Selling Malawi for Peanuts

In whatever we do as a country, we need to make sure that the development path we take should be sustainable for the inter-generational cause. Our generation inherited a beautiful country and as the current custodians of this land, it is our duty to safeguard the interests of current and future generations of native Malawians.

It is my belief that those who fought to extricate colonialism were driven with the fervent desire to see this country independent of foreign dominion that was British Imperialism. It is therefore our duty to honour the wishes of those who fought and died for our Malawi by making sure that native Malawians are the drivers of development in Malawi.

David Korten, one of the leading proponents of alternative development once wrote,

The survival of our civilization, and perhaps our very lives, depends on committing ourselves to an alternative development practice guided by the three basic principles of authentic development: justice, sustainability and inclusiveness-each of which is routinely and systematically violated by current practice‘.

Today, Malawi is slowly creating an economy which will become dependent on some foreigners who are only here on temporal basis to make a fortune. Native Malawians are slowly being excluded from many vast opportunities that this nation has to offer, and I believe that the development course taken today by us, will harm the interests of our children and future generations because of our shortsightedness.

The biggest issue that is worrisome in this country is the sale of lucrative land to foreigners. According to Watipaso Mzungu’s report in the Nation newspaper of 17th January, only 5 native Malawians own business land in Limbe. It is a sad development on our part because just about 3 decades ago, native Malawians owned lucrative land especially in the cities of Malawi.  At the rate we are going, native Malawians will end up being excluded in their own country because we only want to satisfy our current intra-generational needs. I am not saying that it is wrong for foreigners to invest in Malawi, but we need to exercise caution when prime land is being sold to foreigners without securing the interests of native Malawians. A good example is that of the conflict between the locals of Masasa in Mangochi and Mota Engil. The locals claim they were not consulted about the selling of their land by the government to Mota Engil. The traditional authority tried to coax the locals to give up their land to Mota Engil, a transnational corporation which has plans to build a 5 star hotel and golf course by the lake in Mangochi. In the end, the irate locals of Masasa fought with the T/A, councillor and the police which left 2 people dead and others seriously injured. These are the situations which are unsustainable for Malawi because we are ready to deprive our own people their lake which ancestors lived with for many generations. The 5 star hotel and golf course is a welcome investment but it should not be to the detriment of the locals at Masasa. I am sure the lake has many vacant tracts of land where this 5 star hotel can be built without displacing people. Development is about including a people’s livelihoods in projects which ensure that poor local communities are not excluded from benefitting from our natural resources.

Another worrying aspect of this land issue is that there are some unscrupulous chiefs who sell large tracts of valuable customary land to foreigners without securing the interests of future generations in their communities. Malawi has one of the most beautiful natural beaches in the world and there is need for us to limit and protect the sale of this land. The large swathes of land along Lake Malawi should be protected for our future generations’ livelihoods and investment opportunities. Future generations of Malawi might have the access to the much needed capital or funds to invest in these areas, and it is in our best interests that we preserve prime land along the lake shore. It would be very selfish of us to deprive our future compatriots of investment opportunities in their own country because of our ineptitude in prioritising national and indigenous interests. According to the Africa Conference on Land Grab’s research, over 55 million hectares of land in Africa has been “grabbed” since the year 2000. These land grabs are happening without any informed consent from development managers and thus millions of vulnerable communities in Africa are at risk of being displaced from their own lands.

Conflicts between Paladin the Australian mining company and the local people at the Kayelekera mining facility shows that Malawi is not ready to manage finite resources in a sustainable manner. Foreign investors scour the earth to find countries with surplus natural resources but with weak or ineffective environmental laws, because it reduces operating costs for firms.  Paladin has been mining uranium for years in Karonga but where do the proceeds go? Can anyone really point out any structure in this country that was built using proceeds from uranium mining? Uranium is a finite resource and if we are not careful, we will deplete our reserves with nothing to show for it. Once again, Malawians are handing out natural resources to the foreigner who will only continue to exploit us.

In the midst of conflicts between the locals and Paladin at Kayelekera, we hear that the government is busy employing foreign companies to explore the possibility of oil in Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi is a source of food and income for the poor living along the lake shore, and if there was to be an oil spillage, we risk the well-being and livelihoods of current and future lakeshore inhabitants. For centuries, our people have lived in harmony with this lake and it would be very selfish of our generation and our leaders to put others at risk because of our voracious greed. In terms of attraction for tourism, Lake Malawi is all we have. I’m sure no Malawian needs any reminder of what happened with Nyika National Park. If it was not for this lake, we would have no tourists coming to Malawi because Lake Malawi is the epitome of attraction in this country. I believe that oil drilling in Lake Malawi is not sustainable because oil is finite resource and also an environmental hazard that can destroy livelihoods and the lake’s Biodiversity. Lake Malawi provides 70 to 75 per cent of the animal protein consumed by both urban and rural communities. It would therefore be negligent for the government to sanction oil drilling in the lake which provides critical habitat for an amazing array of plants and animals including bacteria, fungi, algae, plankton, mussels, snails, crustaceans, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

When our leaders go outside of this country, they are always selling Malawi to the world as a place of investment opportunities. Indeed Malawi is a peaceful country which offers cheap labour and less competition for businesses, and it is therefore a haven for foreign investors. What we have to remember is that a foreign investor is seeking to make maximum profits, and the only way to do this in a host economy is by “cost reduction”. In Malawi, a lot of native Malawians employed by some foreign companies are being underpaid and exploited for monetary gains which sometimes do not even benefit our economy. A lot of our able graduates are languishing without jobs because some of our so-called investors only employ their relatives in top-tier jobs while Malawians are employed in low-tier jobs. Foreign direct Investment (FDI) is important in modern-day economics and plays the largest part in the growth of economies in a globalised world. However, when FDI is benefiting the foreigner than the host country, there is need to improve the structures to combat unscrupulous employers exploiting the weak and poor. There are a lot of foreign owned companies in Malawi who are exploiting the local personnel simply because our institutional governance structures are either weak or corrupt.  Malawians should not just be used for menial jobs only because we have educated people in this country who can fill up higher positions in foreign owned businesses.

We also have foreign investors who travel hundreds or thousands of miles away to invest in salons, clothes shops or other small enterprise trading entities. As much as Malawi needs investors, I doubt that these small trading entities are bringing any meaningful monetary gains for the country. If our trading partners in the West were following our pattern and forms of foreign investment, it is highly unlikely that their economies would have grown to astronomical heights. Malawi is a poor country that has a high unemployment rate and there is need to protect local entrepreneurs with small business enterprises. If foreigners monopolise the smallholder business market, the local Malawian entrepreneur is at risk of losing his/her business.

If we are to sustain development, native Malawians need to be the primary drivers of the economy and not the other way round. When we give licences or contracts to transnational corporations, Malawians should also be included in these processes to ensure accountability and justice. The Kayelekera mine is a good example whereby we are giving away our uranium to foreigners without any visible gain for the country. If we cannot get a good deal with foreign mining companies, it is not wrong for us to preserve our uranium for our future generations who might be in a better position to manage such resources. In this modern age of technological advancement, uranium plays an important part in the generation of energy. As our population grows, our hydro-electrical plants will not be enough to sustain Malawi and who knows, the future generations of this country might have the capability of setting up nuclear plants! It is therefore important for us to always think for our future generations because they too have the right to enjoy the resources this country has today.

All in all, I believe that we are the generation that is supposed to build a strong foundation for the house of Malawi, and if we fail, our future compatriots will inherit a broken country with little or no promise. And don’t be surprised if at that time, your”investors” all flee, and the country is thrown into chaos and violence.

Development is about continuity and the little we can manage to do in our lifetime is enough for others to carry on. If we do not have the capability to extract natural resources today, then there is no need for us to entrust our wealth with foreigners who are only here exploit our God-granted gifts. We cannot do everything in our lifetime.

Paja amati kuthamanga sikufika!

Global 100 Voices: No 4

My next guest is a good friend and a brother who I have known for many years. Based in London, he is a true son of Malawi, and someone who I genuinely believe has a bright future ahead of him. Yet it was only recently that I discovered just how much passion and ‘fire’ he has for Africa. Mr James Woods-Nkhutabasa, thanks for doing the Global 100 Voices Interview!

[ Brief profile: James has several years’ of communications experience working for public and private organisations, in promoting achievement in African leadership, issues concerning global governance and development. He is also one of the founding members of Diaspora Capital LLP (dCAP), a members investment club which seeks to make socially impactful investments in Africa ]
  1. As a Malawian, how important is Malawi’s Socio-Economic stability to you and your family?

I believe a socio-economic stable environment is beneficial not only for the nation only provided government can create an arena of good governance, accountability, transparency and no corruption. This is also attractive for investors.

  1. After nearly 50 years since independence, what visible progress do you think Malawi has made since independence?

The visible progress for me is that Malawi is now a democratic nation, people have more access to goods and are also more connected due to the digital revolution. On the downside Malawi is still fighting the goals set at independence and poverty levels remain high. We still have a long way to go.  Maybe regional integration is key to addressing this weakness through the delivery of wider social and economic benefits that would benefit the country and drive its development further. We need to stop thinking of Malawi as a single unit but think of it as a major part of the remaining 53 nations on the continent. Only then will we sing our success story. But we need to get our house in order first.

recycleds      3. In your view, what pressing challenges remain and what should Malawi aspire towards?

Malawi, similarly to other African countries is facing major corruption issues and a lack of good governance. Our parliament is also filled with recycled politicians – what I aptly name – ‘The Kamuzu/Muluzi Giants’. It seems to me that our politicians change allegiances as much as they change suits. The political world, leading a nation, serving your people should be a vocation or ‘a calling’ but not a pension, as it currently seems to be for some.

Malawi should aim to be a success story in good governance.

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

Create an environment of patriotism, transparency and competence. The government needs to remember that they are there to serve their people: men, women and children and thus to run the country accordingly as it is their responsibility. We need strong leadership and this can be achieved collectively, through government and civil society. Malawi needs an enlightened and dedicated sort of leadership that looks forward and not backward. Most importantly get the right sort of people involved in government.

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

The competitive work ethic and drive that people have in London is absolutely brilliant. People have the desire and resilience to achieve the best possible outcome. This has taught me to continuously improve to keep up with this ‘rat race’ and be able to be significant in the growth and development of the nation.

  1. What lessons do you think Malawians and the Malawian leadership can learn from those ideas?

Malawi has extremely bright individuals who can contribute great things for the nation. The leadership needs to promote an open society – welcoming of all and not based on ethnicity, tribe or social standing, but instead on what you can offer to drive forward development.

  1. If you have recently visited Malawi, what struck you most as the greatest sign of improvement or development?

The amount of women and youth trying to make a living through a business; truly inspiring to see the entrepreneurial spirit and a can-do attitude, be it selling vegetables on the side of the road to managing small wholesalers. It is really amazing at how they have adopted technology such as the use of mobile phones to sell and place orders. This has inspired me.

  1. What struck you most as the biggest sign of stagnation or regression?

I believe the lack of good educational standards and opportunities have really been under-played. Youth are the future of Malawi, the leaders of tomorrow; they are being frustrated by the lack of opportunities and a lack good of education. These youth can be a curse or a blessing and rather sadly it has been a curse on the nation with increased criminal activity. If we do not invest in the youth and create jobs how are we to have a good future? Without the right investment we will continue to face the same problems of corruption, poor leadership and bad governance.

  1. Malawians will be going to the polls in 2014, to elect a president. In your view what kind of leader does Malawi NEED, considering the country’s current challenges?

I think we need a bit of the positive characteristics that our past and present leaders have shown but most importantly we need a leader who has an entrepreneurial spirit, a socio-entrepreneurial impactful spirit. We as African’s are natural-born entrepreneurs…we need a leader who will use an entrepreneurial approach to create sustainable development and leadership in so doing promoting a culture of hard-working, ambitious young people to drive forward development. A leader who has innovative ideas and simply not just focussing on what has been done, but looking at what can be done. We need a leader who will deal with disparities in wealth that exist between the poor, the middle class and the rich. High on their specification will be better business and financial acumen, infrastructure, education, employment and better health services.

  1.  Specifically, how should that leader approach the top job in terms of sustainable development and reducing aid dependency?

I believe aid is still vital to Malawi for the next few years at least, but our president needs to really focus on the fruit of a stronger regional economic integration across the continent; and build economies of scale to enable Malawi and Africa to better compete in the global economy. Malawi seems to be attracting a lot of investors to the vast minerals in the country ranging from bauxite, gold, limestone (marble), monazite, niobium and uranium…then we’ve got oil and agriculture. The key aspect to ensuring the leadership moves away from aid dependency is to create a strong and efficient financial system that could support high levels of investment…also the need to eliminate the tax breaks these foreign investors have in the country as we are losing millions of US dollars annually.

Malawi can have a wonderful future. By strengthening its financial and legal systems respectively, and focusing on regional integration, Malawi has the potential to become one of Africa’s fastest growing economy by the end of this decade provided that political stability, social protection, quality education, private sector and good governance are implemented.

  1. Looking at the problems that have plagued the tobacco industry – which is our biggest source of export revenue– in recent times, what alternatives do you think Malawi has besides Tobacco, and why are they viable alternatives?

There is a major problem by relying on tobacco. Let us look at the bigger picture – tobacco farming is a major employer in Malawi where it employs 70% of the nations workforce – in terms of providing a living to the population it plays a big part.

The country does need to diversify and not only focus on tobacco as the international controls on tobacco are surely having or going to have an effect on the economy.

I think a strong emphasis should remain on agriculture produce such as tea, coffee, macadamia nuts, groundnuts, sugar, cotton, soya and timber. The potential for agribusiness is there but we need the right mentality in promoting good practice to increase efficiency and bring in investment and expertise to help scale up production but also go into agroprocessing, where higher prices for commodities can be achieved.

Infrastructure development is vital for Malawi’s economy to flourish. There is a need for better roads, airports and aviation, rail, ICT, water and sanitation.

Stronger focus on the extractive industries and corporate realisation of Malawi’s objectives in oil found in Lake Malawi. Mining currently accounts for only around 2% of GDP, with tobacco, sugar and tea remaining the main exports by value, but we all know the short and long-term potential of the mining industry if we play our cards right.

Tourism is another sector to focus on. This would bring the needed foreign exchange and foreign direct investment and importantly raise the profile of the nation as truly ‘the warm heart of Africa’. I do not know if you are aware but Malawi was recently crowned runners up in the 2012 Safari Awards “Best Africa Tourist Board” beaten by Kenya. This is definitely an important space.

12. Considering our troubled history with donors and funders such as the IMF and World Bank, how do you see Malawi progressing from this relationship in view of the criticisms these organisations have received in the media across the world?

Malawi, is still too fragile to sustain herself – as mentioned earlier I believe once the powers that be start developing the nation, attracting more investors and regional integration is in place Malawi will be on the right path to stand with the rest of Africa as partners and not rely on these international bodies.

13. How do you think the government is doing regarding managing Malawi’s natural resources?

Problems are there, such as issues to do with mining legislation. The main legislation governing mining is the Mines and Minerals Act 1981.

The Mines and Minerals Act 1981 states that companies operating in Malawi need to employ and train local staff but this is left at the discretion of the company, thus local workforce are often found to be losing out. There is lack of regulation, think of the people who are displaced by the mining companies? There is no protection for these people – regulatory framework for resettlement only requires compensation to be given for land, livestock etc…but nothing is in place to give those people back land of same quality. Most people living in villages where these mines are based do not own the land through purchase but through living there for generations thus when the mining companies come, these people are evicted and not titled to any compensation. Most importantly there is a lack of transparency – mining companies are not revealing their profits in line with expenditure and taxes. The mining companies are not required by Malawi government to reveal their spending in Malawi.  

14. Can the government do better to manage natural resources? If so how?

Government needs to address the points I’ve just raised and ensure something is done to curb this behaviour of secrecy. They need to tighten legislation, this will be achieved by revising the Mines and Mineral Act 1981 – I understand that this is being done.

15. What is your answer to increasing transparency and eradicating corruption which is plaguing most governments across Africa?

African governments need to be accountable to their citizens. The responsibility for dealing with corruption and transparency falls equally on all parties from governments and donors, to civil society and citizens. We all have to fight to ensure we can develop better leadership with the tools of good governance.

We have to remember, when we the people have information; we have the power to hold our leaders and governments accountable to improve the systems, tackle corruption and have transparency.

16. Any famous last words?

Let’s continue driving our country and continent forward. In the words of Kwame Nkrumah ‘’We face neither East nor West: we face forward’’.

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