Creating Large State owned corporations

They have them in most developed countries, and there is no reason why Malawi shouldn’t have a few.

For example did you know that Parpública, the Portuguese behemoth founded in 2000 and with assets worth US$13 billion, and which owns Air Portugal is a state-owned enterprise?

In the quest to find alternative solutions of economic development, the very first thing our country needs, maybe besides a mindset change, is to raise significant amounts of Capital.

This can be done in a number of ways, but probably one of the best ways is by issuing Sovereign Bonds. Using Sovereign bonds can lessen the debt burden on Malawi, and prevent the country ending up in the debt mess spiral that countries like Zambia and Angola have found themselves in.

This is because aside from the fact that the government would set the terms and conditions of the Sovereign Bonds issuance, it would also allow domestic Investors to invest and would not disproportionately make the country beholden to a foreign financier, private or public.

The reason we need such Capital is to make large strategic investments into infrastructure and equipment, which with proper planning and execution can enable Malawi to manufacture certain products which our people need most (domestic market),  but also for foreign markets, and for which we have a steady and affordable supply of raw materials.

So for example, we can use such Capital to buy a refinery to manufacture Ethanol for use in the Pharmaceutical industry and in alcoholic beverages, and for use as an additive in Vehicle fuels, by expanding and starting one or two additional sugar plantations and processing plants as the ones they have in Dwangwa and Nchalo, in a similar rural area. The ethanol product can also be exported to neighbouring countries cheaply undercutting their current supply chains, but creating a new revenue stream for the Government.

The waste products from the sugar plantations (bagasse https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/bagasse ) can be used as a biofuel, reducing our country’s over-reliance on firewood – which is worsening deforestation situation in Malawi, and is responsible for the numerous floods we experience almost every year.

Similarly, a large Sheet Metal Fabrication factory could be established to manufacture Iron sheets for roof houses (malata) to be used to supply hardware stores across the country.

Both the Sheet Metal Factory and the new Sugar Processing Plant would create employment for thousands of Malawians, and can be scaled intonmuch bigger operations if required. New and organised dwellings and townships can then be created around them. 

This is one way of creating large state owned corporations that can give jobs to thousands of citizens, creating employment across the country.

There would be other added benefits, such as more equitable spreading of the prosperity of the cities into the rural areas, decongesting the cities of traffic, and reducing migration to cities – as more working-age people would choose to live closer to these rural factories – where they can find jobs.

Finally, it would accelerate the provision of decent housing, water, sanitation, communications, energy and transportation infrastructure to the rural areas – factors which would contribute to the fight against poverty.

The Secret to successful state-owned enterprises is how they’re run (The Conversation)

More interesting posts at

http://malawiace.com

Should Malawi’s next Cabinet reflect the country’s demographics?

So you’ve managed to get the May 2019 Presidential election results nullified. Great! And since February the 3rd of this year, your beloved Malawi, the beautiful country which you love has become a shinning star, the gold-standard in judicial independence anywhere in the world.

Fantastic news!

Media outlets everywhere are praising you, Africans are congratulating you, everyone who knows you are Malawian talks positively about the developments in your country in terms of free and fair elections and an independent and competent judiciary. You feel proud. Fabulous!

Look! The FT has called the Constitutional Court decision… a victory for African democracy’. (Yes, the same Financial Times with revenues of $500 million). Favourable publicity doesn’t get any better than this, does it? All great, all wonderful stuff.

But let’s not get too excited too quickly here. Let’s not celebrate too much … yet. Ask any honest person who follows politics in Malawi, and they will tell you that while the victory against the fraudulent enterprise that is the Malawi Electoral Commission is one important victory battle in a war of many battles, there is unfinished business and on-going tussles that must be won in order to to clean up the structural rot in Malawi’s public bodies.

As Professor Danwood Chirwa put it here in his brilliant analysis whose intro was “The rearguard action has begun“, some people will fight tooth and nail to resist any meaningful change.

For example, there are Malawians who still think it is okay for a president or a government minister to decide which contractors should be awarded lucrative government contracts?? Then, there is the matter of public appointments; why should the heads of statutory corporations or parastatals still be appointed by the president, under a system that is definitely not merit-based – see [1], [2] for reference?  What about the boards of statutory corporations, shouldn’t their composition also be merit-based, and shouldn’t they be appointed by an independent body? What about public sector reforms. Didn’t the commission heading the initiative say the lack of political will was the reasons why bringing in the reforms had failed, with the UNDP comenting that: “Reforms call for transformation of organisational structures, a merit-based public service, transparent processes and procedures for improved service delivery.” (source: ‘Reforms on deathbed’, Rex Chikoko, The Nation)?

“Reforms call for transformation of organisational structures, a merit-based public service, transparent processes and procedures for improved service delivery.”

There is also the issue of the independence of the graft-busting body – the Anti-corruption Bureau (which in the past has been accused of being partial and having factions controlled by the executive); there is the matter of the independence of the police (who have at times used violence and acted shamefully against Malawians as if they were merely an unruly mob of the ruling party – see [3],[4]); there is the issue of the taxpayer-funded MBC, and how biased and unprofessional it is – see [5],[6]); there is the issue of political advisers, party honchos, strategists and other minions (some who like to call themselves “ana a daddy”) amassing fortunes and large amounts of unexplained wealth…

I could go on and on, and on.

And then there is the issue of the make-up of the Cabinet (which in past administrations, not only Peter Mutharika’s administration, has not reflected the country’s demographics). Wouldn’t it be fit and proper if Malawi’s next Cabinet more accurately reflected the country’s demographics, and was more than just a reflection of the president’s inner circle, party loyalists, cronies and tribal buddies?

Shouldn’t such be a given, that in a 21st century young democracy, one with (unfortunately) deep seated tribal allegiances, we should have a Cabinet that reflects the country’s ethnic make-up?

In any case, how are we to get rid of tribalism, cronyism, regionalism and nepotism in public office in Malawi, if we ignore the problem, and certain ethnic groups continue to be favored whereas other ethnic groups are sidelined and discriminated against when it comes to ministerial appointments, or more generally public appointments? You can’t say you have a genuine interest to get rid of tribalism, cronyism, regionalism and nepotism, but fill your cabinet positions, parastatals and board posts largely with yes-men, people from your village, chiefs, cronies from your region, members of your enthnic cultural association, and family members galore. That can’t possibly be right! Those state bodies can’t possibly excel.

If Malawians are going to fully capitalize on the Constitutional Court’s decision, and clean up the country’s many ills and failings (let’s be honest, there are many) for the benefit of every Malawian, then important undertakings like public appointments, cabinet positions and ambassadorial/ foreign mission postings must not be rewards for patronage or loyalty, but must be transparent merit-based exercises which reflect the country’s demographics and in the best interest of all Malawians.

Exploring the Social Enterprise – from London to Accra and back again.

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So I figured I wanted to do something, but I wanted to do something effective, not just, like, let’s get some clothes for these kids and leave it at that, not just token gestures. And one day I met this guy on the public transport rural Ghana; he was a master’s student and he introduced me to another guy, who was an advisor to the government on renewable energy.

More here ( The Urbane Ecologist )

  • Old Fadama Slum & Agbogbloshie Dumpsite

Why Peter Mutharika’s recent outbursts are evidence confirming he is out of touch with poor Malawians

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Last week,  the president of Malawi came out to angrily defend his New York Trip, and justified hiring a private jet (amidst an economic crisis), and taking out a large entourage to the UN, which he said was 106 strong, not 110 as most media outlets had initially reported. Basically, he rubbished the claims as the ones I wrote about here.

Mutharika claimed that many of the people who went with him were either self sponsored, or sponsored by other organisations. He also claims that the hired private jet was used only for the five-hour trip between Lilongwe and Dubai, and not for the entirety of his US Trip, as some media outlets claimed.

Complete with banging of his fist against the table, and language which is definitely not statesmanlike (‘nonsense’ and ‘stupid’ are two of the words the president used), language which is reminiscent of the last days of former president Bingu Wa Mutharika, Peter Mutharika told Malawians that he was already a millionaire when he entered politics, and that he can’t steal from them. He said he hired the jet because he did not want to wait at airports for 10 hours ‘like a fool’. He also called for an apology from those who criticised him, including from Zodiak radio and the Malawi Congress Party.

However many people have been irked by his outbursts, probably more so than the initial transgression, suggesting that his anger shows just out of touch he really is with ordinary Malawians.

And here’s why:-

  • In the interest of transparency why have we not been told the names of all the organisations which funded some of the delegates? Shouldn’t Malawians be told which organisations funded which individuals if what the president is saying is to believable? Further, shouldn’t these organisations tell us exactly why the funded such people, and what benefit that ‘investment ‘ would have for Malawi in the short to long term ? In addition, shouldn’t those organisations who privately funded members of Mutharika’s entourage speak up and justify why they couldnt have used their monies to fund much more pressing issues, such as funding district hospitals for example, which just this August Voice of America reported that they had reduced the meals they gave to patients to one meal a day, from the recommended three. Couldn’t those organisastions instead use the money they had to help employ the recent graduated doctors the government was failing to give jobs to? If the government cannot tell Malawians how many people were paid for by the tax payer, and exactly how many people were privately funded, and which those organisations were, then its difficult to take seriously what Mutharika said during that press conference.
  • Further, if these organisations he talks about cannot justify in black and white their reasons for paying for such a large entourage, and the direct benefits to the country – at such a difficult time for many Malawians, then they too are part of the problem holding Malawi backwards. Because which sane human being goes out to blow $600,000 + on flights and accomodation to New York when there are people who are dying because of lack of medical equipment in the hospitals; equipment which would cost a small fraction of that sum to repair? When we are told that 2.8 million people face hunger due to food shortages caused by the most recent floods? How about the exercise of empathy? The exercise of good judgement, and genuine exemplary leadership….
  • About the private jet, I’ll let someone else do the talking. For some strange reason, Malawian presidents always seem to get into trouble with private jets:
  • Ntata
  • That comment (“no single African leader went to New York on a Commercial Jet ” ) in the president’s speech is simply appalling…. because how many African countries are struggling in the same way that Malawi is suffering? How many African countries have as many shortages, a struggling economy, low poorly paid workers, hunger and high crime rates, how many have a free-falling currency, how many are grappling with a corruption crisis in which at least $2 billion went missing? How many are failing to improve their economies as Malawi is due to all these problems? So if Malawi’s problems are unique in a twisted kind of way, why should our president compare us with others who are flourishing, or at least doing far much better?
  • About the president’s comments of a ‘vicious kind of politics’..One must wonder why the President won’t take positive criticsm, acknowledge his mistakes, and apologise for bad judgement. It’s the president who must apologise to poor Malawians, not Zodiak or MCP…Why would people criticise him if he was doing what was right? It’s not the first time people have criticised a Malawian government or a Malawian leader over excess or bad decisions. From recollection, I remember very well that commentators and the media criticised Bakili Muluzi’s government when they made bad decisions; they criticised Bingu’s government when he erred, and most recently they criticised Joyce Banda – because of her government’s constant mistakes. Why then does Peter Mutharika think he is immune to criticsm?

Malawi needs a leader who is more like Mahatma Ghandi, or Fidel Castro, and not an out of control lover of luxury and pleasure that brings to mind dictators like Benito Mussolini.

Citizen led Development

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The problem with Malawi is everyone wants to be president. Whether this is as a direct result of enduring bad and inefficient government for so many years, under several clowns who somehow managed to lay claim to the crown of public office, or whether this phenomenon is a misinterpretation of what democracy actually is, by a largely closed-minded and ignorant rural population – I do not know for sure.

What I do know, is every noisy little fella (and it’s often a man), with his 2 tambala of broken english wants to be the president. Just buy him a few bottles of Carlsberg and play some Afrobeats tunes, bokobo, doro bucci, skelewu or anything like that and within no time he’ll begin telling you what he’ll do if elected president, even though he’s never held public office let alone been a member of any political party.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against competent people being of service to Malawi. My worry is incompetent people wanting to undertake such service.

I’ve been around many a drunk fella. From the carefree high school days of imbibing on Redds outside the benches of Chichiri shopping mall in Blantyre, admiring the beautiful girls ordering take-aways at Hungry Lion (or was it Wimpy ?) – then catching a minibus to Ndirande in time to get back into school before the 6pm head count; I remember the pub crawling days at Nottingham Uni. – when you’d return at 3 or 4 am to your bed (and the next day fail to remember exactly how you got back, or who the person sleeping next to you was). At that time, you were still expected to be at your lectures at 9am, and yes a register of attendance was taken; I remember the nights at Kwacha in Nottingham, where Malawians would argue with Nigerians over as simple a concept as whether the free movement of people in the SADC region was helpful…trust me I’ve seen many a caroused character.

But strangely, it’s only Malawians who uncover their political ambitions when drunk?? None of the Nigerians, Kenyans, Tanzanians, English, Australian, American or Malaysian nationals I’ve encountered at pubs or drinking places in the past talk of politics when drunk?? Maybe it’s also down to the people I’ve mixed with…?

But still, it makes me wonder: Is the Malawian attitude to politics (if such a thing can be said to exist) part of the problem. That too many of us want to have a crack at steak on the bone, when we have no teeth, and can barely tackle porridge? When, in the proverbial sense, we are but babes.

No wonder then that too many of our politicians have no clue on what running a country entails – as evidenced by bad decision after the next. Because they got into politics for the wrong reasons, they fell into it: As they say in Chichewa, Anangogweramo. They have not studied Public administration, or been working in an official capacity, discharging or administering a public service or function to the public, for any considerable length of time, how on earth are they supposed to know what the business of government is all about? Sadly, many assume that being in power equates to doing anything you like – often with public funds? And funny enough, the people, those being governed (who elect the officials to power), also wrongly assume that ‘boma’ can do pretty much anything they like.

Or  I’m I missing something?

This is the challenge facing Malawi: of ‘rampaging’ public officials drunk with power, abusing their positions in the face of an ignorant, resigned and powerless populace; neglecting their responsibilities in preference to self-enrichment.

All this is happening on the full-watch of toothless Civil Society Organisations, and in the face of the donor community, who it appears are happy to look the other way.

Here, a comment is appropriate. Seeing that donors have refused to resume budgetary aid, because of the corruption and looting of public funds, I wonder what else they can do – to ‘encourage‘ good governance?

Lets speculate for a moment.

Is it conceivable, I wonder, for donor countries who have in the past supported Malawi via budgetary aid, to begin funding entrepreneurs? Not throwing $200 to the guy selling charcoal or tomatoes, or mbewa by the side of the road in Dedza, no, not that entrepreneur – if you can even call him that.

What I mean is why can’t donor countries support the kind of entrepreneurs who can create wealth for hundreds or thousands of people in Malawi? As in the cooperative which is trying to buy a plough and combine harvester to farm 50 acres of land; or the activist who is speaking out to power, demanding good governance, and has a sizeable following… Maybe let me rephrase the question… Why don’t donors begin funding Social entrepreneurs, including ACTIVISTS – if both groups can be assisted to create jobs for other MalawiansWith the understanding, a very clear understanding that their impact should be designed to have a domino effect towards achieving wider developmental outcomes?

Malawi needs everything. From a mental and political transformation (often talked about by many other far better placed commentators), to decent and well resourced hospitals, Malawi needs to improve its security (or a sense thereof), it needs reliable utilities (Water and Power), quality education … better customer service, the whole lot.

But the common denominator that stagnates any prospect of change, in all if not most sectors, and that is in critical shortage, is resources in terms of funding. Instead of looking away, donors should transform the way they work in Malawi and other African countries, and begin providing resources to those people or organisations who truly want to make a difference. I’m not saying its easy or simple. What I’m saying is it is necessary.

Some people may be asking how this is going to work? How practical is this? Well, I think it is practical, because how many other ways can you create self-sustainability that does not involve the government, if not dealing directly with the people?

What they could do is create a portal (which I can create for them by the way) where requests for funds for certain projects can be made online? The donors can then have a team that will vet and review these requests and respond accordingly.

What about those people without access to the internet? Well, what about an application process by post or in person, communicated to unconnected communities for example using radio adverts…or if they want to do more, a mobile awareness campaign using a van such as the one below, which would have a team on board to review face-to-face proposals in the communities they broadcast?

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They could even partner with TNM and Airtel to market such a scheme, and utilise the reliable networks of these telecom companies.

In the past, the usual responses to these kind of questions is we are already funding entrepreneurs. And that’s not our role, usually communicated in sentences that include words such as ‘ambit’ and  ‘mandate’…

If the ultimate goal of donors is to encourage good governance and effect development, then it is within their mandate to help provide resources. It’s all well and good providing funds for food, education and healthcare, but if after you’ve cured peoples diseases,and educated them, they have no job to go to, or no sustainable way of earning a living, what’s the point of giving them aid in the first place? If they then have to struggle to get by. Isn’t this exactly the kind of thing that creates dependency?

A nonprofit that practices social entrepreneurship, on the other hand, relies less heavily on donor funds because it creates social programs that are meant to be self-sustaining. Social entrepreneurs manage donor contributions in an effective manner, investing in social ventures which can then generate their own revenues to sustain themselves. More here

But why does it matter Sangwani, why is it important? Why should anybody care?

Well, firstly as a Malawian it matters when I see so many competent young men and women who are not utilising their full potential because of lack of money. That’s a real concern which I’m sure is shared by thousands if not tens of thousands others.

But it also matters because in a centralised governance system such as that in Malawi – where everyone looks to the president to sort out all their little problems, lack of resources is holding back well-meaning people from acting independently to develop their part of the country. It’s a waste of talent and it’s holding them back from helping plug the shortfall in the different aspects of our economy; especially since the government is not doing many of the things they should be doing.

And this situation is not sustainable because too many capable people are powerless to effect the kind of change Malawi needs – with the result that the country is not moving forward. And come next election, in 2019, the largely ignorant rural population I mentioned earlier will be conned again into voting for another white elephant, and the vicious cycle will repeat itself all over again, worsening the living condItions, and bringing Malawi ever closer towards becoming a poor failed violent state. In the ranks of Somalia and Yemen. Surely, neither donors nor Malawians want this.

Also, there is evidence that successive governments in Malawi have taken advantage of this lack of funding to abuse their positions, and engage in dodgy deals, costing the tax payer. There are too many examples to cite, but two that come to mind are the Jetgate (the alleged sale of a presidential jet by President Joyce Banda – the funds of which were never accounted for), and the recent report that showed that $2 billion had been misappropriated by government officials the last 6 years.  How come none of the CSO’s sued the government on behalf of the public over these major instances of misappropriation of funds? Further, why does it look increasingly likely that many of the perpetrators of such misappropriation will get away with it?

Finally, lack of funding encourages corruption because otherwise decent people are forced to go begging to the government, the presidency or the presiden’s party – because they have no money – instead of them speaking out against bad governance and government’s failures in tackling societal ills.

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.

tfac-teacher-stats

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

Letter to the Editor – Daily Times july 15, 2015

Letters to the editor- Daily Times July 15,2015

Dear Editor,
Government has the audacity to blow 300 million Kwacha when lives of mothers and children are being lost due to a dysfunctional referral system. Almost all District a Health Offices have not received their funding and this has crippled referral systems in out public health facilities.

Between Thursday July 2 and Sunday July 2 and Sunday July 5 a case happened in Mangochi at Mpondasi Health Centre. There was obstructive labour which was reported to the DHO for Mangochi but all ambulances at the district hospital are grounded because they have not received funding.

In trying to save the life of the mother, the DHO decided to use his personal car to travel to Mpondasi to conduct Caesarian section right there. Our current health care service delivery structure does not provide such services at a health centre. These are desperate efforts by a professional clinician who understands that he or she is there to save lives. Unfortunately, by the time he arrived, the mother and baby had both died.

The views of Patseni Mauka:
According to the letter, this is happening in many places. An example is Area 25 clinic failing to pick patients to Kamuzu Central hospital. This government must review its priorities. It’s a disgrace for people to die of preventable and curable health cases while the government wastes money on parties!

Thoughts on the sale of Malawi Savings Bank (MSB) , and more

The trouble with capitalists (as with politicians) is that they think only about themselves. Until after things begin to go wrong, after which they still think only about themselves. Need proof of that?  What happened in the 2008-2009 financial crash?

Dont get me wrong, I’m pro Capitalism. Totally. May not entirely be proud of it, but I am pro ‘responsible Capitalism’, for lack of a better term. My line of work is made possible definitely only because of Capitalism. And yes, I enjoy what I do.

But when your only motivation and greatest priority is making money; and everything else including other human beings come second in the list of priorities, then it is more likely than not that you have lost the plot; that you need salvation.

But without digressing too much, why is the sale of MSB the wrong decision?

Well, firstly assets fetch more when sold at the peak of their value. When they are sparkling and in pristine condition; for companies, it’s when business is going well and the profits are pouring in in bucket-loads. During such times, the sale of a business can command serious financial digits and can really bring value to their owners. But when the business is  loan-laden with toxic debts it issued (some alleged to be politically influenced backdoor deals), when a bank is infested with inefficiency, corruption or dodgy deals, when there are some financial mishaps, you can’t possibly expect to get value for money, or for the bank to be sold for the real value it is worth. Had the management persevered and got its act together before selling, had the bank liquidated a significant part of the debts on its books, it’s likely that it could have fetched more on the market.

Think of it like selling your old car (which is partly owned by your friend who doesn’t want to sell it) when the windscreen has a chip in it, when the paint work needs improving, when one tyre is flat, and look! – .there’s a decomposing rat on the backseat..yuck!

Lets just say your car would have fetched a better price if you first reached an agreement with your friend, and fixed it; if you got it cleaned, …kuyikwecha bobo, before attempting to sell it.

Secondly, you can’t sell what you do not officially own. You can’t sell what you have no authority to sell. Imagine if I showed up to a potential investor and claimed that I owned the land on which the new stadium in Lilongwe is being built. Not only would my claims be laughable (and could possibly land me a stint in jail), but any foolish investor who dared believe such folly, without independent verification, would find themselves in the undesirable position of having to explain a useless contract – a piece of paper that would be completely unenforceable.

So, being state-owned, MSB is essentially a chattel held by the state in trust on behalf of the people. It is Malawians who should hold the key to its fate, they are the ones who can legitimately decide on whether to sell it or not. Malawians and not only the government of Malawi.

If that’s not currently the case, then that’s how it should be, for any state-owned property because otherwise there is a danger that the executive could make decisions befitting more of a dictator than a democratically elected president; that the legislature could act without consulting the people they represent.

Which is a problematic state of play since by selling the bank, the assumption is that the government is acting in the interests of Malawians – and has their blessing in undertaking such actions ; yet from the anti-sale demonstrations and all the opposition to the sale, it would be perfectly clear to anybody who was paying attention that there are many thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, or even millions of Malawians who didn’t exactly approve of the decision (the very reason why it had been initially suspended). So without a vote or proper public consultation, wouldn’t the sale of MSB be undemocratic? Or illegal?

In addition, state-owned property is one means by which the state generates an income to pay for the business of government. Without enough state-owned property (or some other dependable source of an income), most governments are unable to generate enough funds from tax-collection alone. They struggle to pay for services, and the business of government (Civil servant salaries, Security and public order, food, medicines, infrastructure, education, etc) with the result they end up having to borrow money from institutions whose primary motive is making money; international banks who can’t possibly be said to have the best interests of the loan recipient country at heart.

It’s the capitalists I mentioned above who get to provide the loans, on their terms and not the recipient’s terms. Therefore, it must come as no surprise if they disregard the hungry children the poor country has.

North_Darfur_IDP_malnourished_childDisregarding overflowing maternity wards in the country’s hospitals – which desperately need upgrading; with no concern, sympathy or consideration for parents who can’t pay for medical care for their children. Make no mistake, Capitalists are not charities. They are not mandated as governments of western democracies are – to care for the people, especially the most vulnerable people in society. They work without care for the villagers who have no clean water, no electricity and no medicines in hospitals. They don’t think about the young people who have degrees but can’t get jobs in their own countries because there are no jobs available (and the government or domestic private enterprise are not investing in jobs or youth development initiatives).

It’s no big secret, but most Capitalists think only about how much money they can make for themselves, for their organisations / institutions and for their friends.

I may not have all the concrete data to support this somewhat wild claim, but I’m willing to bet a few quid that they do.

The result is inevitable; whole countries end up tormented by debt, with ballooning deficits which can never realistically be got rid of, as Argentina and Greece have found out the hard way in recent years. They become the butt of jokes and stand at the receiving end of blame. Unable to raise credit, and therefore unable to finance their activities. It’s virtually a coup.

greek-bailout-fund2Countries like Greece. Countries like Malawi.

This is the reason why so many countries are in debt, because their governments do not own enough assets from which to extract a dependable and sustainable income, and they have to rely on harmful debts which damage their economies more than they help. Put simply, these countries do not have a job that pays enough for them and ‘their families’ to survive on, so they go to loan sharks who tie a noose around their necks.

In Friedmanian economics (or what he termed neoliberalism), the same governments – most of whom at the time were operating surpluses or relatively small budget deficits in comparison to the current levels –  were told by mostly pro-capitalist economists to relinquish ownership of high yield assets (in industries which were dominated by few individuals/ merchants in monopolies that traded side by side with the state-owned enterprises) they owned, in the process ‘laissez-faire’ economics morphed into ‘market competition’… a phenomenon similar in effect to the fall of the USSR’s property ownership framework while urging in the rise of the Oligarchs. Before you had fewer players gnawing at the national cake, and the government was a significant player- now you have more players at the banquet(even though they are still a minority in comparison to the whole population), but this time, the government is not even at the table.

No prizes for guessing who bought those assets, but the state – these fellows argued, shouldn’t be in the business of running anything. As a result, several decades later – culminating in Thatcherism in Britain – everything from utility companies (including gas and electric suppliers) were mostly owned by corporations; so were the mines, railway and telecommunication companies, virtually every large industry with the capacity to raise huge sums for the government fell out of majority stake public-ownership, in preference to some private outfit, whose primary motive was profit and little else.

Some of these countries do not have oil, or other high demand resources on which to depend in the long-run (and even many which do struggle to manage them properly).They have to rely on a small tax base (~ heavily taxed citizens) for revenues, crops such as tobacco which are fast becoming unpopular, on tax-evading companies to pay their fair share of tax to the state; how crazy do you have to be to depend on profit-shifting (cost-shifting) corporations to stop their dirty tricks and behave (even though there is little indication this will happen anytime soon)? They rely on meagre inflows of Foreign Direct Investment, on aid organisations whose ethics/ morality is often in question. And if all that isn’t sufficient to support their budgets, these countries have a ‘safety’ net which can only be described as a poisonous concoction of interest-driven donors and austerity-prescribing institutions – to provide loans.

In contrast, countries rich in natural resources such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait own significant parts of their largest industries, and can therefore afford to finance almost all the business of government from the sale of their natural resources (in this case oil).

When was the last time you heard that Kuwait or Qatar had asked for a loan from the IMF?

They don’t need to hold onto many state-owned assets outside of the petroleum realm, because the petroleum industry generates enough income to cover the business of government and give them budget surpluses for every other luxury – from financing huge construction projects, to paying for a controversial world cup that’s now increasingly doubtful – thanks to the FIFA scandal.

What about all the bailouts, someone may ask, and loans and aid provided to struggling countries over the last 50 years, where has all that gone? Well, mostly to the banks. And to companies from the countries of the aid providers. In the case of Greece which is suffering the same kind of debilitating debt onslaught as most African countries but on a much larger scale, the money went back to the same capitalists (see another link here from the Guardian) who created the very same mess in the first place.

Thus, considering all this, and more, I have to say for me it’s entirely valid to believe that if you don’t have a large multi-billion dollar industry in your country, if you have few natural resources to exploit, and if many of the common problems African countries have to battle with plague your economy, then it makes perfect sense as a government to hold on to as much industry as you can – and try to make it profitable. Maybe in the same way as Norway has done.

Such a strategy to me has a better chance of achieving a zero deficit budget, giving your country a surplus of disposable income others fail to achieve.

And that is why I think Peter Mutharika and the government of Malawi has got it wrong on Malawi Savings Bank (MSB)

P/s: Go tell the Malawian commentator who appeared to be saying that Malawians were wrong to voice their concerns over the sale of MSB that he has got it completely wrong this time. If anything, Malawians should be mad  for being taken for fools! far from being silent more Malawians should stand up to be counted. Foolish ideas deserve nothing but condemnation!

A Rotten Society

court-house-25061_1280What does one make of professor Garton Kamchedzera’s claims that Malawi is experiencing a dwindling of legal standards?

Last week, during a sensitisation conference organised by the Malawi Law Society in Lilongwe, the lecturer said

“It is very embarrassing and hurting to hear that some of my former students are implicated in dubious deals which has lowered the public trust on legal practitioners in the country which is one of the oldest and noble professions worldwide due to greed and hunger to make money fast”

During his presentation(titled ‘The Salient Failures of ethics for the Malawian Lawyers: Emerging issues in ethics’ ) at the conference, Kamchedzera said the legal profession was a calling from God, and so legal practitioners needed to be competent and comply with high ethical standards, so as to properly serve the public. He urged vigilance in ‘ reversing the country’s values through our decisive attitudes…’

This is a guy who in the past criticised Ken Lipenga and urged him to step down amidst massive corruption and fraud in Joyce Banda’s government. He has also said in the past that Malawi has leaders who like to be worshipped – an allegation I completely agree with.

What struck me this time around though is that he talked of ‘an already rotten society‘, saying the greedy behaviour of lawyers wouldn’t help fix such rottenness.

I’ve heard too many complaints about legal malpractice in Malawi and if you have dealt with lawyers in Malawi, it’s likely you too have a tale or two to recount, but that’s not what this post is about.

When I hear terms such as ‘rotten society’, the immediate question that comes to mind is not what does he mean by ‘rotten’, but instead, how did such a society become ‘rotten’? And, what’s keeping it rotten?

I’m sure these are questions which some progressives who would like to see a better Malawi will be thinking of. But assuming we all agree on what is meant by a ‘rotten society’, it seems to me that if you ask any knowledgeable commentator about these issues, they will identify one or more of the following as some of the causal factors :-

  1. Governance failures & Corruption since 1994 (Cashgate remains unresolved; Bakili Muluzi’s case has not been finalised; We don’t know the full-scale of plunder during Joyce Banda’s government; there’s a lack of continuity in state projects (the Shire Zambezi project hasn’t been completed); Malawi has in the past hurriedly negotiated resource contracts – which later prove to be flawed, and deprive the government of essential funds)
  2. Lack of discipline and disregard for the Law (Corrupt policing, bribery, rent-seeking, Thuggery, etc) Why would someone steal Solar Panels which are meant to illuminate their city at night (thereby bringing about a degree of safety)? solarLightsFurther, were the culprits of this crime found, and punished? Did the government launch an awareness campaign to ensure it doesn’t happen again?
  3. Lack of Independence of critical institutions (why should the head of the Anticorruption Bureau be appointed by the president? It’s a civil service role, why can’t it be advertised like any other civil service job? Same with the Judiciary, and even the State Banking Corporations [which as the MSB case has revealed were abused to channel money to the country’s then president]. On this point, has an investigation been opened into the affairs of Bingu Mutharika to find out whether what Mulli claims is true? Shouldn’t such an investigation be opened, and be free and fair?)
  4. Poor healthcare (ill-equipped, under-resourced, under-staffed hospitals)
  5. Pull down syndrome, and jealousy (Instead of people working to lift each other up, when one succeeds, they drag each other down). This is closely associated with a lack of a forward-thinking culture. For example since Malawi often has power cuts, how many people have invested in alternative sources of energy like solar? solar-cells-594166_640You may say you don’t have the money to buy them, but the chances are you haven’t even tried saving for them? Frankly, from my experiences many people are happy drinking away and using their money for partying – instead of attending to their problems. poverty
  6. Poverty and Economic stagnation (As a result of lack of money and under-investment in services). One effect of this is that there are so many young people without jobs (prime fodder for criminal activity).
  7. Excessive consumerism of foreign products (as opposed to buying local products, something that could help  revitalise local economies). They want to wear Gucci and drive big and expensive German cars, yet when there’s a fuel shortage (as happened in 2012) they can’t drive those expensive cars. Isn’t it sensible to first work towards a dependable fuel source? To establish a stable economy before thinking of driving a Range Rover? If you have a business, shouldnt you first establish yourself by putting in place measures that will protect the business and give you a breathing space should the worst happen and the market dries up or a much bigger competitor enters the fray?
    Further, when your country is often gripped with forex shortages, shouldnt luxuries take a back seat. And practicality triumph over the need for false appearances? (Malawi’s taste for imports hurting economy )
  8. And a cultural decay (It’s strange how Malawians want to fit in so much with western standards/ lifestyles. Why can’t we embrace our culture, and love ourselves for who we are? Why try so hard to fit into American or foreign cultures?)

These are some of the most common I’ve heard, although I’m sure there are many others.

So the question then becomes, what can/ must be done about them?

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers here since money is a big part of the problem. If the government doesn’t have money, or can’t properly prioritize how to use its resources, very little will change.

Having said that, it’s very easy to place blame on the government (its true that they would need to take a leading role – since few individuals have the capacity and capital to orchestrate state-wide projects), but I believe it is the duty of every Malawian to know these lingering problems, and begin working against them on an individual basis. Having an honest, transparent and responsible government would help, but they are only a part of the problem. Having honest, transparent and responsible people is where it all begins.

Ugandan Government Scraps Taxes on Oil, Gas, Mining Exploration

Ugandan Government Scraps Taxes on Oil, Gas, Mining Exploration

My comments

  • While on the face of it this move makes sense, I hope there is a balance to ensure that the scheme is not abused – leading to the loss of essential revenue, which Uganda needs.
  • In Malawi we had the Kayelekera Uranium mine, which was given many incentives (including a lax agreement that was too generous),  but which resulted in the loss of revenue by the government. African countries cannot afford to be conducting their affairs like this, because they are the ones who are most in need of resources – to help with economic development, poverty eradication and public investment(healthcare, education and national security). Further as I often say, when was the last time an African company was given a 70% stake in a mining interest in Europe or America?
  • It would be better and wiser, in my view, for the Ugandan government to get into the business of oil exploration. They would be able to keep more of the money derived from the natural resource – which they would then use in developing Uganda. In any case Uganda is a small landlocked country, and when you have few resources, you must utilise them wisely.
  • See my earlier article to understand my thinking on these issues.