Thinking out aloud: Wealth redistribution and other crazy / ordinary ideas

false-idols

If you talk to members of the Far left in Britain you’ll encounter all sorts of strange characters. Colourful figures who would make Jeremy Corbyn come across as a Conservative. And for some of them, you must wear a certain hat to be able to sympathise with their politics – or at least not dismiss them as totally insane.

Similar things can be said of people to the right of the political spectrum. Picture the following Scenarios

Scenario 1

Mark is a son of a truck driver and carer, and grandson of a miner. He comes from a relatively big family of 5 children. Parents are low-skilled workers who never went to University, but are hard-working, otherwise known as ‘mortgage slaves’. Classed as poor, at least on paper, Mark managed to get into university – on a government loan/ grant, and had to work to support himself and pay his rent, even during his holidays.  He came away from University with a second class degree in a social science or arts subject. Throughout his childhood, his family took holidays at home, although once they went to Spain, and at another time they went to Ireland. But they had no money for him to travel in his twenties, so after a number of stints in several part-time jobs (including pouring pints in bars), he managed to spend a few weeks in Uganda and Tanzania with a friend, travelling to ‘experience other cultures’. Mark doesn’t like posh people, and has never been to the city of Oxford. He’s had to use public hospitals all his life. Nearing 40 years, Mark still lives in a shared house, with 3 other housemates, renting a room for about £375 a month. He’s worked in a library and is now a teacher, although it took him a while to find a stable job. Mark stands to inherit very little, probably less than £10,000 from his father and mother, money which his brother (who could inhereit similar amounts) wants to use for his Mortgage. But Mark doesn’t like the idea of a mortgage, and calls it  ‘being chained to a death tax for 40 odd years just to have a roof over your head in a rubbish part of town’. He would prefer living on a boat, or better – retiring to Uganda (where he thinks he can run a trendy bar serving tourists and expats). Throughout his late teens and twenties, he’s been fascinated by Marxism and Philosophy, and at some point came to the somewhat inevitable conclusion that the rich and wealthy are to blame for  most global problems. So, invited by a friend, an anarchist, he’s joined other like-minded types who believe that change can only come if we break down all social hierarchies and structures, and let everyone be at the same level. Is most at ease at anti-government demonstrations.

Scenario 2

Virginia is a daughter of a commercial farmer and a medical doctor. 3 siblings. Mother is a general practitioner and parents own acres and acres of land, and have a portfolio of real estate. Most of the land was inherited, although much of it has not been utilised for any purpose in recent years.  She’s a great grand-daughter of a Marquess, niece to an heir of a billion dollar fashion empire, second cousin once removed to at least one Lord, and has a sizeable list of rich Uncles, Aunts and other relatives – most of whom are nobility and hold titles. She’s dined with members of the British Royal family and stands to inherit at least £5 million pounds from her parents, and tens of thousands of pounds from her other relatives, let alone land – lots of land. Virginia’s Parents are hard-working, but you can hardly call them self-made. They had the advantage of Aristocracy, established networks with movers and shakers of the City of London, and a plentiful supply of Capital with which to expand the family’s farms and their wealth. Both Parents went to University (father @ Cambridge, Mother @ University of St. Andrews). They’ve never had a need for a Mortgage and are classed within the richest 5% of the UK’s population. So it seemed appropriate for Virginia to be privately educated. She’s never had a part-time job, but spent her free time in University taking dancing, music and acting lessons and generally having a good time. For Virginia’s convenience, her parents bought a 3 bed house near her University, so that  Virginia could live in it during the time of her studies. She studied Classics and Religion and came away with a 1st class degree. Throughout her childhood, Virginia’s family took holidays abroad, in the US, in Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Russia, Egypt, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong, Brazil and once they even took a holiday in Venezuela. She’s been to at least 40 countries, travelling with her family, cousins or on her own, often in first class or business class. Once or twice in her life, the family took their major holiday in Cornwall. She’s the embodiment of an affluent upper middle-class woman and thinks most poor people either deserve their lot, or are poor because of laziness. She’s never really got to know anyone from a disadvantaged background on a personal level. Instead she’s proud of her snobbery – calling it ‘positively bigoted’. They’ve got private health insurance, every one of their family members and anyone who uses the National Health Service only does so out of choice. Like Mark, she’s nearly 40 years old, but unlike Mark, she lives in her own house in Berkshire – worth £2million. She has a husband (a Scion of a prominent family that owns a billion pound Real Estate empire) and two adorable kids, both boys. Virginia runs her own business which employs 12 people full-time, but it goes without saying that her parents gave her over £400,000 as Capital, and plenty of help and assistance, to enable her to launch her business. Lucky for her, she’s worked hard to make it into a success. Virginia takes at least 3 long holidays a year, (skiing, in the sun, or visiting a part of the world she’s not previously seen before) on top of all the short breaks she squeezes into weekends and long weekends, and as such she relies heavily on her business’ manager – another woman who has a background that in some respects is similar to that of Mark. Virginia treats her staff well, and whenever she can, she gives money to charitable causes, especially those supported by some of her friends and family, or which are connected to someone she knows. She’s passionate about women empowerment and entrepreneurship, and sees the wealth gap as a necessary ‘motivation factor’. She wants to grow her business into a £20million plus turnover company and with her networks and hard-work, is on course to achieving such a goal within a few years. She’s never been to an anti-government demonstration.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Mark and Virginia are not as far-fetched a character as they may seem to some. Infact they are based on real pople, obviously with some details changed, to protect their persons. And if the real Mark and Virginia saw this article, they’d recognise themselves, and they’d know I know a lot more about their lives.

There are many people who are worse-off than Mark, but equally, there are many people who are better-off than Virginia. But I don’t think inequality can be overcome without getting people from what could be described as divergent backgrounds to understand each other.

So, how do you get people from such very different backgrounds to understand each other? To really get each other? Is it fair for example to claim hard work pays when so many people are unable of overcome hardship? Is the argument for wealth redistribution really valid when there are many hard-working rich people who have worked hard to grow and maintain their wealth? Will prosperity and wealth always largely depend on who you know?

Since on a practical level the wealth of your parents (and their parents) can help, has helped, and will help make a child’s own wealth, how do you help those people whose parent’s never had any considerable amount of wealth (or were poor)? Is it really honest to say people should know their place, and be ‘content’ with what they have – when so many people inherited what they own?

I find it as equally unconvincing to demand wealth redistribution, as is to say poor people deserve to be poor. Because with wealth redistribution, where do you draw the line? Do you measure what the father had, or what the grandfather owned, or what the great grandparents owned? Where do you draw the line? What about if there are no records? Further, with poor people, there are too many different sets of circumstances that cause poverty, and to dismiss it all as down to laziness is rather shallow, and very unfair – especially to those affected by circumstances beyond their control.

But ultimately, I don’t think making one group of people angry or bitter will have the desired effect of making the world a better less unequal place. In fact there’s every reason to believe it would have the opposite effect, if not creating a leftist aristocracy ( if such a thing can be said to exist) – where those newly enriched – who it must be assumed will hold political power, become the abusers of those dispossessed.

And nobody I know would want to live in that kind of society.

That’s not to throw water on the idea of a general / common wage, it’s just I think more thought needs to go into such ‘schemes’ before they are proposed as workable.

While I would advocate an end to exploitation – of any kind, and while I know that despite claims to the contrary, it is nigh impossible for the wealthy (with all their networks and family connections) to become poor ( or to become poor to the same level as most poor people. In my view the wealthy can only become less wealthy), I also know it is hard to convince someone who has given-up on a concept such as prosperity (or ‘financial security’) to try something different in pursuit of such a concept, especially if such a person has a warped attitude towards wealth and believes the rich are the devils.

Here, a disclaimer is necessary: There are some nasty wealthy people who want to see the world burn, just as there are many poor lazy people. But generalisations (i.e. all rich people want poor people to die…or all poor people are lazy) will fail to explain why poor women in countries such as Malawi wake up early in the morning, in the cold, every day, for years and years, to make a fire to prepare food for their families. If all poor people were lazy, they wouldn’t walk miles to fetch water, or venture into the wilderness, where there are wild animals – including poisonous snakes, to collect firewood.

Anyway, without digressing too far, my point is that there has to be some sensible middle ground somewhere…where both wealthy and not-wealthy can relate. And maybe it begins with both Mark and Virginia, getting to know each other better, or getting to know more people in a much worse situation…

poverty1

…or getting to know more people in a much better position??

I don’t know, I’m just thinking out aloud… unfortunately, there are no easy answers with this one.

Thundafund: The crowdfunding platform made for Africa

Thundafund: The crowdfunding platform made for Africa (CNN)

“Kickstarter doesn’t really work in South Africa… it’s a difficult market to break in to… It could be said [Kickstarter] is more about making money than empowering people; there’s no responsibility towards funding more entrepreneurs. Patrick is providing opportunities and helping communities.”

A new way of doing business

Good ideas are “a dime a dozen” Schofield says, but many South Africans lack the “the skills and resources” to bring their idea through to fruition. New businesses that do receive funding are often saddled with heavy debts or give away significant portions of their company to investors in return for guidance. Whilst the likes of Kickstarter “stand aside” once a campaign is launched according to Kruger, Thundafund has guided its entrepreneurs through the process, optimizing their chance of attracting investors.

Ahmed Dassu Letter to President Joyce Banda

On Jun 7, 2013, at 2:42 PM, Ahmed Dassu wrote:

 Excellency

 I refer to your response to my request for an audience during your visit to London for the G8 summit, which was “not available. JB,” which appears both intentionally abrupt and unbefitting of your high office and public servant number one!  Therefore I feel it prudent to address in this email the issues I had wished to discuss with you had you granted me the audience, in order to avoid any misrepresentation or misunderstanding.

 That I share a passionate interest in Malawi and its future with my colleagues Edgar and Thom of Nyasa Times, as I do with many other Malawians is widely known.  Arising from this I had expressed to Edgar and Thom some concerns regarding recent political developments and the continued unabated and open corruption in the sector of public procurement, and asked if Nyasa Times would carry an opinion piece by me, expressing these concerns.  Instead both Edgar and Thom suggested that as you were travelling to London soon I should meet you, Excellency, to put across my concerns directly.  This is what prompted me to request an audience with you.

 Turning first to the political scene.  On President Mutharika death, although I had previously expressed deep reservations about your leadership in a TV interview on MTV, I was amongst the first to publicly demand that constitutional order should prevail, and that as Vice-President you should be sworn in as President.  I convinced others to do the same, including a person who had during President Mutharika’s administration been at the forefront of publicly humiliating you and who had publicly demanded press censorship – now a leading office-bearer in your party, the PP. 

 Indeed on your swearing-in as President, in common with a majority of Malawians, I considered this as a Godsend for a new beginning for Malawi; this conviction was further strengthened by the words of wisdom in your inaugural address to the nation – full of promise and hope.

 Sadly, in office instead of being the stateswoman we had all expected you to be, you practise the politics of marginalisation and victimisation based on whether one is perceived to be your supporter or not. Instead of honouring the high expectations we Malawians built up on your assuming office, your Presidency is built and sustained on the foundations of Members of Parliament, now transformed into political prostitutes who who have been induced to defect from their own parties to your party by patronage and corruption , which the high office of President enables you to practise. Given the opportunity I would have pleaded with you, Excellency that it was not too late for you to live up to the high expectations and hope for a new beginning that were aroused on your ascendancy to the highest office in the country.  That you should focus on how Malawians judge you and how they will perceive you in posterity, and be the stateswoman that the world assumes you are instead of the power hungry, corrupt, vindictive woman, engaged in theft of public funds and who will do whatever it takes to remain in power, which is what a majority of Malawians now see you as doing.  What we see is you practising the politics of marginalisation and victimisation, all glitter in orange with no substance where it concerns democracy, accountability and transparency. 

 You are not minded to accept that you were not elected to the high office of President, just as your party was not elected to govern.  It is blatantly obvious that you are subjecting Section 65 to the patronage and corruption to sustain you an unelected President, in office instead of leading Malawi by consensus.  You have followed in the footsteps of President Mutharika and set aside Section 65 by encouraging resort to courts in the usurping of the powers of Parliament. You have condoned and sheltered those ‘political prostitutes’ who have defected to your party. In a parliamentary democracy there can be no more damning indictment.  Sadly the Speaker himself has fallen victim to allowing the usurping of the powers enshrined in the Constitution for Parliament and become a political prostitute himself.

Turning now to the issue of business, I believe that Edgar and Thom had conveyed to you the need for the wiping out of corruption in government procurement so that companies like mine and others which were prejudiced during President Mutharika’a administration could be encouraged to submit competitive tenders for fertilizer and in other areas of government procurement and thereby reduce costs and improve delivery.  

 It may be foolhardy to ask you to recall, so in the light of what has since transpired, so permit me to remind you that as Vice-President you had publicly said that President Mutharika had institutionalised corruption in government procurement of fertilizer and that you would be exposing the corruption. So it was reasonable, your having implied President Mutharika was corruptly awarding government contracts to selective companies, that these companies were guilty accomplices in the corruption of which you accused President Mutharika.  However in office you have proved no less corrupt, in fact even more so, as immediately on assuming office you proceeded to award contracts for the supply of fertilizer to the very same Indian-owned companies, except for a black indigenous Malawian who, because of his tribe and colour, was identified as a supporter of President Mutharika, when in fact he was no more a supporter of Mutharika then were Abdul Master, Apollo or the other Indians who are paying you millions of Dollars in corrupt deals.

 Indeed the vast unexplained assets and resources now at your and your party’s disposal since you assumed office are ample evidence of the high level of corruption in your government.  I go so far as to challenge the very concept of the Supplementary Fertilizer Subsidy Programme as being a manifestation of the unprecedented corrupt practices and an instrument for the bribing of voters with corruptly acquired funds by you. For as if you were cheating children in a kindergarten you cloud your corrupt misdeeds by telling Malawians that “I personally and my friends will fund the fertilizer for the Supplementary Fertilizer Subsidy Programme”. Where will the funds come from? No doubt the public purse that you are busy looting.

 And who are these friends other than those who are awarded the government contracts by you corruptly?

 In conclusion let me add that I know that in writing to you I expose myself to your reknown vindictive nature and possible victimization by you.  But I shall persevere whatever consequences I am made to suffer, for the struggle for a better, democratic, free Malawi, free from the hunger for power of individual politicians like you have turned out to be, is one I have engaged in since 1972.  My commitment to Mother Malawi is for Malawians to judge.  Indeed, I am convinced posterity will judge me a far better citizen of Malawi  than contemporary politicians like you have done.

God Bless Malawi

 Ahmed Dassu

Source: The Oracle

Fundraising For Charity and Helping Others – Ideas For Schools

The power of one person to cure social ills and support those in need should never be underestimated. A collection of people may have a greater potential to help humanity on this planet, however. This is not only because more people are involved in the effort but also because in a group people can encourage and support each other. A school is an ideal group for helping people in either the local community or the global community.

more at Fundraising For Charity and Helping Others – Ideas For Schools

Another reason why Africans should own their own resources

man-40134_640Last week a well written article appeared on Al Jazeera arguing against the false and somewhat misleading picture of Corruption that is often put out by the western media. In it, it was suggested that over $900 billion a year is lost from developing to developed nations through tax evasion and illicit financial outflows. While this is a major problem for Africa, as was pointed out several years ago by Kofi Annan here, another reason which results in these outflows is that very few major industry (million dollar revenue generating) in Africa is in fact owned by Africans.

The combination of imperialist colonial legacies, poverty, a lack of capital, insufficient education, corruption, plain hypocrisy and other factors has resulted in a state of affairs whereby even capable Africans find it hard to buy into and run their continent’s biggest industries. While there are many Africans doing well in business throughout Africa, they are by far in the minority, and comparatively too few of them on the ground, than say the number of Canadians who own and control multi-million pound ventures within Canada, or say the number of Portuguese who own and control multi-million dollar companies in Portugal.

Thus, this picture inevitably creates an opportunity or gap for foreign corporations and investors to come in, and sweep away ownership of the whole lot – armed with huge amounts of capital. No surprise the profits end up everywhere else but in Africa…

In my view, far from the land grabs of Robert Mugabe (which others have tried to justify – see here and here), another reason in support of more Africans owning their continent’s industry is that doing so could mean that large amounts of money remain on the continent, to be used for education, health  -building hospitals and providing good wages for doctors, eliminating poverty, fighting corruption, policing and security, building infrustracture, improving the plight of women, investment in the youth, creating jobs, etc. It means essential capital is not being wired out to already rich countries. This in my view is a better strategy against poverty, than aid and handouts, whose monies are comparatively miniscule to the monies being siphoned from Africa.

According to the website of Britannia Mining Inc (a US company with operations in Canada and Malawi) here, the Nthale Iron Ore surface deposits which they found before 2009 are estimated from their geological survey to be at least 4.6 million tonnes in quantity. As often happens with these things, especially if we focus on the word ‘Surface’,in practice the deposits can be far larger than the estimate.

Last Friday, on the 7th of February 2014, before close of trading the price of Iron Ore on the international market was hovering around $125 per ton (see latest figures here). Whichever way this price goes (whether up or down) the next few years, 4.6 million tonnes at $125 per ton is still worth at least $575 million, a hefty sum by any measure. Even if we go with the 68% iron ore component indicated on their website, that’s still worth $391 million

Suppose Britannia Mining invested $100 million into Malawi, to cover processing the Ore, overheads including construction, logistics, wages, corporate governance activities, etc, (and it was proved that they had indeed invested such sums because sometimes businessmen overestimate the level of investment when the truth is much lower) I’d think the benefit to the Britannia would be significantly higher and disproportionately in their favour than in the favour of Malawians. Looking at previous examples of resource conflicts involving corporations in Africa, I seriously doubt that first they would invest such sums. Further, I doubt that Malawians or the Malawian government would benefit equally or at least proportionally from the resource. Which begs the question, who actually owns the resource?

As many others have opined elsewhere (see this for example), the unrestrained greed and unguarded capitalism of western businesses in Africa is causing a lot of damage and harm to Africa, and Africans. And that’s even before we get to what China is doing…

Even if the market price of Iron Ore dropped to say below $100, (say it dropped to $65, which is highly unlikely – the last time it hit $100/ ton was back in Aug 2012, and that was only for a very brief period of time), there would still be at least $300 million worth of deposits to be mined.

Don’t you think if the company that was exploiting the deposit was owned or part-owned (say 50%) by the Malawian government, or a group of Malawians, that the majority of the benefit of the resource would remain in the country, as opposed to being wired out of Malawi?

Post Paladin, and the tax outrage they caused when it was revealed that the Malawian tax authorities were missing out on tax revenues worth $200 million, how much tax have Britannia paid to the Malawian government so far, and how much have they made out of Nthale? The reason that question is crucial is because no level-headed Malawian is keen to see Malawi descend into a chaotic easy target where rich corporations (which are already wealthy and well resourced) come into the country and make billions, while the local population remains poor.

And if governments across the world do not speak against unrestrained greed, who will, seeing most governments in Africa are headed by people who have neither the will nor inclination to do so…?

Kenyatta + Branson
image from https://www.facebook.com/myuhurukenyatta

In my view, Africa needs trade partners who will help rebuild the continent, and not those looking for a quick buck, irrespective of the ethics of the means of acquiring that buck.

If you are looking to make money quick, stay away from Malawi. We don’t want get rich quick capitalists or investors. What Malawi needs are Responsible Capitalists, as opposed to a Liberal and unguarded Capitalists – a badge which brings to mind Halliburton’s Iraq heist (or even ILLOVO’s tax avoidance fiasco –  ILLOVO [which is British owned via Associated Foods Limited] is  company that last year posted a 43% rise in profits per share), an incident which it is fair to say has probably been responsible for not only much suffering, but also global unrest.

Depending on who you ask, its undeniable that corporate wrongdoing is currently happening, and the continent of Africa is being systematically ripped off. Yet there has to come a time when the tide turns, and the wrongdoing is forced to stop (sadly it’s not going to stop voluntarily). In the words of the African Development Bank president Donald Kaberuka here:

“The reality is, Africa is being ripped off big time …Africa wants to grow itself out of poverty through trade and investment – part of doing so is to ensure there is transparency and sound governance in the natural resources sector”

In my view this means rectification, and possibly includes learning lessons from those whose policies do not exacerbate the already bad situation; lessons from the likes of Brazil instead of blindly accepting unfair and discriminatory terms from organisations such as the IMF – whose policies towards the poor countries couldn’t be said to be favourable for local ownership of industry.

Maybe Malawi’s mining sector has more to learn from the likes of Vale and Debswana. Debswana is 50% owned by the Botswana government and 50% owned by De Beers. Vale is the world’s biggest producer of Iron Ore, and their profits recently doubled (Interestingly, in the same article Vale says the price of Iron Ore would hit $130 per ton, which it did, confirming the plausibility of my above little theory). They’ve seen an increase in production, which last year hit 73.4 million tonnes of Iron Ore. They are also a major tax contributor to the Brazilian government, with recent tax payments of $9.6 billion, far greater than anything any corporation have had to pay to an African government.

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China Funding construction of new airport in Malawi

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

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

Anyhow i’ll ponder that another day 🙂

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

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Global 100 Voices : No 9

Km2My next guest is a friend who I have known for many years. He is a driven and well exposed Malawian who has often been at pains to see Malawi succeed, but like many of us, is frustrated by the slow progress which is often hampered by political happenings. Mr Kani Msungama, thank you for doing the Global 100 Voices Interview.

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  1. As a Malawian, how important is Malawi’s Socio-Economic stability to you and your family? As a young man who is very ambitious in acquiring my goals, one of them is to achieve financial stability, one that will be in tandem with the economic situation so that I can also better the lives those who surround me and depend on me, Malawi’s Socio-Economic stability is paramount to me.
  2. After nearly 50 years since independence, what visible progress do you think Malawi has made since independence, and in your view, what pressing challenges remain? In view of those challenges, what do you think is the role of government and the people in tackling those challenges?    (1)There is little or nothing to show for it sadly, it’s as if economy has been hibernating all these 50 years.  (2) The challenges we face today is not only in our leaders but with each and every Malawian, you and me included. We do not take the sole responsibility of our nation. We are busy pointing at the wrongs and ills of our nation instead of rectifying the problems or offering solutions to them. The Government has a responsibility to offer sound and attainable objectives instead of just empty promises. It is the duty of Government with the president at the helm, to lead by example and getting everybody involved in building our nation. I wish we could engage the Diaspora. We have so many Malawians out there wanting to contribute the development of our nation but nothing has ever been done to entice Malawians living abroad to be part of the development agenda.  
  3. As someone who lived or has lived outside Malawi for some time, and has been exposed to modern and progressive ideas, what symbols of development in the foreign country in which you lived have had the greatest impact on you, and why? Infrastructure, definitely. For you, as a country to be classified as a developing or developed nation, you (as a nation) have to be able to show for it in the way people live, i.e. easy access to various modes of modern transport facilities be it by air, water or land.
  4. What lessons do you think Malawians and the Malawian leadership can learn from those ideas? It basically means that development has to be shown and not be spoken about, many at times our politicians tend to stand on podiums busy preaching on what they have done but there is literally no visual evidence of that on the ground.
  5. When you last returned to Malawi, what struck you the most as the greatest sign of improvement or development since the last time you left? There was nothing, sad to say. Everything was where I left it. Maybe with the exception of the M1 road in Lilongwe.turkish-777er-620
  6. What struck you the most as the biggest sign of stagnation or regression? Our International airport, Kamuzu International Airport, by far it still remains the same with poor security services, insufficient number of flights/ services by international standards.word wrap
  7.  Malawians will be going to the polls in 2014, to elect a new president. In your view what kind of leader does Malawi NEED, considering the country’s current challenges? And specifically, how should that leader approach the top job in terms of creating sustainable development and foreign reducing aid dependency? Malawi needs a charismatic, intelligent, humble, educated and active leader. Somebody who can relate to Malawians as whole. Someone who cares (a patriot) and is passionate about this country. Somebody who is patient and understanding. Somebody who can unify us all (southern, central and northern region). A leader has to lead us all by his/her fine example. Show us how to get things done and not just spend hours on end on podiums with everyone busy praising, dancing and pampering them. Malawi is in a state where we can ill afford such nonsense anymore. 50 years has gone by and these leaders still want to be pampered and danced for while thousands are dying of hunger, lack of medicine and HIV/AIDS.
  8.  As you know, Tobacco is Malawi’s biggest source of export revenue. Looking at the problems that have plagued the tobacco industry in recent times, what alternatives do you think Malawi has besides Tobacco, and why are they viable alternatives? There so many other viable crops from maize, ground nuts, soya, etc. You can never go wrong with agricultural produce because food is basic necessity for any individual. Malawi is blessed with vast amounts of arable land and sadly we as a nation have not capitalized on this to seek alternatives to tobacco. The answer to is right under our noses.
  9.  Considering our troubled history with donors and funders such as the IMF and World Bank, most recently when Bingu Wa Mutharika was president, how do you see Malawi progressing from this relationship in view of the criticisms these organisations have received in the media across the world? Honestly speaking, this spirit of dependency on these organisations has crippled us as a nation because it is embedded in us to think of donor aid, budget support, etc and not that we can do it on our own. Putting it in simpler terms, if you constantly carry a child in your arms when the child is learning to walk for the fear that it will get hurt, don’t ever expect for that child to be able walk on its own. That is our country in a nutshell.
  10.  We now know that Malawi has some precious minerals, including Uranium, possibly oil and other natural resources. How do you think the present government is doing regarding managing Malawi’s natural resources? Nothing, because of some of the greedy officials we have put in place are busy trying to get rich. There is no transparency at all when it comes to the awarding of contracts to companies. I thought we live in democratic dispensation? Where is the transparency? Malawian we are so used to be taken advantage of that we do not DEMAND transparency. This OUR country, and these are OUR resources!!
  11.  In your view, can the government do better to manage natural resources? If so, how can it do better? They definitely can, our neighbours Mozambique, Zambia have done it just fine, then why can’t we? Put in stringent rules and regulations in the mining sectors when it comes to contracts and explorations of such minerals. We need Reforms, make information readily available for all to see.  Monitor the companies entrusted with the sector, make sure that they abide to the rule of OUR land and their own.

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  12.  What is your answer to increasing transparency and eradicating corruption which is plaguing most governments across Africa? This is why, when we put people in positions we should make sure we putting people with moral values, integrity and who are educated. We cannot completely eradicate corruption because we live in a highly impoverished society but we certainly minimize it and one day we can completely eradicate it. Zero tolerance and harsh consequences for offenders are part of the solution. We need watchdogs such as non-governmental organisations that are zealous and concerned for the greater good. 
  13.  Any famous last words? Vision without action is just a daydream.

Global 100 Voices: No 8

crptn“Change the laws so that floor crossing is illegal and make it easy to impeach a politician if they do not deliver or are suspected of being involved in corrupt activities.”

After a few months without a contributor, finally a Malawian Ace has risen up to the challenge of the 100 Voices interview.

My guest today is a businessman who can clearly see the problems facing the country, and has the progress and advancement of Malawi close to his heart. He has established himself in South Africa, and runs a number of businesses there. Mr Elvis Chaweza, thank you for taking the time to do this interview.  But before we begin, and for the benefit of those who do not know you, perhaps you could take some time to summarise for us a bit about your background?

I am a Malawian resident in South Africa. I went to Blantyre Secondary school and went on to study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Malawi, The Polytechnic then worked for Lonrho (Makandi Estates) for a short while before coming to South Africa. I have been in South Africa for the past 25 years. I am married with two children, a daughter aged 21 and a son aged 6. I am the CEO and founder of GEBS Group  [website here] with interests in the security sector and the manufacturing sector. 

1. As a Malawian, how important is Malawi’s Socio-Economic stability to you and your family?

Socio- Economic stability is the backbone of development of any society and it is critical as it affects all spheres of development be it education, employment, health, agriculture, security and so on. Instability in any society starts when there is an imbalance in the social structure which feeds off events in the economic structure. It is important that at a family unit level the socio-economic status enables the family to access the basic needs for the development of the family unit.

2. After nearly 50 years since independence, what visible progress do you think Malawi has made since independence, and in your view, what pressing challenges remain?

Well, it is difficult to point anything that has been significant since one party rule ended in Malawi. Most of the infrastructure that is still of significance to Malawi has the legacy of Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda and in my view, the last 20 years have not seen a continuation of the pace set by the founder leader of the Republic of Malawi. I have not seen infrastructure investment in either vigorously maintaining the existing or building new ones that could have major impact on the economy. Examples are Escom. No future planning was implemented hence the grid is battling to meet demand. We all know that electricity drives the economy of any country and needs careful planning and additional investment all the time.

3. In view of the challenges you describe, what do you think is the role of government and the people in tackling them?

The role of Government is to create a vision that is developmental in nature and create an enabling environment for investors both local and international to invest into the economy. This vision must be biased towards developing infrastructure like the utilities (electricity and water) transportation and communication. These are primary drivers of any economy. The regulatory environment in Malawi is so poor that corruption has become the norm rather than the exception. All spheres of government together with the private sector are so corrupt. It will take a serious introspection to overcome this challenge and it requires a major shift of morals by each Malawian to stem the chronic corruption.

The level of corruption in the country has the potential to create political and social instability if not stopped before the critical mass is reached of the balance of the haves and have-nots.

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

I think the environment is enabling for one to do different things ranging from further education to entrepreneurship. There is a lot of effort from government to encourage entrepreneurship at grassroots level. It is up to the population to take advantage of the opportunities provided by government.

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

In small economies like Malawi, politics seem to drive everything and this has had a detrimental effect in economic progress as people who should provide continuity have often been found to be lacking in the necessary skills to carry on where others left off. We have come to look at political leadership as something different to business leadership. We have not checked the credentials of political leaders to see if they have those intrinsic abilities to drive the various sectors of the economy. This has resulted in stagnation and massive corruption. If you put someone in charge of people who are better educated than him or her, that person will employ fear to command respect and this has the effect of creating a divide and rule scenario where those who identify with the leader view the better educated members of the team as a threat. So it is important to have a balance to ensure there is no polarisation of forces pulling in opposite directions. Poorly educated individuals should not be allowed to access power as they tend to misinterpret feedback from their environment. This creates sensitivity to their lack of knowledge and as a result they lose focus as they feel vulnerable and losing control. Once that happens dictatorial tendencies kick in and it is downhill all the way. It is far easier to destroy than to build.

6. When you last visited Malawi, what struck you the most as the greatest sign of improvement or development?

I will be honest here, I found that very little if any development has taken place. Educational institutions have been run down. I visited the Polytechnic and had the privilege of going into the “staff room”, a section we hardly were allowed to go in as students in my time and the place had lost its previous glory. It was filthy with broken tiles due to lack of maintenance. This is just one example of the lack of pride the current leadership (from the advent of multiparty democracy) has had in an important institution where future leaders are supposed to be trained.  I also observed that the level of poverty has gone up compared to the time I left the country. Political leadership has been preoccupied with bickering and mudslinging instead of directing developmental issues on a tangible course.

7. And what struck you as the biggest sign of stagnation or regression?

Regression in the way the schooling system has been given less or no priority at all. There is a huge sense of ‘them and us’ where people who can afford to send their children to private schools do not care about the child in the village where they came from. There is a huge number of young people who are not adequately educated to meaningfully contribute to the economy.

Skills programmes seem to be non-existent compared to the old days when there was a lot of support from government and industry to keep these institutions running. When you see local  musicians being roped in to become law makers and being handed ministerial posts, the question is, are these the best candidates we can put forward as the face of government? Are we serious about managing the country or feeding our ego to say we can do what we like because we have the power?

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

It is sad that the current politics emphasize on the individual. It has become characteristic that the personality of the political head permeates into every aspect of how government business is done. The ideal leader should be adequately educated. I mean formal education that is no less than a first degree – not honorary degrees which the recent crop of leaders seem to love so much.

The leader must be forward thinking and not use political membership as a ticket to employment for party loyalists. People must be appointed on merit based of their knowledge content and experience in managing an institution be it government or private sector. In that aspect, the leader must be pragmatic enough to appoint key[capable] people in relevant sectors regardless of political affiliation [who have an excellent history and experience in those sectors]. It must be their potential to create positive change that must guide their selection and appointment.

People in leadership must be thoroughly background checked to eliminate the possibility of bringing a hungry person to be in charge of government funds.

People who have been implicated directly or indirectly in corruption whether in government or private sectors must never be given positions of authority at all.

There are plenty of skilled people full of goodwill out there but if you put foolish people into power, they set out to eliminate any possible opposition (better qualified individuals) and put incompetent people into important positions.

No one should feel privileged to occupy a position. People must be there because they deserve to be there and have the desire to serve the country, otherwise you have people who plan and dream about how they are going to praise their leaders, composing songs of praise for the leadership,  instead of planning how they are going to work to improve on their mandated deliverables. Remember to be a servant of the people who elected you and not the slave master of the electorate. 

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

First the leader must embark on clean up of all state organs of all dubious characters. We have seen school dropout musicians becoming ministers in the past and that was indicative of how lacking in vision the leadership was.

Surprisingly Malawians in general embraced these choices of appointments!  I was left wondering where is the common man in the street to see that such people will never improve their lot. This is a populist tendency which most uneducated leaders embrace. You should never employ someone who will spend months pinching themselves to see if it is real that they are now a minister – something that never existed in their wildest dreams.

Malawi is a country that is so corrupt to the core and this corruption affects all spheres of government. Judges being bought by the private sector bosses and government officials to settle political scores.  People of dubious moral character occupying positions of influence. If this is not cleaned up by the upcoming leader, real transformation will be a pipe dream for Malawians.

On reducing dependency on aid, until the general population sheds the notion that it is okay to be given freebies, we have a long way to go to become independent in the real sense. We should never be comfortable with begging at all. It is a disgraceful activity that deprives you of your independence.

Malawi has resources which if used cleverly, they can improve the economic status.

The coordination of policy to seamlessly integrate all development initiatives in all sectors of the economy will ensure progress. For example you can not grant a mining licence to an investor before you have done an environmental impact assessment to determine whether the roads must be strengthened first.

These two activities belong to different ministries which must work together. In a corrupt society this will never happen.

I will say it again:The leader must be a servant of the people not the other way round.

10. As you know, Tobacco is Malawi’s biggest source of export revenue. Looking at the problems that have plagued the tobacco industry in recent times, what alternatives do you think Malawi has besides Tobacco, and why are they viable alternatives?

First of all tobacco in not food, so developing agricultural products that do not add value to the human body, the first resource of production, is misplaced. Malawi has a lot of fertile soils and an abundance of water.

A clever and innovative combination of these assets can ensure Malawi is self-sufficient in food. When people use their energies to look for food, they will not have time to improve their economic status and surroundings. This feeds into the justification of a beggar mentality. Ironically poverty is now being used as political currency in Africa in general. That is why people want to rule forever instead of passing the baton. They are very uncomfortable to relinquish power that they would rather have a relative take over that a so-called “complete stranger”. If there is no blood line to take over, use someone who looks tame enough to continue the plundering. A friend of mine once told me that he used to refuse taking leave to avoid someone uncovering the skeletons under his desk. This is what corruption does to the leaders who enriched themselves improperly.

Malawi must have the will to [take another look] at the resources it has and use them efficiently to ensure there is economic progress. Transparency is the key.

11. Considering our troubled history with donors and funders such as the IMF and World Bank, most recently when Bingu Wa Mutharika was president, how do you see Malawi progressing from this relationship in view of the criticisms these organisations have received in the media across the world?

Again, beggar mentality must stop from the top. Beggars are lazy people and are easily exploited. You must start from asking people to assist you in building your own sustainable resources with the aim of becoming independent. What the government is doing is like a person who goes to ask for a credit card so they can go drinking beer with the loan. In the end you pay more for the beer which if you first worked to get the money, you would buy it at the correct price. Coming to government, start by developing policy that will improve the economy at a micro level then move to the macro level. Accountability must be the key law makers must not be people who are corruptible.

If government is not made accountable for its expenses the looting cycle will continue.

When leaders find it difficult to explain their wealth, you know you have big problems. Transparency starts with self and the moment you are uncomfortable disclosing how your wealth is made, you should not profess to work for the interest of the people. Change the laws so that floor crossing is illegal and make it easy to impeach a politician if they do not deliver or are suspected of being involved in corrupt activities.

12. We have known for a few years now that Malawi has some precious minerals, including Uranium, possibly oil and other natural resources. How do you think the government is doing regarding managing Malawi’s natural resources, and are they benefitting Malawians in your view?

My take is that it can be better. Malawians are not benefitting because often these investors in these sectors are encouraged to give kickbacks to the government officials in exchange for lax tax incentives. The kickbacks do not go to the government coffers but the back pockets of individuals.

This deprives all Malawians of the tax revenue that would improve education, health, communication etc. Any serious leader would review all agreements the current mineral extractors have in place and revoke any licenses which were fraudulently obtained, review whether the agreements benefit the country or not and correct where necessary. It should not be activists outside government asking for transparency and accountability, it must be the elected parliamentarians demanding this from each other even before the electorate smells it..

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

They could by ensuring that the method used to manage the resources does not create secondary negative effects. By insisting on appointing experts in their field to manage these resources instead of appointing party loyalists with no capacity [or proven experience] to manage the resources.

14. We know that corruption is endemic in both the private and public sector in Malawi, and has been plaguing most African governments across Africa, including the government of Malawi. What is your answer to increasing transparency and eradicating corruption?

I think the value system has been eroded so much so that corruption has become the way of life. People no longer think twice swindling their brother of their hard-earned assets. The best way to clean up is to ensure the rules are clear. No leniency in dealing with corruption cases whether private or government sectors. Any system that is weak in ensuring compliance does not work even with the best intentions. Start by striking off the roll all judges implicated in corruption or engaged in unethical behaviour.

If a judge sits on a case for three years without pronouncing his judgement, he is not fit to be a judge unless he can account to the reasons why judgement was not given in the prescribed time frame. If the minister of justice can not hold the judge to account, you know that the minister does not have the powers and therefore his boss must be called to account in this case the president.

15. Any famous last words?

Empty pockets never held anyone back. Only empty heads and empty hearts can do that – Norman Vincent Peale 

* Emphasis in brackets added.

[Comment:   While there are other factors at play, it must be noted that countries who are good at exchanging of ideas, such as Germany, Britain, S. Korea, Norway, Taiwan and the US, are also countries who have very strong democracies and economies, and who are most innovative. As someone who works in Intellectual property, I know this to be true. Their populations are also people who cannot be easily deceived; a factor that breeds responsible governance.

The reason we began the Global 100 Voices interview was to give an opportunity to Malawians across the world to exchange ideas regarding their country’s past, present and future, and to ‘compare notes on what has worked elsewhere’…and by implication, what could work in Malawi.

However, it is disconcerting that few people have been willing to contribute, despite numerous calls. Specifically, no women other than a single individual have up until now offered, or accepted to do the interview??? I’m not saying people don’t have other things to do with their time, but when you are living in a country where conditions are deteriorating every day, isn’t it normal to speak up, and join the hundreds of voices who are demanding action and change? It has been frustrating that the majority of Malawians I meet seem to have passed on the role of advocate (even ideologically) , to the next person …how then will a country improve or even develop, and its problems get rectified if those who are educated, have had exposure, those who are better informed, who have half a chance, are unwilling (or too preoccupied with their own personal matters, etc.) to rise up to the challenge?

Isn’t this the real reason why our politicians take us for granted? Because we are indifferent about the development of our own country (Sometimes, it appears as though certain people are more interested / passionate about luxuries, driving a Mercedes, Sports, etc than demanding responsibility from their government).

To understand my point, then please watch this (especially the last 5 minutes of it):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-UMI9-6gmzE ]

Reuniting Africa: Infrastructure

It was delightful to hear news that Kenya in collaboration with the Chinese government will be investing $13.8 billion to build a railway line to link its port city of Mombasa with the capital Nairobi. It is hoped that the line will eventually extend to the landlocked countries of Uganda, South Sudan and Rwanda. This is great news not only because of its Pan-African connotations, but also because it’s a step forward towards getting Africa’s infrastructure interconnected and closer to global standards ( for example to the level of the Eurotunnel).

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Whenever foreigners come to Africa to visit, they always exclaim how challenging and long it can take to get from one place to another in certain areas. It’s incredible how disconnected Africa remains. The same applies to movement of goods (a factor essential for commerce and business). Often and comparatively with say Asia, it takes longer (and costs a lot more) than must necessarily be to send goods, or receive goods from one African country to another, which is not desirable.

The vastness and distances may be a problem, and environmental degradation such projects cause is also a major consideration, but that doesn’t mean that there are no workable solutions to such challenges. Often the cause of inaction or lack of progress appears to be bad politics and selfish financial interests, which end up  frustrating well-meaning projects whose economic and social benefits could be significant for a country and its neighbours, and far outweigh the negative impacts.

Take Malawi for example. Mota Engil the Portuguese conglomerate was contracted by the government of Bingu Wa Mutharika to construct a port in Nsanje (see animation of the Nsanje Inland Port via YouTube), at great expense to the Malawian tax payer.

The  project was part of a project known as the Shire-Zambezi Water Way, and whose total cost was said to be US$6 billion would have reduced the cost of importing goods by 60%.

The Malawi section of the project took years to build, and costed the Malawian government €25 million dollars. Now, almost 2 years after the sudden death of Mutharika, the first ship is yet to sail to the port. There is little or no dialogue about the way forward, the current Malawian president is in no rush to resurrect the project, even when the Malawi Trade & Investors Quarterly Magazine in 2007 wrote that Malawi spends at least US$200 million annually to import or export goods via ports in Mozambique or Tanzania. My question is this: isn’t reducing the cost of imports for landlocked countries in Africa a priority to the whole of Africa? Shouldn’t it be a priority to all Africans? Think about it… look at the US, or for that matter the European Union, and their policy of free movement of goods.

How can the countries in Africa, let alone the continent ever develop when leaders do not collaborate or are only too willing to impede such meaningful projects before they even commence? Why can’t African leaders (including the chiefs of the African Union, SADC, COMESA and African Development bank) begin to practise continuity, and put pressure on the stakeholders to get to grips with the project? Of the countries who signed the memorandum of understanding of the Shire-Zambezi Water Way, why does it appear like no one is actively seeking to resurrect and resume the project ( Is the said feasibility study Mozambique was demanding underway? If so what is the progress on that front?), since it’s undeniable that there will be mutual benefits to the greater economy of Southern Africa?

Looking at half-hearted comments from those who think they have something to lose (other shallow comments from here), you will find that the Mozambicans have to shoulder part of the blame for the stalling of the project. Against all appearance of conventional wisdom, it seem they have been dragging their feet from throwing full support behind the project, with talk of environmental assessments, etc and greater emphasis of development of roads?? Can such a massive project have been commenced and physical construction at Nsanje began without first assessing or undertaking an environmental assessment?

I’m not convinced. Either there’s something about this project that ordinary folk like us have not been told, or there was a massive miscalculation on the part of Mutharika to begin building the port. Else, it was visionary (see YouTube marketing clip ‘overselling’ the idea here), a quality often lacking within leadership across Africa.

Having said that, it is more likely than not, that the reason some people in Mozambique are unwilling to fully support the project is to do with the alleged financial loss they expect if goods are able to go straight into Malawi or Zambia and Zimbabwe, and not via Beira or Nacala.

Such a selfish narrow viewpoint undermines any potential benefit a new transportation link may create for the region. Surely, a thoughtful and better-informed African leader would have recognised the overall impact (e.g. jobs, increased trade, tourism, easier flow of resources, cheaper import costs and societal advancement)  the port will have not only to the Mozambican towns near Nsanje, but also to the greater Southern African economy of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, or even to Rwanda and Burundi.

Very few African countries geographically formed themselves into the shape they currently take. In fact only Liberia and Ethiopia were never colonised, but even their national polity formation had a lot to do with regional colonial activity around and about them. Thus, most decisions that determined the geographical shape of African countries were made by colonialists, a figment of history most Pan Africanists would rather forget. This to me means that it is shortsighted, regressive, a deficiency in intellect and a great fallacy (most often perpetuated by ignorance), for leaders of African countries today to be fighting against each other, or indeed dashing each others economic fortunes – when there is every chance that had colonialism never occurred (as we understand it), Africa could have ended up as a vast continent of undivided Kingdoms, each with access to the sea. Something that would have looked like this:

644px-Colonial_Africa_1913_Gold_Coast_map.svg
What Africa may have looked like if colonisation hadn’t occured. What Africa may look like in the future, hundreds of years from now

That is precisely why Uhuru Kenyatta must be applauded for the visionary Mombasa Nairobi railway link.

Similar Links:

Peter Mutharika attacks Malawi govt. for ignoring ‘Ndata’ University, Nsanje port in budget

MALAWI: Dream fades for inland port project

The Shire Zambezi Waterway Project is still a priority says Sadc secretariat [August 2013]

Malawi, Mozambique agree deal on Nsanje World inland port [April 2013]

Nsanje Inland Port Mw