Selling Malawi for Peanuts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paja amati kuthamanga sikufika!

The real reason why I oppose drilling for oil on lake Malawi

Whatever you choose to believe, here is one hypothesis you must seriously consider; That a nation that does not own its natural resources is not independent at all. That instead, what exists are different levels of servants (anchito) working for a foreign master (bwana) under a semi-sovereignity.

After all the unnecessary toiling, studying, chasing one research project after another that has preoccupied my time the last two years, I have come to the sobering,inevitable and unsurprising conclusion that there is a worrying number of people who think you or someone like me doesn’t deserve much good out of this life.

A worrying number.

Some of these people think that if you are black and were born in Africa, in a country that is considered poor, in a family that does not have strong and powerful political allies, with little or no personal ‘fortune’ of your own, that your place on the socio-economic ladder is right there where fate (or an accident of evolution) created for you, exactly in the societal ‘bracket’ in which you were born. Where social / financial progression is an unattainable pie in the sky. In this place, a dead-end job is the best you can expect, and hand-me-downs or clothes sold in ASDA (or Walmart) with brands such as ‘George‘ and ‘White Stag‘ are worn. It’s a place devoid of vacations, where Sirloin steak is an unjustifiable luxury, and where a McDonald’s burger counts as a treat; where trips to the movies and broadway featured shows are unheard of, and golf – the preserve of the extremely wealthy. Lets just say it’s a place where a gym membership is not even a consideration when one’s salary can barely cover everyday expenses. In this place £7.50 spent on 400g cherries would be an obscene expense; it’s a place where a typical evening consist of dinner that costs less than $10 for a family of 5, (and does not include wine), and typical everyday entertainment is either Eastenders or some crap show on the radio, while drinking a bottle of Carlsberg.

These same people would have you believe that such a life is ‘normal’ or at least relatively normal. They bet on showing you a worse existential state to justify that while they exploit your resources (and make lucrative deals with your country’s selfish and spineless politicians), they are doing you a favour, you are in fact getting a better deal than that guy over there, in whose country a war has been raging for years, where women are unsafe and rape is commonplace, that guy’s country has virtually no education system in place, and look, armed guerilla fighters! In a country with no local currency, courts presided by warlords and a society infested with corruption….

Such scare stories are meant to somehow pacify your human (umunthu) and natural rage against what is clearly injustice against your brothers and sisters. Injustice which in other forms sees you called black monkey’s in your own country. They are the kinds of people who in Victorian times would have suggested (or mixed with people who were likely to suggest), without qualms, that a woman’s place is in the home; that women should not be allowed to work or vote. These are the kinds of people who would have owned the cotton mills (or mixed with people who owned the cotton mills) of Manchester and South Carolina, including being at the forefront of recruiting cheap child labour – for maximum profit. They are the kinds of people who would have been involved in the mistreatment of Jews throughout a large part of  European history. These kinds of people would have suggested to Pontius Pilate that because Jesus was a friend of the poor and ‘rejects’ of society, that he indeed deserved the most severe punishment for calling himself the son of God.

The haughty demagoguery of these sorts saw them perpetrate beliefs such as Manifest destiny, Supremacism and the Slave trade, and their puppets coin phrases such as ‘Axis of Evil‘ and ‘War on Terror‘. For the purposes of this article, not least dramatic effect, I’ll call these people the Greedy architects of death.

Yet aren’t these precisely the kind of attitudes which precipitate global unrest? Is this not what deprives humanity of peaceful coexistence and harmony? I say this because beneath the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Ukraine, or even the economic troubles facing Zimbabwe, there is a simple altercation: that of land and resource control.

In the case of Zimbabwe, please reason with me for a moment. Why on earth should a country be punished with sanctions for wanting to take back land that was forcefully and deceptively taken away from it in the first place??? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in support of violence, but what is it that lies at the heart of the matter?

Another facet to their characteristics is that of standing. Here, a common trait of the architect is opposition to any deal in which they aren’t getting a cut. In other words, when others do something bad, and these architects are not getting any money or resources from that bad something, then the action is wrong/unforgivable/ atrocious etc. But when the architects do that very same bad thing, they can can sugar coat it and self-righteously justify it…with phrases such as ‘Oil for food‘ and ‘Regeneration’, helpfully assisted by their Bretton Woods colleagues, with selective use of the biased chastisement whip commonly known as ‘International law’.

annan-3But how does all this relate to Malawi and the oil drilling on lake Malawi I hear you ask? Well, because at the heart of Malawi’s problems is land and resource control, and the puppet masters pulling the strings are exactly the same kinds of people brewing trouble elsewhere.

So, assuming you’ve heard of the Scotland independence debate, then even though I identify with old fashioned views that divorce must be avoided wherever possible and people must discuss to resolve differences, one part of me says that maybe Scotland should become independent from the UK. Because maybe then will they be able to use their resources for their own country’s benefit. Maybe if independence occurs, some of these architects will begin to realise just how their selfish and greedy actions have been hurting other people across the world?

In Europe maybe if Crimea joins the Russian Federation it will not be exploited by the pro-western kingpins of resource control – some of whom have probably been responsible for financial trickery or misconduct elsewhere?

Similarly, let the people of Malawi resist (at all costs and in whatever manner) drilling of oil on their beautiful lake because in the end, it’s not the local people who stand to benefit from the profits of the oil drilling. As the Paladin episode at Kayelekera has shown (and as other examples on the continent continue to demonstrate), it’s only a few corrupt government officials with off-shore bank accounts in tax havens in Switzerland or the British Virgin Islands who benefit. It’s large Investment Banks that provide the capital to the architects who will get the lions share, it’s a handful of millionaire tycoons with surnames like Borshoff and Ichikowitz, who live in mansions thousands of miles away and whose surnames the locals can’t even spell or pronounce properly, they are the ones who stand to profit. It is the Greedy architects of death (whose actions spur domino type effects, causing wars, and thereby suffering and hardship to millions across the world) who stand to benefit.

It sounds like a tedious link to make, but what has been the number one cause of unrest across the world if not battles for resource control?

That is my reason for opposing drilling on lake Malawi. Because while there is a high risk of environmental degradation which could affect the lives of fishermen who depend on the lake for their livelihoods (it happened in the gulf of Mexico, and happens in the Niger Delta all the times [see another link here via Amnesty International] – how can anybody sane think it will not happen on lake Malawi?), and which could negatively affect tourism and life ecosystems in and around the lake, in the end, there will be tears and loss as very few Malawians will benefit proportionally from the oil resource. In the end it could create strife….

But I’m not saying that the transactions a poor country such as Malawi signs with foreign ‘speculators’ are all bad or useless, and do not bring some material benefit to the country or its inhabitants. No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that comparatively, the benefit to Malawians is too small, too insignificant, chicken feed – unsustainable. In my view, it’s no more than a trojan horse that later comes back to bite and haunt the country. Instead, the net benefit of most of these deals is significantly in favour of these architects, who come into an area, pour in their capital, make billions of dollars in profits, then move out richer than they came in – leaving behind more than just a mess. Leaving behind broken lives,in which the local man remains economically where he was prior to the ‘invasion’, or even poorer, resigned to licking his wounds, as one aggressor after another wrestle for his country’s resources.

And that is hugely problematic because no matter who Malawians elect in May 2014 elections, if the status quo of dealing with investors is maintained, where African leader treat the national purse (and national assets) as private belongings, where investors are allowed to illicitly wire billions of untaxed funds out of the continent, if economic disparities across the country are not decisively addressed (in this I mean by creating companies in which trained locals are majority shareholders and investors are minority shareholders), if the leaders of western countries continue to be hypocritical over the well-documented conduct of business leaders from their countries, poverty levels will continue to linger in Malawi and across Africa for a very long time. And come next election very little would have changed, people will be scratching their heads, and you can come back and read this article again.

By the way, you don’t have to believe anything I’ve written above 🙂 . As I said in the first paragraph, it’s just a hypothesis, a theory based on my observations 🙂 … But even so, take a look at what these people here are saying (AfDB-GFI Joint Report: Illicit Financial Flows Render Africa a Net Creditor to the Rest of the WorldSub-Saharan Africa loses 5.7 percent of GDP to illicit financial outflowsIllicit financial outflows from Africa crippling continent’s development – UN ). With such stories of behaviour which is clearly hurting Africa, should Malawians really risk another Kayelekera? Would it be wise to entrust the lake to people whose number one motivation is profit and little else? Could anybody say the country is really independent? How can you justify independence when you depend too much on the help of others for your existence?

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