Area 18 Interchange - Malawi

An intertwined road Interchange in Malawi got the whole country talking

Call me a cynic, but sometimes the country of my birth baffles me to the point I wonder: Is this really happening?

And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a brief: Malawi’s capital Lilongwe recently saw the opening of a new intertwined road interchange, named ‘Area 18 Interchange’. And because nothing like it ever existed in the country before, loads of Malawians began talking about it. The excitement soon reached fever pitch, to the point people were going out of their ways to go to the location of this interchange, to see it with their own eyes and observe the traffic criss-crossing its roads. Malawi’s president even visited the site the other day and stated his government’s commitment to develop the country’s cities through construction of transformative pieces of infrastructure.

Now you might say thats not a big deal, people in the developing world get excited about all sorts of ordinary things which westerners take for granted. And you are right. But what irked me was the hero-worship that followed, in that some Malawians began to claim that the construction of the road is one of the major achevements of former president of Malawi Peter Mutharika.

At which point I snapped.

It’s just a road. A tiny road for that matter. that if you go to other countries, you’ll find bigger and much better intertwined junctions… its no big deal.

On a much more reflective note, other people rate their leaders on substantive material things they achieved in their lifetimes. Achievements of huge significance that impact thousands of people, in some cases literary changing the course of history. To give a flavour, how about ending slavery as an achievement, defeating Nazism, ending the colonisation of a country, developing a Nuclear Weapon, giving the vote to women, presiding over a large National Economic Transformation (The New Deal); ending Apartheid and becoming the first black president of South Africa, lifting over 800 million people out of poverty(as China has done) …

How ridiculous do you think Malawi appears, when faced with a list of such noble and grand achievements, we’re in some corner hollering and worshiping a former leader based on a tiny road interchange that was built under their watch?? In 2020?

Is that really how low our standards have fallen? Kamuzu Banda must be spinning in his grave…

Some of these people need to visit Durban, Nairobi, Kigali or Addis Ababa- to see what real development looks like …

Let me tell you what I believe. Its no secret that countries like Rwanda, Botswana, Malaysia, and South Korea were at one point in the 50’s and 60’s on the same level of development as Malawi. But unlike Malawi, they chose to develop and made significant strides out of poverty to become middle income countries. It was a deliberate and sustained intervention to match and be level with some of the best.

Now you might say our politics were different at that time, we had an inward-looking dictator more concerned with self-preservation, and you are right. But since the start of multiparty democracy, we’ve had 26 years in which to “catch-up”. But there’s been nothing to show for.

And yet, our contemporaries also faced innumerable challenges. Like us, they didn’t have enough money. Their people weren’t that educated. In fact if you look at where we are, we probably have more incentives to develop that countries like South Korea or Botswana had in the 60’s and 70’s. The difference is while we sometimes appear comfortable in our sorry state, these countries were not content with mediocrity or token gestures. I mean, when was the last time you heard of an aid organisation working to feed hungry children in Souh Korea?

These countries decided they needed to create economies that could stand side by side with some of the largest economies in the world. Economies that were resilient to existential shocks. And it is high time we did the same.

In Malawi, we have to be careful not to let our historical excuses and well-rehearsed pragmatism (the “Malawian standards” / “crawl before you can run” excuses), ending up being main obstacles in our path to development. I’ve said it here several times before, but we really have to raise the bar on what counts as development, and what is raw and unmistakable mediocrity.

Peter Mutharika (like him or hate him) didn’t do much to develop Malawi because he was not a transformational leader. There was no blueprint, no grand plan, no credible and actionable dream, no rhetoric to charge and fire up people’s imaginations. His leadership, busied by tribalism, corruption and deceit – left much to be desired, and there was more bluster than implementation. If you don’t believe me, just look at the promises that were made in DPP’s 2014 Manifesto and compare with what was actually achieved by 2019.

In Malawi, we say of undeserved promotions that “Anangogweramo” , meaning Mutharika just fell into it. It was an accidental selection, and he wouldn’t have ended up as a leader of a party and the country if not for his brother pulling him into DPP’s Politburo.

But this post isn’t about the Mutharikas and DPP’s woes.

Malawi has to start seeking capable operators who will move us forward as a country. We have to begin to seriously empower people who are qualified and know how to build and develop a country and have the force of character to deliver on promises. Osati zongochitikira mwa ngozi.

There’s another equally important aspect to all this.

If a tiny road intersection has got the whole country excited, what do you think foreign dignitaries will think of us, as a nation? What do you think they will report to their countries, as ways in which to pacify or otherwise impress our people? Imagine how all the ruthless and pushy countries, even a China omwewa will deal with us, when they know it takes very little to impress our people… ?

We have to press the reset button on what we regard as development. Toilets that look like ma sakasa, Airport terminals towoneka ngati khola la nkhuku, tima bridge ta make dzana… and yes your little interchange, they’re all not signs of development in the context of the 21st Century. Because there are such things as global standards, and we have to pull up our socks in this area and begin to match the rest of the world. Rwanda and Kenya are doing it, why can’t we?

In any case, how can you possibly attract investment in the form of a factory (say Chevrolet, Nissan or Kia for argument’s sake), or how can you seriously attract a tech giant’s assebling facility (APPLE, IBM, HP, MICROSOFT) and compete against the likes of Ethiopia or Kenya – who have impressive infrastructure and who are doing far more to attract foreign corporations to set up shop in those countries, when your own infrastructure leaves plenty to be desired?

Bad & Deceitful Counsel: Malawi’s unutilised advisers

YouthDevelopment2

There’s an old Ghanaian proverb that says When a King has good counsellors, his reign is peaceful.

This proverb essentially means a leader is defined by the circumstances and people around him. If a King is surrounded by good and honest people, wise men and women of good repute, truly knowledgeable and full of wisdom and grace, it is highly likely that they will provide sound advice to him; it is also highly likely that they will foresee potentially troublesome situations well in advance.

The result will be that the King will make good decisions, and fewer mistakes; the advisers will shine a torch for him, to see where the potholes are, all of which will benefit the people of the land he rules.

On the other hand, if a King’s advisers are unwise, evil or plain bad, if they are more interested in accumulating wives, wealth and personal possessions, and power, their advice is unlikely to be sound or helpful. They are more likely to give that King the wrong kind of advice, and if he listens or implements such bad advice, it is likely that his reign will be disastrous. Indeed many mistakes will be made, and the people of the land will be the ones who will suffer most.

The assumption implicit in these scenarios are that the King does listen to his advisers, since it is possible to have a wise King who happens to have a few bad advisers amongst the majority good ones, but who is strong enough (mentally) to filter out the bad advice he receives, selecting only that which is progressive and helpful for the realm, leaving out the crap.

There are too many examples of sayings or scenarios similar to this proverb throughout history, although a few are worth a mention.

In Genesis chapter 26 verse 26, we are told that Abimelech, the Philistine King went to Beersheba to see Isaac from Gerar with his adviser Ahuzzath and Phicol the commander of his army. This is one of the earliest mention of the presence of an adviser in the Bible and some scholars say Ahuzzath may have been a  ‘friend’ or ‘minister’ to Abimelech. But whichever way, if you read the story in full, you will see that throughout the period Abimelech lived at peace with Abraham’s son, save for a few minor scuffles between their herdsmen. It’s quite possible that this peaceful co-existence was largely due to the advice the Philistine leader received from his advisers. Indeed many stories in the old testament testify of the eventual downfall of Kings primarily because they listened to the wrong type of advice, ignored the right kind of advice, or sought no advice at all.

For those who disbelieve the Bible, dismissing it as a collection of fairly tales, maybe the influence of Piers Gaveston on Edward II of England will convince you. He was an adviser to Edward II and according to one account here

 Piers Gaveston was a knight’s son who had been Edward’s friend since boyhood. When Edward, still a prince, feuded with important officials in his father’s court, Gaveston was seen as the cause, and was sent to exile. Summoning him home was Edward II’s first royal act. Gaveston was made Earl of Cornwall, but his political fights with the existing nobility would define the rest of his life, which didn’t last long. The nobility, without whose money and prestige and feudal armies Edward could not run the country, forced Gaveston into exile twice more in the next five years. He was never openly attacked for his sexuality, but instead was hated because he gave advice to the king that was no good, and the king should be taking the real nobility’s advice, anyway. In 1311 a committee of aristocrats and bishops imposed a series of Ordinances on the king, which declared that “through bad and deceitful counsel, our lord the king and all his men have everywhere been dishonoured.”

Bad and deceitful counsel. It’s one of many stories but it always ends pretty much the same way.

Although it doesn’t mean that even wise counsellors don’t get it wrong sometimes. In Daniel chapter 2 verse 24, we have Daniel pleading with  the executioner Arioch, who King Nebuchadnezzar had appointed to execute the wise men of Babylon (after they failed to interpret his dream) “Do not execute the wise men of Babylon. Take me to the king, and I will interpret his dream for him.”

More recently, during President Ronald Reagan’s administration, despite a somewhat positive and respectable legacy, the US government was involved in so many controversies many of which were the result of bad counsel perpetrated by more than just a few dodgy advisers. Reagan’s White House aide Michael Deaver and national security adviser Robert McFarlane were convicted of various offenses. MacFarlane pleaded guilty in 1988 to four misdemeanors of withholding information from Congress and was sentenced, but later pardoned by George H.W. Bush. Deaver was convicted of perjury for congressional testimony he submitted to a congressional subcommittee and federal grand jury investigating his lobbying activities with administration officials. Then there was Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger who was indicted but later also pardoned by Bush? The question is why didn’t Reagan refuse to authorise all these botched schemes?

At this point let us consider the well-known English idiom Birds of the same feather, flock together, and ask the question under what circumstances will a sensible leader allow people who are unlike him to influence him in some material way in terms of making decisions that have particularly far-reaching implications? After all what do crows (akhwangwala) know about hawks? Isn’t one bird a cowardly scavenger ever pursuing after leftovers, whereas the other is a bird of prey that is not only an able hunter, but belongs to the same group from which the King of the birds come. Shouldn’t there be an exercise of judgement?

But what has all this got to do with Malawi?

Well, these days as I talk to Malawians from all over the world, and read what other progressives are writing about in terms of development and the general climate on the ground in Malawi, I’m left surprised by the sheer number of good ideas they have. From the writing by one Malawian originally from Salima,  to those of another (who is not from Salima, but is nevertheless inspiring), I feel these kinds of ideas should be listened to? In any case, just because someone opposed a certain thing doesn’t mean that what they are advocating is not valid.

On this blog, I’ve purposely chosen to echo some of such views not because I’m sunk in an illusory world of familiar opinion. Instead, I believe that in the right hands, with the right leadership and mechanisms of oversight, with driven effectors, those same ideas these people advocate can help transform our country positively.

I mean take a look at the recent news headlines coming out of Malawi, can you see anything that you can point that has a chance of transforming a country with 14 million people? The Banning of Satchets? Breaking up Escom? Tobacco Sales (the country’s largest source of export revenue) in Lilongwe Suspended again

The news that populates the airwaves is not that of innovative ways of helping young people, or of increased Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as a result of a clean and conducive investment climate. Something which Paul Kagame in Rwanda has strived and just about achieved. No, the news on Malawi news channels is filled with accounts of dubious court cases (some on prosecution of embezzled funds by government officials, and another – a recent one –  in which it is alleged the president is suing a well-known UK-based activist); you hear of a presidential aide who is said to have bought a PhD from some serial con-artist – brilliantly seared here by one Pasteni Mauka (himself said to be a DPP insider in concert with other disgruntled DPP insiders, now turned against the clique running the show at Capital Hill);

As if this is not enough, then you read of charities pitying Malawians and sending them token gestures. And celebrities – all of which also serves to remind us all just how terrible the country’s situation is. Every single day I get about 3 different stories in my inbox, on various charitable efforts happening in Malawi. That’s over a thousand a year! What concrete progress has those efforts achieved all these years, especially in terms of sustainability and ensuring that the recipients stand on their own feet?

Here please allow me to digress: when was the last time you heard that some famous star had gone to Mauritius or to Malaysia to give alms? When did a wife of a billionaire wear a sari, mingling with the women who live in the slums of Mumbai? There are poor people in these countries – just as there are poor people in America, and in England. But such places are not ‘headline grabbing’. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but the fact is you rarely hear of such charitable visits…Instead it’s always a poor African country at the receiving end of do-gooders (most of whom I doub’t know these facts). Most recently it’s increasingly becoming fashionable to go do something charitable in Malawi. Malawi is fast becoming the Oxfam of the continent, if it hasn’t already done so.

It seems it’s easier to give Malawians fish, instead of a fishing rod. Because if you give them a fishing rod, you probably won’t be able to go back in 2 years time and pose for carricatured photos demonstrating your charitable kindness. Photos which you can then put up on Instagram and twitter for all the world to marvel at your fantastic heart.

Then there’s the regionalistic hatred (‘Ntumbuka’ uyu, ‘Mbwenu Mbwenu’…azipita kwawo) spewed shamelessly on the comments of these news sources I refer to … which frankly speaking shouldn’t be authorised on any news site; there are stories of police beating up innocent people – over some lame vendetta. And oh, I almost forgot – a presidential press secretary who writes a memo encouraging government ministries to advertise on a radio station with links to the presidency. And then accuses the radio station of forgery???

And in most of these things one must wonder where Peter Mutharika or his advisers are. Fine, you can’t expect a leader to hold everyone to a leash, but there has to be some ground rules, some responsibility, some direction. And when people screw up at government level -be they advisers or otherwise, they need to face the music. That’s the only way to restore public trust in politics.

So then, next time you meet a King or a leader, remember When a King has good counsellors, his reign is peaceful.

Won an election in an African country? Build a Prison.

You will need it. There are that many idiots you will have to lock away.

And it’s not sensationalist to say that the first duty of any leader of an African country should be to build a prison. A very big one.

To give you an example, a few days ago we were told that Muhammadu Buhari has just won Nigeria’s presidential election, and that sometime in May he will be inaugurated to lead Africa’s largest economy and most populous country.

So, the question is what difference will he make?

You’d be forgiven if you thought not much because Nigeria has been hit by so many scandals lately it’s insane to expect one government to sort out all the mess within a short space of time. And without some radical policies.

Still, there’s reason to be optimistic. According to one Ignatius C. Olisemeka who served among various diplomatic roles as an ambassador to the US for Buhari’s first administration, writing on Vanguard here, Buhari is a man who is deeply religious, lacks bitterness, is incorruptible and is a

.. patriotic Nigerian devoid of any trace of ethnicism and parochialism.

Sounds great right?

But Nigeria faces some extraordinary challenges. And it’s doubtful in my view whether merely being a disciplinarian uncle – in the absence of an extraordinary plan to get things moving – will do much to help. Needless to say I hope I am wrong.

Olisemeka does a good job in listing a good number of these challenges that typify many parts of Africa beyond Nigeria :-
The nation’s sense of indiscipline and disorder is evident and all pervasive even in very simple things and matters of the day and moment. A road-side mechanic claims to be an Engineer (Engr) and insists on being so styled. A traditional herbalist insists he must be called and respected as a professional medical Doctor (Dr) and, indeed, hugs the appellation. An ordinary traditional village community leader who flamboyantly styles himself a Chief and clownishly attired in a self-designed robe, is addressed not only as “Your Highness”, but takes offence if he is not properly addressed as “Your Royal Highness”.
… Pages of our national newspapers are replete with lavishly self-serving advertisements of obituaries, weddings and birthday celebrations. Why not severely tax those who place these wasteful advertisements to rake in and release funds to charities or other good causes such as sporting and educational development of the country.
… confident young ladies on our television sets in order to make themselves more attractive and acceptable, bleach their skin to pale sickening white, with their veins thinly exposed; their bare knuckles and elbows still looking jet black. They should be reassigned to the back room offices, decorated with mirrors, left to rue their new look which has become an eyesore to many viewers. Our television channels have suddenly become a babel and cacophony of crude and embarrassing noise makers, reflecting the values of a sick society, drunk with democratic excesses.
Honorary degrees are sold, bought and conferred on undeserving personalities by many of our Universities and these personalities shamelessly parade them at will. A few prominent church leaders have relocated their pulpits from their churches to the seats of secular power while a number of Imams have not been able to teach their adherents the purity of their religion which preaches respect for human lives.Our youths need impeccable high level connections before gaining employment at any level, both decent or menial. Impunity freely reigns in the land more than ever before. The temples of justice are daily being desecrated. The Lady now has her eyes wide open; seductively beckoning and soliciting for favours….

And those democratic excesses being refered to here are just the icing. According to one Joachim MacEbong, writing on African Arguments here, the downfall of Goodluck Jonathan had as much to do with his own shortcomings as with external factors against which he didn’t do enough. MacEbong summarises the issues as follows:

Having received a strong mandate, Jonathan proceeded to fritter it away on issues like a proposal for a single term of 6 years and a badly-handled public debate over the removal of fuel subsidies, which culminated in Occupy Nigeria. As scandal after scandal came to light without any decisive action, and Boko Haram escalated its activities, Jonathan came to be viewed as being soft on corruption and security, which made a Buhari presidency much more appealing. When you add a flailing economy to the mix, the discontent was there to be tapped

So the same corrupt system Jonathan and his predecessors failed to eradicate is the same one which Buhari will encounter. The same Boko Haram, now twined with the middle-eastern thugs that are laying claim to a caliphate and who are calling themselves IS, ISIL and ISIS is the same group Buhari has to contend with. The shocking Youth unemployment (credible estimates range from 23% to 54%) and associated crimes haven’t gone away just yet, and the armed militia running roughshod across the Niger delta – groups who have been responsible for the loss of billions in illegal sales of Nigeria’s oil every month – are still very much on the loose, free to continue their havoc on Nigeria’s economy.  The tribal conflicts between tribes, and religious intolerance between Christians and Muslims are still very much around – it’s probably only a matter of time before the next church or mosque is torched.

The problems don’t end there. Remember this report by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), titled  Nigeria’s renewal: Delivering inclusive growth in Africa’s largest economy and published in July 2014, in which we were told what a huge opportunity Nigeria presents to investors? Well, that report also mentions that Nigeria averaged a GDP growth of 1.5 percent a year under military rule ( between 1983–99) – the same time period Buhari had his first stint as country leader. It further states that:

In rural areas, 53 percent of the population lives below the poverty line due to low farm output, poor access to markets, and a rising population that is leading to cultivation of smaller plots …Recent reforms in agriculture are promising, but the scale of challenges is vast, and it may take many years for farm incomes to rise substantially.

However what is probably most worrying, besides the fact that Nigeria remains in the bottom 25% of most corrupt countries according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index is this next fact:

… poverty rates have remained high and stagnant. On metrics of human health such as child mortality, Nigeria falls far short of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, and it has under-invested in education and infrastructure.

Under-investment in Education and Infrastructure means you have a long way to go to turn around your economy because your institutions can’t just produce quality graduates at the stroke of a presidential decree. And putting in place the necessary infrastructure to kickstart your economy will also take time.

So uncle’s work is cut out. And that’s before we even begin talking of illicit financial outflows.

But what these problems also show is that a little leaven is leavening the whole lump.

You may say look Sangwani, this happens in all poor countries, these people are messing things up because of poverty and corruption they see; that it’s because of the tribal alienation that has left large parts of the north underdeveloped, which forces them to seek political power by hook or crook.

You may have a point, I’m not dismissing other causative factors.

My contention is that a leader can’t address the real issues when there is lawlessness  (if not continuous sabotage) in the form of endemic corruption, terrorists, militia groups and white-collar criminals.

Before there is even any talk of progress, the task of cleaning up will inevitably entail prosecuting those who are spoiling the broth. If nothing is gained from such an exercise, at least a breathing space may be found that allows the leader to squarely face the real issues (security, job creation, healthcare, the economy) without constant disturbance from issues which fuel detractors.

So, it can’t possibly be sensationalist to suggest that the first duty of any newly elected leader of an African country should be to either build a  new prison or ensure one exists that can accommodate as many of those who must be behind bars.

Such an exercise will create jobs (imagine the number of jobs you could create if your budget had $20 billion more each year) It will instill a sense of discipline, and could even attract investment?

I’ll end with another quote from Olisemeka’s article:

The immediate challenge before him [Buhari], I feel convinced, is how to curb the excesses of the teaming mass of followers who, undoubtedly, adore him. The next, is to rein in the display of empty, hollow pompousness and offensive arrogance by a few of his elitist, lazy patronage-seeking associates; who, if victorious, will flock to him without discrimination

What makes a leader?

Meaning what forms them? Are they born with leadership qualities, or does experience propel them into leadership?This question has captivated scholars for decades.

In my attempt to provide my angle on this question, I’ll look at one individual, Jimmy Carter and posit that while a certain disposition and possibly ‘genes’ may contribute to one’s leadership abilities, maybe education and experience more than anything makes a leader who they are. But firstly the not so rosy part – from the horse’s mouth:-

Jimmy Carter’s Biggest Failure as President via bigthink

To me besides knowing what he considers to have been his successes or failures, what’s really interesting, at least in as far as experience is concerned, is Carter’s background:-

Jimmy Carter is the 39th president of the United States. He was born in 1924 in the small farming town of Plains, Georgia, the son of a peanut farmer. He received a bachelor of science degree from the United States Naval Academy in 1946. In the Navy he became a submariner, serving in both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets and rising to the rank of lieutenant. Chosen for the nuclear submarine program, Carter also took graduate work at Union College in reactor technology and nuclear physics. In 1946, he married Rosalynn Smith. When his father died in 1953, he resigned his naval commission and returned with his family to Georgia, where he took over the Carter farms and became active in the community, serving on county boards supervising education, the hospital authority, and the library. In 1962 he won election to the Georgia Senate. He lost his first gubernatorial campaign in 1966, but won the next election, becoming Georgia’s 76th governor in 1971.Carter served as president from 1977 to 1981. During his presidency he negotiated a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, signed the Camp David Accords and the SALT II treaty with the Soviet Union, and established diplomatic relations with China. On the domestic side, the administration’s achievements included a comprehensive energy program conducted by a new Department of Energy; deregulation in energy, transportation, communications, and finance; major educational programs under a new Department of Education; and major environmental protection legislation. He lost his reelection in 1980 to Ronald Reagan, in part because of the Iran hostage crisis, in which 52 U.S. citizens were held hostage by Iranian revolutionaries who overthrew the government.   In 1982, he founded The Carter Center. Actively guided by President Carter, the nonpartisan and nonprofit Center addresses national and international issues of public policy. In 2002, Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”

[Source: bigthink.com]

Ok, so

(i) He was in the Navy – where he rose to become a lieutenant. This entailed some travel around the world, where he experienced different cultures and different ways of life. He was also very principled. According to his biography entry on the Miller Centre here:

…Carter worked long hours while his wife worked at home raising the children. Lieutenant Carter selected the submarine service, the Navy’s most hazardous duty. One incident during this time clearly illustrated Carter’s values and beliefs. While his submarine was moored in Bermuda, British officials there extended a party invitation to white crewmembers only. Partly at Carter’s urgings, everyone on the submarine refused to attend….

(ii) He’s worked in agriculture, the family business, where he gained immense experience, and turned the business into a success. According to a Wikipedia entry:

Carter is the only U.S. president to have lived in housing subsidized for the poor. Knowledgeable in scientific and technological subjects, Carter took over the family peanut farm. The transition was difficult, as the harvest his first year failed due to drought and Carter was forced to open several lines of credit to keep the farm afloat. Carter took classes and read up on agriculture while Rosalynn learned accounting to manage the business’ financials. Though they barely broke even the first year, Carter managed over the following years to expand and become quite successful

(iii) He was active in the community, so he genuinely cared about helping people, other than his own ambitions.

(iv) He has served on various boards – supervising education and healthcare – gaining more experience

(v) He became a senator at State level, so had an opportunity to hone his political skills much closer to home.

(vi) He lost his first stint at becoming a Governor of Georgia – something which must have provided him with more experience, in terms of what works and what doesn’t. That defeat must have had a role in shaping the future Carter.

(Vii) Became Georgia’s 76th governor, this being his second try. Where he instituted reforms that cleaned up the mess. The Miller Centre profile again:

But his primary concern was the state’s outdated, wasteful government bureaucracy. Three hundred state agencies were channeled into two dozen “superagencies.”

The point most probably being spotting the synergies and realising economies of scale.

….

Similar Links

Asking Whether Leaders Are Born or Made Is the Wrong Question – Harvard Business Review

Jimmy Carter Author Page – Amazon.co.uk

American Experience: Jimmy Carter

Salary increases mfwee mfwee mfwee

Sometimes when a story breaks, it’s wise to step back for a little while and wait for it to fully develop, before making any comment or asking any questions. Doing this in my view allows the mud to settle, allows the story to fully form, and allows for the indefensible to be revealed.

The other day, about 2 weeks ago, I read a piece on the Malawi Nation website that said that President Peter Mutharika’s salary had been increased by 80%. Ministers and the leader of the opposition also received a 168% increment, while MP’s received a 376% hike. The piece made for interesting, if not shocking reading, since not too long ago in August of this year, Peter Mutharika rejected a 600% salary increase proposed by ministers. After the announcement on 6th December 2014, the acting Clerk for Parliament said that the structure of the new salaries had been in effect from 1st October 2014. Which means barely 2 months on from the time that he refused to increase minister’s salaries, something had caused Mutharika to change his mind?

Predictably, the large raises were condemned by many sections of the Malawi public as wanton and insensitive when many people, especially poor people, were still suffering the effects of the devaluation of the Malawi Kwacha.

Two days after the Salary hikes were announced, Lazarus Chakwera, the leader of the opposition, released a press statement, criticising the pay hikes, and saying he had not been previously consulted of the increases. However, he didn’t say whether he would reject the increases.

Then began a game of blame shifting, with the president’s camp saying that the President Mutharika had in fact not authorised the increases, while some commentators placed the blame on the IMF, who apparently gave advice (including the increments) in order to harmonise pay in the SADC region. Further, it was suggested that some officials had acted without Peter Mutharika’s authority, bypassing the parliamentary procedure and essentially doing something which they were strictly speaking not supposed to do. But as of now, nobody knows who those officials are. Chakwera called the president a hypocrite and accused him of trying to divert attention from real issues. The president’s officials through the Minister of Information, Tourism and Culture called Chakwera a ‘modern day Pharisee‘.

Probably sensing that the scandal wouldn’t go down well with the people, the president and vice president deferred their salaries, until ‘the country’s economy recovers’, although numerous commentators concluded that public pressure forced the deferment.

But what exactly is going on? Aren’t salary increases for public officials supposed to be voted upon by Parliament? And isn’t it essential for the President to authorise such increments? How then can Mutharika claim ignorance when the increments were in fact applied? Also, if the IMF explanation is true, how can any sensible leader listen to an international organisation whose advice doesn’t seem to take account of the plight of the local population?

On a lighter note, Mutharika hosted a pre-Christmas party this week for children from Lilongwe. During his speech to the invited guests, he was quoted to have said that

“..This party has been organised by our money and that from well wishers. There is no one tambala for the government, so I don’t mawa somebody kumati fwee fwee  fwee fwee, ndipanga demonstrations and so forth …”

Well wishers. That term again. Oh no!

Some of the readers here will remember who abiti/ amayi meant when she talked about well-wishers? Shady organisations with military links who ‘buy’ your country’s presidential jet practically for free (as the money was never accounted for), as long as they promise to ferry you around the world every now and then. They donate to your party, and in turn are paid (by the government) huge sums of money for supplying ‘military equipment’ nobody gets to see, including some overpriced and outdated patrol boats that are of no real use to anybody. In the end, the well-wishers make a huge donation to your US-based foundation…. Well-wishers eh?

Someone please tell Mr President not to use that term, ever again…because well-wishers seldom give anything away for free.

Former Malawian President Joyce Banda implicated in the Cashgate Scandal by Oswald Lutepo

Joyce Banda is a good mother. This I’m inclined to believe because a reliable source who it so happens knows her step-children, told me so. According to this completely reliable source, Mrs Banda raised her step-children up as if they were her own children, with all the love, all the concern and all the care that any good Parent gives to her children. Growing up under her was good, they love her.

But being a good and caring mother is not the same as being a good president, nor for that matter, the same as being an honest person.

Thus, while Madam former President and international darling was busy prancing around the globe, giving speeches about her role as president and what she achieved (most recently here ) and while she was conducting interviews, perfidious thoughts of treachery were swirling violently in the mind of one Brutus: the man Oswald Lutepo. For those not too familiar with the Cashgate Story (see another summary of how the scandal started here), Lutepo is the man who was People’s Party’s Deputy Director of Recruitment and who according to some people in Lilongwe, Joyce Banda appeared to have shielded from prosecution.

At the time when the bubble at Capitol Hill had burst, and Mphwiyo was recovering in a South African hospital, when the likes of Ralph Kasambara, the former Attorney General were being dragged through the courts, arrested and re-arrested as the plots in the scandal unfolded, Lutepo was safe and dry. He could aswell have claimed the title of the ‘Malawian Teflon Don’, because despite handing himself to police, it seemed as if pinning him down with anything was proving extremely difficult, according to some, because he was protected by powers mighty and high. When the name of Manondo  appeared on Interpol wanted list, Lutepo’s name was nowhere to be seen, even though it was claimed that Malawi Police had alerted Interpol to issue warrants of arrest. Throughout this time the man protested his innocence, and claimed that he had no role in the scandal. That the accusations were smears by people who were jealous of his business success. The questions remained, including how exactly did he achieve that business success?

A few weeks ago, when the full Baker Tilly’s report on the Scandal was revealed (there had been an initial publication with names of companies involved in Cashgate and their owners omitted), most people who were hoping for the truth to be revealed were not surprised to see Oswald Lutepo’s name in the document. What caused astonishment was that Joyce Banda’s name was not in it or in any way connected. While  Madame former president’s son Roy was implicated, there was no link to Joyce Banda. Most Malawians familiar with the scandal couldn’t believe that she didn’t know what was going on, after all the allegations which implicated those close to her, and after all the rumours about her own active if not primal role. Surely Madame president must have known something.

According to Zodiac Online, who today interviewed Lutepo, one of the highest beneficiaries of government funds during the scandal, Joyce Banda did know what was going on.

Image-Laundering-JB And, if that’s true, then it means that Mrs Banda lied to Malawians when she protested her innocence, most recently today via her media officer.

If these allegations are true, then today is a sad day for Malawi, and for Africa, because it simply reinforces this toxic notion that corruption in Africa is endemic. That African leaders are corrupt and even those who on the surface appear innocent and honest, and polished, complete with fancy hair, fancy clothes and a tolerable english accent, are inherently corrupt; as rotten to the core as their often rent-seeking officials.

There have been many casualties (including at least one fatality) associated with the recent politics in Malawi, but if the allegations brought by Lutepo are true, Joyce Banda may have indefinitely lost the opportunity to clear her name, and give Africa a new kind of leader.

While it is my wish, as I wrote here, for every penny that has been embezzled from Malawi government coffers over the years to be recovered, and as many of the culprits as can be apprehended to face the long arm of the law, I acknowledge that due to the complexity, buck-passing and treachery surrounding these type of scandals, due to the extraordinary efforts people go to in order to escape the consequences of their improper actions, we may never know the whole truth. Ordinary Malawians may never get to the bottom of this scandal in the same manner that we do not know what or how much Dr Kamuzu Banda took from the public purse.

But, if these allegations are true, then it could as well have been confirmed today that our former president, the second woman president in Africa, was a thief.

Siimilar Links

Global 100 Voices: No 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15. Any famous last words?

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

* Emphasis in brackets added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mandela: A Tribute

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Where does one even start when attempting to pay tribute to a man so profound and mighty in almost all aspects of his life, a man who it must be said was sitting with the gods long before he died.

Many kind words, countless tributes (here and here to list a few), numerous celebrations of a great life, unprecedented reactions from across the world, even the critics have good things to say, all testify that the life of Nelson Mandela was that of a true legend, a behemoth of great leaders, an icon of peace and reconciliation, a symbol of forgiveness, definitely one of the greatest people to have lived on earth (probably the greatest person of our times so far). The measure and pedigree of greatness surely doesn’t surpass Mandela. His exploits inscribed on the palms of gods, this man belongs to a ‘club’ of a very few select widely adored individuals who walked the face of the earth, and exemplified to all humanity, selflessly, tender-heartedly, with gentleness and kindness, with wisdom, what humaneness, grace, love and leadership are supposed to be.

Mandela was a precious gift to the world, in all meanings of those words, and to say that the world didn’t deserve him is an understatement. He was too good a soul for a planet plagued by selfishness, greed, lust and jealousy. His imprisonment – one of the worst sins of mankind against humanity- played a role in the making of a great leader; the defeat of Apartheid – was a timeless act; a victory for all who opposed discrimination and hate at that time in South Africa, in our time today, and forevermore. Mandela belonged where his soul had always been, in the spiritual realm, sat contemplatively amidst the gods.

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And before I continue, I must put behind me one small personal matter. I must rescind that email I sent to two people the week before last, expressing grief, in which I erroneously said I will never forgive what these people have done to me. That email was written in a thoughtless spur of rage driven by pain. Today, I’m a hint wiser, I acknowledge that I must forgive them.

Today also I’m wondering what would be the perfect honour for Mandela. An appreciation to Madiba, for all he was, for all he taught us, for all he did. A thankful recognition and gratitude from the whole world. After all we’ve calibrated our years with reference to the death of Jesus Christ (another great leader), we’ve named our days after planets, names which are derived from Greek mythology and Greek gods. Surely, while Mandela’s Catholic admirers will soon enough begin to debate whether Mandela should be revered as a saint or not, maybe it would be a much more fitting gesture to rename Monday, our second day of the week, after Mandela.

Yes, let’s change Monday to Mandela

Without sounding sensationalist, I believe doing so will invoke his spirit each time we mention the day, and hopefully will remind us all of an exemplary life, which although not 100% infallible, was far gracious and selfless, more humane than most of us will ever be, a life on which to model our own fallible existence.

Personally, Mandela means more to me than just a global icon. When I was younger, I learned that my great grandparents on my mother’s side were originally South African (well, from the land that is now South Africa). They were part of the Ngunis who became the Ngonis that were dispersed north by the wars of Shaka Zulu, and who were led north by Zwangendaba. In fact I remember clearly that my late grandmother had the same type of piercings and wore the same type of bracelets which some tribes in South Africa still have and still wear till this very day. So South Africa was always ‘home’ to me, even when my passport specifies otherwise.

Thus, when I heard about Mandela’s death, just before 10pm that cold and rainy Thursday night in Manchester, a dark  haze immediately washed over my mind. I had been napping before I heard the news, and was awoken only to be quickly informed of the news. My mouth became dry, it felt like I had just been punched in the stomach. That afternoon, the winds had been unusually wild and forceful, and the MET office reported of an ‘Atlantic storm’ with gusts of around 100 mph hitting Scotland and  other parts of the UK, the strongest winds in at least 50 years. Even in Manchester, it was a sombre, chilly, dark and rainy day, with very strong winds throughout the afternoon.

The heavens must have been preparing for the arrival of a legend. The gods were about to recall one of their own. As Obama summed it up nicely:

‘He no longer belongs to us, he belongs to the ages’

The next morning, yesterday,  my thoughts were clouded as I recoiled from the news and media storm from around the world. Couldn’t think properly, couldn’t write much, couldn’t do much … a feverish numbness hovered about. It was as if some energy had been suddenly drawn out of me. A weird experience I know, but unmistakably a sense of loss, as if I’d lost a member of my own family.

And in some respects I had, we all had, because Mandela’s life has had a profound effect on my life, on the lives of my mother who raised me (The copy of Long Walk to Freedom which I own {and count as one of my most prized possessions}, was given to me by my mother), on the lives of many young Africans I know, and no doubt on the lives of millions others on the planet. A rare feat.

So, while there have been criticisms against Mandela (see here and here) even in death, the innumerable good far outweigh the few criticisms. And that my dear friends is probably why many of us will continue to draw inspiration from the life, deeds and words of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, and why I will never, ever forget him.

Leadership: of standards and calibre

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Two days ago I heard something unusual. I was talking to a friend when he informed me that a recent Malawian who not too long ago was working as a junior supervisor at a McDonald fast food restaurant here in Britain, is now a Minister in Joyce Banda’s government. This friend wondered whether there was even a criteria that was used when appointing ministers in Malawi, let alone regular performance reviews to audit their performance, to ensure that they were doing their jobs properly.

“Tandiwuzeni bwana” he said “I hope I’m not being big-headed here, but what does someone who was working in a McDonald’s just yesterday know about public service in a ministerial capacity? Have they had extensive experience in governance, learning about government and public administration, listening to the needs of the people, observing the many dynamics in society, soliciting advice from several stakeholders, making comparisons with what has worked elsewhere – outside Malawi, and produced positive outcomes, what have they done to ensure that the decisions they make will be proportionate, relevant, effectual and not prejudicial?”

I was surprised to hear of this news and told him that maybe there was a good reason as to why this man had been appointed as a minister, but that his analysis was more or less spot on; without being qualified for a particular role, and having the essential experience in public office, logically, it was more likely than not, that this minister would either perform badly in his role, or utterly fail.

“If it had been someone with a proven record, who has got extensive training in governance, and experience in the specific field he will work, on the ground in Malawi, or even abroad, who had studied the environment carefully and had formulated a way of balancing difficult interests, maybe, just maybe you could say okay forget his less than glamorous stint at McDonald’s, this guy has a realistic chance of performing, lets give him the benefit of the doubt and see how he does”

My friend’s words reminded me of a Facebook status I once read [a snapshot of which I kept :-)]:

leadersip

[For those who do not know who some of the above personalities were, I’ll helpfully provide some profiles (external links):  [Oliver Tambo; Jakaya Kikwete Julius Nyerere; Albert Lithuli]

I couldn’t agree more. Leadership in Africa , and particularly in Malawi is in critical need of a fresh injection of calibre, the quality of leadership is simply not good enough. It leaves a lot to be desired, and in Malawi, the calibre of leadership is appalling.

My friend continued:

“We need a soft dictatorship in Malawi, like the way Paul Kagame is doing. Although I’m not entirely sure of his politics, his style is an example of how to do things. He runs his country like a corporation, with targets and regular performance reviews, whereby if a minister does not meet their targets, they are out, that’s how it must be done, otherwise if there is no incentive, no fear, how will you get lazy buggers from actually doing work?”

I told him that I didn’t know about this, but read somewhere that Kagame got his whole cabinet to read Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid [see one book review here], and that subsequently the country was performing well economically.

“When you speak to insiders at State House in Lilongwe, who do not want to be identified, but who know of the wrongdoing happening, you get to this point of disbelief…I’ve lost Faith in the leadership of Joyce Banda” my friend said “I’ve lost Faith in Peter Mutharika, I have absolutely no faith in Atupele Muluzi, and Chakwera, he’s come too late to the crime scene”

“It will take time” I said. “It will take time for Malawians to learn how not to do things”

I reasoned that my understanding of what is currently happening in Malawi is the classic Kleptocratic story of abuse of power, which has been seen over the ages in various countries, but which is being perpetrated by leaders who should know better.

“You have to be willing to dig into history to understand this.” I said

In Malawi, MCP did it in its time, although then it was a dictatorship, and only a handful of people were corrupt; the Muluzi’s did it en-mass when fate brought leadership to them; the Mutharikas did it to the tune of K61 billion ( £116 million) and now we have a lady who began very well, but who has fallen to the trappings of power, and is surrounded by corrupt wolves,  against whom she appears powerless to act decisively to clean up her government’s image.

“Take Muluzi for example” this friend continued ” When he came in power, there was one particular politician who corruptly amassed a fortune, as most other UDF people did at the time. Somehow this guy found himself implicated in a scandal the trail of which the media were following. Guess what they did, UDF got him to confess to claiming too much on expenses. He repaid those fictitious expenses (which were miniscule in comparison to what he had actually embezzled), and then he was advised by insiders within UDF to go and live in the UK for 6 months, for the dust to settle, for people to forget,  and after that period, he went back to Malawi, and was given the chairmanship of ESCOM..tell me, as bizarre as that sounds, how does a country develop with such blatant corruption and nepotism?”

I replied that the that the problem with leadership in Malawi is that of ignorance and lack of integrity. Most people in leadership do not understand who a leader is, what a leader does, why they should do things that way, the ramifications of not acting properly.

Also, there is a problem with our judiciary, whereby we have few transparent and incorruptible judges with integrity – but a number who are known to be corrupt; then there is the object of fear in that some people (including journalists) are afraid (to an extent for good reason) of revealing corruption because they will be ‘punished’, including losing their jobs, or face threats to their lives.

The public also have a part to play, most Malawians are ill-informed of what is really happening in the world today. Add to that illiteracy, poverty and a peace-loving predisposition (markedly different to that common in peoples of a gung-ho attitude, some of whom were probably responsible for the revolutions that swept North Africa -in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia), you will neither see a warlord emerge to fight against a corrupt government nor millions take to the streets of the capital to demand change anytime soon. It’s simply not happening…

Further, it seems most forget of the ill-treatment they received under Dr Banda, the rampant corruption under Muluzi, and the debilitating economic struggles they faced during Bingu wa Mutharika’s last days.

Putting aside the issue of what a leadership role will actually involve (e.g. needs of the people, firefighting one crisis or another, pushing agendas, etc.) in my view, Public office in Africa  requires someone who has a certain attitude towards their job, life and other people. Someone who has a deep conviction to lead, a Gandhi, a Mandela, a Maathai. These kind of people don’t care whether they drive a Maybach, top of the range Mercedes or not, or whether they own a house in the Bahamas and in New York. They don’t care for material things. That’s why you never ever heard of corruption allegations against Nelson Mandela, or against Ghandi, or against Wangari Maathai. Instead these kinds of leaders care about leaving a real legacy, having a real positive impact (on a large scale) and giving a genuine and honest service to the people they represent; they are at pains at trying to always achieve fairness and equality, utilizing resources for the benefit of all (not just an elite few), they care about truly ending poverty for the benefit of everyone (because they understand the knock-on effect of ending poverty), they want to help the majority (not just their own families) achieve some form of prosperity, on being real and exceptional (as opposed to being two-faced and mediocre), these kind of people care about making life better for others – irrespective of whether those others support the same political party as the leader, or indeed whether those others like their leadership or not.  Great leaders are not afraid to disobey the party line, if what the party demands doesn’t fit well with their personal ideology and convictions, or if the party line is clearly unethical or wrong.

To lead and serve in an exemplary fashion as a leader of a country in Africa, one has to think about nothing but service; to abandon their needs and crucify the lusts of the flesh (personal wealth / fortune, fame / popularity); to be willing to punish shady associates who cross the line – setting an example that corruption will not be tolerated. Yes, a leader must be diplomatic and unite factions; treading a thin line in which they attempt to balance mutually exclusive requests while fending off arrows from opponents, but crucially they must also maintain integrity while doing so, and not pay a blind eye to wrongdoing or rampant corruption in top government positions.

In addition, it seems politicians in Malawi have either taken lying to a whole new level– for all sorts of wrong reasons, or have the worst advisers any leader could have. Recently this fiction saw the Malawian president declare her assets to parliament, but the speaker of Parliament refused to make them public, apparently because the constitution is silent on the specific matter. How can anybody criticise the former president for amassing billions but obstruct the process of publicly declaring the assets of the current president? Do they think that the public are that stupid not to know that something is amiss? You’d wonder which leaders they emulate… let them ask themselves whether Wangari Maathai or Mahatma Gandhi would have done what they are doing?

And to make matters worse, most bad leaders have no shame at being exposed as shady, even on the international stage. If Richard Nixon had been a Malawian President, he’d probably have served a full second term, even after Watergate, and would have received a presidential medal afterwards…that’s how low Malawian politics has sunk lately.

Typically, business as usual often goes as follows: tell the donors what they want to hear, make promises to the voters which you have no intention of fulfilling  [typically just before elections], travel the world sweet-talking donors and painting a good picture, but at home get in bed with dodgy businessmen/ corporations, receive bribes through your family’s going concerns, concentrate your efforts on staying in power and award contracts (with inflated prices) to non-existent, shady or unexperienced companies in order to embezzle, money from the government…

No thought towards a conflict of interests, or what the long-term implications of your actions ( or the actions of your ministers) will be. Little intention to discipline or disciple those who take the wrong turn. Sometimes one wonders whether some ministers even know what a conflict of interest is??

But the truth always comes out. Lying to voters or the international community(including donors) will not get Malawi or any African country where it needs to be. Greed, lies and corruption can never develop a nation. It never has, it never will.

Global 100 Voices: No 6

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.

IbrahimNathanie

farmers

  1. 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.

ibs      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 the NHS (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 foreign reducing 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.

factory

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.

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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?

Yes. Government needs to follow Norway’s example. I have copied an article that I have read recently and feel this is EXACTLY what government needs to do with our resources, in order to manage it sustainably. This article below is copied from “http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/canada-competes/what-norway-did-with-its-oil-and-we-didnt/article11959362/

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“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.”

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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.

prprty

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

Global 100 Voices is a collection of reflections, views, opinions, ideas and thoughts by Malawians across the world, regarding the past, present and future of Malawi