Economic Empowerment

mg2I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I’m not sorry to be the one that spoils the party. Especially this particular party…because while Malawi is currently heated with election campaign fervour, some of the events happening on the ground have caused one part of me to doubt whether much substance will in fact come out of the leadership that will be appointed after the 20 May elections.

Are we really going to see the transformation being excitedly predicted by each party’s honchos? What kind of transformation will we see? Are the parties really going to deliver what they have promised in their manifestos? Weren’t similar promises made during the election campaigns of 1994, 1999, 2004 and 2009? To what extent were those promises honoured? So then, what major transformation came out of the administrations who won those elections?

I think no matter who you choose to vote for, it would be wise to be cautious, and carefully examine each candidate on their merits, and what their track records in terms of actual achievements the last 5 – 10 years (not just the last year or two) have been…

Many a times I have waxed lyrical as if on a soapbox about economic empowerment of Africans, and many a time, I have not exactly got through to the right people. Which is okay. The right people are rarely in the right jobs, they are rarely listening.

But this is an issue that has to be addressed sooner or later, otherwise African countries will continue to struggle with poverty and other ills. Donors and foreign corporations will not tackle the issue of empowerment because it’s not always in their best interests, and they are not good at doing so [See this: Between the Elusive and the Illusionary: Donors’ Empowerment Agendas in the Middle East in Perspective – Mariz Tadros].

In Malawi most NGO’s do not have the power, nor are they sufficiently well resourced to influence the establishment of a nationwide empowerment initiatives that have a real chance to make a big enough impact. It’s all down to the government and MP’s, and for what it’s worth one part of me can’t see enough progress being done after the elections. Maybe I’m being unfair and prematurely judgemental, but I’m yet to be convinced whether any of the major parties truly can deliver what they promise. And this is not only because the practicality of what they promise in their manifestos is questionable but also because the vagueness of some of the promises render them useless.

But for those voters who are listening, and concerned, the important questions every Malawian should ask the candidates of the 20 May elections, before voting, are these:

What will they do differently to ensure that Malawians are economically empowered, and not taken advantage of? And why should we trust you?

This is important especially because it is clear to most Malawians that the tenures of the MCP, UDF, DPP and PP governments in the past have established very little for Malawians to show for. While countries like Kenya, Zambia, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Mozambique (where there was a debilitating 15 year long civil war) have powered forward with impressive results, Malawi, despite unsustainable blips of progress, is still languishing in the doldrums.

So, what will the candidates who vie for election to Parliament do which hasn’t been done already in the country’s 50-year-old history?

The reason that this question must be answered is that economic empowerment will not occur if the policies the new government institute turn out to be mediocre (like distributing cattle, chickens, houses or shoes) or the same as what has not worked in the past, and if corruption continues to be tolerated. In a country with 15 million people, the presidency would be best advised to think on a much larger scale, than wasting resources on mediocre projects.

Taking a simplistic general view, for people to be innovative and industrious they require one or more of the following:- an income, education, inspiration, tools/ building blocks (trucks, implements & equipment), and power (literally electricity). So, one would think that when a government articulates how they will provide these as part of a wider national transformation strategy, there will be a much higher chance of transforming Malawi than say distributing a million cows to villagers.

But that alone is not enough. Empowerment essentially means giving one power or authority to do something. So I’d like to see factories built, where young people can work, earn an income and develop transferable skills. And those factories, must be majority owned by Malawians, so that the profits made from Malawi stay within Malawi. Further, instead of giving a mining contract or power generation contract to a foreign corporation – which has its own interests, I’d like a government that promises, and implements a national  mining company, or power generation company, which is government owned, and whose profits are reinvested into Malawi.

That is precisely the kind of visionary leadership Malawians should seek and vote for.

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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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Is Islam a Peaceful Religion?

afghan-girls-muslims

As a country which has about 25% of its population as Muslims, I believe this video is relevant, to not only that percentage of Malawian muslims (most of whom are probably ignorant of the stats, people and facts quoted in the above video), but also to non-muslims, in trying to provide a clearer understanding of Islam. While there were different takes on the speech, as you can see from the comments below this article here, I believe Medhi Hasan makes a compelling argument in emphasizing that the majority of muslims are peace-loving and decent people, just as the majority of Christians, Hindu’s, Jews , Sikhs, etc are peace-loving decent human beings, and that we should all strongly reject both the terrorists, and the divisive voices which are trying to create enemity and set one person against another (us, them etc).