This is the main reason Malawi wants to be friends with Somaliland

Somaliland’s Parliament Building

If you were presented with a picture of the rather unassuming building of Somaliland’s Parliament for the very first time, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the place was in fact the site of Prakash Patel’s Tandoori Curry Bazaar in downtown Limbe.

Yes, looks are not everything, but the building is reminiscent of a glorified third-rate Bengali restaurant in a dusty part of town than the bonafide parliament building that it actually is. It looks more like one of those places where families go to after a sweaty day in Church, for Sunday dinner – complete with Biryanis, Chicken Kormas and Lamb Vindaloos.

So, what on earth is Malawi looking for in Somaliland?

Shouldn’t we instead be cosying up to the Singapores and South Koreas of this world? The glitzy success stories whose ‘breadcrumbs’ can catapult our tiny economy into the 21st century….no?

I mean, if we are serious about implementing a tried and tested formula of economic development which other countries have been using to develop their economies for decades then surely an official trip to New Delhi or Jakarta sounds more like it?

There’s been quite a bit of speculation as to the real reasons why Malawi is interested in Somaliland, and I won’t tire you by rehearsing those reasons here.

The adminstration of Somaliland has put out what to me sounds like regurgitated diplomat-speak.  A cut-and-paste statement that is too generic to be meaningful or taken seriously. The government of Malawi too hasn’t provided a convincing reason for its interest in Somaliland. In any case if the issue was truly about Somaliland seeking support from Malawi for it’s national recognition on the world stage, then surely it should have been officials from Somaliland visiting Malawi, and not the other way round. As the Chichewa proverb goes, phiri siliyendera nyani koma nyani ndi amene amayendera phiri (A mountain doesn’t follow the monkey, it’s the monkey that follows the mountain)

What’s surprised me from the commentary about the visit in Malawian publications is to see almost no one pick out the most probable reason why Eisenhower Mkaka (Malawi’s Foreign Minister) visited Hargeisa – the capital city of Somaliland, which I’m quite sure most Malawians hadn’t previously heard of before Mkaka’s visit.

I think the real reason Lazarus Chakwera’s government is looking to befriend Somaliland is to do with Oil. Yes, it’s all about Petroleum. Why this is the most likely reason is because in recent years, there’s been quite a lot of talk about investment into Somaliland. Only last year, the London headquartered Genel Energy announced it had increased his stake in the SL10B13 block in Somaliland to 100% , after acquiring a 25% state that had been previously held by East African Resources Group. That block alone is said to comprise several interests each containing at least 200 million barrels of crude oil, with some analysts estimating that there’s at least 1 Billion barrels of oil underneath that one block. That means Somaliland as a whole could have significant petroleum reserves, possibly of the size comparable to those found in several of the neighbouring countries.

And that’s a big deal.

Further, when friends are hard to come by as has been the experience of Somaliland (which is still regarded as an autonomous region within Somalia, and hasn’t been officially recognised by any country) any sort of trade can make a significant difference. As other marginalized states (including sanction-laden states such as Venezuela & Iran) will tell you, any takers of your output including oil in circumstances where other countries are afraid of the consequences of trading with you can be a lifesaver.

In addition, Somaliland in 2016 signed a 30 year contract with the United Arab Emirates’s DP World, the third largest port operator in the world, to manage and expand its Berbera Port. Last year, a US$400 million road project connecting Ethiopias border town of Togochale to Berbera was launched, a route which some analysts say will be an alternative transit point for imports and exports out of Ethiopia. There’s been several other significant and notable investments…

But if the oil quantities are as significant as some think, its only a matter of time before a refinery is constructed. Already in the south Ethiopia is looking at building it’s first oil refinery. This follows the shelving of a Blackstone Group LP-backed fuel pipeline project 2 years ago. Thus, given the frosty nature of diplomatic relations between Somalia and Ethiopia, it’s not inconceivable for Petroleum from Somaliland being refined in Ethiopia in the near future, before being sent back to be shipped from Berbera to destinations across the world.

Malawi needs oil at as cheap a price as can be found. Thus if you can sign contracts with ‘friends’ who are relatively new to the oil game to sell you oil at ‘friendly prices’ (as opposed to Market rates) in exchange for support regarding the friend’s sovereignty, then theoretically everyone stands to benefit. Malawi gets its relatively cheap oil at prices it can afford without having to deal with the baggage of the likes of Nigeria, Somaliland gets some Forex, and a measure of the international recognition it very much craves, there’s a boost to intra-African trade. Everyone’s a winner!

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?

Satans Neonazi Conmen (Part 2): To stay put + die / migrate but risk death + persecution

Sometimes the law defends plunder and participates in it. Sometimes the law places the whole apparatus of judges, police, prisons and gendarmes at the service of the plunderers, and treats the victim – when he defends himself – as a criminal. Frederic Bastiat

Rich countries figured out long ago, if economies are not moving out of dead-end activities that only provide diminishing returns over time (primary agriculture and extractive activities such as mining, logging, and fisheries), and into activities that provide increasing returns over time (manufacturing and services), then you can’t really say they are developing – The Myth of Africa’s Rise – By Rick Rowden

It is better to be a lion for a day than a sheep all your life. ~Ghanaian Proverb

It’s a simple mathematical analysis almost every living human being is capable of making, and which nomadic tribes have used for survival for centuries :- Do I stay in my present environment and put up with this drought/ hunger/ deprivation/ corruption/ sh*t and risk death, or do I go somewhere else in search of greener pastures even though there are also dangers there. Which risk is a safer bet? Which risk is worth my life?

For some, the urgency of their situation, or the realisation that there has got to be something better in life than the status quo, than their miserable existence motivates them to take extremely challenging (or even reckless) risks (see here , here , here and here).

The result, some make it out successfully, while others still end up dead (Niger migrants’ bodies found near Algerian border – via BBC,  Substantial risks for African migrants ) while attempting to make it out. Some get to the new frontier but have to endure untold persecution for years; others make it out but find themselves victims of organised crime, while a smaller percentage eventually settle into a newer better life – one still littered with challenges.

This is a realisation which is difficult to explain” one man told me, a Somalian migrant who came to Britain 10 years ago “You have to experience it yourself to understand it

But why are people prepared to risk their lives for what is effectively a pie in the sky; a dream that may never materialise, or which may end up killing them – as it has killed thousands others in the past?

Well, some are running away from unpredictability of life, chronic economic deprivation, high death rates and low life expectancy. Living conditions that can partly be painted using the following pictures:

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Others are seeking new frontiers, and are wearied by the lack of educational opportunities in their own countries (educational opportunities that are narrow, often expensive – and beyond their reach – and that do not cater for a diverse range of skill sets). These people have resolved to find education elsewhere.

Some are fleeing from wars or military conflicts that have ripped apart their societies, setting one man against his brother; fighting on ethnic or religious lines, either for political or resources control. Else, they are victims of organised crime (Trafficking victims too often treated as immigration cases, say campaigners – via the Guardian) – manipulated and scammed into believing a better life awaits them on the other side of the sea. When they get to Europe – they face more persecution!

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Others are purely economic migrants in search for work and better pay because the rate of unemployment in their own countries is too high. Combine that with low wages and increasing cost of living and the picture couldn’t be more depressing. For this group, using the family’s savings to get to Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia or America is a safer bet than going months on end without a job. Some families literally bet all their earnings on a single son, with the hope that if he succeeds in reaching Europe, he can get a job and help them by sending money home to them. And if you look at countries such as Somalia where their youth unemployment rate for 14 -29 year olds hovers around 67%, you can easily see why this group prefers to leave. As Mohamed Ali says in this TED talk, there is a link between unemployment and terrorism.

Else, there are those who are sick and tired of the scheming, lies and broken promises from the political classes. This group will often have waited for quite sometime before making a move, betting on one leader or another, hoping that real change that can transform their economic plight will arrive. When it doesn’t after decades of waiting, remaining in the country is not an option. In Malawi, president Joyce Banda, Africa’s second female president, who was warmly received by the international community less than 2 years ago, and who is a favourite to many leaders of Western countries, has been struggling to address a massive embezzlement scandal (see here and here) that has recently been uncovered at State House and in which millions of dollars were stolen from state coffers. Predictably, the beneficiaries of such dirty money are only a few hundred dodgy individuals-mostly those with links to the ruling party, whereas for the majority of citizens, living conditions have not improved in as many years, and in some cases they have worsened with reports of people dying because of lack of medicines, causing anger against the political elite and ruling PP party:

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Then there are the enlightened younger generation who are touted to be the hope of third world. Some of these are fortunate to have received a decent education in their own country (however remote such prospects may seem) or abroad, but are held back by lack of capital, demands of bribes from officials, issues such as regionalism, ageism, nepotism and other cancerous and backward biases. To this group, which is by far ‘better informed’ than the older generations, the idiocy of the political class, the massive corruption and fraud in government, the gaffes from political leaders, the lack of opportunities in society, the water cuts, blackouts / electricity shortage, the ignorance + backwardness of some sections of the older generation, increasing cost of living in the face of low wages, the high crime rates, social sentiments that are out of touch with global happenings in general, are all too much a burden to bear or live with. They look West, or move to developed countries which have better economic and social outcomes.

As an example, consider this statement which was made by a friend on a social media outlet:

“How can a Malawian lose when he/she give up the citizenship? After all some Malawians are treated like second class citizens (Scums) in their own land just because they are coming from certain region. I remember one Malawi head of state said, “Who cares about you in this country all you contribute is 25% to this nation development.” Referring to people from certain region. Thank God he was arrested by nature. Malawi will never develop because people who can really develop the nation are completely outnumbered.”

The numbers of those trying to get to Europe illegally may be high but as I stated in my earlier post, not everyone can live in Europe or North America. And indeed not everyone must want to live in Europe or North America. The countries on these continents have finite resources and mass migration puts a strain on their medical services, and on social and welfare services. Schools can become overcrowded, and native populations can find it difficult to adjust to the newcomers. Further, the culture is different – some may not like what they find. But to top it all,  in the long run, uncontrolled migration is bound to be unsustainable.

However, the solution can never be subjecting migrants (most of whom have genuine grievances) to harsh and inhumane hostile treatment. That does not target the root of the problem – it only causes suffering and creates enmity.

In my view, while there is a historical aspect to migration (which I will explore in my next and final installment) there are things western governments can do to reduce the numbers of migrants that attempt to leave their home countries (‘source countries’) :

1. Government policies on migration should place people at the centre in that there must be realistic alternatives on home soil.

“At its heart, migration is fundamentally about human beings” – Navi Pillay

It may seem like an obvious thing to say but potential migrants living in developing countries must be given an alternative. And if for whatever reason their own government is non-existent (as the Somalian government was for a very long time), incapable or under-resourced such that it cannot provide them with better opportunities – others must decisively step in. Only then will illegal immigration begin to be curbed. Essentially this means that people in a place like Mogadishu must have a realistic shot at life (affordable food; decent educational opportunities; availability of microfinance; adequate security; accessible and affordable healthcare, etc).

A choice between something pleasant and decent – and the journey that could kill them.

This also means that more resources should be poured into challenging extremism, and these resources must be well-administered to ensure that they reach the point-of-need and are not embezzled by corrupt politicians/ officials.

In a discussion with a friend the other day he said something simple but profound:

If you are sending £600 million in aid to Pakistan, are you then monitoring how that money is being spent, or do you then just look away and assume it will be spent properly?” he said

“How can extremism be defeated if there is no accountability from both the donor and the recipient of the funds?”

On this point, while the US and other western powers are withdrawing their forces from Afghanistan and Iraq, wouldn’t it be a good idea for a battalion or two (with the help of Nato or even the likes of Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran) to get into Somalia and other countries who are considered to be breeding grounds for extremism, to assist the anti-terrorism efforts against the likes of Al-Shabaab.

2. Most people don’t like to live away from their home country, their birth place, but as can be seen above, sometimes circumstances force them to leave. In order for illegal immigration to decrease, there must be better awareness in the home country from where the migrants originate. Instead of european border agencies focussing primarily on questionable measures to discourage illegal immigration, their governments should invest in training to be provided in the home countries of the migrants, to inform the local public of the dangers of illegal migration and what conditions illegal migrants live in. As involving as this may sound, if the national government of an African country such as Niger is unlikely to provide such information, isn’t it sensible for the destination country that will bear the burden of the arrivals to make it a point to do something before people think of leaving? In my view, this system would have much positive outcomes than harassing migrants who are already in Europe/ Australia.

3. Criminal organisations that encourage or fraudulently deceive people into believing that migration will give them a better life must be apprehended. There are no two ways about this-if there are 10,000 criminals trafficking people, then 10,000 must be imprisoned.

Unless the criminals who are encouraging illegal migration and who are providing the means, the actual transportation are caught and put behind bars, and kept there, it will be difficult to stop illegal migration. This also means financing and working with the ‘source countries’ to upgrade their national laws to ensure that such crimes have prohibitive penalties/ jail sentences that are long – giving a clear message.

4. Greater and more equal distribution / sharing of resources:

Western countries must change tactics in the fight against poverty. Most experts agree that ending poverty is key to solving many of the problems afflicting the continent of Africa. But few ever agree on a specific course of action. In my view, there are some ideas that can work better than others, and some ideas have been tried with little or no success.

If people can find a decent job in their own backyard, which can give them a relatively decent lifestyle, or if they can take out a loan to start a small business (and receive support from institutions that can help them succeed), why would they want to risk death for a dream they may never attain? As some argue, Is trade not aid, the answer for Africa? I believe there has to be a fundamental shift in the way western countries deal with Africa and other third world countries in that more focus should be given to getting  people financially independent (irrespective of who is leading the country), and not on the country’s resources. If people are empowered with the means to carve an existence, they will be better equipped to address the bad politics in their country.

Western governments must stop tolerating or financing mediocre and thoughtless leaders that are depriving their local populations of even the basics.

As I hinted here (and here), the quickest way to do this is to begin Research centres / Universities across Africa, with the hope that these will spur innovation in the form of sustainable industries around or alongside them – as has often happened with Universities in most western countries.

‘Working research centres’ focussing on sustainability and green technologies, or ‘Manufacturing Universities’ that make actual products designed for the African market can be built and funded to churn out a breed of African innovators.

Examples of products that can be manufactured here are Mosquito nets, Medicines, Animal feed, Juice extraction and manufacture, Software development, Manufacture of composite materials made from recycled products, Solar panel manufacture and suchlike.

5. Common problems that are hampering the progress of developing countries must be addressed. This also includes regulation of businesses at UN level to ensure that corporations that set up in places like Africa do not take advantage of weaker laws or crooked officials to sign backdoor deals at the expense of the local population, depriving the country of essential tax revenues.

6. The risks and Benefits of migration must be shared.

‘This Article argues that the global welfare gains from migration can be divided in a way that makes all stakeholders better off. It develops the idea of a “Migration Fund” that is used to insure the destination country against fiscally induced or otherwise undesirable migration while simultaneously serving as a mechanism to compensate the source country for the potential adverse effects of outward migration…’

7. Pathways of citizenship for migrants already in the destination country must be created. Most of these people have already suffered painful and unbelievable ordeals – why make them suffer more? Further, most of these people are instrumental in sending huge amounts of money back to their own countries. Some of that money fulfills the purposes laid bare above, and it is in the interest of the host country that this financial outflows continue.

8. Racism must be untaught. The more people in first world countries appreciate that migrants are humans just like them – in almost every other way, the less bias / discrimination there will be in society (irrespective of whether that society happens to be in a first world country, a developed country or in a third world country). There is no substitute to tolerance.

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