Practical Community led Activism

Now that the UK general election is over and done with, people this side of the world can get back to work, and begin focussing on the difficult issues facing Britain.
Among the terms that have been used by some commentators lately (often referred to together with the notion that the UK needs a federal system), is ‘Community led Activism’. This is probably very similar to the much talked about concept of a Big Society.

But what would Community led Activism actually look like? You hear it talked about, but few take time to really spell out how it would relate to everyday life.

I was curious, so after some thinking, probing about online, and studying various articles on the subject, I’m inclined to think any form of Community led Activism is incomplete without the following ingredients:-

(i) Change management strategies

(ii) Local ownership of change

(iii) Introduction of practice guidelines / best practices; and

(iv) Regular evaluation.

Community-led-ActivismBefore we open up churches as centres that are eligible to administer healthcare, before we begin community projects that serve communities while giving jobs to local people, and before our cities’ libraries also become art galleries, music venues-cum-coffee shops that operate for profit to raise money for communities, (as well as having free services for the most disadvantaged in society), before we increase local food production, before we have cooperatives in charge of local generation of green energy, before we bring back manufacturing from China, before we begin opening up parts of the greenbelt and brownfield land for building of affordable residential accommodation…

internetbefore we invest in information technology education to empower young people to be equipped with the necessary skills for the digital economy,..before all that and more, there has to be a general function that powers Community led Activism. Think of it as a macro level approach, underneath which everything else sits.

The best way to explain this is to look at a number of areas in which the above four ingredients may be useful.

Lets take Education for example. If you want to have devolution of powers from London to communities so that they get authority to decide on Education Policy as they see fit, there must be change management strategies employed in each of the communities concerned. This may come in the form of a new culture instilled at the devolved locality which establishes an effective management system to oversee, administer and evaluate the new policies, and move away from what hadn’t worked. Since the people who are already working in the environment are stakeholders, it is crucial that they are not maligned or resistant to the new proposals.  In fact Educational Authorities (or whoever is eventually given the responsibility to run the scheme) would need to embrace any new changes (and from experiences of the past this is not always easy, as Michael Gove’s stint as Education Secretary proved. See another link here).

Thus, change would need to be brought forward from the bottom-up (as opposed to top-bottom). Just as well, because Local ownership of change is also an essential ingredient. This is important since there will be localities which are happy with their current systems – which deliver desired or at least satisfactory outcomes, and so need not be interfered with too much. For such communities, Local ownership of change is empowering as they don’t have to do what they do not want; as will be for localities which have special needs by virtue of having different circumstances, and so which need slightly different solutions to the schemes/ solutions which others in the same country are adopting.

Similarly, for communities whose Education sector is lacking in some ways (be it in performance levels, funding or otherwise), if change is ‘owned’ at local level, then people are empowered to be able to find solutions that are tailored to the needs of their community. Since it is in the best interest of the community for certain results to be achieved, that change will be embraced quicker and more willingly if it is ‘owned’ at local level, and driven not by consultants hired by HQ, but by the stakeholders at local level.

But what about Introduction of practice guidelines / best practices? Well, lets take Job Creation & Employment legislation for example. Practice guidelines lay down the rules, to ensure there is uniformity across a region/ country. Employment legislation protects employers and employees across a jurisdiction (be it a state country or region) from abuse or unwarranted harassment. If a community seeks change in the labour market, for example to improve conditions for workers, then practice guidelines will be needed once that change is achieved (or even before) to ensure that the desired change is sustained, and is not short-term. Practice guidelines ensure consistency. They help everyone know what their particular roles are, and when such must be undertaken. And in relation to Employment legislation, guidelines at community level will enable employers and employees to know what their responsibilities are towards each other in the general scheme of things, without necessitating a change in the law at national / state level. This means if there is a problem in an industry that is concentrated in the North west of England (or say in a specific industry such as the hotel insustry), guidelines can be rolled out affecting the north-west (or that specific industry), without tinkering with the law at national level, thereby not interfering with the practice elsewhere.

Finally, there is the matter of Evaluation. This is important, because it means improvements or new policies can be reviewed, and if they are not doing as well, a better solution or alternative found. It allows the community to ask: Are we really doing as good as our research stipulated? And if not, why? It enables you to change course when new policies at community level are not having the desired effect.

You can apply the above ingredients to Residential property development, Healthcare, Tax policy, Welfare, Immigration, Pensions, Sustainability and Conservation… the list is endless, and I believe it is possible to make some good progress; even in a country which some people think is suffering a hangover of the politics of fear.

10 things President Peter Mutharika of Malawi can do to improve the lives of Malawians

Dr. Joyce Banda attending the 10th Conference of the UN Global Compact on corruption in New York.
Former Malawian president, Joyce Banda attending the 10th Conference of the UN Global Compact on corruption in New York.

1. Get to the bottom of the Cashgate Scandal: Not only regarding the K20 billion mentioned in the Forensic Audit report as the estimate that was misappropriated during Joyce Banda’s tenure, but also the K91 billion we were told by Joyce Banda’s government as the sums that went missing under Bingu Wa Mutharika and Bakili Muluzi’s regimes. For example this exercise could involve legislation to ensure that funds illegally wired abroad are recovered, and failing that, assets of those convicted are confiscated.

If theft by public officials in Malawi – whoever they may be – goes unpunished, Peter Mutharika would have lost a golden opportunity to bring real change to Malawian politics, and he would have lied when he said that there would be “zero tolerance to corruption, fraud, theft and any other economic crime”. In the end, History will judge him to have been a failure because Malawians will continue to be hounded by poverty, while an elite llive in luxury.

Thus, if some of the misappropriated funds can be recovered, minimally it will give Mutharika some credibility that he is serious about corruption, and will also signal to donors that his government is a different kind of government. Anything less will question his integrity, and if he merely focuses on attacking former president Joyce Banda, discerning folk will immediately know that there is something amiss.

produce2. Restrict the Import of perishable goods that can be grown or produced in Malawi : And increase taxes on foreign processed goods like Coffee and Tea, which can be processed locally within Malawi. It will improve local industry, creating jobs, and stimulate the agricultural sector. Malawians must look at the bigger picture – the Malawian Kwacha (local currency) will struggle to be strong or maintain value if there is a disproportionately high number of imports (in value) over exports. In other words, if Malawians continue to pay millions of dollars for their imports, but do not receive equivalent or better for their exports, Malawi will continue  to struggle to maintain the strength of the Kwacha. And this will have negative knock-on effects. A good way to reverse this trend is to buy from abroad only those goods which cannot be sourced locally. To import only what is absolutely necessary. This can be done with legislation and by reforming customs agencies with the new policies. Further, increased security at borders will ensure that these goods are not being smuggled in. Thus, no importation of coffee, tea, eggs, tomatoes or milk from outside Malawi. No oranges or lemons from South Africa. No more imports of grain, beans, peas or processed sugar. Everything that can be made within, must be sourced from within.

It’s not going to be popular with donor countries, or those that profit from importing goods which can be sourced in Malawi. But such an initiative will help local producers, and will begin to rebalance the trade imbalance that currently exist between Malawi and its export markets (thereby retaining forex), and in the long run is a good strategy for Malawi.

africa“Trade among African countries is very low. Last year, it stood at 10 percent of the continent’s overall trade,” Valentine Rugwabiza, deputy director general of the WTO, which seeks to reduce barriers and promote aid for trade, told IPS. More here

3. Encourage Trade with other African countries: There are goods in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa which Malawi currently buys further afield. Policy makers should draw a list of 50+ categories of products which Malawi currently imports from outside the African continent, which can in fact be imported more cheaply from nearby countries. I know there is a debate regarding quality of certain products sourced on the continent, but it is in Malawi’s best interest to eliminate waste and reduce the cost it pays for foreign goods. The added bonus being it will improve trade relations with Malawi’s neighbours.

czech-republic-457019_640
Czech Republic

4. Encourage Trade with Eastern Europe Malawians have more things in common with countries in Eastern Europe than they know. Most Eastern European countries (or more correctly – the lands that became Eastern European countries) found themselves at the mercy of invaders from Napoleon to Hitler (this was after already being oppressed by Monarchies of every shade for hundreds of years – see this detailed timeline), and after the second world war, were under occupation by allies countries of WWII including Britain, the US and Soviet Russia. In the process they saw their borders altered and their resources plundered (as an example see this link). It didn’t end there, then came Eastern European dictators (the likes of Nicolae Ceausesc – who it is said kept his own personal witch, as he ruled Romania with an iron fist) who completed the cruel circle of oppression. In comparison, countries like Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique had the similar misfortune of having their borders carved by narrow-minded/ bad-intentioned colonialists who had no long-term interest as to the future prosperity and practicality of these new African countires. Not only have these African countries been plundered ever since, but the geographies of Zambia, Rwanda, Burundi and Malawi places them at a particular disadvantage in comparison to African countries with a coastal line.

Loan25. Development loan from the Africa Development Bank, China, Norway, Russia or Brazil : To be used for

(i) Investment in low-capital high growth sectors like Information Technology (IT Outsourcing, Application Development, IT security) and telecommunications (optical fibre networks, development of data centres)

(ii) Investment in foreign markets, blue chip companies and emerging technologies with potential – a move that could provide capital to the government.

(iii) To invest in Education (broadband internet to be installed in 50 % of schools), teachers wages paid on time, purchasing educational resources,  upgrading schools in rural areas, rewriting syllabi and improving the standard of education across the country.

(iv) To improve transportation links, including maintenance and construction of roads in rural areas, increased network of rail links and improved airports ( e.g. Mzuzu and Mangochi airports to be enlarged and developed, and made into international airports, Malawi Airlines to fly to more destinations)Business-centres(v) To create business centres in the major cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu to encourage innovators to start businesses.

(vi) To help young people in terms of technical training (Increase the range of Diplomas and short evening courses offered in Technical colleges and Universities across Malawi) and using Equipment Import loans (i.e. loans to individuals importing equipment from India, Brazil, Dubai and China in select sectors, especially those sectors with a high potential to create employment)

In order to  ensure the security of such funds from misappropriation, it is vital that each contractor be paid directly by a fund management company created from members of the civil society, development organisations, experienced fund managers and representatives of the major political parties. Minimally this will ensure that suppliers are vetted and are not in conflict of interest relationships with any leader, political party or authority. Thus, funds will not be paid into government accounts, instead they will be paid directly to suppliers, to those responsible for building the infrastructure, to the manufacturers of purchased equipment, suppliers of educational resources and such like.

Further, to increase transparency, each loaning partner should be at liberty to place auditors within the fund management company to monitor and report on the use of funds. Finally, a publicly accessible resource (website) should be established to show how the funds are being utilised.

community-150124_6406. Encourage Local Community projects: The Mondragon Experiment has been proved as a success, and so far works well. Why not try a similar initiative in Malawi in an attempt to create standalone local communities that do not depend too much on the state?

federalism7.Support Federalism One of the main reasons countries such as Germany, Switzerland and the U.S. thrive is that their Federal Structures allow developmental decisions that benefit a commune to be implemented seamlessly without political interference.

Right now, everyone is looking at the central government in Lilongwe for the answers to Malawi’s woes. Unfortunately, for a country with the scale of problems which Malawi has, its near impossible for economic development to occur quickly enough if every development initiative is dictated from a central hub.

Running a country is not the same as running a law firm or being CEO of a private company. And unfortunately all of Malawi’s previous presidents – other than the founding father, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda (who closely observed public policy not only in Ghana [which is currently performing comparatively much better than most African countries] but also in the developed countries of the US and Britain), have not had the winning combination of a good education, extensive experience over a long period of time, and surrounded by an educated and capable team.

Further, among the 193 legislators in Malawi’s Parliament, are a few bad apples whose motives are questionable, if not downright dodgy. Thus, while there are many examples across the world showing that devolved powers from central government to local governments have achieved admirable levels of economic development, without a strictly planned economy, the odds are stacked high against such a unitary system from succeeding. It is in President Mutharika’s best interest to embrace Federalism, not least because it would divert some of the fire his government is currently receiving. In fact I think it would pacify some sections of the opposition, and create healthy competition among the new ‘states’.

grpeherve048. Invest in Solar Energy How can investors have confidence in your country if power cuts are commonplace?

At some point we must put an end to power cuts.

Solar Power could give Peter Mutharika’s government the energy he needs to develop Malawi. I know from my 2010 trip to China that there are UK companies who buy solar panels for less than $200 in China, and sell them in the UK for upwards of £1500. The margins are good, but I’m not talking about making a profit here. The Malawi government can construct solar farms using the roofs of public buildings, including Universities (which I’d imagine can be policed better than a rural located farm). In a country that gets plenty of sunshine, solar power could help supplement hydroelectric energy which Malawi currently depends on, and put an end to power cuts. This is a far better bet than wasting money on importing power from abroad.

9. Complete the Shire-Zambezi Waterway Bingu Wa Mutharika was right on pursuing this major project, and Peter Mutharika must dedicate resources to see it through. It will lower the price of goods coming into Malawi. Will improve trade between Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Burundi and will create massive employment.

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10. Dig boreholes and donate water pumps to farming communities Water shortages, in a country with a fresh water lake over 360 miles long? How about boreholes as a fallback option? Just in case the water utility companies continue to fall behind in terms of serving their communities. An added advantage for such an initiative is that the boreholes can also be used to provide water for agriculture during the dry summer months.

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

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

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

A worrying number.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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