Last 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 surfacedeposits 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…?
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.
My next guest is a good friend who I have known for just over 13 years now. He’s a Malawian businessman who currently is the manager of Phalombe Hardware in Limbe. Mr Ibrahim Nathanie, thank you very much for taking the time to do the 100 Voices interview.
As a Malawian, how important is Malawi’s Socio-Economic stability to you and your family?
As a Malawian, Malawi’s socio economic stability is very important. I am a fourth generation Malawian and all my immediate family has been born and bred in Malawi. We have businesses running in Malawi that have recently struggled when dollars were scarce, fuel queues were rife and inflation was high. Things have now stabilised and as a result business is slowly improving. When things are not stable it directly affects how I can provide for my family.
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?
Since independence there has been progress in a few areas. For example we have now more graduates in various fields than we had then, more hospitals, more hotels. However, a lot of the progress mentioned has been donor funded.
Our pressing challenge is to try to reduce our dependence on being donor funded. One way this can be made possible is to take advantage of the natural beauty and fertile land we have in Malawi. Government has to improve infrastructure and provide incentives to the tourism industry. Improve airports, improve electricity generation.
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?
I studied in London, and a major symbol of development that had an impact on me was the transport facilities. As a student I could catch a bus or train and travel throughout London and not be dependent on anyone.
Another thing I thought was quite impressive was theNHS (Although I know the British people don’t think it is). Although, I have never had to use the service while I was studying; coming from Malawi I found it very impressive that anyone living in the UK has access to free hospital care.
4. What lessons do you think Malawians and the Malawian leadership can learn from those ideas?
Malawi and its leaders really need to look at ways to improve our transport sector. We need to improve our rail link and our airports. We need to break the monopoly South African Airways has on the Malawian market. For example if I wanted to fly Johannesburg from Blantyre it would cost me 450,000 MWK (~£859). If I wanted to fly from Johannesburg to London it would cost me the same. Surely government should realise that they need to open up the skies so that there is competition in aviation field and that potential tourists are not priced out of coming to Malawi.
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?
When I returned to Malawi in 2006 , the greatest sign of improvement was the opening up of banks and businesses in rural trading areas such as Mangochi, Balaka, Dedza, Ntcheu, Mulanje, etc.
“For example how can employees at the National Food Reserve Agency fail to realise that a silo had a leak. If this happened in the UK the guy who was responsible would have resigned. “
6. What struck you the most as the biggest sign of stagnation or regression?
The fact that I had to use a paper driving licence for a year as Road Traffic had run of cards to print them on. The fact that nobody in the government is being held accountable for wrongs being done. For example how can employees at the National Food Reserve Agency fail to realise that a silo had a leak. If this happened in the UK the guy who was responsible would have resigned.
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 foreignreducing aid dependency?
I find the work that Joyce Banda has done in the short time she has been president is commendable. There is now forex in Malawi, no shortage of goods and no fuel queues. My only criticism of her presidency is that she has not taken any active steps to reduce our dependency on foreign aid.
I would vote for Joyce Banda but would advise her to introduce incentives for investors to come and invest in Malawi. Provide incentives for our farmers to add value to their crop before exporting their crop. For example instead of Malawi importing cigarettes we should encourage cigarette companies to come and open manufacturing plants in Malawi.
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?
Tourism sector really needs to be exploited, you only have to look at how Zambia and Kenya are benefitting from exposing themselves to the rest of the world. We are blessed with beauty that is unmatched in the world; we however are not blessed with people in power who can see this.
They need to build international airports at the lake, and domestic airports dotted along the lake shore. We need to attract tourists who actually spend money in Malawi not just back packers who are looking to get stoned on Malawi Gold (On a side note we could actually legalize the export of marijuana and rake in substantial forex). We need to reduce the cost of coming to Malawi. I gave an example earlier of how expensive it is for us to fly to Johannesburg.
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?
To be honest I feel we have already progressed from this relationship. The donors are in love with the donors.
Without a doubt we have to reduce our dependence on the donors as we all know it’s a vicious cycle. It is not in their interest for Malawi to be self-sufficient; as if we were they could not enforce their views and western cultures upon us.
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?
The people in charge in my opinion have done nothing with regards to managing our resources. This is evident in that Paladin got a great deal from the government for our uranium???
The guys in charge have to look at how Zambia is doing with it copper resources, Ghana with its oil and even other European Countries with their natural resources such as Norway to realise we have got it horribly wrong.
11. In your view, can the government do better to manage natural resources? If so, how can it do better?
“When oil was discovered in the Norwegian continental shelf in 1969, Norway was very aware of the finite nature of petroleum, and didn’t waste any time legislating policies to manage the new-found resource in a way that would give Norwegians long-term wealth, benefit their entire society and make them competitive beyond just a commodities exporter. “Norway got the basics right quite early on,” says John Calvert, a political science professor at Simon Fraser University. “They understood what this was about and they put in place public policy that they have benefited so much from.” This is in contrast to Canada’s free-market approach, he contends, where our government is discouraged from long-term public planning, in favour of allowing the market to determine the pace and scope of development. “I would argue quite strongly that the Norwegians have done a much better job of managing their [petroleum] resource,” Prof. Calvert says. While No. 15 on the World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness rankings, Norway is ranked third out of all countries on its macroeconomic environment (up from fourth last year), “driven by windfall oil revenues combined with prudent fiscal management,” according to the Forum. Before oil was discovered, the Act of 21 June 1963 was already in place for managing the Norwegian continental shelf. This legislation has since been updated several times, most recently in 1996, now considered Norway’s Petroleum Act, which includes protection for fisheries, communities and the environment. In 1972, the government founded the precursor of Statoil ASA, an integrated petroleum company. (In 2012, Statoil dividends from government shares was $2.4-billion). In the same year, the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate was also established, a government administrative body that has the objective of “creating the greatest possible values for society from the oil and gas activities by means of prudent resource management.” In 1990, the precursor of the Government Pension Fund – Global (GPFG), a sovereign wealth fund, was established for surplus oil revenues. Today the GPFG is worth more than $700-billion. While there’s no question that Norway has done well from its oil and gas, unlike many resource-based nations, Norway has invested its petro dollars in such a way as to create and sustain other industries where it is also globally competitive. The second largest export of Norway is supplies for the petroleum industry, points out Ole Anders Lindseth, the director general of the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy in Norway. “So the oil and gas activities have rendered more than just revenue for the benefit of the future generations, but has also rendered employment, workplaces and highly skilled industries,” Mr. Lindseth says. Maximizing the resource is also very important. Because the government is highly invested, (oil profits are taxed at 78 per cent, and in 2011 tax revenues were $36-billion), it is as interested as oil companies, which want to maximize their profits, in extracting the maximum amount of hydrocarbons from the reservoirs. This has inspired technological advances such as parallel drilling, Mr. Lindseth says. “The extraction rate in Norway is around 50 per cent, which is extremely high in the world average,” he adds. Norway has also managed to largely avoid so-called Dutch disease (a decline in other exports due to a strong currency) for two reasons, Mr. Lindseth says. The GPFG wealth fund is largely invested outside Norway by legislation, and the annual maximum withdrawal is 4 per cent. Through these two measures, Norway has avoided hyper-inflation, and has been able to sustain its traditional industries. In Norway, there’s no industry more traditional than fishing. “As far back as the 12th century they were already exporting stock fish to places in Europe,” explains Rashid Sumaila, director of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit at the University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre. Prof. Sumaila spent seven years studying economics in Norway and uses game theory to study fish stocks and ecosystems. Fish don’t heed international borders and his research shows how co-operative behaviour is economically beneficial. “Ninety per cent of the fish stocks that Norway depends on are shared with other countries. It’s a country that has more co-operation and collaboration with other countries than any other country I know,” Prof. Sumaila says. “That’s [partly] why they still have their cod and we’ve lost ours,” he adds, pointing out that not only are quotas and illegal fishing heavily monitored, policy in Norway is based on scientific evidence and consideration for the sustainability of the ecosystem as a whole. Prof. Sumaila cites the recent changes to Canada’s Fisheries Act, as a counter-example: “To protect the habitat, you have to show a direct link between the habitat, the fish and the economy,” he says, adding, “That’s the kind of weakening that the Norwegians don’t do.” Svein Jentoft is a professor in the faculty of Bioscience, Fisheries and Economics at the University of Tromso. He adds that Norway’s co-operative management style, particularly domestically, has been key to the continued success of the fisheries. “The management system [for fish stock] is an outcome of the positive, constructive and trustful relationship between the industry on the one hand and the government on the other hand,” Prof. Jentoft says. “They have been able to agree on issues that you and many other countries haven’t been able to, largely because the government has listened to the fishermen.” However, Prof. Jentoft isn’t on board with all of his government’s policies. He’s concerned about how the quota and licensing system is concentrating wealth and the impact that this will have on fishing communities. He predicts that Norway’s wild stocks will remain healthy in the foreseeable future and that the aquaculture industry (fish farms), where Norwegians are world leaders, will continue to grow. In 2009, Norway’s total fish and seafood export was $7.1-billion, $3.8-billion was in aquaculture. By 2011, Norwegian aquaculture exports grew to $4.9-billion. In Canada, total fish and seafood exports in 2011 were $3.6-billion, with approximately one-third from aquaculture. Norway’s forests are another important natural resource, and its pulp-and-paper industry has many parallels to Canada’s. Both nations are heavy exporters of newsprint. With much less demand since the wide adoption of the Internet and competition from modern mills from emerging markets, both nations have suffered through down-sizing and mill closures over the past decade. Both have been looking for ways to adapt. The Borregaard pulp and paper mill in Sarpsborg has become one of the world’s most advanced biorefineries. From wood, it creates four main products: specialty cellulose, lignosuphonates, vanillin and ethanol, along with 200 GWh a year of bioenergy. “You have a diversified portfolio of products,” explains Karin Oyaas, research manager at the Paper and Fibre Research Institute in Trondheim. “The Borregaard mill uses all parts of the wood and they have a variety of products, so if one of the products is priced low for a few years, then maybe some of the other products are priced high.” She feels this is a key change in direction for the industry in Norway. She doesn’t want to see the industry putting all of its eggs in one basket, as it did with newsprint. Dr. Oyaas also thinks that rebranding the industry is key to its survival and success in Norway. The forestry industry doesn’t get the same kind of attention as the oil industry, nor does it have the high-tech image. But it is just as high-tech, and it has the bonus of being a renewable resource. “You can make anything from the forest. You can make the same products that you can make from oil,” explains Dr. Oyaas.”
12. What is your answer to increasing transparency and eradicating corruption which is plaguing most governments across Africa?
Corruption is prevalent everywhere. It is just more prevalent in Africa. The reason being is that our civil servants e.g. the cops, the guy connecting your water or ESCOM metres are not paid well enough. We need to improve wages.
Consumers also need to change the way we operate. In order to get things “done” we feel we need to bribe. This enables people who do simple things like process your driver’s license or come to inspect your imported goods being offloaded not even being shy about asking for a bribe.
I reckon we need to start with these small steps and then look at the bigger bribes.
13. Any famous last words?
I manage Phalombe Hardware in Limbe – directly opposite Standard Bank in Limbe. At the moment investing in Malawi by building a house or commercial property is the way to go. We can provide all building materials from the foundation right up to the finishing stages for your house. Please visit us on face book or email us for a quote. Phalombe@africa-online.net
Global100 Voices is a collection of reflections, views, opinions, ideas and thoughts by Malawians across the world, regarding the past, present and future of Malawi
Remember my post here, where I outlined what I believe to be the root causes of some of the behavioural problems affecting black children (and students) in schools in western countries?
This post can be considered to be its continuation.
As you can probably tell after reading that initial post, there is no one single answer to the present conundrum since there are quite a number of issues that need resolving if there is to be any chance in rectifying the situation.
But firstly, considering that reclaiming the afro-caribean or black child involves as much reclaiming their parents as the child itself, if I were to draw a mental snapshot of what I believe urgently needs re-addressing, it would probably look something like this:-
With each symbol representing something that either needs addressing, learning, re-learning, or that needs fixing in some way or form.
Thus, in my view, if society is to make any headway:-
We must address the trauma at its source
via initiatives such as [a] support groups (e.g. anti-substance / alcohol abuse, victims of trauma, anger management, unemployment forums) that refer to, or provide counselling [b] member based financing initiatives (e.g. crowd funding to support members who are experiencing difficulty) [c] Phone lines for children or parents with specific concerns (or for those who need to get something off their chest) to call in for independent and impartial advice or support [d] Food banks (without the stigma associated with them) and crucially [e] using Community Leaders with influence over certain communities. We need more organisations such as Turning Point and Self Help Services, but with a wide range of services, and critically, led by ethnic minorities. But, this will only work if those affected are willing to receive help and improve the situation in which they (or their children) are in…
such as employing teachers to provide free tuition for families that cannot afford it are essential. There are no two ways about it. In order for this to be a success, there is a need for greater community involvement (not only from black parents, but also parents of other ethnic minorities, especially those on low incomes) so that parents are ‘on-board’ as to why such activities are crucial for their children’s education in the long run. And to make things easier for the parents, transportation (and food) would need to be provided by the organisers (possibly an organising committee), essentially a bus and a driver to go around town collecting kids to take them to this central location, where free-tuition, mentoring and other after school activities are provided, say twice or thrice a week.
We have to study African and American history, African culture and African Art
Maybe African culture is too broad a term to use here, but, how do you instill a sense of pride and achievement in young Afro-carribbeans when some of them have been told (explicitly or implicitly) that their people are no good; that they have never made anything of value? How do you get to know why there is a problem in your society without studying exactly how, and at what point things went wrong? When the derailment occurred, and what caused the road to be slippery? If not for information, then at least for a sense of identity. Remember the 13 year old jewish boy example in the 1st part to this post?
Further, we have to write our own history + discredit (rather LOUDLY) the histories which have been written for us (some of which are extremely questionable, and were probably written with bad intentions, to degrade, belittle and subjugate people of afro-carribean origin). This is quite a hard thing to do (but not impossible) because how does one get rid of Rudyard Kipling’s poison, or rubbishing out the likes of Arthur de Gobineau and Georges Vacher de Lapouge, considering there are many people alive today, in western countries, who (whether consciously or otherwise) have a mental bias that conforms comfortably with some of the theories propounded by these men. I know at least 3 such characters in my circles, some of whom make no attempt to hide this bias, at least not to me.
Another problem is that when those who are largely responsible for setting up what I term ‘the racist institution‘ created their web of deceit, they went to great lengths in planting the roots of hatred and discrimination in society.
Their ideas infiltrated all aspects of society from drama and literature, religion and culture, sports, finance, politics and banking, … practically everything, and crucially some of the building blocks and segments of such an institution still remain standing today. In present times the remnants of these beliefs have created an unfair and irreconcilable society in which ethnic minorities are objects of ridicule and scorn.
Yet those with power, privilege, and position, some of whom appear to somewhat benefit from the status quo, and whose equals in ages past (and in some cases, even in the present) believed they deserved a greater share of the world’s resources (by virtue of these same crooked ideas, or by virtue of some rule/law, race, nationality, social background, gender, religion, etc) will not voluntarily renounce their beliefs, or even begin to act to rectify the clearly unbalanced and nonsensical situation that we currently have. Why, because they can’t see anything wrong…Which leads me to my next point
Instead of moaning noisily about why Oxford or Harvard is not accepting more black/ ethnic-minority students, I believe a better way is for leading and influential black and ethnic minority groups, academics, politicians, professionals and other influential ethnic minority individuals to begin to seriously think about why they can’t create their own learning institutions that will strive for excellence; and that with time, experience, and mistakes, can be considered world-class-in the long run; institutions that can give their children a quality education, and instill practical skills and values that will prepare them for a vocation, and for life.
It may be 2013, and yes many naysayers will sneer at the idea. But these are to be ignored, because how many things out there which were sneered upon in their early days have ended up as great successes?
There are many examples of institutions like these in the US, and while there is likely to be vicious opposition from some sections of society, I believe it is an important factor in rectifying the situation for a whole load of reasons, not least because it will instill in most of those who will be involved a sense of ownership, pride and responsibility to this cause. Further, there’s no shortage of prominent individuals of Afro-Caribbean background, including black Americans who can be consulted about such an initiative.
In addition, I believe some of the American colleges and universities listed above ought to do more to help students from other parts of the world receive a decent education. It may not be their call, but I think it would do them much good, by increasing their offerings and broadening their influence, in that it’s not only about offering a scholarship to a child from the Bronx, it’s also things like organising exchange programmes with coloured students from other parts of the world. In order for Africans and Afro-caribbeans to advance, I believe there must be more cultural and educational exchange initiatives. And it doesn’t have to all be grand or fantastical dreams. It can even be as simple as organising short (say week-long) holidays for afro-caribbeans from another part of the world, to visit Europe or America, to give them exposure and enrich their cultural experiences.
Religious instruction and activities
I’d like to say that religious instruction has no material role in helping to fix the current problems experienced by black children in schools…but unfortunately I can’t, not least because there is little incentive for a child to behave themselves, and keep order, if there will be no consequences or rewards. And the threat of a beating from the parent just doesn’t fully do it in my view, as it could create worse problems. Especially when the ‘superhero’ that is Social Services is about.
Disclaimer: I’ve never experienced what it is to grow up in a family where you do not acknowledge the existence of a supernatural being, so I probably can’t force this point too much.
However, what I do know is that there is evidence from research, that suggests that people who hold some kind of religious views are comparatively happier, and lead healthier lifestyles than those that do not. That’s not denying the uncomfortable fact that historically, religion has also had a wicked face to it. But my point is, religious instruction will be necessary not least to instill discipline and create a sense of community in young people. Interestingly, I’ve been to various churches where every summer, parents arrange for the children to go to a summer camp. This is an excellent idea because even those who cannot afford to pay for a ‘holiday’ for their children, are assisted, and the child is accommodated. Further, tied with the idea of a member based financing initiatives, this can be extended to pay for trips abroad, enriching the children’s cultural experiences.
In addition, some religious settings have lessons and activities on issues like parenting, fatherhood, rasing up kids alone, divorce, etc…and as much as some people may not fully agree with the core message offered by the ‘religion’ itself, these other additional offerings may go some way to provide help and support to those who need it.
Role Models and mentorship
There is a need to encouraging role models to give their time and effort into addressing the issue of trauma through personal stories as to how they (or someone they know) overcame certain problems. It doesn’t end there, those in positions of power could go a step further, by offering short internships ( if their position allows them to do so) to students of ethnic minority background, most of whom are hugely disadvantaged in terms of finding employment and getting the jobs for which they are qualified. They could also help provide emotional support to children whose parents for example are getting divorced, or those whose father or mother has been imprisoned, etc. I know that this would take a lot of time, but it also means more ethnic minorities should consider undertaking mentorship lessons on how to be a good mentor, as it will be uselful in the long run.
Skills and training
Another aspect is tertiary training. Not everybody can get a job as a doctor, engineer, lawyer or manager; not everybody can play in the Premiership, or become a Grammy award-winning hip-hop artist that can spin lyrics like Lil Wayne. Certainly not in the present society. Sometimes it will be practical for some of our children who haven’t performed well academically, or who can’t act or sing as convincingly, to try a shot at other of their skill sets (even if it is while they wait for the opportune moment of fame), with a view to adopting and developing that skill set for a living.
So, if a child is dexterous and good with their hands, let them try their hand at an apprenticeship, in a role where they get to develop the use of their hands (even if they are DJying part-time at the weekend). If they have some facility with electronics, let them train to be an electrician…and so on
It seems there is a lot of pressure from parents, for children to excel academically, and to a point this is justifiable as most parents want their children to do well, and traditionally, most Afro-carribbean parents view academic achievement as a safer route to stability, a job, success…
But there are other ways of killing a cat, and afro-carribean children should be provided with all the available options, whenever possible. This will also call for a united approach to raising children.
The Afro-carribean fraternity (that word again) have to develop independent industry. Unfortunately, there are no two ways about this, and a barber shop, hair dresser or convenience store is not really ‘industry’, unless 90% of the people you know buy their goods from it (or have patronised ), and it’s turning over a decent profit for the family that owns it.
Further, consider this: If far too few of your children are being offered jobs they are qualified for by the society in which you live in, and there is clearly a disparity in incomes and career prospects (between those of your children and those for the majority population), why not create your own job(s)? And give those jobs to your own children? Or at least help your adult children create their own jobs?
There are many business ideas out there, from the simple such as running a post office or going out to Asia to buy goods which are then resold online at a profit; to the not so simple, such as setting up an international currency exchange, or importing fruit and vegetables from across the world. One common thing about both simple and complicated is that they are doable :-), and it is possible to make a profit.
It will be essential for parents, and their children to re-learn economics and the machinations of money-making; re-investment, debt, profitability, tax, insurance, and everything else that comes with starting a business, because post-credit crisis, you can’t always bet that someone will give your child a job. In any case, if in prosperous times your children were struggling to get jobs, what about now, when ‘austerity’ is the most commonly used word??
Having said all this, I acknowledge that there are some ‘inflexibilities’ in the ‘system’ which are biased against ethnic minorities, and people of Afro-carribbean origin, and which will make one or more of the above difficult to accomplish. But such inflexibilities don’t make the task(s) impossible to accomplish. What is needed is persistence, unity and increased support from those who have overcome such challenges.
From friends, family, venture capitalists who believe in such causes, crowd-sourcing-obama-election-campaign style, from do-gooders, corporations and others. The more people are united in a cause or specific initiative, one that has clear advantages for a community, the easier in theory it will be to raise the funds for it.
Pride in Africa
Parents of children living in western countries need to re-affirm their pride in Africa. Here, I know there are some people who have had bad experiences with people in their home countries (or with people in countries from which their ancestors, grandparents or parents came from), but this point is important because it will help the child have an affirmation that they belong to a larger people.
Later on in life, much later on, if they do have an identity crisis, those visits to Africa will also give them an option. It can be done via annual trips, reconnecting children with their roots. It sounds cliché, but there are countless examples of young people who have been positively influenced by a visit to the motherland. Also, such visits could pave way for a trade-relationship later on in life…
Black children need to be taught from a young age that there are pirates about. Hateful shadowy figures and ‘Mercenaries’ with toxic minds, who they most definitely WILL meet (as long as they live on this planet) as they grow up (be it in school, at work, etc).
Some of these people are manipulative, others are ignorant and opinionated liars who will tell them many lies; a good number will not be pleased if the black child does well, excels or is succesful in some way. To the child, such knowledge alone will begin to prepare them mentally, to guard their minds, against what is to come later on in life.
This is not about instilling pessimism or negativity in children, instead if I am to draw from my own experiences, if I knew some of the things I now know about the world in which we live in, when I was much younger, I think it would have helped me avoid certain places, and certain kinds of people (who unfortunately have had a negative effect on my life), some of whom have created unnecessary problems for me.
This also means that from a young age, issues like alcohol abuse and drugs must begin to be addressed. If one or both of the parents in a house have an alcohol abuse or drug problem, close relatives (or close friends) MUST assume responsibility and begin to talk to those children. It can be in the form of taking the child from home for as many weekends as is possible, to sleep overs, etc… ideally the child needs to experience a healthy environment, they need to know that the circumstances at home are not common everywhere, and the message that a drunk (or ‘drugged’) father is not the typical father must hit home sooner than later. I’m not saying this is necessarily easy, instead what I’m saying is there must be greater involvement and support against negative influences, whether those negative influences come from the parents or not.
for able black / Afro-caribean kids to attend the best schools… It sounds like an anti-thesis of what I just advocated above, but it isn’t, as I never said we should create a parallel society. I’m not going to try to explain it, scholarships are essential and go a long way in helping the child financially. As someone who has won two during my studies, you are just going to have to trust me on this one.
Although this is a divisive issue, I believe It must be encouraged as there is money to be saved. Why have a spare room empty in your house, when someone you know who is also living alone in a space bigger than he needs can occupy it (and thereby save on his bills, and possibly put aside some money for some important purpose that will enhance your community), and you can have an additional £100 a month? Unity and a collective approach to even the little issues has to be harnessed, as its potential benefits could greatly outweigh the initial and minor annoyances.
It is sad to note that diaspora groups do not relate closely and are divided on national, religious and social lines. The Somalis hang around together in small cafe’s in their neighbourhoods, the Kenyans can be found in their own packs, the South Africans appear aloof, the Zimbabweans, don’t even go there…even when some of the common problems affecting all your children are the same. Why can’t there be greater dialogue between such groups. Unified formulation of problems, better engagement and exchange of ideas?
While there may be language barriers to blame for this fragmentation, I believe a united response to some of the problems outlined in my initial post has a lot of benefits for both the parents and the children.
My next guest is a Lecturer and Academic, writer, news media & communications scholar. His interests include political and social changes in Sub Saharan Africa including Malawi. You can find out more about him on his website Spirit of Umunthu.
Jimmy Kainja, thank you very much for taking the time to do the 100 Voices interview.
Q 1: As a Malawian, how important is Malawi’s Socio-Economic stability to you and your family?
Who wants socioeconomic instability? Can anyone succeed in anything where there is no socioeconomic stability?
Q 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?
Nearly 50 years of independence Malawi remain donor dependent country. About 40% of its annual budget come this donors, this is huge and its impact on Malawi economy was laid bare 2 years ago when Bingu wa Mutharika decided to chase off the donors. The economy nosedived in a blink of an aye. So political independence, yes, the battle now is for economic independence.
I am 1980s baby so it will be hard for me to analyse “visible” progress of the whole 50 years of independence. But I am sure everyone would agree that Malawi is much better than it was when it attained independence in 1964. More doctors, more schools, more universities, more roads, better communications services etc. However, all these fall way short of what would be expected of a country in its 50th year of independence. If there is a country in afrika that can objectively be used as a yardstick for Malawi, than its Zambia. Zambia has now graduated to a middle-income country while Malawi has not. In fact all development indicators show that countries surrounding Malawi are doing much better than Malawi.
Both government and private sector have a role to play in tackling the persisting problems. BUT the government is a prime and a key player. It needs to provide conducive environment for this to happen. It has an autonomy of what happens with the national boundaries, the influence of private sector is limited and in many cases secondary to the government.
Q 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?
Efficiency in public service delivery; people’s love for their country; and a shared national vision which ensures that national policies are priorities over personal and political party interests. In Malawi a change of ruling party means dismantling everything starting all over again. In developed democracies it is the civil service that is tasked with ensuring continuation of national policies, regardless who is in power. Malawi civil service needs to be independent of political influence. This is important.
Q 4: What lessons do you think Malawians and the Malawian leadership can learn from those ideas?
I don’t think it’s the lack of knowledge, I know a lot of people with brilliant ideas but they act otherwise. I think its the mind-set and the system that needs to change. People in positions of power do things with impunity, they do things simply because they can. This has to stop. Due process ought to be valued and respected
Q 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?
I would say the younger generation. There are a lot of young, ambitious and determined Malawians to do and achieve things. Malawi’s ICTs industry has also taken off and most Malawians aware and they keep up with global events than they did a decade ago. That said, I also noticed a huge and growing gulf between the haves and have nots. Urban poverty is a massive and grown problem, especially in the two major cities – Blantyre and Lilongwe.
Q 6: What struck you the most as the biggest sign of stagnation or regression?
Lack of opportunities for young educated population, both urban and poor; poor governance; lack of vision and lack of clear policies to lift Malawi from the poverty trap, most important wean itself from donor dependency.
Q 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 foreignreducing aid dependency?
Everything I have said above, especially point 6. Also I don’t really think it’s the leadership he/herself that matter. We are past the age of charismatic leadership; you can’t replace charismatic leadership, what is need is proper structures and institutions in place. Leaders only need to be able to work and respect those institutions/structure. These are better guiders of development. Can you imagine one of the big talking points being the president’s refusal to declare assets?
Q 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?
These are kind of issues that should have been dominating public discourse by now but we are fixated on personal egos and endeavours. Malawi is a second largest producer of tea in Afrika, after Kenya, I don’t know why we have not encouraged more of that. Recently, the country has started paying more attention into extractive industry, I don’t know the amount of such commodities that Malawi holds, The Financial Times recently said Malawi could hold the largest deposits of rare earths in Afrika. So maybe there’s something, but it needs to be handled with care, to avoid environmental disasters and also because these are none renewable. Malawi is also seriously lacking expertise in this industry.
Another way of boosting the economy is to boost cross-boarder trade. We need better communication. This is a serious problem in Afrika. It is easier for me to catch a flight to London than Tanzania or Mozambique, yet these two are our neighbours.
Q 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?
Mutharika’s experiment has left a disaster for Malawi. Everyone who witnessed what happened when Mutharika rubbed donors the wrong way would not want to repeat that. This means leaders becoming subservient to donors, like Joyce Banda is at the moment. It’s easy to blame her but the fact is almost everyone in her shoes would have done it. Malawi needs a national policy, a clear direction to weaning ourselves off aid dependency. I am sure donors themselves would support such initiative. What happened to vision 2020? We need it revived. Malawi need it as early as yesterday! Read it if you haven’t.
Q 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?
Appalling. Paladin Africa was given “tax incentive” deal to operate at Keyekera mine, the result is that Malawi is losing huge sums of money. I don’t have figures on top of my head but annually, it is enough to pay for our cash-strapped university education system. As I have said, Malawi is seriously lacking experts in this area. I hear the ministry concerned have engaged experts from a Scottish University and one other to help establish courses/training on these issues at universities of Malawi and Mzuzu.
Q 11: In your view, can the government do better to manage natural resources? If so, how can it do better?
Engage experts, people that actually know what they are doing. Government knows it, hence the efforts to involve the above-said institutions. I think government should be commended for the idea but it needs to be implemented. There have been a lot of promises in this country that never materialise.
Q12: What is your answer to increasing transparency and eradicating corruption which is plaguing most governments across Africa?
Transparency is a key prerequisite for any development effort, it is the case in any given institution; it encourages trust and work ethic. Even at a family level, couples that talk and share stuff openly are happier and more effective. But I don’t think corruption in Afrika is a sole cause of the persistent problems on the continent. In many cases I think it is a product of it. It differs from one place to another. It is easier to discuss Afrika the country, not Afrika the continent with 54 distinct countries.
I wish Oprah Winfrey would read this. I really do. In fact not only Oprah, I wish everyone from Spike Lee and Russell Simmons to Jay-z and … lets just saw the whole Afro – Caribbean ‘fraternity’ ( if such a thing could be said to exist) from African-Americans, to those in Europe, Asia or indeed elsewhere (those of us who are fashionably termed the “diaspora”) would read this. Not because its grand or mind blowingly fancy in any fantastical way, no, instead, considering our common history, it represents a summary of a profound truth regarding some of the major problems Africans and African-Americans routinely encounter. A truth which over the years has been distorted by ‘culture’, ‘theories’ and ‘ism’ of one kind or another to the point few know a practical formula on how to resolve the problems. I believe there has been a massive misunderstanding, which unfortunately leads many people to put a lot of the blame on Africans; African-Americans + Afro-carribbeans (with some people not even realising that they are doing so), without carefully understanding how we even got to these problems.
Thankfully, the premise to this post has been handed to me on a golden platter. In a thousand years of inspiration, I could never have arrived at a factual story so farcical, entertaining and mind-boggling in almost equal measure:-
Two days ago we watched with disbelief on our TV screens as Luis Suarez, the Liverpool striker, was at it again. Probably only slightly less mad compared to Joey Barton, Suarez was caught biting another player’s arm, in the middle of a match; in broad daylight view of the HD cameras patrolling the pitch, in front of thousands of Liverpool and Chelsea supporters…?? It beggars belief. More surprising (this being besides his racist offence two years ago), is the fact that he’s bitten someone else before. At Ajax. Inevitably, most normal people are asking the same questions, why would a world-class player who is one of the top goal scorers of the Barclays Premier League this season bite another player out of the blue? Is this guy okay? What was going on in his mind? Now, we’ve seen bites in the Premiership before, like the one by Jermain Defoe on Javier Mascherano, but what exactly is going on in these peoples’ minds when they do these things? Is biting the same as headbutting which has also happened several times in football?
As someone whose Mother is a qualified counsellor, and who has known two other counsellors for well over 7 years, issues relating to counselling are not new to me. I’ve been hearing about them for years! In fact I have proof-read 2 Diploma theses on some counselling topics I cannot presently remember (Mother’s, and another for her friend). I have digitized one of the theses (word for word) including the case studies. I have been in proximity to the books on the subject often, and found myself once or twice browsing through a number of them. I’ve heard the stories too (obviously with anonymity as to the subjects concerned and their location), watched some videos, all of which have inevitably influenced my viewpoints on the subject, things which you don’t hear in the media very often.
So, the claim that the Liverpool player might need counseling is particularly interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, as one of my friends (who I doubt is a Liverpool fan) observed, does the law to which every ordinary human being in the UK is subject to, truly extend to football players (and one might add ‘celebrities’)? If so, why then haven’t charges been pressed by the police, or indeed the victim? Isn’t it hypocritical that cases of racism are hyped, and a big deal made about them, but when it’s a case of violence, the authorities appear coy about it? In any case, if a member of the public bit another stranger randomly, say on the bus (or on the train), under the ever watchful eyes of the CCTV, wouldn’t the attacker be instantly charged with violent conduct and summoned before a judge? If such is generally the case, isn’t the fact that Suarez has not been formerly charged by the police giving out the wrong signals, especially to young people? That it is infact okay to behave in such a wildly unruly manner in the sport? You may get a small fine and a couple of matches suspension, but your career will be intact, safe and dry. Another friend even drew comparisons with doping in athletics, where he cited Dwain Chambers. “Whats the difference?” he asked “Suarez has cheated at the World cup, bitten someone before — where apparently one newspaper nicknamed him the Cannibal of Ajax — he has been involved in a racist incident against a Manchester United player, and displayed bad behaviour several times, the sort of thing you would expect from Joey Barton, yet he gets to have his cake and eat it.”…
More importantly, it seems some of the people who require counselling will identify the roots of their problems way back in history, commonly in their childhood. These causes range from extreme poverty, abuse (commonly by a family member), rejection, bullying, drug or alcohol addictions, to death of a loved one and suchlike. Some people who have had such experiences don’t even know that they need help. Which is where Suarez’s case is relevant to this post because, in my view, there are many Africans and Afro-Carribean out there who have experienced devastating and traumatic events in their lives, which have affected them so gravely, psychologically, so much that it influences their behaviour later on in life, and negatively affects their career prospects and family life. It sounds like a tenuous excuse for wrongdoing, but it’s not. I’m not a Liverpool FC fan and if you told me that one day I would write this post, 10 years ago, I would have seriously doubted your sanity.
Let me explain further. Those who read my previous post here, will have noted that I referred to the “needs” of Black and Afro-carribean kids in schools.
According to the Self-enhancement theory, individuals with low self-esteem may seek to enhance their self-concepts through the use of aggression in order to boost their already low self evaluations [Rosenberg et al (1989) postulated that individuals with low self-esteem may engage in aggressive acts to boost their low self-evaluations (e.g. , lack of prosocial avenues for expressing self-esteem) ]. This has been used to explain some of the ‘problems’ black children cause in class rooms. Further, it has been stated that individuals with low self-esteem are more prone to engage in risk-taking behavior out of a need to find an available avenue for expressing their self-worth [“subculture of violence”, Long ,1990].
But, while theories such as these hold much validity in explaining some of the psychological problems young black people face (especially in schools), there’s another simpler way of appreciating the bigger picture. I must state at this point that I have not studied this topic extensively, my opinion is based primarily on observations (in my own family and in the lives of others) and private research studies (over the last 7 -8 years) using sources such as are listed below. I do not claim that my viewpoint is the only likely explanation or that the observations below are the only ‘Root causes’, although I’m willing to risk my credibility by suggesting that by far they are the most common root causes. Further, some of my views are influenced partly by my interaction with young people in a Youth group in Nottingham that is affiliated to a religious organisation ( and at which I volunteered as a Youth coordinator for several years, quite a number of years ago).
So, with this in mind, a summary:
(1) Children are born to black parents who have little or no savings. The parents are preoccupied with trying to earn a living – The child is not properly supervised (the TV is tasked with some of that), and there are few or no role models about towards which the child should aspire.
(2) The anger, frustrations and issues from parent’s work / lives sometimes overflow and pours over onto the children, tainting their childhood. (The sources of those frustrations numerous in number and possibly deserving a blog post of its own)
(3) Pressure of life can cause addictions in their parents & many a time marriage breakdowns. There is anger in the home. In the homes of almost all their relatives. And no financial cushion to iron out some of the problems. The child bears all this on their head. And, inevitably,eventually, it can give birth to one or more of anger, confusion, frustration and pain.
(4) For example, in some cases, parents cannot afford to take them out on holiday or buy them certain things as they are growing up, things which most of the white kids (or other black contemporaries) in school have, so the black child grows up in want. Further, comparatively, most of their white friends have a from of luxury, they take holidays, frequent trips to interactive or sight seeing excursions , whereas most of the black kids’ parents can’t afford to take them for a holiday. The feelings / emotions regarding things such as these are largely ‘bottled-up’, repressed, and the child does not get to express themselves. They just observe, confused, thinking it is normal. To an extent this lack of exposure can limit their frame of mind.
(5) Since the parents have to work (often juggling more than one job), or because of single parenthood, supervision is left to others (Friends, Aunties or parents’ siblings – who themselves have little training or fortitude to ensure that they provide the right upbringing), so bad company creeps in -> leading to bad habits. The child cannot excel academically if the parents are not pushing hard for it (i.e. Private tuition, careful demarcation of time for study and play, religious instruction…etc) or cannot afford to pay for private tuition.
(6) As was well articulated here, even in the western media (as is the case back on the motherland) the children are bombarded by negative connotations of Africa, of being black, or their skin colour of everything to do with them. Public figures saying the wrong things, and half the time getting away with it. Why has the servant, or guard in the Hollywood movie most of the times have to be black or of Latino ethnicity? Even if such is merely a factual reflection of reality, what other message does it send, potentially, especially to younger audiences? The children see positive role models only in few professions, only in sport, film and music. They see more successful people who look like them in videos such as this or this, most often with a message of ‘drugs, guns, bitches and bling’. Which is why if you ask any random group of black 9 -14 year olds to name you their favourite music artists, very few, if not none will cite music of a rock genre. Their minds are not wired to appreciate rock music, even when there exists some very good rock bands that appeal to younger audiences.
And whilst the likes of Einstein and Michael Faraday are referenced to in Physics enough times for even non-physicists in the school to know who they are, Martin Luther King, Shaka Zulu and other ‘African heroes’ are found neither in GCSE Science nor English, not even in the History of the French Revolution or the American War of Independence, which is the kind of history which these kids first encounter (both in schools in Africa and in the West). Their own history is visibly absent. Further, few of them are informed that in the times as those in which Galileo, Einstein and even Henry Ford lived, black people were not really considered human in the western world, not really. So comparatively few got a decent education to provide a foundation for mastery in technical subjects. A situation that can probably be summarised with a cartoon that parodies this issue:
In addition, few parents encourage their children to learn about their past. “It’s too painful” you hear. “Study to get a degree then get a job” is generally the advice that is given. So few will bother with history beyond elementary school, creating ‘critical’ gaps of knowledge regarding their own past – a factor that will have an effect much later in life. Even their parents don’t know anywhere near enough about African history (or historians) such as these – who have over the years toiled to reconstruct and teach about African history.
While a 13-year-old Jewish boy knows what Yom Kippur is, and will give you an accurate account of the Holocaust including how many people died and other encyclopedic knowledge, why those who died must always be remembered each year, yet the African child of the same age doesn’t even know the estimates of how many black people were displaced or died during slavery, and what the impact of that was. The answers to such questions will have to be solely and painfully mapped (source BBC) by very few of his kind through judicious study, much much later in life. [- – – – – > Burning Spear – Slavery days]
(7) If you visit the local library or a Museum, few or no Afro-carribbean kids about. How could there be any, their parents are busy or in work trying to earn enough to scrape a living.
The other day I took my 9 year old nephew to the Museum of Science and Industry which is the biggest in Manchester, and has quite a lot to see. But in a space of 3-4 hours on a Saturday morning, by conservative estimates I must have encountered maybe over 300 people, but I only saw one other black person with their child??Is this because of pressures of work or lack of interest? In any case, entry is free 🙂
(8) So by the time they get to highschool they are already troubled. Then comes the difficulty in managing them…the pain, confusion and trauma all the above factors may have caused, over many years, is alien to a teacher, who has not been properly trained in dealing with such deep and multi-faceted traumatic behaviour, and who must be wondering what is wrong with these black kids?? Add to this spoonfuls of racism.
(9) If they are lucky enough to make it to college or University it doesn’t get any easier. They are constantly broke, they can’t fully participate in the collegiate school’s offerings, let alone socialize because of financial constraints. They have to take up part-time job which can interfere with their studies. Throw in coursework, friends and girlfriends, and the whole picture couldn’t be fuzzier. At Nottingham University, I had a white friend (who identified with Christianity) who innocently and with bewilderment asked me how come I could afford to leave Britain and go to the US in the middle of the University term (my US-based sister was going through a very difficult period at the time) when I didn’t have a job. The insinuation, without a shadow of a doubt, was ‘where did you get the money from…I thought you guys are broke?’. It was one of the most uncomfortable moments of my undergraduate degree, and it was said in a room where there were 8 – 10 other white christians listening, no doubt everybody wanted to know. 8 years on, I still remember the name of the boy who said it (including the fact that his father was a reverend).
So if someone gets through all this, relatively unscathed, guess how they will view the world? My guess, not exactly optimistically.
For those that don’t make it through, difficulty and struggle is standard, they fail to get credit at banks, some get into drugs, theft, fraud, get imprisoned and such like. They are not necessarily bad people, in my view, much of it (although not always) is circumstantial and reactionary — similar to the Jewish resistance movements that mounted attacks against Hitler’s Nazis during the second world war. Reactionary. Most of the victims want to be good citizens, are raised up in families that have a Faith, they believe it is in their best interests to do the right things, but they can’t, not always, their circustances push them in the wrong direction. They are no worse, for example, than the barrister son of a judge who was found with cocaine, yet got to keep his job.
Plagued by deep, unresolved and complex psychological issues, these people will continue to suffer as society is not equipped (let alone sufficiently interested) to assist them overcome their troubles.
So, in view of the ‘surface problems’ (such as lack of finances or not having affluent relatives who are able to lend them considerably large sums of money to start businesses, or to bail them out of life’s tricky situations) which disproportionately affect minority communities more than white communities ; without a quality education – their schooling having been somewhat biased, it follows that gang culture, drugs and other evils have an easier job in taking over many a life, giving to some of them a sense of belonging, importance and identity they long for — and which mainstream society deprives them; while to a considerable number, taking all these away to the tune of a criminal record and several years behind bars.
(10) And even those who manage to get a degree or two are not spared. I know many people (including some Malawians) in the diaspora, who despite a decent education from western universities, some with postgraduate degrees, cannot get jobs or are in jobs that pay them significantly less than their white colleagues. In some cases, they are not given suitable jobs for which they are qualified for, and few have the entrepreneurial drive (nor essential experience) to create for themselves a job. But even those who do are not exempt from the ‘onslaught’. Yet in view of this, as if by mockery, there are many relatively less educated westerners operating in Africa, who being armed with sufficient capital, are reaping huge financial windfalls…
So, where do you think they go from here? How do you think they will look at the world?
The majority who can’t make it to university, and who therefore can’t get the good jobs will settle for the odd jobs, some of them are plagued by the criminal records they got when they were younger (and irresponsible). They get deeper into the wrong groups, waste time with alcohol, drugs, women ..and debt piles up, desperation kicks in leading to crime, and as they grow older the cycle repeats itself, in the lives of their children.
History has got its cruel and finely defined pathways.
Those who go to jail (some doing so for street cred) end up causing more hardships to their families (“Prison and the Poverty Trap”-New York Times ), for the women – unplanned pregnancies, many remain in abject poverty, some Christian young men convert to Islam, among those some end up radicalized. The others will be pushing drugs, credit-card fraud and survive on underground businesses, or via the charity of others. ‘Our Babylon’ some will say.
But how can this situation be rectified (not that it’s necessarily easy or straightforward to do so), assuming we somewhat can see more clearly where the problems lay? What’s the solution? Well, in my view, you can’t change the future when the systems of the past are still deeply rooted in the present. So that’s a big problem, as to borrow the biblical saying, old wineskins cannot carry new wine.
And then comes views from some of those who are enlightened and lucky to have ‘made it’, who will often blame the victims for being lazy, for not working hard, for not ceasing the moment, for living in the past…. etc, when it’s all a much complex maze tied to their past, and is beyond their control a lot of the times. And it’s not only in back communities. Even low-income white families in council estates are thwarted by such vicious circles.
To keep this post short, I have cut out the next section, which will form my next post. In it is a skeleton template for a workable solution that could accelerate the reversal of this terrible African tragedy that has affected all families of African descent in one way or another.
It is an obvious fact that Africa’s problems are bigger for one country, government or corporation to tackle. That although much has been done over the years in way of addressing some of the problems Africans have to live with every day, including efforts (some of which involved pouring hundreds of millions of dollars of aid into governments, causes, charities and other concerns within Africa) by numerous individuals, leaders, companies and countries, the mantle of developing Africa was always going to be heavier, the task rather gargantuan and complex, requiring a creative approach.
Neither the Gates Foundation, nor several other high-profile billionaires and millionaires, or for that matter anybody else who over the years has/had expressed strong desire and acted to help Africa, would be able to tackle African problems alone. Not without concerted and determined effort from Africans themselves. Which minimally probably shows that tackling the problems was never a linear equation: You couldn’t pour in loads of cash, then presto! – a developed Africa comes out the other end.
Thankfully, most of these people and organisations working for the advancement of Africa are smart enough to acknowledge that. Knowing that the problems are deeper, often multi-faceted and complex, giving a challenge that is probably as tricky to resolve as it is inviting. Philanthropists are also practical enough to realise that while essentially it’s a ‘war’ against a long list of challenges, they may never win all the ‘battles’ in that war.
However, what is surprising is that few Africans realise the extent and level of effort that is required to transform their continent, and many take it for granted that civil wars, corruption, HIV/Aids and poverty are the main problems in Africa. In addition, it is disconcerting to note that some philanthropists continue on the same aid path or approach which hasn’t worked the last 50+ years.
There have been many books written about African development [1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 to name a few], many articles too [including 1, 2, 3 and 4 ], numerous videos [like 1, 2, 3], speeches, all of which are informative and worthwhile their time and content. But even they seem to have received a coy reception, certainly have not been given the attention they deserve, their advice not widely embraced by most political leaders and other stake holders on the continent, which begs the question: If the techniques of the past haven’t worked, and the new one’s being suggested are not being adopted, or at least not tried out, why should the old tactics somehow produce different results this time around? Proponents of the old aid model argue that Africa is now at a different place, where factors such as improved telecommunications and transportation links have empowered local people, meaning the old methods of disbursement of aid have a better chance of being effective now than they previously did before – when the integers were absent. This to an extent is true.
But what does bringing development to Africa actually mean? Is increasing the numbers of people living on $2 or more a day development? Or is it eradicating Malaria, Tuberculosis, H.I.V, Cholera, typhoid and other health threats? Is supplying truckloads of pharmaceutical equipment a form of development? Or is building a pharmaceutical company to synthesize drugs within Africa a form of development? What about reducing unemployment and providing more opportunities for further education? Or achieving the kind of relative peacetime prosperity seen in North America or Europe in recent times? As you can see, all these could be said to be tenets of Development.
What makes the task of ushering in economic development more complex is that not only are the many obstacles impeding the implementation of policies that could transform Africa inter-related, but some of those obstacles do not appear to be obvious to those who have the power to effect change. To put it figuratively, it’s difficult to fight a war, any war, unless all, or at least most of your generals AND soldiers clearly understand the enemy (and their tactics).
Thus, in my view, Africa’s 24 most pressing problems (in no particular order) include:
1 – Far too many imports from outside of Africa and not enough high value Exports to balance the trade deficits. Not only is there a reluctance to delve in to hi-tech industries with potentially large earnings, but it appears like African countries are content to import things from Asia, Europe and the US and few people are asking the questions of:-
(i) whether it is possible to make some of these products within Africa?
(ii) Whether there may be an alternative product on the continent, which can be used in place of a foreign product?
In contrast, most European countries have large volumes of inter-trade amongst themselves, and when the EU has set carbon emission targets, there’s a growing trend in some countries that something is to be imported from afar only if it can’t be cost-effectively produced locally, if it can’t be shipped, or if it can’t be imported from a nearby country. This point is related to the next point:-
2 – There is not enough trade amongst African countries. Consider this statement:
“…These costs are most acute for landlocked countries, which are heavily reliant on neighbour states to reach international export markets. The World Bank has estimated that upgrading road linkages between the Central African Republic and the DRC could increase intra-African trade by between $10 billion and $30 billion a year.” and here “…At the moment, the vast majority of goods are being imported from abroad. So if anything, rather import those goods from South Africa, and lock in some of the revenue in the region, than import them from abroad.” (Africa’s grand free trade area and what it will mean for business, by Jaco Maritz, www.howwemadeitinafrica.com )
3 – Archaic agricultural practices in much need of efficiency vectors (i.e. Trucks, ploughing, planting and harvesting machinery, pesticides, availability of cheap manure / fertilisers, modern Silos (not the thatched ones made from sticks, string and mud- which arguably results in loss of a high % of the harvest / yield through rotting and attack from pests [mice,termites, etc]), widespread adoption of irrigation and such like, all of which will have significant benefits to African agricultural capacity and the quality of yield–> potentially ending hunger/ food shortages within Africa) [New farming practices grow healthier children]
4 – Bad and underdeveloped infrastructure:
” Distances in Africa are usually great, with rivers seldom being navigable, making long railroads the most efficient alternative. However, many companies have had difficulty maintaining output on the limited system. Rio Tinto, the third largest mining company in the world, has recently demonstrated the effect a lack of infrastructure can have on mining operations. This month it was revealed that the company had to devaluate its coal exploiting operation in the Tete province of Mozambique by 3 Billion US$. All in all, Rio Tinto carried out write-downs amounting to 14 Billion US$, forcing its boss, Tom Albenese, to step down. An insufficient transport infrastructure has been mentioned several times as the central reason for the company’s losses. While Rio Tinto’s coal operations in that area have production capacities of about 10 million tons a year, the respective railway connection to the sea can only cope with between 3 and 4 million tons a year.” – Fabian Scherer, Political Analysis South Africa.
Africa needs bigger, longer, better Roads & Railway lines:- why isn’t Johannesburg connected to Nairobi by high speed rail? Or Addis Ababa to Kinshasa via Kampala by high speed rail? Who is going to create this infrastructure that could prove pivotal in transforming Africa’s fortunes, if not Africans themselves? Isn’t it obvious that creating transportation links [which would provide thousands of people with jobs] between the big cities of Africa will improve trade [opening up national markets to local traders, reduce turnaround times] and reduce the cost of travel [thereby encouraging tourism and movement of ideas], all of which are positives for spurring economic development?
Africa needs 21st Century Airports [of the standard of King Shaka] to allow travel between Africa and major international cities and give a positive first impression to international visitors. Not only airports, but modern hotels fit for the 21st century, upgrading the archaic and run-down buildings that define most African cities and constructing newer, more suitable buildings to attract business; we should put an end to unreliable power supply, water cuts and build business centres equipped with modern facilities as those found in western countries; Real investment into the Tourism industry – why should African tourism be expected to be mediocre? Below average and generally not up to scratch? A few years ago, a family friend who had visited Mozambique and Tanzania hinted of her displeasure when she found cockroaches and spiders in some of the rooms in the resorts she and her friend stayed in; the brown stains in the bathrooms, and scents in the rooms. This is even before we get to the aircon. Talk of ‘African standards’, which is really an excuse for not maintaining high standards.
We have to upgrade our infrastructure and facilities to a high standard, only then will we be confident to compete with cities in Asia and South America and other emerging business destinations which are fast becoming popular places of investment. In any case, just because we have been resigned to living with pot-holes, experiencing intermittent power cuts and working in buildings without air conditioning doesn’t mean that investors / visitors will tolerate the absence of such basic things, and return / recommend us to their friends.
5 – Under-educated, incompetent, power-hungry, corrupt and spineless leaders: Africa has too many leaders with no vision, who are extravagant, out of touch with the people and having no sense of urgency regarding the gravity of the problems their countries face and their far-reaching effects. It appears as though there is lack of understanding as to how economies develop within the leadership of some countries in Africa. The reasons for this may include stubbornness, and ignorance of the developmental histories of countries such as Russia, the US, Britain, Germany, China, Canada and Brazil. It may also be because of political pressure from donors, whose aid has strings attached, and arguably restricts the kind of sustainable development policies which are much in need.
Often it appears as though trying to remain in power and acquire wealth are much greater priorities than good governance, and there are few examples of cross-party inclusion in governments. Also, I doubt how many African politicians know the real meaning of good governance.
Unless Africans unite to put their leaders to task, so that they deliver what the continent needs, or else be shown the door out, development will struggle to come by. This point is also related to point 13 below–which is related to points 15 and 19.
This is because it is difficult for Africans to vote out their corrupt politicians when most people in the rural areas -who form the majority in most African countries – live in poverty, and are often ‘palm greased‘ with handouts (including free food [maize], livestock and money) in an attempt to seduce them into voting for the same corrupt officials the continent does not need.
6 – Security: If I can’t send a smartphone via ordinary post from Manchester to Lilongwe without it going missing, what does that say of our security? Irrespective of where in Africa it went off the radar, is that good enough for Africa? How come electronic products destined to the US (or coming from Asia) get to their destinations? Will that be good enough for investors? Doesn’t such influence postage prices to be high — which in itself pushes up the cost of doing business? Africa must improve its security on all levels to attract investment. From ensuring that visitors feel safe to safeguarding our borders against infiltration of terrorists and drugs, there are no two ways about this.
7 – Low self-confidence and lack of assertiveness. If it is true that the oil troubles in Nigeria are costing Nigeria over $1 billion each month, and have much to do with opposition to foreign corporations, why doesn’t the Nigerian government task the local oil companies to join forces with the foreign corporations under joint ventures to collectively exploit Nigeria’s resources? And in the midst of such theft, why is the increased security to prevent and stop the wastage – and bring to book those who are responsible for theft – not forthcoming?
12 – Poor Healthcare and under-investment in Women’s Health: If investors are to invest in your continent/ country, do you have hospitals of a good standard for them to use if they, their families or their staff fall sick? Or are you expecting them to build their own hospitals??? Maybe their own schools and shops?? What is the general state of your country’s maternity health? Do you have medicines and safe surgery facilities in your hospitals? Competent doctors and nurses?
How can economic development occur when the basic health facilities are not firmly in place?
15 – Low standard of Education and low investment in high-quality Education. And it’s not just education for African children. If we send our children to learn in Europe, America, Asia, Russia, Japan and other places, why couldn’t we create Universities and schools to attract ‘International’ students–those from outside of Africa? Maybe firstly partnerships or collaborations with European and US Universities (Univ of Nottingham in Malaysia; Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, Virginia Tech University-India, Technische Universität Berlin – Egypt ) could pave the way for speclialist learning institutions on African soil? In any case, in an information age as we live in, employing and training teachers / lecturers from across the globe wouldn’t be an issue. Further, African born professors are teaching in some of the world’s top Universities across the world, why couldn’t we attract some of them, or at least use their services to train lecturers/ teachers of the same calibre, to provide educational instruction to African and non-African students, within Africa?
In addition, when webcasting technology is relatively cheap and accessible, surely there must be some lecturers around the world who for a set fee, would be open to providing an hour or two long lectures every week, in their subject of specialisation, during term time. This means it may be possible to run a University level course partly using ‘remote’ lecturers who are infact not physically present in the classroom, but are miles away, at MIT, Yale, Oxford or Cambridge, etc.
16 – Export Trade barriers (including protectionist measures by not only Western countries [who are buyers of African raw materials such as agricultural produce and precious metals] but also within regions in Africa). Unfortunately this factor is not entirely of our doing. Use of diplomatic channels or filing complaints at the WTO/ AU could go some way to resolve some of these obstructionist barriers to trade, but there are no guarantees that such would have any success, and essentially it boils down to diplomacy. However, bilateral treaties and widespread membership of organisations such as Fairtrade, including encouraging ‘supply chain ownership’ in certain industries may be viable alternatives. In addition, African companies should aim to have a presence in major cities such as London, New York, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei, Paris, Tokyo, Rome, Berlin, Frankfurt, Madrid, and Moscow and aim to float on the stock markets. Another suggestion is the establishment of Trade and Industry organisations (like UKTI) whose sole aim would be to represent African companies in these cities, assisting them with finding markets, vetting of suppliers, etc.
18 – Low proliferation/ penetration of information technology including TV’s, Computers and Internet connected mobile phones. While a lot of progress has been made in this regard, there’s still a long way to go.
19 – Misdirected Aid: Instead of providing aid only to charities, or to buy food and medicines for governments, philanthropists must begin to invest comparable sums in sustainable projects across Africa. This factor is related to point 9 above. Entrepreneurs who have the ideas, but not the capital need to be sought and those with sustainable ideas that have a market must be financed. This factor has the added advantage in that you are supporting independent trade (not linked by political ties) and ensuring that if corruption does occur in government — which 9/10 times it will, entrepreneurs are sufficiently resourced to continue providing jobs and creating infrastructure, and are not being victimized on ethnic or political lines. The opposite of this, which is common in Africa, is skilled and experienced entreprenuers being sidelined for not supporting a particular political party, or for not being of the same ethnicity, or clan as the ruling elite.
20 – Jealousy and lack of patronage for home-grown brands: It’s not only hundreds of thousands of people living in Manchester who support Manchester United. Even thousands of those who live in Nottingham, support Nottingham County, or Nottingham Forest. Probably not a perfect example, but in Britain (and many parts of the developed world), home-grown is considered good. The local pub –not the one in town, the one just around the corner — is often the place to wind down and have a drink. Irrespective of whether a yorkshire man, or an Irish chap owns the place. It’s the local pub, so a considerable proportion of people who live local will frequent it every now and again. And it’s not just about nationalities. Even the local curry (which will most likely be owned by an Asian) or the local Chinese (owned by a Chinese) is embraced, and favorited, it’s about buying local. If there are more than one local Asian takeaway / Chinese, some people take turns to visit each one every so often, or will patronise the one or two who appeal to their culinary tastes. One effect of supporting home-gown is that money is circulated within the local economy.
Unfortunately, in some parts of Africa, especially Southern Africa, this is not always the case. It is more likely that if a lakeshore resort is owned by a European, it will attract more business from Africans than if it is owned by a fellow African. While the reasons for such may be a lot more complicated, its effects couldn’t possibly be positive for African industry. In my view, Africans need to change this mindset.
21 – African achievers are not as visible, even in the internet age. Few high-profile role-models have been resourced or are willing to carry the flag of Africa across Africa with a positive message not only about their achievements, but about Africa itself. Often it’s left to celebrities, a handful of activists, some aid organisations, European rock stars and the foreign media to portray Africa’s reformed image- which they rarely do.
The answers you get will be revealing, but probably not entirely surprising. It is more likely than not that most young people would have heard of a politician, British celebrity, American actor/ musician or sports personality than an African businessman who had established a business empire in Africa. So Samuel Eto’o, or al-Bashir would probably be much more well-known than Mo Ibrahim. Further, young people are more likely to listen to Kanye West, K’Naan and Bob Marley, but have probably never heard of Dangote. Which probably means few young Africans know of the achievements of fellow-African outside politics, sports, music or the film industries.
In my view this is not a desirable scenario because it gives a false impression of African success. That the only professions or fields in which an African can truly excel is in the world of Sports, Music or Acting. Also, it deprives young Africans of the story as to how people like Dangote and Mo Ibrahim made their wealth.
Ideally if African achievers spoke out more of their success, and the large media houses broadcasted more of such stories, frequently, there’s probably a higher possibility that such could have an effect on the career choices more Young Africans make later in life, a factor that could influence development on the continent.
22 – Declining work ethic and lack of discipline.
23 – Religious Fundamentalism: Why are Al-shabab and Boko Haram which are terrorist organisations passed off as ‘islamic’ militant groups? And what of the Lord’s Resistance Army, why the semi-religious veneer? Or to put it differently, is it surprising that Mali, Nigeria, Uganda and Somalia, countries who have notorious militant groups also share common denominators of ethnic or religious divisions and extreme poverty? [see here] African leaders must address religious fundamentalism. One solution may be to encourage education and have more educational endeavours in the villages / rural areas. Thus, this point is related to point 15 above, in that as more people in the rural areas become educated, it is likely that acts of religious fanaticsm will greatly reduce.
24. Foreign Corporations:
“Dozens of Western multinationals have made millions of pounds in profits from exploiting African bio-resources taken from some of the poorest nations on earth, with not a penny offered in return.” declared Andrew Buncome in the Independent.
It’s impossible to overemphasize this point:- Foreign corporations do not come to Africa to develop the continent.They come to make a profit, and often a very large profit. Usually, this money does not remain in Africa, to be used for development purposes or suchlike, but instead it is wired out to be paid to their own investors and shareholders, eventually trickling into their own economies in Europe, the US, etc. Yet the resource that makes the profits possible is African, belonging to Africans. Why then don’t Africans benefit from it? Because foreign corporations -who have the technology to exploit those natural resources – do not come to Africa to develop the continent. But to make themselves a Profit. Ask anyone with half a Brain about this sorry fact, and they’ll tell you the same thing.
Africans must learn this simple yet obvious fact. It must be ‘engraved on the palms of every African’
Just as the Chinese (the list is long and includes South Koreans, Brazil, Argentina and others) are now developing their own natural resources and those of other countries, using their own companies, and controversially in the case of China, their own labour, Africans have no option but to gain the much-needed confidence to exploit their own resources using African companies and African labour. There is no other way around this if economic development is to be effected, and you can return to this article in 20 years time, and this fact will most certainly not have changed.
Further, lack of expertise, equipment or experience are not excuses. Equipment can be bought, trainers with experience sought and hired to provide training, and experience obtained through practice in industries as diverse as Mining, Oil extraction and Bio-technology. To put it in a different way, what can African industry learn from National Iranian Oil Company which is run by Iranians, for the benefit of Iran?
“The corporations use the labor and land, the people pay the price. It is absolutely modern day slavery. It is exploitation and makes you think about a 500 year history of exploitation of the African continent from its people during the days of slavery and now its resources” – Emira Woods, director of Foreign Policy in Focus, Institute for Policy Studies.
What more can one say.
Yet if all of the above were addressed, it is not difficult to see how life on the continent could be significantly improved. But that’s not to say that all problems can be resolved overnight. Not at all, but when some of Africa’s problems have been around for over 50 years, surely if the right approach was being undertaken, it would have borne some kind of tangible fruit in all those years?
While an idyllic state of wealth, health and comfort is not achievable anywhere (even Europe has a fair share of ailing economies, let alone Eastern Europe), with even rich countries having sections of their population who languish in debt and poverty, but wouldn’t you say that if most of the above problems were addressed, most African economies would have achieved some admirable form of economic development?
When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.
– Thomas Jefferson
“Consume less; share better.”
― Hervé Kempf
[This article is written in a non-academic accessible format primarily to provide as much information as possible. It is the writer’s personal opinion. A ‘cleaner’ peer-reviewed version with standard citation format, references and supplementary resources will be posted on this website at some point]
Almost every Malawian I know agrees that Malawi’s economy cannot continue to rely on foreign aid for much longer. That by expecting others to help us run our country, we had effectively given up our sovereignty, and any incentive to make our own choices. But it’s much harder to find consensus on what the country must actually do to wean itself of developmental aid. Some Malawians think the answer is in Agriculture. Others think Manufacturing is the way while another group think Information Technology and the next Facebook. Scores more think exporting Sugar, Kachasu, Chibukhu or even Nkhotakota Gold may be the way.
With tobacco exports declining in industrialised countries (see extensive report here – via Time Magazine) and a determined anti-smoking lobby, tobacco will soon (if it hasn’t already) cease to be to a reliable export crop which Malawi can lean on.
Presently, around 40% of Malawi’s annual budget comes from donors including the African Development Bank, Britain, Germany, Norway, the European Union and the World Bank. A greater proportion of the rest is raised from tax revenue. Such monies are primarily spent on general government expenditure including salaries of civil servants, food, fuel and “fire fighting” one crisis or another, with few resources allocated to creating developmental projects with a potential to generate large Forex for the government.
Inevitably, this has created a situation where some donors have used this state of affairs to exercise influence over public policy, including erecting somewhat unreasonable demands like devaluation of the local currency.
When their demands have been challenged or are not fully met, they have threatened to withdraw, or have actually withdrawn budgetary support, which has led to economic instability.
The recent example of this came when former president late Bingu Wa Mutharika probably with good reason refused to devalue the Malawian Kwacha, citing the cataclysmic effect such an action would have on the fledgling Malawian economy, and the suffering it would cause. The donors pulled out, pushing the Malawian economy to the brink of collapse and causing a massive fuel and Forex shortages, and exponential rise in prices and commodities. There were sugar and water shortages, crippling businesses, including some well-established companies. Some businesses threatened to leave Malawi, thousands of jobs were lost, and at least one international airline suspended flights. In a comical twist, hundreds of motorists began leaving their cars parked in queues at gas stations for days on end, walking home instead, to wait for when petrol would arrive. Even the police force, having been unpaid for months, was allegedly charged to fend for itself, with disastrous consequences.
Since then, a lot has changed. Malawi has a new president, Her Excellency Joyce Banda, who is Malawi’s first female president and only second female president in the history of Africa. The local currency, the kwacha has been devalued by around 40%, donors have returned and emergency funds pumped into the economy. But numerous problems remain; The economy has not responded as expected and the cost of living has risen sharply. Many commodities are now twice as expensive as they were a year ago, and nobody can say for sure whether given similar circumstances in the future such a scenario would not repeat itself, causing further suffering.
With sudden changes has come an increasing number of Malawians who are justifiably unhappy with what is being viewed as unreasonable, insensitive, intrusive and somewhat tyrannical carrot and stick demands. In social media and online articles, there have been references to “economic slavery”, “neo-colonialism”, “donor dictatorship”, “and predatory aid” and the new president has been called a “donor puppet”.
Others have taken a more pragmatic view, seeing the government’s acceptance of donor funding conditions as a choice between a rock and a hard place and not necessarily a punishment to poor Malawians. But one couldn’t help sense a grudging acquiescence, fuelled perhaps by desperation.
It has been correctly pointed out that most countries from which the donors originate have had their own uncertain histories where extreme violence and repressive policies/conditions (like fiefdoms, child / orphan labour, forced annexation of land, ban on alcohol, slavery, etc.) by monarchies, land owners, industrialists and other leaders, were implemented, adversely affecting minorities and millions others; that it has taken a painstakingly slow process and hundreds of years of activism and mistakes for desirable change to happen. That in some donor countries, age old problems (racism, social inequality and sexism) are still widespread. Yet certain donors appeared to be putting excessive pressure on countries such as Malawi to effect similar types of changes overnight, in a country that was barely fifty years old.
Some of those enraged also correctly point out that most donors do not fully appreciate Malawian culture and most will never be adversely affected (in some cases – they would in fact benefit) by the negative effects their demands have (or are likely to have) on the Malawian economy.
Naturally, one conclusion to draw from this is that Malawi could probably be governed much more effectively if it was neither influenced by donors nor their financial support; if it generated its own income and acted in the interests of Malawians. In any case, how does one justify implementing unpopular policies when it is the people who elect you to office (not the donors) who will suffer disproportionately as a result?
This view is not unique to Malawi alone; others far afield have expressed similar concerns against some of the institutions that make up the donor bloc citing examples of countries like Botswana, that have made admirable progress in economic development by ignoring the very same Machiavellian advice they were prescribed.
But putting aside this causative and divisive rhetoric for a moment, the elephant in the room has always been what policies should the Malawian government urgently implement to generate its own money, which it can spend according to the needs of its population, since tax revenue isn’t currently raising enough income?
In my view, the difficult in answering such a question is partly because there are many forms developmental policies could take, making the job of policy maker slightly difficult, so much so that the question then becomes, which policies within the ‘pool of viable policies’, can be implemented in a relatively short space of time, at a reasonable cost, and to achieve a significant economic return? A return that will see hundreds of jobs created, that will perpetually generate sufficient foreign currency for the government and private enterprise, which will ensure the longevity of the policies and sustainability / environmental preservation
Answering such a question is the first step towards finding an answer to the donor aid dependency problem. A further problem is the constraints current donors have placed on the Malawian government. But surely, if such constraints are disproportionately negatively affecting people’s lives, and have been known to have produced negative or undesirable results elsewhere; surely their effectiveness must be questioned?
So, taking a simplistic view, in terms of job creation, obviously in a nutshell you will require a skilled or unskilled workforce performing certain functions that will ultimately lead to the development of a product (such as Chilli Sauce, Blankets or Electric Scooter), or provision of a service (such as a Call Centre, Security or Carpet Cleaning) which can be marketed. Both types of organisations will depend on how much capital investment is available, availability of raw materials, the skillset on the ground and the size of the target market itself. But generally, the bigger your investment budget and the available skills pool, the more likely you will be able to employ large numbers of people to fulfil your function.
However, classical capitalist theory dictates that for an investment opportunity (other than one for purely charitable purposes) to be beneficial, the profit, or potential profit must be attractive enough to justify the initial investment (which for big projects can run into millions of dollars). So even though you may want to employ hundreds of people, you are constrained in that essentially, there must be a return on investment(ROI), otherwise there’s little point in investing if you will only be losing money.
But how much profit is enough profit?
For a developing economy which currently relies heavily on donor support to function, I’m inclined to apply and translate this hypothesis such that when the government awards contracts to foreign investors, the underlying assumptions as to the opportunity (at least from the government’s point of view) is that it is
…attractive enough to provide a reasonable profit and incentive to the investor, while ensuring that the investor’s ethical obligations to the country in terms of paying adequate amounts of tax, creating employment amongst the local population and development of infrastructure, are proportional to the actual (not perceived /anticipated) profit they generate from their investment
But such a viewpoint may not be shared by investors, and in any case what is the definition of a proportional corporate social responsibility? Spending $1 million annually on the local population in developmental initiatives? $10 million annually? Or $100 million?
Furthermore, it is a common practice for many international companies to pursue tax efficiency schemes, declaring losses where perhaps a profit could have been made, or offsetting a loss in one region with a profit in another, and if you inquire from any accountant worth their salt, you will be surprised to learn how creatively a profit can be ‘converted’ into a loss.
Admittedly, it’s a tricky balance since when attracting investment, a government also has to take note of what its neighbours (in this case Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Mozambique) are offering in comparison to its own offering, because if an offer is not as competitive, an investor may end up basking in the neighbour’s back garden, instead of yours.
This state of play concentrates the bargaining power squarely in the hands of investors, and has been known to lead to the signing of grossly unfair contracts which disproportionately and exponentially favour the investor far more than it benefits the local population.
But as you will see below, this is an artificial problem that can be rectified, especially when the attractant bringing the investor to your country happens to be a natural resource. But only if personal agendas are set aside and officials begin to act in the country’s best interests.
In terms of Forex and the closely related issue of raising venture capital, there are no easy answers because for a country such as Malawi, there’s not much money floating around and you have to give others a good reason to want to invest in your country. But some things are more obvious than others.
So, in an industry such as oil extraction or mining, and considering that Malawi has comparatively fewer resources than other larger African countries, and few Malawian industrialists have the capital to invest in large projects, then instead of granting a tender to a foreign based company to establish mining operations (which may well be the easy way out), a wiser decision (at least in the long term) would be for the Malawian government itself to enter the business of mining/ oil extraction. In the information age in which we live in where one can easily recruit skilled professionals from all around the world, in industries as diverse as nuclear physics and aeronautics to marine science and nanotechnology, Malawi wouldn’t be universally refused assistance/ technical support in creating and running its own heavy industry. Assistance sought from the Arab Countries, South America and Asia would not be refused.
Therefore, in my view, the government would be best advised to create a planned economy firstly, before ushering in measures that work only in a market economy. By forming and co-own an organisation they would be doing just that. The state would hold between 48 – 51% equity, and offer the remaining stock to the public through a venture capitalist funding round. It is important to stress that this organisation will differ from “parastatals” in that it will not be governed, managed nor influenced by government/ ministries in any way. To have a greater chance of success it will need to be run like a private company, with enough checks and balances to prevent abuse.
Suppose it did this, issuing 4,900,000 (four million nine hundred thousand) shares at say between US$10 – US$17 per share, in respect of 49% of the shares; that alone would have a potential to raise between US$49 million to US$83 million three hundred thousand for the undertaking, a decent amount of capital.
Depending on the subscription levels to the stock and in order to achieve some kind of spread on ownership, no single person /family or undertaking (other than Malawian registered cooperatives) would be allowed to own more than 15% of the stock. In addition, nine of the biggest shareholders would be invited to become members of the board of directors, together with eleven other non-political appointments, appointed by government as its representatives, from across the country.
Once the stock goes live, the public would be given a 2 – 3 weeks advantage window to purchase shares before corporate entities were invited to buy. In order to expand the reach of such a scheme, publicity could be generated using various methods including online, local and foreign radio and TV advertising. There would be fund raising events at all Malawian Consulates across the world; using Malawian Associations in the diaspora; in Malawian faith gatherings (for example Churches) and celebratory gatherings in the diaspora, events at which the virtues of the scheme would be triumphed, and details of the opportunity, growth plans, brokers would be communicated; Mining companies (in particular VALE), African Development organisations (i.e. African Development Bank, or pro African organisations such as the Mo Ibrahim Foundation) and others would all be invited to invest. So would Sovereign Wealth or Pensions Funds respectively such as the Fundo Soberano do Brasil, Investment Corporation of Dubai, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Hassanna Investment Company of Saudi Arabia, South Africa’s Public Investment Corporation (PIC), Norwegian Government Pension Fund, China’s Africa Development Fund, Russian National Wealth Fund, Korea Investment Corporation, National Development Fund of Iran,Khazanah Nasional Berhad,Kuwait Investment Authority, State Capital Investment Corporation of Vietnam, Government of Singapore Investment Corporation Private Limited, Qatar Investment Authority and several such investment houses. Alternatively, or additionally, the organisation could issue a standard IPO, although the 15% stock rule would still have to be enforced.
Admittedly, setting up such an organisation would be a daunting task, requiring an experienced, dedicated, progressive, well-informed and energetic team that has had exposure to fresh ideas that have worked elsewhere around the world. However, as you will see below, the net benefit of such an organisation to Malawi (or indeed any African country struggling with the development aid problem) would far outweigh initial headaches (and costs), and would have a much higher chance of ending dependency on donor aid than most endeavours that are currently taking place.
There would be many concerns and hurdles, and setting up would not be easy. But by far the largest concern would probably be that of accountability, in that strict money controls would need to be implemented to ensure that the capital raised, and revenue generated would be used for growth of the organisation and social purposes such as revamping hospitals, buying essential medicines, building infrastructure developmental, and not for personal gain. To this effect, it would be mandatory for all senior officials, including those with access to the organisation’s finances to declare all their assets before taking up office, and to be independently audited bi-annually by external and independent auditors. No executive would be allowed to sign for transfer of funds of more than $15,000, as decisions on transfer of funds over $15,000 would be made collectively by the senior management team. Further, the government would need to issue a guarantee to secure against each investment in the event of fraud.
In addition, from the onset, an organisational culture of nurture (complete with an Environmental Preservation Programme and a Corporate Social Responsibility programme which would include volunteering to charities, schools, hospitals and suchlike) would need to be established to nail this message that employees of the organisation are hired to serve.
To safeguard the longevity of the organisation, it would also be essential that the company be run as a meritocracy, independently of the government or any other political institutions. This would call for a military style discipline in that while the organisation would be answerable only to its management board, it would also be answerable to a non-executive board of directors made up of officers from nine of the largest shareholders and eleven non-ministerial, non-political state representatives from across the country. Members of the non-executive board would have a fixed, non-extensible tenure of 2 years, and its management board would be contracted to a thrice renewable 4 year contract. Specialist advice would be sought from members of management boards of companies in other parts of the world, such as in Brazil for example, where their state run enterprises some of whom have now been nationalised, have proved to be commercially successful.
Addressing Red Tape
Ask any entrepreneur who has worked in Malawi and they’ll tell you that the bureaucracy is ridiculous. There are delays and lengthy procedures over everything. Delays in incorporation, delays in getting consent or a signature over one aspect or another, delays in getting import licenses, delays unless you pay a bribe, delays! In buying land and getting the purchase officiated, delays imbedded deep in the system.
The effect of red tape is that it tarnishes the country’s reputation, hampers business operations, repels investment and causes frustrations to investors who would otherwise help fix our economy.
So the government would be best advised to introduce a sui generis instrument that transformed the way businesses incorporate in Malawi by allowing an accelerated incorporation of a business within a week. Everything regarding incorporation, taxation and issues such as exemptions on capital equipment would be dealt with by a dedicated team occupying a central computerised system, firstly located in each of the major cities, and subsequently gradually rolled out across the country. The system would allow an entrepreneur to make an appointment, pay a fee, show all the required documents, get the incorporation documents and exemption certificates printed that same day, and if he needs land, show proof of purchase and get a bill of rights to the land by the end of the week. By the next week he can open a bank account, collect his machinery from customs and begin employing locals and commence operations for the building of his factory, having secured everything he required within a week.
The effect of such speedy processing times would be phenomenal and would greatly stimulate Malawi’s industry. In any case, if we look at the small country of Singapore (whose size is just larger than the size of Lilongwe), it’s no surprise that it is ranked as being the easiest place to do business in the world because according to a Report by the accountants Grant Thornton, it also has the least red-tape. In fact Singapore is so successful in this regard, it has been voted as the easiest country to do business in 7 times
To cement a culture of nurture, the organisation’s chief executive would be answerable to Parliament, and would be under an obligation to appear before a Parliamentary committee, once a year, to present an annual report on the organisations progress, direction, challenges and dealings.
Since the organisation’s aim would be primarily to develop Malawi’s economy, its structure, aims, functions, operations and investments and such like would need to be clearly articulated from the outset. It would have to maintain total impartiality in politics and there would be a need for strict checks and balances, and stringent hiring procedures, to safeguard for example against political influence, tribalism, regionalism, nepotism, ageism, or any other cancerous bias common in African countries.
A long–term management plan (at least > 10 years) that would include growth forecasts and a diversification plan to spread financial risk would be implemented, mapping the organisations goals and ambitions and providing a back-up plan. Fraud, mismanagement and corruption would be dealt with swiftly, uncompromisingly and decisively, and without political interference. In the event of a particularly acute crisis, or mismanagement, the CEO can be summoned and questioned before parliament, although he can only be forced to resign, if his position becomes untenable, by a two thirds majority vote of both its management board and Non-executive board of directors.
Such an approach would be crucial in terms of efficiency, transparency and would help establish investor confidence. It would also avoid some of the mistakes and problems documented elsewhere, for example those that have plagued Malawian parastatals or South African state owned enterprises [see here and here]
Further, if such an organisation does not lay a clean, responsible and credible example, and does not pre-emptively act against known inefficiencies common in parastatals, prospective investors are unlikely to purchase shares in any subsequent offerings under any similar state co-owned corporations. Already there are credible reports that suggest that the performance of State owned enterprises can be significantly improved, leading to profitable organisations [See Arief Budiman, Diaan-Yi Lin, and Seelan Singham , 2009, Mckinsey Quarterly here] In any case, with the benefit of hindsight, such organisations can be managed with the knowledge and expertise that will ensure that they steer clear of the ‘plagues‘ that thwarted State run companies of the 1970’s to 1990’s.
Thus, if Malawi had established four or five such corporations, then once the companies were on course to declare a profit, and while adopting a strict cost control strategy, the funds would be sufficient to purchase capital equipment (oil drilling equipment, mining equipment, agricultural equipment [ploughers, combine harvesters, planters, trucks, pumps, generators] , pharmaceutical equipment, manufacturing equipment [for industries including fertiliser making, cement making, steel refinery, juice extraction, sugar processing, motor vehicle / railway carriage assembly, petroleum refinery] and any other necessary raw materials or equipment for industries the organisation was considering to diversify into.
The funds would be sufficient for the development and upgrade of infrastructure such as flats, houses, shops, a hospital, a police station, schools, a post office, banks, an airfield, libraries, markets, sporting and health facilities and roads to cater for the new workforce that would be required to work in the new mines / factories, all of which would create massive employment and would stimulate the Malawian economy like never before.
It would be sufficient to cover investment in alternative sources of energy such as wind, solar, tidal wave and novel hydro/ underwater turbines (here and here) power generation, to ensure that the new extraction / manufacturing facilities (and subsequently the new towns or settlements) are as environmentally friendly as possible, generating as much of their own energy as possible. It would be sufficient to cover employment costs for the organisation, including hundreds of miners and salaries of specialists from around the world to provide training and assistance in construction of the mines/ factories, conducting geological scans, using, servicing and maintenance of equipment, etc.
To aid in understanding the workings of such an organisation, say one focussed on mining/ oil extraction, a hypothetical picture of its staff and annual financial commitment may be most helpful. Thus, I’m inclined to include this rough, sketchy and extremely simplified draft of what the financial commitment at its very bare bones would look like. Obviously, the figures although lower in comparison to the levels in the developed world, can be adjusted accordingly in view of national salary levels / trends, performance targets, generated revenue, market forces (food / fuel prices and inflation, etc.) and to attract some of the best talent to the organisation [Click here: Annual Costs]
Note that in the subsequent years after the first, the capital equipment or buildings budget will be significantly lower, since funds for infrastructure will already have been allocated and costs such as heavy machinery or motor vehicles maintenance will be minimal in comparison. Thus, while the figures in the annual costs may at first sight appear indulgent for a small African economy, its structure would be designed with hindsight regarding diversification and future growth into other industries in national and international markets.
If the company generated US$300 million in sales of its ore in its first year of full operation (let’s assume this occurs after total sales at the end of the 2nd year from commencement), then deducting the operational costs [US$26,903,000(1st year); $8.9 million (2nd year: this is estimated by deducting first fiscal year costs minus the sum of contingency, infrastructure & capital equipment costs – giving $35.8 million) leaves US$264 million operating profit. [Note that these calculations do not take into account any “losses” carried forward from the previous year(s) before full operation, nor does it fully consider that employees would not be hired all at once]. For the purposes of this article, for simplicity and assuming there are no tax incentives, if we levy a flat Corporation Tax rate of 30% (US$79.26 million), the net profit becomes be US$184.74million.
Thus, at 51% government ownership, and subject to other considerations/ deductions, the government % share of the profit would be a not insubstantial US$94.2 million, roughly about 7% of the 2012 Malawi National budget.
But even if the management board decided that only two thirds of this $184.74 million (~ $123.16 million) would be paid out to investors in dividends in the third year, while one third would be kept as reserves (a part of which would be re-invested into developmental programmes, acquisitions, growth / expansion, operating capital, shares buy-back programmes and other purposes), 51% of $123.15 million is still a substantial US$62.8 million, which would be a considerable contribution to the Malawian government over and above the US$79.26 million already paid in corporation tax. There is then income tax paid by the employees, which would further generate tax revenue for the government.
And Investors would make a fortune. Since 4.9 million shares for 49% means that 1% stake in the business is equivalent to 100,000 shares, then at US$17 per share, it means that 1% stake is worth $1.7 million in investment. Thus, if $123.16 million of the profit will be paid in dividends, then 49% would be worth $60.34 million, valuing each percentage (1%) at $1.231million. Theoretically, this means that if the company maintains or improves its performance for the next few years, then within 3 – 6 years of making an investment, an investor would have recouped or even doubled all of their initial investment in dividends.
But suppose instead of US$300 million in its first year of full operation, only half, or even a quarter is generated in sales. Even then, taking a similar approach, the organisation could still be managed to remain profitable.
And what if instead of the 4.9 million shares, only 2 million shares are issued at $17 – $19 per share in the funding round, raising between $34 million – $38 million. I believe with some creative adjustments and a lean approach (for example, ‘thirding’ / halving the salaries of the top quartile, reducing size of middle management, and salaries of middle management by say $4k -$7k; reducing the expenditure on capital goods & buildings), the venture would arguably still be commercially viable, more so because after the first year, the capital expenditure (buildings, infrastructure, Plant) would be much less.
Obviously, in practice there would be far many more considerations, and the figures would probably not look as optimistic, but the above provides a plausible and realistic picture of the financial commitment and nature of such an organisation. With such a framework, and depending on the amount of ore deposits, the miner workforce can be increased, short-term internships provided to hundreds or even thousands of low income earners from across the country, know-how sought from international experts and the company could still generate a profit, meet its tax obligations, and issue an attractive dividend.
Contrast this to the common arrangement where the government only owns few or no shares in its country’s largest heavy industry, what you will find is that corporation tax revenues or dividends are often miniscule in comparison; disproportionate by any scale, and the government loses out on hundreds of millions of dollars, just another repetition, dare I say, of the age old adage that everybody except Africans themselves benefit from Africa’s mineral wealth.
And you see it everywhere; recently a Fortune Global 500 Italian oil company, ENI (which is the largest industrial company in Italy with 30% government ownership) has acquired a 70% shareholding for Natural Gas reserves off the coast of Mozambique, one of the biggest finds of its kind with potential for over $15 billion.
Think about it, with the expertise Mozambique and Southern Africa currently has, was it necessary to give away such a large stake to a rich European company when your own country is littered with massive problems caused by poverty? Doesn’t this clearly add to the imbalance of trade between Africa and Europe? And even if the companies that will develop the reserves are to invest $1 billion. Yet if $10 billion (which is 70% of $15 billion) is the net benefit to the Italian company, say over 15 years, clearly Mozambique will not have gained proportionally?
Or would it have done so? How?
In any case, when was the last time you heard an African based mining company had been awarded a 70% interest /contract in North America or off the coast of Italy?
In my view such decision making from African leaders showed incompetence and left much to be desired. When European legislators had used every trick in the book to protect their markets, it was wasteful, short-sighted and negligent and couldn’t possibly represent the true position of the majority of Mozambicans. Mozambique, which faces similar problems as Malawi needed the benefit of such resources a lot more than ENI, whose 2012 3rd quarter profits (4th Quarter to be announced in February 2013) stood at €14.80 billion, a 13.9% increase from 2011.[See source here]
The Younger generation ought to take note of such crippling anomalies and rectify them when their turn in public office arrives because this trend where the net movement of resources is only from South to North, or South to West, is precisely what got Africa into a mess in the first place. In particular, according to British historian Dr. Hakim Adi,
“From the middle of the 15th century, Africa entered into a unique relationship with Europe that led to the devastation and depopulation of Africa, but contributed to the wealth and development of Europe…..”
He follows to state that:-
“The forced removal of up to 25 million people from the continent obviously had a major effect on the growth of the population in Africa. It is now estimated that in the period from 1500 to 1900, the population of Africa remained stagnant or declined. Africa was the only continent to be affected in this way….was a major factor leading to its economic underdevelopment.”
So, if things have indeed changed since the exploitative days of slavery, wouldn’t you think that the economic imbalances that currently exist would be squarely addressed, decisively? That not only would African leaders be alert in negotiations and minimally demand a proportional shares of their resources, but western business leaders would have policies in place to ensure that a larger, or atleast equal benefit of natural resources go to the country that owns them?
This is probably one of the drivers which influenced South Africa to finally open its first state owned mine. The implications of such must never be understated. For a start, how much potential revenue in taxes and dividends has the South Africa’s government lost in income from diamonds and gold since the end of apartheid as a result of lack of ownership of a proportional share of the country’s mining industry? Funds which because of private ownership were wired out of the country, or concentrated in the control of a small rich minority, instead of being used for developmental purposes within the country, lifting millions of ordinary South Africans out of poverty, building quality hospitals, developing medicines and raising the standard of the poorest and such like.
By owning a majority stake in most of its country’s major industry, and having an informed management strategy, the net benefit from the proceeds of its natural resources can be significantly increased.
This is what Park Chung-hee (the South Korean general who is credited with the industrialisation and rapid economic growth of South Korea) practiced [see Export-oriented Industrialization here]. While he had a darker side to him, and while there were other contributory factors at play (for example American money – Chung-hee’s support of the US in the Vietnam war is said to have attracted substantial financial rewards to the tune of $3 billion, between 1964 to 1972, in exchange for sending 300,000 Korean soldiers to Vietnam), his policies including creation of economic agencies, ownership of banks, soliciting technology and investment from Japan, encouraging the creation of efficient but cheap products and expanding Korean exports helped create and strengthen the industry that now defines South Korea.
It’s what Botswana has done, whereby Debswana, their sole mining company is 50% owned by Botswana and 50% by DeBeers. [See recent Debswana revenues here]
These types of policies are especially important where private individuals struggle to tap into capital markets, and while there has been criticisms against them, even countries such as the US, and the UK developed partly on the back of such policies.
In discussions with scores of western trained colleagues (most of whom are African – many now working in Africa, including Malawi), there were many different views exchanged. Among them were concerns that certain donor officials (not only in Malawi) were discouraging African governments from ownership of industry (in one instance advising the Malawian government not to buy tractors for agriculture “because it was bad for the soil”). Such thinking was unhelpful, as highlighted by one Rick Rowden on Foreign Policy.com where he states that:
Today many African countries need to use industrial policies, such as temporary trade protection, subsidized credit, and publically supported R&D with technology and innovation policies, if they are ever to get their manufacturing sectors off the ground. This is true for all the same reasons that it was true for the U.K. and other nations that have industrialized successfully. According to today’s ideology of free trade and free markets, however, many of these key policies are condemned as “bad government intervention.” Bilateral and multilateral aid donors advise against them (and structure loan conditions accordingly). WTO agreements and new regional free trade agreements (FTAs), as well as bilateral investment treaties (BITs) between rich and poor countries, frequently outlaw them.
When most western countries (from whom the donors originate) had phases of Planned Economies before adopting Market Economies, how honest was advice against a planned economy? In any case which industrialised country still uses hoes or cattle ploughers for agriculture? If private industry is generally unable to raise sufficient capital for purchasing of equipment which would provide benefits and efficiencies in farming, how can farming methods improve and the quality and quantity of the yield increase?
This point is worth exploring in a bit more detail. If it is the case that such advice was provided, how honest was it when it was clearly the case that raising capital for large projects which would involve outsourcing technical functions, buying expensive machinery or consulting a considerable number of foreign specialists, was beyond even the wealthiest entrepreneur in Malawi? And when no entrepreneur was willing to risk putting their own money into such a venture, without an assurance from the government that they would be awarded at least a contract that would ensure that they recouped their money back?
Further, in terms of credibility and securing against an investment, the government can create credibility with relative ease and would be able to secure against an investment, whereas private entities can sometimes be viewed more circumspectly, and wouldn’t always be able to secure against an investment.
So, it was again left to foreign investors to develop heavy industries, marginalising local entrepreneurs, who must settle for employee. And as most people already know, many corporations are masters at “legal” tax avoidance, using tax incentives, off shore companies, tax-free zones and other sophisticated schemes to deprive their government coffers of millions or even billions of dollars. It happens everywhere, even in the UK [see here and here]
But unlike the UK, where there are hundreds upon hundreds of multimillion pound revenue generating companies, such that even in the presence of widespread tax avoidance schemes, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is still able to collect hundreds of billions of pounds in Tax every year [see this source, in particular page 7] that lists 2010 -2011 collections to be £468.9 billion, most poor countries such as Malawi had no such luxuries. With few multinationals, advice against government co-owned industry was unhelpful, discriminatory and suppressive to say the least.
And if you look at the US, similar patterns emerge in that the state collects huge chunks of incomes from big business -simply because there is a lot of large industry!
Therefore, if the Malawian government was reluctant or under duress not to own industry, yet Malawian businessmen were unable to overcome financial barriers to entry, and foreign owned corporations paid miniscule taxes, what hope of creating sustainable economies was there? Wouldn’t this create or perpetuate the rather familiar situation in which resources of very poor countries were developed predominantly by foreign corporations most of whom paid very little taxes, and did very little towards lifting the standards of life of the locals? Doesn’t that fact in itself perpetuate a donor aid dependency?
In my view, the Malawian government, and other Africans states would be best advised to ignore such misleading advice and begin to invest into heavy industry that will create an export economy, as other countries have done in the past because a planned economy would greatly benefit Malawi.
Malawi, like many African countries, gets plenty of sunlight, more so by virtue of its equatorial proximity. So, imagine if every roof, whether iron sheets, tiled or thatched had a solar panel on it. Would there be power cuts or shortages every other week? Further, how much fuel would that save? And how many trees would be saved as a result? And on a similar theme, what if every household planted one tree a year, for example in the fashion of say the Youth Week programme of the Hastings Banda days, and following lightly in the footsteps of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai’s greenbelt movement. Having the benefit of a fresh water lake, if Malawi can strive to become the greenest country in Africa, literally and in terms of greenhouse gases emissions, that factor in itself would inevitably stimulate biodiversity within our wildlife ecosystems and would most certainly improve our tourist industry, bringing in much more Forex into the country [See lessons from Costa Rica here]. It would also carve unity and create a sense of togetherness towards a common purpose.
In my view, a government owned corporation such as suggested here would be the perfect opportunity to implement environmentally friendly projects that have worked elsewhere [one example here], including an extensive national tree planting programme, creation of additional forests and wildlife reserves, importing additional species of animals from other countries(e.g. the Congo basin and Madagascar) to increase our biodiversity and such like. In building infrastructure, and pending cost-benefit analyses, the organisation would adopt measures, practices and technology adopted by “green cities” in other parts of the world such as in Brazil, Sweden, Canada and Qatar. [See Turning Deserts into Forests here]. In any case, doing so would likely help combat the challenges brought about by climate change. In fact according to a World Bank Report tackling climate change is linked to ending global poverty.
A further point worth mentioning and that is somewhat linked to the dependency problem is the role of Education. There are many educated people in Malawi, loads! Every single day, whether in the newspaper, on the radio, or amongst friends, you will hear a reference to some Dr. or Professor, or somebody who has a Masters degree in some field. Many of them are foreign educated but if you investigate further, you quickly find that very few of these “intellectuals” have been given a real challenge that will stretch them mentally and utilise their many skills. Many settle within the boisterous frustrations of working as university lecturers, going months on end without pay; Or receiving breadcrumbs in one NGO or another, undertaking dead roles, and led by unresponsive, short-sighted, fat-cat bosses. If not they are in regressive government departments doing clerical jobs for which they are overqualified; or they are working as consultants, underutilised. Else, they are in farming or in some other function, but because of lack of sufficient capital, still heavily underutilised. In contrast, and as if a mockery, the old guard (or neopatrimonials known respectfully as Achikulire) despite having little formal education, and who achieved notoriety in business or politics under the one party system or as a result of their affiliation/relation to a minister or president, are still doing relatively better, and dominate some industries. Yet the Malawian government appears powerless to help these educated individuals, and in the words of a friend, “they are left to slowly rot away and become irrelevant”. What then was the purpose of all the highly advanced training, the PhD’s and Masters? Is this not waste? How will Malawi develop if those who have the skills are not utilised and supported to practice their vocations? Most of these people have years of experience, and their activities and contacts both on the ground in Malawi and abroad have given them a unique depth of understanding as to why countries develop and the root problems plaguing Malawi’s economy. Yet the furthest they vent their knowledge is at parties, amongst friends, or at the bottle store, amongst strangers.
In my vision for Malawi, foreign educational institutions such as Universities will play a pivotal role in assisting to end aid dependency. So, if 100 Universities across the world were “compelled” to loan to 200 of the entrepreneurial of these professionals $35,000 each in Venture Capital funding, I find it extremely difficult to accept that, with the knowledge, exposure to progressive ideas, with their experience and contacts (be it other Africans in Ghana, Kenya, etc., or with former classmates in Europe, the US, Asia or Australasia, etc.) that such capital wouldn’t enable a majority of the recipients to create sustainable business models on the ground.
It wouldn’t be a free lunch. There would be a need to comply with Financial Services regulations regarding lending by Educational Institutions. For each applicant, a business plan would need to be submitted for vetting and fraud checks including credit checks to ensure that only the genuine applicants were assisted. There would be a need for training and business management support to ensure that the entrepreneurs are constantly being equipped with skills that could be of use in their businesses. Minimally, it would allow those ideas which had the best potential, low entry barriers, possibly a successful pilot run, and a big enough market for a viable sustainable model to be created, to be funded.
To make things a bit more interesting, suppose those universities included a clause in its loan agreements that stipulated that if the initial investment is doubled, excluding costs, then as soon as the initial loan is repaid, say within a space of 3-5 years, the borrower would be entitled to another loan, this time twice the amount ($70,000) and so on. In my view, such a scheme would be a huge incentive to innovation that would challenge Malawi’s underutilised entrepreneurs and would have a tangible and measurable impact within a short period of time because the entrepreneurs would have access to essential capital and Forex, which most currently struggle to find. Such resources which would enable them to buy equipment and employ a couple of people to assist them roll-out their business ideas.
The Universities would also benefit in other non-obvious ways, for example, Business School students would have an opportunity to be seconded on short term internships (a couple of weeks to several months) in these ventures to gain experience, transfer additional skills and arguably contribute to these companies. And those that prove to be commercial successes could even offer these students full-time employment.
Because of the resources at its disposal, a national corporation can seamlessly diversify into other industries and branch out to create other companies. For example it could invest in Tourism, partnering with local tourism providers to establish high quality standards and / or cooperatives; it could invest in Commercial Farming (everything from Soya beans, Poultry, Bee keeping to fish, cattle / pig farming, all on a large scale); It could dive into Telecommunications; Information Technology outsourcing(from graphic design and call centres to cloud networks + unified systems); Manufacturing (foodstuffs, alcohol, furniture, fertilizer, cement, glass, plastics products, cosmetics and such like.); Assembly (computers & electronics, bus & rail carriages, motorcycles and such like.); Pharmaceuticals; Education (creation of new learning institutions/ universities with research specialisations in medicine, engineering, agricultural technology, business, etc.); Recycling (metal, plastics, wood, paper, carbon-composites, etc.); Shipping – an International Import and Export / Logistics business; Banking & Insurance; or even investing in the development of Real Estate (flats and houses, hotels and world class business centres).
Much of the systems and machinery would already be in place, as would be staff and a management. In essence the first corporations would act as a training ground to equip employees with transferrable skills that are essential in the subsequent corporations. Once issues such as demand, market/ viability analyses, type of crop / animal, vets and vaccinations, pesticides, nature and cost of new machinery, logistics, profit margins, import / export tariffs, procedures and legal compliance, specialists, etc. in each of the identified opportunities had been determined, “satellite” management boards would be hired to independently run the spin-offs as independent national corporations in their own right. This also means that shares would be issued in a similar manner as above and the whole cycle repeated all over again.
So as an example, Blueberries cultivated on a commercial scale in South America (notably Argentina + Chile) find their way to England, and are subsequently used in everything from fruit and desserts to juices and pet food. In the UK alone combined retail sales value for strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries are close to £700 million [see here]
Similarly, the US imports Meat and poultry from New Zealand. According to this source ( Office of the US Trade Representative):
The five largest import categories in 2011 were: Meat (frozen beef) ($906 million), Albumins, Modified Starch and Glue (mostly caseins) ($312 million), Dairy, Eggs, and Honey (milk protein concentrate) ($286 million), Beverages (wine) ($224 million), and Machinery ($182 million)…”
According to a ACDI/VOCA report (source: Value Chain Assessment: Indonesia Cocoa , by Henry Panlibuton & Maggie Meyer, June 2004), Cocoa Beans exports from Indonesia are currently valued at approximately $600-700 million per year, however there have been concerns regarding the quality of the beans and a much documented fall in production in recent years which could mean an opportunity for a savvy new entrant??
Similarly, the US imports raw materials, foodstuff, fish and food grains from Thailand, and in 2011 they included Prepared Meat, Fish (shrimp and tuna) (worth $1.4 billion), … Agricultural products from Thailand to the US totalled $2.6 billion in 2011, the 8th largest supplier of Agricultural imports, and included: rubber and allied products ($1.0 billion), processed fruit and vegetables ($468 million), and rice ($419 million) [See here]
According to 2009 statistics from Economy Watch, the Netherlands imported a total volume of $358.9 billion worth of goods. This may be a market worth exploring, in terms of what do they need, where are they currently buying it and why, what can we supply them, what are they short of which we can grow, what are we already supplying, etc. In any case, South Africa exported over $700 million worth of goods to the Netherlands [Source Mail & Guardian] and in 2009 the Netherlands imported $290 million worth of Cocoa from Nigeria [See The Observatory of Economic Complexity] all of which may be indicative of opportunities worth exploring in greater detail?
According to this source, the US imported over $1.4 billion worth of fruit and vegetable juices from the world in 2010. The global market for fruit and vegetable juices is forecast to reach 64.46 billion litres by the year 2015 [See here].
With all the fruit trees (notably mango trees) in Malawi, and considering that Zimbabwe is no longer a big producer of fruit that it were in the eighties and nineties, Malawi should be churning out hundreds of millions of litres of fruit juice each year.
In addition, Sugar exports from Australia are worth between $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion [See here]
Think, Dwangwa Sugar Corporation, which is only 8% government owned. An investment into two or three large government co-owned Sugar plantations in which the government held a majority stake was the most obvious thing to do. If availability of land were a problem, the corporation could “rent” unused land south of the border and develop such large plantations in Mozambique, Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe, or even across the Mozambique Channel in Madagascar, and negotiate fee sharing arrangements with the governments of those countries.
Further, it could do a lot more; the Dangote Group for example was built partly on sugar products, which probably shows that there is still a large market for processed sugar products across Africa. As a sugar producer, Malawi shouldn’t have to import processed sugar, coffee or tea products from abroad, let alone have shortages in times of crisis. These must be processed in Malawi, marketed extensively and exported. And in austere times such as is currently the case, the buyer is more likely to buy on price.
According to the Bureau of International Recycling, the global recycling industry is worth at least $200 billion. In 2010 alone, the US generated $30 billion from export of commodity grade scrap products. [see here] Surely, this has got to be a market worth exploring in more detail?
According to Vinexpo Chairman Xavier de Eizaguirre, the global Wine industry is worth at least $170 billion. And is growing rapidly, largely driven by consumption in China [See here] Such is the growth that not only have South American countries like Chile and Argentina become prominent grape growers, even the South of England which previously wasn’t considered to have the ideal climate is becoming a vineyard region. [For more information see here].
According to this link, in 2008, footwear industry exports from Vietnam were worth $3.16 billion.
With a government co-owned corporation, it will be possible to bid for projects internationally, and possibly even acquire other potentially profitable opportunities elsewhere. You see it with Vale which began as government owned and has grown from a national mining company into a behemoth which is now the second largest mining company in the world, with acquisitions in Canada, Japan and other parts of the world. Surely, there are some practical lessons Malawian industry can learn from such companies?
A further point is that Malawians must learn to reject deals or proposals that are bad for Malawi in the long run. In the case of mining, this is metal ore we are dealing with so if someone doesn’t want to buy it or if the price they are offering is too little (or insulting) – you can always refuse to sell it to them. And store the ore. Tomorrow another customer will show up, and in the case of Uranium, there are many customers: Iran, India, Brazil, China, the US, and many others, all with huge energy needs. So, as an example, if Iran wanted to buy our uranium in exchange for petroleum, you couldn’t get a better deal. In any case, many countries including the EU are still trading with Iran, despite trade sanctions, with EU imports from Iran in 2011 amounting to ~€15.8 billion.
In conclusion, the above presents only a tiny picture of the global opportunities such an organisation could target. However, I believe that with a considered vision, fresh thinking, extremely careful planning, a deliberate and calculated risk, a progressive and sacrificial team, and with a stringent management strategy, and an organisational culture focussing on integrity, service and nurture, and by referencing to what has borne positive fruits elsewhere, it is possible to create and harness three or four such home grown brands into remarkable and profitable multi-billion dollar conglomerates.
If run responsibly, such national corporations would be the pride of Malawi, and would most definitely propel our country’s economy into the 21st Century, helping Malawians enjoy the sort of financial freedom enjoyed by countries such as Botswana, Mexico, Brazil, Kenya, Ghana, Malaysia, South Korea, Venezuela, Thailand and China respectively, some of whose industry began as state owned, and many of whom still have state owned industry. It would help bridge income disparities and would raise the standards of living of hundreds of thousands of low income families, equipping workers with transferrable skills in the process. Its environmental credentials would be attractive to foreign investors and its social policies would help with healthcare initiatives, tertiary training and be a model for responsible corporate governance. Most importantly, it would provide ordinary Malawians with a means of realising a proportional benefit in their resources.
For Malawi and several other African countries facing this aid dilemma, the resources, expertise and answers are arguably already available; the only ingredient yet to be added to this equation is the exercise of a determined, concerted, well-informed and independent political will. But in the event that such highly desirable political will was not forthcoming, for whatsoever reason, individuals and Malawian businesses must act quickly to organise themselves and pool resources together to form ‘cooperatives’, for example as was the case with the group that in 2012 bought biodiesel equipment from the US.
The collective pooling together of resources would arguably allow the cooperatives to begin targeting national and international opportunities such as those outlined above, because unless the Malawian economy can become self-sufficient and industrialised, we will forever struggle to maintain true independence on the global arena.
And it’s not about embarking on some heroic stunt. It’s the things that matter: – where our medicines and consumables come from and whether we can save money by manufacturing a few ourselves? Whether we can create savings on the source of our electricity? The quality of healthcare(access to a clean hospital bed + medicines; family planning being standard); if every child has an access to a good level of education, if the homeless and hungry can be housed and fed, and the jobless provided with training and a job(even if it meant part time job, so long as they can be resourceful), if our lakes, national parks and game reserves are protected and enhanced; corruption thwarted mercilessly, if our industry is developed so that (i) it caters for most of our basic needs (ii) generates sufficient Forex (for fuel and more sustainable + eco-friendly industry, etc.) to enable us to tap into the global economy, if Malawi can strive to construct world class facilities to attract international business, reduce crime and increase security (to say 1970’s levels) across the country for international visitors to feel safe; if civil society is resourced to educate against deforestation and offer alternative and sustainable sources of energy, if the priorities of a majority of our politicians’ can shift from being archetypically self-centred, to being servants of the state, paid similar salaries as doctors, if our mentality can change from what J F Kennedy referred to as what my country will do for me, to what I will do for my country, the pillars of economic development will have been laid.
In any case, if countries like China, Brazil or South Korea stuck to inefficient and archaic agricultural methods or core industries by which they were defined 60 years ago, do you think they would have developed at the pace they have? Taking the example of China, despite the controversy with an artificially maintained currency, cheap labour and poor working conditions [which is not unique to China as even industrialised countries had a phase of poor working conditions], has their sacrificial spirit and hard work not paid off, benefitting millions of Chinese?
I urge every Malawian who reads this to carefully consider these observations and other inspirational works ( for exa ple Henry Kachaje’s Imagine an economically Independent Malawi). Each one of us needs to play a part in terminating this toxic debt cycle that has enslaved our country for decades.
“You cannot pick up a pebble with one finger.” – Malawian proverb
Let us graft together and transform Malawi for the better. We may not be able to do it as individuals, it will not be easy, some people will be against it, but together, united, irrespective of tribe, religion, customs,colour of skin, irrespective of language, irrespective of social status, it is possible to make real progress; Malawians shouldn’t accept mediocrity, hand-outs and unending hardship as standard.
Not every problem can be solved overnight, and while mistakes WILL be made, yet in seeking to develop Malawi (in substance, not rhetoric), if we collectively, sacrificially and selflessly begin structured meaningful projects, hand in hand with willing trade partners, we can achieve progress that has never been seen previously. Progress mapped not by foreign aid organisations or vested interests that have neither sympathy for nor responsibility towards the poorest Malawians; instead, progress which terminates aid dependency once and for all.
[In the next and final part, I will outline examples as to how other countries and businesses have specifically implemented planned and strategic Economic policies, and lived to reap the benefits]