, communications, and finance; major educational programs under a new Department of Education; and major environmental protection legislation. He lost his reelection in 1980 to Ronald Reagan, in part because of the Iran hostage crisis, in which 52 U.S. citizens were held hostage by Iranian revolutionaries who overthrew the government.   In 1982, he founded The Carter Center. Actively guided by President Carter, the nonpartisan and nonprofit Center addresses national and international issues of public policy. In 2002, Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”

[Source: bigthink.com]

Ok, so

(i) He was in the Navy – where he rose to become a lieutenant. This entailed some travel around the world, where he experienced different cultures and different ways of life. He was also very principled. According to his biography entry on the Miller Centre here:

…Carter worked long hours while his wife worked at home raising the children. Lieutenant Carter selected the submarine service, the Navy’s most hazardous duty. One incident during this time clearly illustrated Carter’s values and beliefs. While his submarine was moored in Bermuda, British officials there extended a party invitation to white crewmembers only. Partly at Carter’s urgings, everyone on the submarine refused to attend….

(ii) He’s worked in agriculture, the family business, where he gained immense experience, and turned the business into a success. According to a Wikipedia entry:

Carter is the only U.S. president to have lived in housing subsidized for the poor. Knowledgeable in scientific and technological subjects, Carter took over the family peanut farm. The transition was difficult, as the harvest his first year failed due to drought and Carter was forced to open several lines of credit to keep the farm afloat. Carter took classes and read up on agriculture while Rosalynn learned accounting to manage the business’ financials. Though they barely broke even the first year, Carter managed over the following years to expand and become quite successful

(iii) He was active in the community, so he genuinely cared about helping people, other than his own ambitions.

(iv) He has served on various boards – supervising education and healthcare – gaining more experience

(v) He became a senator at State level, so had an opportunity to hone his political skills much closer to home.

(vi) He lost his first stint at becoming a Governor of Georgia – something which must have provided him with more experience, in terms of what works and what doesn’t. That defeat must have had a role in shaping the future Carter.

(Vii) Became Georgia’s 76th governor, this being his second try. Where he instituted reforms that cleaned up the mess. The Miller Centre profile again:

But his primary concern was the state’s outdated, wasteful government bureaucracy. Three hundred state agencies were channeled into two dozen “superagencies.”

The point most probably being spotting the synergies and realising economies of scale.

….

Similar Links

Asking Whether Leaders Are Born or Made Is the Wrong Question – Harvard Business Review

Jimmy Carter Author Page – Amazon.co.uk

American Experience: Jimmy Carter

Kenya receives loan from African Development Bank for Last Mile Electricity Connectivity project

Remember my post here about 10 things President Peter Mutharika could do to help Malawians? Remember the part about the Malawian government applying for a developmental loan from the African Development Bank and / or a few select countries?

Well, look at what Kenya has done:

AfDBIn case you wanted to find out how much 12.2 billion Kenyan shilling is, as of today, its equivalent to US$134 million

KesOr as the African Development Bank (AfDB) itself puts it on their website,here, US$133 million when the loan was approved. Still a decent sum I think, which if properly utilised can go a long way.

According to the AfDB:

..the funds will finance the Last Mile Connectivity Project that aims to maximise the use of the Kenya Power and Lighting Company’s (KPLC) 35,000 existing distribution transformers spread across the country. The total project cost is estimated at US $147 million, with the Government of Kenya contributing the remaining US $14 million.

..

The Last Mile project has three components: (i) construction of the distribution network including installation of energy meters for the connection of residential and commercial customers; (ii) project supervision and management; and (ii) capacity-building activities, which include training KPLC technical staff to operate and maintain the distribution system.

The proposed project will cover the entire country with selected transformers in 47 counties and expected to directly benefit low income groups, largely in counties with the lowest penetration rate. At least 314,200 customers, which would translate into approximately 1,571,000 people, will have access to electricity. By providing increased electricity access, the project will contribute to improved living standards among targeted households in terms of education, health and access to information. As for small businesses within the project area, the project will also help increase their competitiveness and ability to expand activities.

Excellent. A connected and powered Africa is a stronger Africa. Great stuff. Good for them!

 

10 things President Peter Mutharika of Malawi can do to improve the lives of Malawians

Dr. Joyce Banda attending the 10th Conference of the UN Global Compact on corruption in New York.
Former Malawian president, Joyce Banda attending the 10th Conference of the UN Global Compact on corruption in New York.

1. Get to the bottom of the Cashgate Scandal: Not only regarding the K20 billion mentioned in the Forensic Audit report as the estimate that was misappropriated during Joyce Banda’s tenure, but also the K91 billion we were told by Joyce Banda’s government as the sums that went missing under Bingu Wa Mutharika and Bakili Muluzi’s regimes. For example this exercise could involve legislation to ensure that funds illegally wired abroad are recovered, and failing that, assets of those convicted are confiscated.

If theft by public officials in Malawi – whoever they may be – goes unpunished, Peter Mutharika would have lost a golden opportunity to bring real change to Malawian politics, and he would have lied when he said that there would be “zero tolerance to corruption, fraud, theft and any other economic crime”. In the end, History will judge him to have been a failure because Malawians will continue to be hounded by poverty, while an elite llive in luxury.

Thus, if some of the misappropriated funds can be recovered, minimally it will give Mutharika some credibility that he is serious about corruption, and will also signal to donors that his government is a different kind of government. Anything less will question his integrity, and if he merely focuses on attacking former president Joyce Banda, discerning folk will immediately know that there is something amiss.

produce2. Restrict the Import of perishable goods that can be grown or produced in Malawi : And increase taxes on foreign processed goods like Coffee and Tea, which can be processed locally within Malawi. It will improve local industry, creating jobs, and stimulate the agricultural sector. Malawians must look at the bigger picture – the Malawian Kwacha (local currency) will struggle to be strong or maintain value if there is a disproportionately high number of imports (in value) over exports. In other words, if Malawians continue to pay millions of dollars for their imports, but do not receive equivalent or better for their exports, Malawi will continue  to struggle to maintain the strength of the Kwacha. And this will have negative knock-on effects. A good way to reverse this trend is to buy from abroad only those goods which cannot be sourced locally. To import only what is absolutely necessary. This can be done with legislation and by reforming customs agencies with the new policies. Further, increased security at borders will ensure that these goods are not being smuggled in. Thus, no importation of coffee, tea, eggs, tomatoes or milk from outside Malawi. No oranges or lemons from South Africa. No more imports of grain, beans, peas or processed sugar. Everything that can be made within, must be sourced from within.

It’s not going to be popular with donor countries, or those that profit from importing goods which can be sourced in Malawi. But such an initiative will help local producers, and will begin to rebalance the trade imbalance that currently exist between Malawi and its export markets (thereby retaining forex), and in the long run is a good strategy for Malawi.

africa“Trade among African countries is very low. Last year, it stood at 10 percent of the continent’s overall trade,” Valentine Rugwabiza, deputy director general of the WTO, which seeks to reduce barriers and promote aid for trade, told IPS. More here

3. Encourage Trade with other African countries: There are goods in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa which Malawi currently buys further afield. Policy makers should draw a list of 50+ categories of products which Malawi currently imports from outside the African continent, which can in fact be imported more cheaply from nearby countries. I know there is a debate regarding quality of certain products sourced on the continent, but it is in Malawi’s best interest to eliminate waste and reduce the cost it pays for foreign goods. The added bonus being it will improve trade relations with Malawi’s neighbours.

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Czech Republic

4. Encourage Trade with Eastern Europe Malawians have more things in common with countries in Eastern Europe than they know. Most Eastern European countries (or more correctly – the lands that became Eastern European countries) found themselves at the mercy of invaders from Napoleon to Hitler (this was after already being oppressed by Monarchies of every shade for hundreds of years – see this detailed timeline), and after the second world war, were under occupation by allies countries of WWII including Britain, the US and Soviet Russia. In the process they saw their borders altered and their resources plundered (as an example see this link). It didn’t end there, then came Eastern European dictators (the likes of Nicolae Ceausesc – who it is said kept his own personal witch, as he ruled Romania with an iron fist) who completed the cruel circle of oppression. In comparison, countries like Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique had the similar misfortune of having their borders carved by narrow-minded/ bad-intentioned colonialists who had no long-term interest as to the future prosperity and practicality of these new African countires. Not only have these African countries been plundered ever since, but the geographies of Zambia, Rwanda, Burundi and Malawi places them at a particular disadvantage in comparison to African countries with a coastal line.

Loan25. Development loan from the Africa Development Bank, China, Norway, Russia or Brazil : To be used for

(i) Investment in low-capital high growth sectors like Information Technology (IT Outsourcing, Application Development, IT security) and telecommunications (optical fibre networks, development of data centres)

(ii) Investment in foreign markets, blue chip companies and emerging technologies with potential – a move that could provide capital to the government.

(iii) To invest in Education (broadband internet to be installed in 50 % of schools), teachers wages paid on time, purchasing educational resources,  upgrading schools in rural areas, rewriting syllabi and improving the standard of education across the country.

(iv) To improve transportation links, including maintenance and construction of roads in rural areas, increased network of rail links and improved airports ( e.g. Mzuzu and Mangochi airports to be enlarged and developed, and made into international airports, Malawi Airlines to fly to more destinations)Business-centres(v) To create business centres in the major cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu to encourage innovators to start businesses.

(vi) To help young people in terms of technical training (Increase the range of Diplomas and short evening courses offered in Technical colleges and Universities across Malawi) and using Equipment Import loans (i.e. loans to individuals importing equipment from India, Brazil, Dubai and China in select sectors, especially those sectors with a high potential to create employment)

In order to  ensure the security of such funds from misappropriation, it is vital that each contractor be paid directly by a fund management company created from members of the civil society, development organisations, experienced fund managers and representatives of the major political parties. Minimally this will ensure that suppliers are vetted and are not in conflict of interest relationships with any leader, political party or authority. Thus, funds will not be paid into government accounts, instead they will be paid directly to suppliers, to those responsible for building the infrastructure, to the manufacturers of purchased equipment, suppliers of educational resources and such like.

Further, to increase transparency, each loaning partner should be at liberty to place auditors within the fund management company to monitor and report on the use of funds. Finally, a publicly accessible resource (website) should be established to show how the funds are being utilised.

community-150124_6406. Encourage Local Community projects: The Mondragon Experiment has been proved as a success, and so far works well. Why not try a similar initiative in Malawi in an attempt to create standalone local communities that do not depend too much on the state?

federalism7.Support Federalism One of the main reasons countries such as Germany, Switzerland and the U.S. thrive is that their Federal Structures allow developmental decisions that benefit a commune to be implemented seamlessly without political interference.

Right now, everyone is looking at the central government in Lilongwe for the answers to Malawi’s woes. Unfortunately, for a country with the scale of problems which Malawi has, its near impossible for economic development to occur quickly enough if every development initiative is dictated from a central hub.

Running a country is not the same as running a law firm or being CEO of a private company. And unfortunately all of Malawi’s previous presidents – other than the founding father, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda (who closely observed public policy not only in Ghana [which is currently performing comparatively much better than most African countries] but also in the developed countries of the US and Britain), have not had the winning combination of a good education, extensive experience over a long period of time, and surrounded by an educated and capable team.

Further, among the 193 legislators in Malawi’s Parliament, are a few bad apples whose motives are questionable, if not downright dodgy. Thus, while there are many examples across the world showing that devolved powers from central government to local governments have achieved admirable levels of economic development, without a strictly planned economy, the odds are stacked high against such a unitary system from succeeding. It is in President Mutharika’s best interest to embrace Federalism, not least because it would divert some of the fire his government is currently receiving. In fact I think it would pacify some sections of the opposition, and create healthy competition among the new ‘states’.

grpeherve048. Invest in Solar Energy How can investors have confidence in your country if power cuts are commonplace?

At some point we must put an end to power cuts.

Solar Power could give Peter Mutharika’s government the energy he needs to develop Malawi. I know from my 2010 trip to China that there are UK companies who buy solar panels for less than $200 in China, and sell them in the UK for upwards of £1500. The margins are good, but I’m not talking about making a profit here. The Malawi government can construct solar farms using the roofs of public buildings, including Universities (which I’d imagine can be policed better than a rural located farm). In a country that gets plenty of sunshine, solar power could help supplement hydroelectric energy which Malawi currently depends on, and put an end to power cuts. This is a far better bet than wasting money on importing power from abroad.

9. Complete the Shire-Zambezi Waterway Bingu Wa Mutharika was right on pursuing this major project, and Peter Mutharika must dedicate resources to see it through. It will lower the price of goods coming into Malawi. Will improve trade between Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Burundi and will create massive employment.

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10. Dig boreholes and donate water pumps to farming communities Water shortages, in a country with a fresh water lake over 360 miles long? How about boreholes as a fallback option? Just in case the water utility companies continue to fall behind in terms of serving their communities. An added advantage for such an initiative is that the boreholes can also be used to provide water for agriculture during the dry summer months.

Congratulations Mr President – Where does Malawi go from here?

APMMy congratulations to President Arthur Peter Mutharika (APM) for winning the 2014 presidential elections in Malawi are aptly late. Over 2 months late – I’m somewhat embarrassed, but just as the lateness was not entirely of my own doing, maybe as a consequence of it (possibly even in spite of it), a lot more thought has gone into preparing these ‘congratulations’ than would have been the case if I had offered them the day APM claimed victory. Had I made haste, the congrats would have been too brief and would lack substance.

In earnest, this post is more of a call to action than an expression of pleasantries. And what better time to do it than when the President is in the US, to meet Barack Obama at the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. Pardon me for comparing the picture of 50 African leaders congregating in Washington DC to meet a US President, with governors being summoned to Rome to meet the Emperor, a summon by the Emperor to rulers of the provinces.

Except in this picture, the United states is not really an empire in the classical sense (if we ignore the economic sense for a moment). Neither are the 50 countries which have been invited to Washington, and are sending  their leaders, governors of US provinces. So the question is, why comply to such a request at all?

The simple and shortest answer is DOLLARS. Our world is controlled by the stuff. And even though the institution that issues currency in the US is essentially a private consortia of unknown entities (they are secret), the scheme of things is that most parts of the world today are currently dancing to the tune of Washington (and possibly to the tune of those who lend to Washington) , in the same way as at the height of the Roman empire, a large part of the civilised world did what Rome said, and were subjects to the political and economic power of ROME.

And while the rise of China could curb the dollar dominance, that’s not really what I want to talk about today.

1. Priorities

Mr President, as a well-educated man, I’m sure you know that there’s nothing wrong with Malawi forming alliances with bigger and more powerful countries. It is beneficial because such alliances can provide access to capital, if not attract inward investment (Your inaugural speech touched on this). Further they are potentially a conduit of technology transfer – which could have huge benefits for a country like Malawi.

Malawi needs developed allies, whether they are from the East, West, North or South.

However, who ultimately benefits from these alliances? Who gets the lion’s share? Are these deals really win-win situations? Could they be made to be win-win situations if they are not? Or is the bigger player benefitting more than the smaller player?

For example if a Chinese or American company invests $300 million into Malawi’s railway infrastructure, mining or agricultural sector, how much of that investment will genuinely foster long-term sustainable growth? A kind of growth in which ordinary Malawians are set to genuinely benefit from the deal? In layman terms, we might ask how many people will have their livelihood transformed by the investment such that they achieve or are likely to achieve long-term financial independence?

I think these questions must be asked, and addressed because it probably will not be of significant benefit to Malawians, if investors are persuaded to invest, but there is no strategy to safeguard the long-term rewards of the investment to ordinary Malawians.

An effective system needs to be created and implemented whereby revenue sharing (between investors and the government / local people) is as much a priority as the luring of investors. Maybe a good place to start would be to create investment organisations or government agencies such as this one in Angola, whose task is to iron out investment rules and create a win-win strategy. Indeed the rhetoric between Beijing and Luanda has increasingly been of creating ‘win-win’ business partnerships.

Malawi should learn something from such partnerships.

This is what most major powers today did in the heydays of their economies. Japan has these agencies, Britain established them many years ago, Germany has them (and has large manufacturing and investment zones which are testament to the success of these agencies), even China has a good number of them. And if you look at younger economies, like Australia and New Zealand, even there you’ll find them. Thus, it’s no surprise that a country such as Iran operates a few of these vehicles. With that benefit of hindsight, is it not important for Malawi to develop Government investment agencies?

2. Education

The technical projects of Bingu Wa Mutharika’s government were an excellent idea. And it is in your government’s best interest if these were successfully completed. We need more high quality educational institutions that will train our workforce, and empower them with skills that they will need to do their jobs well. Transferable skills which they can use in various scenarios. For this to happen we need to train teachers and lecturers abroad, to access this knowledge and impart it on our students. We also need to attract foreign specialists who already possess this knowledge, and bring them to Malawian institutions so that they can impart their knowledge onto our students. We need to broaden the subjects on offer at our institutions, and we need to make higher education more accessible. Here, the use of technology may be useful, in that video technologies that allow the creation of  ‘virtual classrooms’ could provide an excellent (and cheaper) way of technology transfer. Here also is the need for equipment most paramount. Your government would be best advised to source as much educational equipment from other countries or educational institution as can be possible. This can be a real game changer in terms of the quality of graduates we train.

3. Corruption

Mr President, if there’s one critical limiting factor to Africa’s economic development, whose negative effects don’t need re-articulating, it is corruption. The practice is killing the continent. And if nothing is done to curb the prevalence, and extent, we will never catch up with the rest of the world. In Malawi, the Cashgate crisis has put this issue in sharp contrast. And an opportunity has arisen in that addressing corruption in Malawi could close the loopholes for good, safeguarding public funds, and paving the way for sustainable economic development. It is crucial that the perpetrators of the Cashgate scandal be brought to book without selection or bias because this will give people confidence in your government. It really is in your best interest that our government in Malawi becomes clean. A cleaner government is a stronger government. And a stronger government has a better chance of creating and maintaining a strong economy, than one which is inherently corrupt. Examples of this relationship stretch from recent governments in Norway, all the way back to the Roman empire I referenced to above.

4. Unity

Bringing in Muluzi into government was a good and commendable gesture. Although many people I’ve spoken to have doubted whether he has the experience for his current office, I think having him in government is a positive thing. But that aside, I think trying to find common ground, and inviting the opposition into government should go much further. There are many talented people in Malawi. Proud Malawians who have immense talents – but who are not utilised and therefore feel left out. Maybe the creation of Parliamentary committees enables participation on some level, but more must be done. I’d think new blood like Juliana Lungudzi and several other young politicians could do more if entrusted with responsibility within government. Why? Because Malawi needs fresh ideas, and different people have different ideas they bring to the table depending on their experiences. Yet ultimately, we all want Malawi to develop, to do better, so it would be in our own interest if everyone participated. I urge you Sir, to empower this parliament to be different, to be united and a force for good on behalf of ordinary citizens. The way to do that is to keep the legislators busy with meaningful projects that have a real prospect to effect change. And to keep jealousy firmly locked out.

5. Federal System of Governance

This goes without saying, but power shared is responsibility shared. There’s little justification why a country the size of Malawi with a population over 13 million should restrict itself by virtue of its system of government. And one man can never fully cater to the needs of 13 million people. Neither can 192 people – no matter how prolific – do enough to improve the lives of so many people. A Federal System could change that. It will bring more people into participation in the building of our economy, and the power bestowed upon them will enable them to undertake projects free from the control or bureaucracy of a centralised system. Across the world, there are many examples of countries with Federal Systems that work far better than those with centralised systems, and as an expert in law, I’m sure this issue is evident to you.

6. Infrastructure

See this and this (which includes a reference to the Shire-Zambezi Water Way). Increased infrustructure will open our continent up, and make it easier for people to do business. It will also lower the associated costs of investment – a factor which could attract more investors.

7. Investment into Manufacturing and Business

In order to be less reliant on products sourced from outside, we need to develop our own manufacturing sector. Why should we buy from outside things which we can make or source quite cheaply within our own borders? With tobacco earnings set to drop, now could be the time to diversify into manufacturing. After all, China is increasingly becoming an expensive destination for western companies – many are looking for alternatives. Creation of incubation and business centres is also a necessary prerequisite to sustainable economic development. If you make the cost of doing business low in your country, many people will flourish and reward your government handsomely in increased tax contributions.

8. Subsistence farming and preservation of Small Industries

There are lessons to be learned from the Farm Input Subsidy Programme. And your government would be best advised to listen to what the people want. Thus, how many fishermen who currently use canoes for their trade would do better with a boat? How many farmers who use hoes to prepare the fields could benefit from a cooperative that lends out a tractor? Similarly, what should the government do to help industries such as these:  How second-hand clothes kill business for Malawi’s tailors.

9. Accountability

Our culture of accountability needs to be restored in Malawi. People should not do wrong (be it in a parastatal or top civil service position) and think they can get away with it. A good way forward would be for regular performance reviews not only for ministers, but also ordinary civil servants, preferably to be undertaken by external auditors (to minimise the prospect of favouritism developing into self-accountability). That way we would be replacing entitlement (where people think they have a right to a job – even when they are not qualified for it / when they are bad workers) with accountability. Similarly, it must never be right for an investor whose company has earned millions of dollars through doing business in Malawi, to evade tax, legitimately, on Malawian soil. The loopholes need to be closed shut.

10. Increased Trade with other African countries.

I urge you sir to be an advocate of the Africa brand. We need to import more from our immediate neighbours than from farther afield. We need to lobby the west to act in reducing cost of remittances. We need Africans to do more business with other Africans. See this for more information.

11. Security and Safety

We need to restore our confidence in the police. Malawi needs more security, not only along our borders but within our towns and cities. People in Malawi don’t feel safe anymore. Not like how safety used to be defined in the 70’s and 80’s. If we can’t afford police cars, let the government buy our police officers motorcycles (which are cheaper to run), so that they are able to respond to calls for help.

12. Investment in International markets

Malawi and other African countries need to invest in international markets. This should be a strategic and long-term initiative. We need to create organisations that invest in global companies around the world, so that the dividends therefrom are wired back to our countries in Africa, boosting our economies, and thereby contributing to our continent’s economic growth. Just see this article titled Bleeding Money: Africa Is A Net Creditor To The World, Illicit Outflow Actually Exceeds Inflow Of Aid, Investment, to understand why this is necessary. It’s urgent.

Mr president, Malawians are looking up to you now. They need leadership accompanied by action, and less of the empty promises of previous regimes.

Once again, congratulations Mr President Sir!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Democracy: At what price?

chibamboOn the day that I saw the above message on Facebook, I also saw this, titled “Malawi, Africa Countries Snub ‘Un-African’ Proposals At UN CSW Meeting” which has the following two paragraphs:

“There were issues of comprehensive sexuality education, and abortion among others and it was proposed that a child should be taught about issues surrounding sexual life from the age 0 – 4, and that the girl child should not be restrained from having sexual intercourse as long as she is old enough,” explained Makungwa.

She added, “So as Africans, we stood our grounds because we found such proposals very un-African and as for other proposals such as that of homosexuality, we clearly told the meeting that as a country, the matter was referred to the public for debate.”

While conservative leaning churches would probably be pleased with these kinds of headlines, to me a more pressing issue is troubling.

Who gets to decide who makes the law? Or rather, who gets to decide who dictates public policy? Is it the people of an African country, its government or the donors and financial backers who must map public policy?

As a black person living in Britain, I’m always appalled when the rights of minorities are denied by popular sentiment, or by religious / perceived pseudo-religious beliefs of the majority. But in this case, I find it extremely difficult to reconcile the fact that when less than 50 years ago the law in the UK forbade homosexuality, you now have what amounts to ‘carrot demands’ by what are probably western organisations pushing young African democracies to legislate or support similar laws to those which in the West took hundreds of years  (and murderous mistakes) to properly form. Irrespective of African culture and other considerations.

It’s a bit hypocritical isn’t it? In my terribly (un)imaginative mind, it sounds a bit like a man mouthing off in the London Underground voice ( ‘Mind the Gap’) : It took us 500 years to overturn these laws, it must stake you less than 40…”  Tasteless.

Further, on the list of what should be priorities (hunger, disease, poverty, education, rights of women, etc) of African leaders, where does LGBT rights feature? Is it really sensible to ask a presidential candidate to support gay rights when half his country’s population is starving, when the country has poor public health facilities, hospitals without medicines, when crime is compratively high (than in most western countries), when illiteracy levels are high, when there are poor educational prospects in the country, an unacceptably high number of women continue to die in childbirth, when unemployment is high, and when corruption is rife in both the public and private sector?

Wouldn’t it be wiser to allow the political leaders of African countries some leeway for what will probably be a slow but organic natural transition? As opposed to applying forced catalysts whose motives are not entirely clear.