The Importation of Fuel into Malawi is an archaic Cartel we do not need

Oil tanker

The importation of fuel into a normal country cannot be the preserve of a few individuals or a handful of companies who effectively comprise a cartel.

And when you are an underdeveloped little country with sooo many Problems (with a capital P), you have very high levels of Poverty (another capital P), you have very high levels of Corruption (capital C), you have high levels of Inequality(the gap between rich and poor is sooo wide), how can you think it’s still okay to do things the archaic way of awarding fuel importation contracts to a handful of companies? Effectively creating small monopolies, the way things were being done 30 or 40 years ago, when Malawi had a small population, less energy needs and was a very different country ruled by a dictator?

Iyayi anthuni, it’s not right. This is a national iniquity that is dragging the country backwards, which we need to rethink.

Also, the way the fuel is brought into the country, why are we opting for the expensive route of bringing fuel into the country? Why are we choosing the harder way?

How can your country develop like that, when you are creating small monopolies instead of distributing resources to a larger group of companies?

Why on earth are we opting to import fuel more expensively, when there’s a cheaper option available?

That is not how you create wealth for your country. How can we lower fuel prices at the pump like that? Sustaining a monopoly can’t possibly help us reduce inequality and ensure that more people benefit from Government resources. Kuti Malawi azikomeladi Tonse.

Whatever the justifications of the past, no person or company should have a monopoly on the supply of fuel (or indeed any important commodity in a small country such as ours).

The supply of fuel should be entrusted to a larger more democratic group of companies. Here I’m talking tenders awarded fairly to 100+ different companies, with a clearly distinct ownership, & no conflicts of interest.

The process should be clear and transparent, and no one should lord over such an important aspect of our country.

Dziko ndi la tonse. Both rich and poor. Let’s be fair and honest, and brotherly towards each other.

Dyera, where some people want to accumulate all the resources while their neighbours struggle and live in abject poverty, won’t take us anywhere.

In fact without sustained antitrust policies, the inequality we’re seeing will simply make Malawi a more dangerous country to live in. Soon we’ll be like South Africa where the security situation in some places is really bad.

That kind of thing happens because resources are not being properly shared by the state, and too few people are being awarded all the major benefits, while the masses barely scrape a living. It’s poverty that breeds criminality.

By the way, this fairer distribution of resources extends to other aspects of life as well, all the way to the allocation or awarding of board positions in public organisations.

Zinazitu if we are to move forward as a country we will need to in the biblical words of Apostle Paul …

‘lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us’.

We need a mindset change. We need to change the way things have been done in the past to a fairer more transparent system that benefits a much larger group of companies, and through that a larger number of Malawians.

Political Party funding in Malawi needs a complete overhaul

Thom Mpinganjira

Politics and money have a cunning way of accentuating the dishonest and desperate aspects of humanity.

I mean, even if Zaccheus – the archetypal taxman of the time, & physically challenged chief tax collector had been a tame, impressionable and honest man, even if he had possessed more than just a few ounces of feigned holiness, his relentless pursuit of other people’s hard earned cash, and his association with politicians, I suspect, might have hidden his amiable senses firmly away.

But if you needed further proof of the pervasive corrosiveness money has on people in politics in more recent times, then the attempted bribery court case involving Thom Mpinganjira (in which he has been found to have a case to answer) presents an excellent example.

Because if Mpinganjira is to be believed, then we have on our hands the latest manifestation of just how vulnerable our politicians in Malawi are to manipulation and influence by moneyed folk.

It’s something we’ve known for a while, and while yesterday it was the Makhumulas, the Mbewes, the Tayubs, the Ganis and a long list of wealthy Asians bankrolling aChair and his UDF, today it’s the Thom Mpinganjiras, the Simbi Phiris, the Mias, the Gaffars, the Batatawalas, the Karims, and the Mullis who play benefactor, or as Malawians like to say “Well wishers”, writing big cheques in donations or loans to keep afloat our Politicians & political parties.

The game fundamentally hasn’t changed. And that’s before we even get to the melee of private companies jostling for political favours from one abiggie or another.

Clearly this is not a sustainable situation, not least because universally it is very well understood that many of those who fund political parties often seek influence or payback in some way, whether directly or in more subtle ways. The loan or “donation” is hardly an innocent transaction.

Indeed there’s no shortage of tales of benefactors of all shades across the world who have tried to exercise influence over the leaders of political parties they finance, in order for those leaders to make decisions that favour the benefactors or their companies. In quite a few places, some cunning benefactors have even managed to land cabinet positions, if rumour of the shenanigans that happen behind closed doors is to be believed.

But what have we learned from this court case so far?

Thom Mpinganjira claims he donated around K100 million to President Lazarus Chakwera, more than K400 million to Vice President Saulos Chilima of UTM and over K950 million to the DPP, under former President Peter Mutharika. He claims that even former President Joyce Banda also received about K40 million.

If these claims are indeed true, and evidence of the transactions is produced to back his claims, it further confirms the fears of people who have for a long time decried the negative role money has played in Malawis politics; that as a nation most of our prominent politicians are still beholden to private interests.

https://twitter.com/onjezani/status/1392508272708669443?s=19

Mind you, this is all just coming out now, and was unknown to most Malawians last year – when the country was busied by street protests & the Constitutional Court (Concort) proceedings that nullified the 2019 “Tipp-Ex” Elections.

Some analysts are now saying these are the funds that were most likely channelled to finance the 2019 Parliamentary and Presidential elections (the aforementioned Tipp-Ex Elections), and the re-run of 2020.

But ultimately, it means in nearly 30 years, Malawi has not made any progress in curtailing the influence that unregulated and undeclared party funding has over our politics. It means we have failed to create transparency so that party funders are known – for accountability and to prevent conflicts of interest further down the line.

Unfortunately for all the fanfare of last year’s ConCort decision, we haven’t made much progress elsewhere.

Had there been sufficient progress in this area, then it’s highly unlikely that Thom Mpinganjira’s FDH bank would have bought Malawi Savings Bank(MSB), with it’s large debtors book, for a pittance. In fact at the time, many keen-eyed political analysts observed in despair the many irregularities surrounding the sale including just how absurdly little opposition the transaction faced, and how some of the debtors on MSB’s books were said to be the very same major financiers of political parties and other politically connected persons.

In light of these revelations, one can see why there was no chance of the MSB deal being scrutinized or facing the required oversight you would expect to take place before such a large and treasured piece of national financial infrastructure was sold, when everyone (including those who were expected to provide scrutiny) was in Mpinganjira’s pockets!

Further, and on a different level, the Bribery court case revelations hint at a present failure of our legislature, in 2020, and now 2021, to establish laws which work to protect the interests of Malawians. In this case, laws that create a fair playing field where merit & qualifications are a stronger determinant in the suitability of a Malawian to stand for public office, than the size of their “well-wisher” wallet.

Simply put, it means you can unfortunately not only buy oligarchical influence in political circles, but you can probably buy your way into parliament in today’s Malawi.

And unfortunately that’s not a good verdict for Lazarus Chakwera’s Tonse Alliance. It certainly does not inspire confidence in the Government, because many people will be asking (and rightly so), that who else has bankrolled our politicians including those in the current Tonse Alliance, who we don’t currently know about, but who we ought to know about?

But how do we solve this longstanding problem? What must be done to move towards a path where political party funding is more transparent and does not negatively influence our politics or create an environment festering with conflicts of interests?

In a future article I will try to explore these questions in more detail with a view to mapping a way to a set of solutions, including highlighting past and present key solutions suggested by others.

As Malawians, this is not an issue we can afford to continue to ignore year after year because it’s costing us. The sooner we begin to address it, the less likely we’ll have these kinds of problems haemorrhaging our politics in the future.

A den of thieves, a cowboy’s playhouse: The dirty shenanigans of public appointments in Malawi

The truth has a way of coming out. You see, the problem with the truth is that if you try to conceal it, you only succeed in encouraging it to want to reveal itself even more… It may take time before it’s out, and sometimes the people who get to know about it, are not always those who sought to know it ,(or lived through the times) in the first place, but out it will come. Let’s take one example from history…

Remember Stalin? The Joseph Stalin. Ioseb Jughashvili, that guy. Remember how he tried to misrepresent the events that happened in Ukraine between 1932 and 1933, with the Soviet Politburo summarising the famine which their Collectivisation policy had created in Ukraine (which killed 3.9 million Ukrainians) as ‘an accidental inevitable starvation due to Kulak Corruption and problems with the climate and harvest’?

Well, wasn’t it barely 8 years later in 1941, when an agricultural economist, S. Sosnovyi published a study in a Ukrainian newspaper of how the Soviets deliberately tried to destroy Ukrainian peasant opposition to Soviet Power, with disastrous effects, and subsequently lied that the famine had been caused by “natural causes”.

The lesson being no matter how powerful you think you are, no matter the size of your army, no matter how big your tanks are, or how deep your pockets are, if you’re hiding wrongdoing, the truth … will eventually come out.

Anyway, I digress. The decision of the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) of Malawi’s Parliament to refuse to confirm President Chakwera’s appointment of Martha Chizuma as Director General of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has caused great anger to most Malawians of goodwill around the world, and has created a crisis, which threatens to shatter certain conventions of public appointments in Malawi.

You see Malawians love Martha Chizuma. She is not only an accomplished prosecutor but is a legend who has worked diligently as the Ombudsman to stand against corruption, impropriety, misappropriation of state resources, and greed of public officials in Malawi, and has successfully investigated and concluded many cases, even during the DPP administration of Peter Mutharika, when ‘fighting corruption‘ was largely a lip service exercise by the authorities.

Unfortunately, some parliamentarians haven’t yet received the memo that these days Malawians mean business. These MPs think it’s up to them to block the appointment of a star who many people trust and love, and whose record speaks for itself.

The reasons why some members of PAC decided to score her down are simple and can be summarised into one short sentence: they’re playing politics and are afraid.

Lets just say someone who has a track record of busting graft, uncovering dirt, and forcing accountability is definitely not a safe pair of hands to lead the ACB for people with skeletons in their closets.

https://twitter.com/onjezani/status/1392079028266340356?s=19

Simply put, some people on PAC are afraid that if Chizuma becomes head of ACB, she will go after them or their party’s leadership, and investigate the tens of unresolved Political Corruption cases that have been languishing in our courts for years and years. To add to that, there’s a lot of finger pointing and laying of blame between the political parties in Malawi, even between those in the Tonse Alliance…and some people are using this episode to carve out political capital. Uje ndi uje ngoipa, gulu lathu nde labwino

Speaking with a close friend about the Martha Chizuma fiasco, he summed up the conduct of the committee as ‘A den of thieves’ and ‘a cowboy’s playhouse’:

Not only are most of them only interested in enriching themselves, fat salaries, perks ontop of perks, but the moment a really good idea that has the potential to transform our country for the better comes to the fore, they shoot it down! Its a den of thieves, a cowboy’s playhouse!”

President Chakwera, in a speech in Parliament yesterday condemned the decision of PAC, and said it slowed down the fight against Corruption. There are now calls for a detailed report for the proceedings that led to her rejection.

But ultimately there is such a thing as right and wrong. And as elected officials, MPs on the committee are not there in their own capacities or to further personal or professional agendas. We shouldn’t forget that they’re elected to Parliament to represent the people, and are therefore subject to the scrutiny and will of the people.

Thus, if the rejection to Chizuma’s appointment was a legitimate reflection of the dominant sentiments in their constituencies, then let them publish details of how they consulted with people in their constituencies before giving Chizuma a low score? Surely that would be one transparent and clear way of explaining themselves and of showing that the Malawians they represent do not want Martha Chizuma as Director of ACB?

But if they’re unable to provide that evidence, then it’s totally fair to question their motives and intentions, especially when several other members of PAC gave Chizuma a full 25/25.

And while many people do not fully agree with the presidential appointments process, right now it’s what we have. And until we adopt something else, something better, the current system needs to be made to work for the betterment of our country. It shouldn’t be allowed to function in a way that is contrary to or defeats the overall aims and objectives of good governance.

Martha Chizuma is spotless, her record is impeccable. Malawi needs someone like her to help clean up the mess and theft and rogue conduct that has defined our country’s politics for nearly 30 years, and has greatly contributed to the poverty in our country.

And for those who are making comparisons with confirmation hearings in the US, by Senate committees in matters of appointments by US presidents, my answer to that is that the circumstances between confirmation hearings in the US and in Malawi are very different.

In the US scenarios, the kind of Politics at play is very different from what we have in Malawi, and there is often transparency as to why a nominee is objected to. In Malawi we don’t even know why Chizuma was given a 1/25 score by some of the MPs on PAC. Further, if you have been following US Politics for any length of time, you’ll know that the Republican Party has been known to frustrate confirmation processes just because they want to be the ones to make that appointment when a Republican President comes into power. The case of Merrick Garland is one such example. The Martha Chizuma affair is vastly different.

Right now a freedom of information request has been submitted by the unrelenting and absolutely brilliant Idriss Ali Nassah. Let’s wait to see what that delivers, but if I were to make a prediction, my money is on Chizuma becoming ACB chief, one way or another.

Should the Government of Malawi increase the pay of Civil Servants?

President Lazarus Chakwera making a statement

Following the K6.2 Billion COVID19 funds scandal, in which 64 people have so far been arrested by the Malawi Police as being suspended to have been involved in the plunder of the COVID19 funds, various people have opined whether the real problem we have in Malawi is that the take home pay which Civil servants receive just isn’t enough to meet the cost of living in most parts of Malawi.

The argument goes that when you factor in the basic monthly salary most civil servants receive (below Senior posts & Director levels) and excluding benefits, it simply isn’t enough to live on considering all the expenses most people incur, including house rental, vehicle fuel, school fees and other educational commitments, food, electricity, water, mobile phone data and airtime costs and alms/ financial support to relatives. They say most Malawians struggle to keep up, and that it’s not their fault. Their pay is simply too low and has not increased proportionally with inflation levels over the years, and too little has been done to correct this anomally.

Personally, I’m sympathetic to this argument and have written about it before in the past. But considering what has been revealed in the audit report of the misappropriated K6.2 Billion, it’s necessary that tough Anti-corruption measures must first be adopted before we consider increasing the salaries of civil servants. Because the last thing we need is increasing the salaries of the very same people, who have for years been intentionally misappropriating government resources for their own self enrichment.

In a 2016 paper titled The challenge of per diem misuse: Training and travel as extra pay, Norwegian researchers Tina Søreide, Ingvild Aagedal Skage & Arne Tostensen wrote a paper for the CHR. Michelsen Institute in which they said:

‘The abuse of travel and training- related payments results in excessive expenditures and in a distortion of incentives that can frustrate development efforts. Three main factors contribute to facilitating this type of practice: insufficient controls, management (dis)incentives, and donors’ role and attitudes. Strengthening controls alone is unlikely to curb this kind of abuse, the culture of “per diem hunting” needs to be changed as part of a broader reform of the civil service. Coordination among development partners can also contribute to preventing per diem abuse.’

They went on to note that:

While per diem payments are supposed to be strictly compensatory, they can become a form of additional salary (Policy Forum 2009). In countries where salaries are generally low, these extra payments can amount to a significant proportion of civil servants’ total income. As a result, civil servants may be more interested in obtaining these allowances than in the content of the activities.’

One Oxford-based Malawian Political and Social commentator, Thandie Hara, commenting on the fallout from the K6.2 Billion allowances issue wrote on her Facebook wall:

How do you expect anyone to live on MK100,000 a month in Likuni or Ntandire, when half of that will be spent on transport? “

She suggests that a cost of living assessment needs to be done for the lowest paid civil servant, such that take home pay should be sufficient to cover the basics. As a starting point, the lowest paid civil servant, be it a cleaner or a messenger should be paid no less than MK500,000 a month. According to Hara, a review of the unrealistic pay structure is necessary because currently what civil servants are paid

does not accurately reflect the cost of living, and as a result may have inadvertently made people to believe that they are justified in stealing. “

The result, she says, is that such low pay has

“… created a looting culture with no ceiling. You will be surprised that many of the people we are calling thieves, but who see themselves as honest prayerful people. They don’t recognise theft in what they or their colleagues have been doing. It’s been normal practice for underpaid people trying to survive.

A different Malawian on twitter was less forgiving

However, we need to be sober in that side by side with the prosecutions, which the President of Malawi is fully behind and has been pushing for, some ground rules need to be laid down:

  1. Sitting allowances should be abolished in their entirety. Instead a fixed temporary salary increment should be calculated and introduced only to low pay grade civil servants – which I know begs a different question as to what are “low pay grade civil servants”.
  2. Financial controls should be introduced and undertaken rigorously, with a quarterly audit of each department by external auditors. IFMIS modules that are yet to be activated in Government departments need to be switched on, and if not switched on by a certain date, the managers of those departments need to be suspended, and asked to explain why.
  3. There should be a budget for the audit of each department 4 times a year.
  4. There should be stiffer penalties for any form of misappropriation of state funding, including confiscation of personal property, so that a strong deterrent is set to scare off would be offenders.

And after all this has been done, only then can the debate on increasing civil servant salaries begin.

It’s not a popular position when so many people have been conditioned to think allowances are the way to earn a living, and no doubt there will be loud protests from some corners regarding this. Others will also ask ‘Where will the money come from?” Ofcourse from the same allowances being milked, but if that’s not sufficient my next post will fully address that question.

But it is the right and honourable thing to do, if Malawi and the Tonse Alliance Government is really serious about fiscal discipline that protects the country’s finances.

Which African leaders will truly emulate the achievements of John Pombe Magufuli?

Presidents John Pombe Joseph Magufuli of Tanzania, 1959 – 2021.

Since his passing, quite a lot has been said about the life and works of Tanzania’s recently deceased president. And by most fair and sincere accounts, John Magufuli did have a tangible, measurable, commendable and signficant impact on Tanzania, taking the country along an admirable trajectory from a low income country up to the point Tanzania is now firmly considered to be a middle income country.

And most Tanzanians loved him for it.

And yet across Africa, although such success stories inspire millions and should in theory be common – they don’t happen very often, owing to a long list of failures, among them poor and uninspired leadership.

But if John Magufuli – who it must be said didn’t come from some grand or otherwise priviledged background that gave him special advantages – can achieve what he did in as short a space of time as 6 years, why can’t other African leaders do the same?

Power & Status

It is no secret that many leaders in Africa are drawn to political leadership for other reasons. They are not overly concerned about the problems their countries face, or the poverty and hardship. The overriding intention is not so much to provide good and transformative leadership in the way Magufuli did, instead a worrying number of African leaders are more bothered about power and status, leaving a leadership void in those countries, and consequently affecting the scale and pace of development.

These are the people who like to attend heads of state meetings of SADC, UN, AU, ECOWAS, etc. complete with stays in pricey hotels; they like to have smarmy business executives of dodgy companies attend state house to meet them – because it can be spun into an investment story; they love to be seen on the front covers of newspapers, to be interviewed by the likes of Al Jazeera, CNN or France 24 – making all sorts of grandiose promises, which years later, can’t be backed by any tangible achievements; they love to have the doors of their Mercedes Benz limousines opened by well dressed, neatly-shaven and altogether reverent bodyguards – who make them appear more important than they actually are; they like to attend every insignificant function that comes along, where they can be seen to be doing something or to please supporters – even when the impact of such functions on a national level is negligible and a single junior minister could have been dispatched to it. Increasing the salaries of top military officials or the trip to the UN General Assembly means more to such leaders than funding the education and welfare of poor kids in their countries’ ghettos; they like to see a band of protocol-obsessive allowance-seeking hand-clapping minions nod approvingly at everything they say, flanking them at press conferences, worshipping them on social media, inflating the sizes of their convoys, and generally putting out a false and deceptive apperance of competence and authority. For these kind of leaders, a picture taken with Barack Obama at the White House or with Bill Clinton or Richard Branson at some international conference means more than actually getting down to the hard work of resolving the youth unemployment crises in their own countries. They will talk endlessly of courting investors and trying to attract investment at these high level international gatherings, but years on – absolutely nothing comes out of it.

That love of glamour and status is more about pomp (the same english word where pomposity comes from) and let’s be absolutely clear when we say it is not leadership, and is exactly the kind of excess leaders like John Magafuli, Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba and even Julius Nyerere would despise.

Centralisation

It doesn’t matter how talented, knowledgeable and practical you think you are, you can’t adequately cater to the needs of millions of people on your own. Even if everyone within your cabinet was churning out tons of raw productivity, even if everyone in the ministries was ontop of their work, even if all government departments were working with superhuman efficiency and at 100% capacity, it’s still not enough to adequately cater for everyone’s needs from good healthcare and housing to employment and skills development, if things remain centralised.

Centralisation is a progress killer in African countries because everyone expects the president, the minister, the technocrats, the guy at the top to sort out everything for everybody. But the guy at the top doesn’t have superhuman powers to do justice to all the needs and requirements of the people he/ she leads or is supposed to represent. And his/ her priorities often are not the same as the priorities of the people in need.

If the impact of our Governments across the African continent is to be revolutionised, if we are to achieve more tangible things in less time, we need to begin to think beyond one man or woman being the person who authorises and pushes through some project or another to completion.

We need to democratise development to the point where we openly and unreservedly bring into the equation those people (or groups) whose lives are affected by governance failings, or under-service that’s not been prioritised, and empower them to be able to make a real difference in their circumstances, be it allowing them to organise themselves, to raise money, buy equipment, or build the infrastructure they need etc. without having to constantly seek authorisation from the central government.

In Malawi it means projects like the Neno road, a new international airport in Mzuzu, the new hospital promised to Michinji, and the Kapiri-Mkanda road among a long list of project promises should be treated as urgent infrastructure projects, and should be escalated, and a stringent implementation schedule set.

District officers and communities involved should be tasked with a new implementation schedule, provided funding that’s closely monitored, and subjected to regular monthly audits to strictly enforce the implementation schedule. They should also be free to solicit their own funding to add to that effort, and any failures, unexplained mishaps or delays should have serious consequences for all involved. That is the kind of thing John Magufuli would be proud of, and we’ve all seen the videos of his similar hard-hitting approach.

The way we fund, monitor and roll out major projects, and the implementation timelines need to be changed fundamentally, for projects to start being executed timely, and for them to be completed on budget.

Party allegiance vs allegiance to the country & the constitution

President Chakwera in Malawis Parliament

One of the qualities which is common in transformative leaders is that they are not afraid of stating the truth and offending powerful people.

In some cases this can be a negative quality and can lead to a leader’s downfall, but in most cases it is a good and necessary quality to have because a great leader needs to have a strong spine. He or she needs to be able to say No, when the situation calls for it. This is important since not everyone who will try and approach or influence an African President (however dignified the title of the influencer is, or however laundered the reputation of their organisation may appear) does so from a good or sincere place. Simply put, not everyone who talks to an African President has noble intentions.

Unfortunately there are so many examples of African leaders capitulating or giving into bad ideas, bad or exploitative deals when pressured, when they should infact have stood their ground firmly and said No.

Now here, I’m not talking about issues like COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines which scientifically have near global consensus on how to manage and deal with, in order to stem the spread of the pandemic.

What I mean is if a leader knows or has been made aware of the toxic influence or otherwise corrupt nature of say one or more of his own ministers or officials; he / she must act, and crack hard to decisively rectify that anomally. Even if individuals in his / her own party thinks the scandal should be ignored.

Similarly, a great leader who wants the best for his people should not allow his country to be heavily indebted to other countries or to international institutions. And if they find the debt when they get into office, they need to aggressively devise as a matter of urgency a workable, practical and stringent plan of managing and paying off the debt.

Old thinking vs 21st Century thinking

Employees at WhatsApp HQ

This fundamentally is about new wine and old wineskins.

The world is not what it was 40 or 50 years ago. While a Nelson Mandela, or a Kamuzu Banda, or a Jomo Kenyatta, or a Robert Mugabe were great and necessary needs for Africa 40 or 50 years ago, our countries at this moment have fundamentally changed and have very different needs and wants to the needs of the 60’s and 70’s; the kind of needs which cannot fully be tackled by using approaches or methods devised by African heavyweights dinosaurs.

That’s not to downplay the achievements of these great men, or to ignore the many rich lessons enshrined in their lives. Not at all. But having said that, many of them weren’t able to deal with everything properly. For example many such great leaders didn’t manage to eradicate poverty in their lifetimes, so even back then their successes had limitations.

A modern thatched house outside Lilongwe, Malawi.

Instead, our countries in Africa need leaders who understand the dynamics of the 21 Century; who ask questions such as:

what 20 practical things can we do to maximize the chances of the next WhatsApp being founded in our country?

The Africa of today needs young and dynamic leaders with vision who will pioneer projects for better connectivity, cheaper and affordable modern housing, attractive & inspired infrastructure, and well connected networks of affordable public transportation (modern trams, trains and road networks). Our countries in Africa need cheaper logistical costs for importation of desirable foreign goods, cheaper logistical costs for ease of export of the country’s processed goods without making them too expensive on international markets, State owned and run multi-billion dollar projects that will not only create thousands of jobs, but will bring forex – several of the kinds of things which we are now beginning to discover Tanzania was working towards. The list is rather long.

You can’t do that kind of thing effectively if you are still thinking of how to maintain a well-equipped secret police, or if your focus is just on winning the next election. You can’t do that if your parastatals and large public companies aren’t run by anyone under the age of 35, or when you don’t have enough women in leadership roles in such companies…

Birmingham City Library

It’s the difference between on one hand promising to build a stadium (whose long term impact on a poor country is debatable), and on the other hand working to build high quality modern libraries in each district and to bring free high speed internet to poor citizens and their children – most of whom can’t afford the often high data costs charged by private companies currently operating in African countries.

Continuing the spirit of Magafuli will require a fundamental shift in the way governance has been done in Africa for a long time. It will require true selflessness beyond party, tribal or national lines. It will mean breaking against party, regional and historic allegiances and doing what is best for everyone, not just the biggest or most powerful side. It will mean negotiating hard for the interests of the people, and not being intimidated by foreign powers or external pressure on matters of national or regional importance.

Magafulism has raised the bar extremely high for African leadership, and was well overdue. For now it remains to be seen just how many current African leaders will truly rise up to the challenge?

Another lesson in how not to expand the tax base.

The Micro Small and Medium Enterprise Order (2020) is being touted by some as a way for MSMEs to benefit from Government procurement.

But whats not being talked about are the far reaching effects that may result from the correct and totally lawful business registration which the order requires.

Isn’t it the case that as soon any MSME registers as a business, the taxman will at that point be entitled to show up, arms akimbo, sniffing for any tax kwachas that may be lurking around undeclared?

Jokes aside, my point is there’s no guarantee that every single business that registers will benefit from the order. This is why in some countries there is always an option to run micro businesses as sole traders where it is in fact the person running the business who is liable for any taxes that may be due.

Malawi currently has a small tax base, and a small private sector. And while on the surface it may appear like a good idea to try and bring into the formal economy as much as possible of the informal economy, in practice that only works when people do actually have significant resources, which is not the case now, for the majority of people in the informal economy – many of whom live hand to mouth. Already, many small businesses complain that they are overburdened by taxes.

What the Government should have done is to focus on the creation of new large corporate entities… beyond Public – Private Partnerships. I mean organisations that can process goods at scale and export large quantities abroad, at a profit.

You can only squeeze so much profit out of a starving donkey which the Malawian tax base currently is. If you push too hard, and burden the donkey with more than it can take, that donkey will crumble and faint. And you will lose out.

A wiser move is to bring additional resources from outside the country. Our leaders are not seeing the bigger picture in this whole equation. The money is not in asking Malawians to pay yet more taxes.

And for those of you saying it would kill local small enterprise, no it would not. Because those corporate entities can actually work with those small enterprises you mention, helping them in more ways than one, minimally, saving them money. Our leaders need to start thinking like business men/ women.

Let me give you a simple example. Suppose the Government of Malawi (GOM) started a shipping company, and bought 2 Cargo Ships. Instead of the local shipping companies paying British or Italian or Greek Ships, GOM can enter the market at attractive terms, so that those local companies instead use the GOM Cargo Ships, saving a bit of money that way. The insurance of the Ships will be provided by local companies. The trucks which collect the containers from the port will come from Malawi… the whole chain will employ Malawian staff … even some of the food, and generally provisions on the ships for the staff who will be working on deck in the weeks that the Ships navigate between the European / American/ Asian ports and African ports can be cooked or prepared by Malawian companies…

How can all that be a bad thing?

That’s just one example in the logistics field which would give GOM millions of dollars in additional revenue, if you consider the annual earnings of other shipping companies that operate between Europe / US and Africa.

It’s a model Ethiopia (and many other countries) uses quite successfully with their airline and their state owned telecom company. We can learn a lot from them.

Why Donors should halt all COVID-19 Aid to the government of Malawi until there is full accountability regarding the usage of funds

COVID-19 statistics for Malawi as of 12th February 2021. Source: PHIM
  • US$1 = MWK 780.22  – Source: xe.com (13th Feb 2021)
  • Officials in Malawi, including people at the Department of Disaster Management Affairs(DODMA), have misappropriated the majority of K6.2 Billion (US$7.948 million) of Government funds which were earmarked for fighting Covid-19 and issued to government appointed Covid-19 Cluster committees- which are made up of civil servants.
  • According to credible reports from several sources, in one instance out of K85 Million ($109,000) earmarked for the purchase of Personal Protective Equipment(PPE) for Blantyre district, only K10 million was used for PPE, with K59 million being used for allowances. In Machinga, K30 million was spent on allowances with nothing on PPE. In Chitipa K22 million was spent on allowances, and nothing on PPE. In Chikwawa district for example K16 million was spent on allowances, with a meagre K4 million being spent on PPE.
  • There were several instances where significantly more money was spent on fuel than on PPE.

If you were looking for the perfect excuse not to waste your country’s citizens’ taxes to help the citizens of some poor country in East Afriica, one where officials have the nerve to steal COVID19 funds, now you have the perfect excuse.

Officials in Malawi have been accused of misappropriating a significant chunk of K6.2 billion meant for fighting Covid-19. The scandal now informally named COVIDGATE has revealed just how rampant, insensitive and endemic corruption continues to be in Malawi, and how little accountability there is in Government spending.

Despite the rhetoric from the Tonse Alliance government that they are serious about fighting corruption, or “clearing the rubble” to use President Lazarus Chakwera’s own words, the scandal has revealed just how little in practical terms the government has actually achieved towards that end. And how a lot more needs to be done.

Commenting regarding the scandal, one Malawian I talked to noted:

“If they can steal billions while Malawians are dying of COVID19 every day in our hospitals, while the hospitals are ill-equipped and overwhelmed and struggling to cope, while we have an acute shortage of PPE, what else won’t they do? What does that tell you about the kind of rot that we have in the civil service in this country? I understand poverty but these people are heartless, their brothers and sisters are dying everyday and they’re still stealing?!! They don’t deserve any mercy. Every single one of them needs to be fired!”

These people are heartless they don’t deserve any mercy

One Malawian commenting about the K6.2 Billion scandal.

Another commenter said: “If you donate to the government, your donation will end up into a politician’s stomach.”

Malawians on social media are equally enraged:

Meanwhile the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in Lilongwe has ordered the Inspector General of Malawi Police Service to commence criminal investigations into the scandal. How long that process will take remains to be seen. However, historically such type of corruption or embezzlement cases in Malawi tend to take a long time. And in previous adminstrations, there were allegations that the lack of urgency and speed in prosecuting people who have embezzled Government funds pointed to a lack of political will.

The leader of opposition in Malawi’s p
Parliament Kondwani Nankhumwa MP

The leader of opposition in parliament Kondwani Nankhumwa MP has called for a forensic audit to ascertain weather DODMA and other Government officials misappropriated the funds.

However, until all the culprits are brought to book, and until there is total transparency regarding expenditure of Government funds, and until allowances on matters such as healthcare emergency spending are banned (all of which may take some time), I believe donors and international agencies working in Malawi should with immediate effect route all COVID19 aid funds either via charities and NGOs or via the COVID19 Private Citizens Response initiative (which so far has had an excellent record of transparency and of accounting for each and every single penny that has been donated).

Such a drastic action will focus minds within the Government of Malawi to do something decisive and to do so urgently against the scourge of corruption in Malawi.

Malawians are tired of being abused and taken advantage of like this. They want to know who was responsible for the embezzlement, how much was stolen by each official, and to see those people not only prosecuted and jailed, but also named and shamed, and forced to return the stolen funds back to the Government. And if they can’t return the misappropriated funds, then assets of each guilty person equivalent to the misappropriated funds should be confiscated. There has to be a very strong deterrent to stop this kind of thing happening over and over again.

The Governments of Britain, Germany France, the US and the EU should take note of this sad case of embezzlement, and be firm with officials in Malawi. This is an opportunity to force through much needed accountability and transparency in public service.

President Chakwera has on numerous occasions said he wants his leadership style to be a servant leadership style. This wanton embezzlement of emergency healthcare funds unfortunately frustrates such noble sentiments, and must be met with a tough response.

Nkhalidwe wonunkha kwambiri uwu. This behaviour must end now.

Malawi needs a full lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19

Last week two cabinet ministers in Malawi died of COVID-19. Yes, you read that right. Two ministers in Lazarus Chakwera’s government died of COVID-19 in a single day…

So far 396 Malawians that have been lost to the pandemic, out of 16,049 confirmed cases. The deaths include two other high ranking government officials.

All deaths to COVID-19 represent a sad premature loss of life. And given that sombre picture, it’s easy for Malawians to be fearful, panic, or lose hope. In any case, if government officials who are viewed to have access to the best medical care (some with access to pricey private medical care) in the country are ‘perishing to the virus‘, to quote a friend, what hope is there for the poor masses?

But going forward requires decisive action because inaction is not an option. If we’re to deliver the kinds of results necessary to stem the spread of the virus, then certain painful measures need to be put in place.

President Lazarus Chakwera, in his press conference last week declared a state of national disaster, and appealed to the international community, UN Agencies, NGOs and the private sector for more assistance and contributions to meet the challenge of the pandemic. Chakwera also called for an emergency meeting of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 to explore additional measures to combat the pandemic. He also instructed several of his ministries (Health, Homeland Security, Education, Civic Education, Local Government, Justice and Information) to work together with the Vice President to review Malwi’s COVID-19 guidelines for curbing the spread of the virus, and recommend to the Taskforce any amendments to be made to those guidelines, and enforcement of those guidelines.

All well and good. However, depending on what Chakwera means by ‘additional measures‘, and depending on what additional amendments the ministries will recommend, I believe a full lockdown is the only way to resolutely stop the spread of this virus in Malawi.

The reason that’s the only sure-fire way is because if you look at countries that have successfully managed to control the spread of the virus, especially those with minimal fatalities, a full lockdown was one of the most important key measures taken.

NEW ZEALAND

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gives a coronavirus media update at the New Zealand Parliament. Photo: Mark Mitchell – Pool/Getty Images

The Australasian country of New Zealand has had a total of 2,267 COVID-19 cases and 25 deaths. 2,178 people in New Zealand have recovered from COVID-19 as of today. The success of New Zealand lies in early decisive action the country took, declaring a stringent lockdown as early as March 26, 2020 and taking an approach designed to “flatten the curve” of infections. The entire country (apart from essential workers & essential businesses) was required to self-quarantine at home, and after 5 weeks the lockdown was lifted. During this time, most workplaces, schools and public meetings were closed. Contact Tracing and Quarantine for visitors was put in place, introducing border restrictions to Non-citizens/ non-permanent residents, with all arrivals (regardless of where they came from or their symptomology) being made to go into managed isolation or quarantine facilities (mainly repurposed hotels) for 14 days. Those in quarantine where required to take Covid-19 tests on day 3 and day 12 of their time in quarantine.

Scientists’ modeling showing the effectiveness of the lockdown in New Zealand. Photo: Te Pūnaha Matatini

Public events were cancelled, and by May community transmission had been stopped, and in early June the Pandemic had been declared over in New Zealand. Following a further outbreak New Zealand brought in another lockdown in August 2020.

TAIWAN

Lessons from Taiwan (Atlantic Council)

Taiwan which has so far only recorded 7 deaths from COVID-19 from a total of 881 cases. After suffering from the SARS epidemic in 2003, the Taiwanese Centre for Disease Control very early in the pandemic begun screening all passengers arriving from Wuhan, and in collaboration with the Central Epidemic Command Centre (CECC – a body created to manage outbreaks, who in 2004 helped create a national health insurance smart card for each citizen, linking health records to travel history) ensured that each citizen had access to masks, and helped hospitals to be aware of potential COVID-19 cases in real time. The screening was soon extended to all arrivals from high-risk countries. Taiwan also created a digital quarantine system, whereby those who arrived from abroad were sent to a “quarantine hotel” – a hotel that has been repurposed for the pandemic – and were not allowed to leave their rooms for two weeks. This was supplemented by a track and trace system of in-person checks.

People who lived in a flat with their own bathroom were allowed to quarantine at home. Critically, those who were quarantining – be it in a hotel or at home – were monitored by a “digital fence” using their smartphones, cell towers and mobile phone carrier data. Anyone who ventured out of their area, was immediately contacted by text, and the health authorities informed – who would immediately send someone. If your phone run out of battery, a health officer would show up at your door.

The start of the new semester for schools was delayed for 2 weeks and by march there was a ban on large gatherings of 100 if indoors and 500 if outdoors.

In addition, citizens were paid monetary incentives, including £27 a day for staying in their room. Breaking the quarantines resulted in very high fines, as high as £27,000!

Taiwan also used the media to rebut false information, with press releases, viral memes and texts, encouraging wearing masks and importance of washing hands and using hand sanitizer. CoFacts, a collaborative fact checking service enabled those using chat apps to send something they suspected to be misinformation, to be fact checked.

LIBERIA

Photo: Flickr

Liberia, which so far has recorded only 84 deaths from COVID-19, has had only 1,901 cases. Several lessons underscore Liberia’s Response to COVID-19

Strong Leadership — President George Weah took decisive action against COVID-19 in that after the first confirmed case on March 16, all travel was suspended if the countries of origin had more than 200 cases. In addition, Weah declared a national state of emergency as well as a 14 day stay-at-home order. Citizens were ordered to stay at home unless if going out shopping or to get supplies. Wearing masks in public was made mandatory.

Community Response — The Active Case Finders and Awareness (ACFA) Team, who had been instrumental in fighting Ebola, were instructed to fight against COVID-19 using many of the same tactics developed during Ebola, including recruiting and training contact tracers, setting up hand-washing stations as well as convincing businesses not to serve those not wearing masks.

Respect for Local Cultural Beliefs and Perspectives — To stem the spread of misinformation, the ACFA began to go door-to-door, while observing the social distancing guidance of 6 feet away from people, to follow contact traces as well as inform the community about facts of COVID-19, and to dispel myths.

Last Sunday, Chakwera said his government had released additional funding for use by various clusters of  the Presidential Taskforce. He also outlined his priority in managing the recent surge of hospitalisation and providing emergency care to the critically sick, employing an additional 1,000 healthcare staff, among several measures.

But considering what the above countries have done, and contrasting that with the President’s measures, and looking at the rate of spread of the virus, I find that the measures announced on Sunday fall well short of what the country actually needs to stop the spread of the virus.

This is because the measures Chakwera has announced do little to stop community transmission, and do not prevent People coming into the country from abroad from breaking the self-isolation guidelines.

Also, since Pandemic fatigue has set in as wet weather makes going outdoor less inviting even in a country known for good climate, some people are still meeting friends (or people of different households) indoors, including in religious establishments like churches. This coupled with the open borders, in particular travel from South Africa and a large essential workforce, including people who have to go out every day for their sustenance (with many such people living in crowded or dense housing), has created a confluence of suitable conditions for the pandemic to flourish.


Prototyping & Product Development


And Malawi is not alone. Countries like Brazil, India and the UK have all experienced something similar as some people burdened by months of lockdowns and stringent restrictions have let their guard down.

Many of us relaxed our vigilance against the virus and now we are paying the price

Lazarus Chakwera, in a radio address on Sunday 10th January 2021

The rise in home remedies

Watch this video on YouTube here https://youtu.be/2ZoBb-ngk5k

The video above shows the many home remedies that have been suggested as preventative, alleviating or managing some of the effects of COVID-19. And while with the exception of only a few studies there doesn’t appear to be any  consensus from health authorities across the world as to the efficacy of such remedies, there are indications from anecdotal evidence that some such remedies are effective.

I think health services in countries which do not have as many resources to procure medical equipment lose nothing prescribing some such sound home remedies, be they blue gum leaves or anything else, especially when there is some evidence as to their efficacy, and the remedy itself is undertaken while observing strict health and safety measures. To qualify this point, you may remember that even the World Health Organisation (WHO) has made mistakes, in that in January 2019, while some of us were advocating that everyone must begin wearing masks in all public places, the WHO said there was no evidence that masks are effective in stemming the spread of COVID-19?! Poor advice which even the British government fell for??! A few months later the WHO began recommending that everyone should wear masks…?!

Pioneering procedures

Similar to the issue of home remedies, I am of the persuasion that certain pioneering procedures for the treatment of COVID-19 need to be further investigated by our Medical Agencies in Malawi. And the above video shows one such example, trialed in this case by Dr Emmanuel Taban in South Africa.

Epidemiologists and Surgeons at College of Medicine in Malawi need to take note and begin seriously looking into this procedure, and the use of IVERMECTIN(see video above) and others that have been flagged, for example the testimony of Dr Pierre Kory below- which advocates using anti-inflammatory steroids in critical care.

Preventing Infection transmission

And while the numerous fundraising efforts are commendable and very much necessary considering the circumstances, preventing the spread of the virus means stopping the infection transmission from one person to another.

It means proactive measures beyond mere reactionary fire-fighting in epidemic response and virus containment efforts.

This includes stopping any and all gatherings of people anywhere in the country, from State House all the way to the Tavern. It means borders must be closed again as was the case last year, preventing visitors entering the country, and restricting domestic and international travel to only necessary travel by residents/returnees returning home, and goods vehicles bringing in medicines, fuel and supplies. It means everyone who comes into the country must be quarantined in state run isolation facilities for a period of at least 14 days. Such measures will create the conditions that make infection transmission difficult.

In any case, a busload of people from South Africa will probably carry a much higher risk of bringing and spreading further infections into the country, than goods vehicles drivers traveling alone or in pairs. Further, it’s probably easier to test, quarantine and trace a handful of drivers passing through border entry points every now and again, than quarantining busloads of passengers who are expected to self-isolate- even when the authorities know very well that such people would either go on to live with relatives (spreading the virus to them) or wouldn’t be able to stay indoors for 14 days, as they’d need to go out to buy food or to work.

This issue is important in light of recent figures which showed that migrants returning from South Africa accounted for 40% of Malawi’s COVID-19 cases.

Malawi is a deeply religious country and President Lazarus Chakwera appears to be doing his best. His conviction and Christian faith are treasured leadership qualities which Malawians should cherish in terms of not only bringing people together, inspiring hope in the ‘divine intervention’, but also in the pursuit of collective resilience when faced with a killer disease.

But beyond subservience to a divine power and coalescence of people’s resolve, Chakwera’s government will need actions that can be quickly implemented beyond words. The type of action that has delivered positive results elsewhere!

This is important because some Malawians are already voicing concerns regarding Chakwera’s lack of decisive action.

There are also allegations that the request for funds which the president put out doesn’t make sense when his “bloated” cabinet is costing the tax payers nearly K1.6 Billion.

But that aside, only the most effective measures will reassure Malawians that the Tonse Alliance government is up to the task. And in my view, those measures must include a full lockdown.

Vaccine

India has donated 1 million vaccine doses to Nepal

Malawi needs to procure thousands of emergency vaccine doses for healthcare workers. This is important so that those at the forefront and in frequent contact with the sick are protected from the virus. Appeals to Indian, Chinese, European & American Pharmaceutical companies should be made as a matter of urgency to procure vaccines first for healthcare workers, followed by doses for high risk groups.

But because getting a vaccine could take time, then a lockdown is one of the drastic actions which the government can take right now, to stem the spread, especially in light of the recent “South African strain” which some health experts are saying is easily spread, and which appears to be more deadly.

Who will pay for it?

I’m not suggesting that a lockdown is an easy step, but I strongly believe it is necessary to stop the spread of the virus. In any case, if you prevent the spread of the virus, people will not be getting sick, thus will not be needing to be hospitalised. Thus, in the absence of a vaccine, a lockdown is a measure that tackles the root cause, as opposed to tackling symptoms.

In terms of funding, some of the COVID19 funds that so far have been set aside by government or which Malawi is receiving from donors need to be diverted into community support, to help those who are most vulnerable with food and supplies. Here, US$50 million needs to be set aside for a huge logistical and food aid operation that involves teams of tested healthcare workers going around buying food locally and distributing such food to communities, so that these people can stay at home for 2 or 3 months. Such an operation should be repeated several times as more funds become available.

Further, if such healthcare teams could receive the vaccine before such an exercise, it would improve the efficacy of the exercise.

Otherwise, the K72 Million which Chakwera said had so far been spent on protections and social support cluster to sensitize the public on the increased risks and evils of gender-based violence during the pandemic as well as to support victims and their families with materials and cash transfer, is in my view not enough. A lot more needs to be done.

This is the main reason Malawi wants to be friends with Somaliland

Somaliland’s Parliament Building

If you were presented with a picture of the rather unassuming building of Somaliland’s Parliament for the very first time, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the place was in fact the site of Prakash Patel’s Tandoori Curry Bazaar in downtown Limbe.

Yes, looks are not everything, but the building is reminiscent of a glorified third-rate Bengali restaurant in a dusty part of town than the bonafide parliament building that it actually is. It looks more like one of those places where families go to after a sweaty day in Church, for Sunday dinner – complete with Biryanis, Chicken Kormas and Lamb Vindaloos.

So, what on earth is Malawi looking for in Somaliland?

Shouldn’t we instead be cosying up to the Singapores and South Koreas of this world? The glitzy success stories whose ‘breadcrumbs’ can catapult our tiny economy into the 21st century….no?

I mean, if we are serious about implementing a tried and tested formula of economic development which other countries have been using to develop their economies for decades then surely an official trip to New Delhi or Jakarta sounds more like it?

There’s been quite a bit of speculation as to the real reasons why Malawi is interested in Somaliland, and I won’t tire you by rehearsing those reasons here.

The adminstration of Somaliland has put out what to me sounds like regurgitated diplomat-speak.  A cut-and-paste statement that is too generic to be meaningful or taken seriously. The government of Malawi too hasn’t provided a convincing reason for its interest in Somaliland. In any case if the issue was truly about Somaliland seeking support from Malawi for it’s national recognition on the world stage, then surely it should have been officials from Somaliland visiting Malawi, and not the other way round. As the Chichewa proverb goes, phiri siliyendera nyani koma nyani ndi amene amayendera phiri (A mountain doesn’t follow the monkey, it’s the monkey that follows the mountain)

What’s surprised me from the commentary about the visit in Malawian publications is to see almost no one pick out the most probable reason why Eisenhower Mkaka (Malawi’s Foreign Minister) visited Hargeisa – the capital city of Somaliland, which I’m quite sure most Malawians hadn’t previously heard of before Mkaka’s visit.

I think the real reason Lazarus Chakwera’s government is looking to befriend Somaliland is to do with Oil. Yes, it’s all about Petroleum. Why this is the most likely reason is because in recent years, there’s been quite a lot of talk about investment into Somaliland. Only last year, the London headquartered Genel Energy announced it had increased his stake in the SL10B13 block in Somaliland to 100% , after acquiring a 25% state that had been previously held by East African Resources Group. That block alone is said to comprise several interests each containing at least 200 million barrels of crude oil, with some analysts estimating that there’s at least 1 Billion barrels of oil underneath that one block. That means Somaliland as a whole could have significant petroleum reserves, possibly of the size comparable to those found in several of the neighbouring countries.

And that’s a big deal.

Further, when friends are hard to come by as has been the experience of Somaliland (which is still regarded as an autonomous region within Somalia, and hasn’t been officially recognised by any country) any sort of trade can make a significant difference. As other marginalized states (including sanction-laden states such as Venezuela & Iran) will tell you, any takers of your output including oil in circumstances where other countries are afraid of the consequences of trading with you can be a lifesaver.

In addition, Somaliland in 2016 signed a 30 year contract with the United Arab Emirates’s DP World, the third largest port operator in the world, to manage and expand its Berbera Port. Last year, a US$400 million road project connecting Ethiopias border town of Togochale to Berbera was launched, a route which some analysts say will be an alternative transit point for imports and exports out of Ethiopia. There’s been several other significant and notable investments…

But if the oil quantities are as significant as some think, its only a matter of time before a refinery is constructed. Already in the south Ethiopia is looking at building it’s first oil refinery. This follows the shelving of a Blackstone Group LP-backed fuel pipeline project 2 years ago. Thus, given the frosty nature of diplomatic relations between Somalia and Ethiopia, it’s not inconceivable for Petroleum from Somaliland being refined in Ethiopia in the near future, before being sent back to be shipped from Berbera to destinations across the world.

Malawi needs oil at as cheap a price as can be found. Thus if you can sign contracts with ‘friends’ who are relatively new to the oil game to sell you oil at ‘friendly prices’ (as opposed to Market rates) in exchange for support regarding the friend’s sovereignty, then theoretically everyone stands to benefit. Malawi gets its relatively cheap oil at prices it can afford without having to deal with the baggage of the likes of Nigeria, Somaliland gets some Forex, and a measure of the international recognition it very much craves, there’s a boost to intra-African trade. Everyone’s a winner!

This is how I would deal with the Tony Blair issue

If you didn’t already know, Tony Blair (like him or not) is back in town.

The former British Prime Minister is going to be working with the government of Lazarus Chakwera to …. do something? According to the website of Blair’s Institute for Global Change, Blair and his people will be ‘ …looking to set up a new project to support the govt of Malawi to strengthen its delivery and implementation mechanisms. This is likely to include a delivery function in State House, but also support other parts of the Presidency e.g. communications, international affairs…‘ and ‘…to strengthening delivery in the Presidency, the Project will seek to strengthen connections with other key ministries such as Energy, Agriculture, Industry and Trade, and the Ministries covering infrastructure‘.

But already, some Malawians are up in arms about the news. They are not happy with what suspiciously looks like a useless intervention. Among the protestations is the allegation that when Tony Blair came to Malawi to assist Joyce Banda in 2012, when she was President of Malawi, there wasn’t much that was achieved back then, and Malawians have never been given solid evidence that his involvement at that time was beneficial to the country, despite the significant cost his involvement incurred.

There has also been the allegation that considering the long-term effects of Britain’s foreign policy when Blair was British PM – which saw the UK support the US led illegal invasion of Iraq, among other misguided military campaigns, associating with Blair now apparently tarnishes Lazarus Chakwera’s near-perfect image, and is a regression of the very idea of a new corrupt-free Malawi. The architects of this accusation essentially say that some people will be asking “Why is that small poor African nation paying a fortune to a war criminal?” to quote just one twitter user, who no doubt is not a fan of Blair.

Finally, there are those who are resentful that the West including Tony Blair did not speak up or help Malawians when the former president Peter Mutharika, to quote one complainant, “tried to rape the constitution” in stealing the 2019 election (which was over-turned because of widespread irregularities). They say it was only when Lazarus Chakwera won this year’s Election re-run and ascended to power “that they came running” to quote the same complainant.

The government of Malawi in defending the collaboration with Blair has said that those who are against his involvement are xenophobic, which if you ask me, is about as lazy a response as any tired press officer could muster in his sleep.

But putting aside the unhelpful bickering, is Blair’s version 2 foray into Malawi worth the time and money?

This is how I would deal with the issue, if it were up to me:

I think some people who are opposed to the idea of Tony Blair’s services to the government of Malawi are getting the wrong end of the stick on two distinct but important things.

Firstly, they wrongly think that Tony Blair’s involvement is an admission that we don’t have any capable Malawians able enough to to sell Malawi to the world, which ofcourse we do. This criticism says that by employing Blair we are failing to recognise or advance the talent of hundreds of Malawians who can do pretty much the same thing just as competently – which is not true. The second fallacy in all this is that advice as to developmental issues should be free, or paid for by someone else other than the country that stands to benefit from such advice. This thinking too is misguided, and if you can excuse my Chichewa: ndi maganizo wa anthu ozolowela ku vencha.

Let me explain why.

The real question here should be what is a fair price for a poor country to pay for High Level access and investment due diligence?

The reason answering that question matters, or should matter, is because there are “doors” (figuratively maybe ‘corporate doors’ is more accurate here) out there which a Finance minister/ Business Development official of Lazarus Chakwera won’t be able to open on their own, but which with just one phone call from an influential person such as Tony Blair will land a face to face meeting.

Let me give you an example: Would Felix Mlusu (Malawi’s Finance Minister) or Eisenhower Mkaka (Malawi’s Foreign Minister) be able to easily land a meeting with the head of Citigroup Michael Corbat? Or the CEO of Tesla Elon Musk? Or of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, or say, Berkshire Hathaway’s CEO Warren Buffet, or the Chief Executive of GlaxoSmithKline Emma Walmsley, or the Chairman of Dyson Technology Sir James Dyson, or Richard Lutz the Chief Executive of Deutsche Bahn – the largest European railway operator, and second-largest transport company in the world… I could go on and on, but all these meetings being for investment talks into Malawi?

I doubt such would be as easy or straightforward for any of the ministers or trade officials in Chakwera’s government.

But I can bet you that Tony Blair probably has the direct line of at least one of these executives in his mobile phone right this very moment. I am also certain that if he doesnt have their number, he personally knows someone in his network who has their direct phone number. And that even if he didn’t personally know the executive, the mere mention that Tony Blair is on the line to any of the executives would ensure that phone call is put through.

And it would be such a simple and straightforward exercise to arrange high-level meetings between a development team from Malawi, and senior executives of those companies.

That kind of access is valuable, and it’s high time Malawians learn this undeniable fact.

Thus, I think the questions Malawians should be asking should instead be (1) What is the Return on Investment (ROI) on using the services of people like Tony Blair; and (2) Can Malawi afford it?

I think someone has to sit down and talk to Blair’s people, crunch some numbers, and then explain to the Malawian people in detail the benefit of what they (or the so called “well-wishers”) will actually be paying for, so that there is less misunderstanding regarding these kinds of issues.

Of course we need to learn the lessons from 2012, but working with Blair ought to be a case of having a solid and strong contract between Tony Blair’s Institute For Global Change and the Government of Malawi, listing 11 or 12 targets or deliverables, an execution time period, and a non-performance clause:

  1. We want a joint-venture between GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) – the large British Pharmaceutical with revenues of £33.75 Billion (2019)- and the government of Malawi, to manufacturer drugs locally in Malawi, in which the Malawian government owns 51% of the joint venture, assuming GSK invests £200 million of hard cash into the facility and the development of the local area, development of downstream industries that supply big pharma, and to employ hundreds of Malawians.
  2. We want Citigroup to open a state of the art Investment & FinTech hub in Lilongwe to lure other financial industry heavyweights, and to help our FinTech entrepreneurs and local Finance sector companies tap into international capital markets. We would like them to invest at least £80 million into the facility and make it their East Africa headquarters, giving finance jobs and training to at least 200 Malawians.
  3. We want Amazon to open an East African Headquarters in Blantyre, Malawi, and regional Logistics Hub (Warehouses and fulfilment centres) for East Africa. We would like them to commit to investing $250 million into the venture, and to employ 400 young Malawians.
  4. We want Dyson Technology to build and open a state of the art Engineering University like the one they have in the UK, to train and equip hundreds of Malawian young people with practical engineering skills.
  5. We would like Tesla to invest $1 Billion in an electric car assembly factory and automotive battery manufacturing plant that will give jobs and technical skills to hundreds of Malawians.
  6. We would like to invite Berkshire Hathaway to invest between $1 Billion and $3 Billion in two large Solar farms to be built in Malawi, with assistance from one of the companies in their investment portfolio (Berkshire Hathaway has invested at least $16 Billion in Solar and Wind, and is looking to invest more in the sectors), in a 50:50 joint venture with the Government of Malawi, so that we can solve our energy deficiency challenges.
  7. We would like two Supermarket chains from Walmart/ Sainsbury’s/ Marks & Spencers/ Cooperative Group Food Limited to partner with another two local Malawian supermarkets in a 30:30:20:20 Joint Venture to open 10 brand new supermarkets across the country and invest at least $400 million in infrastructure, job creation for hundreds of people and adoption of best practices gleaned in other markets.
  8. Can Tony Blair persuade the leaders of the construction behemoths Laing O’rourke (£2.75 Billion -2019 revenues), Kier Group (£3.42 Billion – 2019) and Balfour Beatty (£8.4 Billion -2019) to join two carefully selected African construction companies in forming a Malawian Consortium whose members collectively invest a $500 million loan into the building and fitting of a new state of the art Public Hospital in Mzuzu, the loan being repayable over 15 years at a fixed interest rate of 20%.
  9. We would like to do deals with four world-renown hotel developers / chains with a good track record, including sound employment practices, to each help build and establish a 4-star / 5 -star hotel / golf resort along the lake, one in Monkey Bay, another in Salima, a third in Nkhatabay and a final one in Karonga, all being near the lake, with the government owning 35% of each hotel/golf resort , and a veto on major decisions.
  10. Can Tony Blair’s organisation convince Heathrow Airport Holdings and the SmithGroup (who helped design Hartsfield -Jackson Atlanta International Airport – the world’s busiest airport by passenger travel since 1998), to partner with the Department of Civil Aviation to upgrade the country’s airports and invest $1 Billion for a 40% stake in Lilongwe International Airport and Chileka Airport.
  11. Similarly, we would like to do a joint venture with DHL, UPS and ParcelForce for an Air Cargo company operating weekly cargo flights from JFK International Airport, Manchester Airport, Dubai International Airport and Shanghai Pudong International Airport directly to Lilongwe International Airport, to help Malawians to cheaply import things, with the government of Malawi owning not less than 25% of the joint venture.
  12. …. Some other important investment imperatives you can think of…

if Tony Blair’s team can deliver on some all of these important investment commitments, and see through the signed contracts with these corporations, I wouldn’t have any qualms for the government of Malawi to even pay Tony Blair and his associates £5 million a year for the duration of their contract, so long as the projects above actually happen and there is Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) associated with them coming into Malawi, and clear, quantifiable, independently verifiable and unmistakable value to Malawi’s economy, as a result of Blair’s intervention.

Failing that, I would have a clause in the contract with the Institute saying that if for whatever reason the deliverables have not materialised within 10 years from commencement of the contract, then the Institute should repay Malawians 100% the full cost of the consultancy fees plus interest.

Development – even to a poor country, does not come cheaply, so let’s be pragmatic and accept the reality.

Also, let’s make another thing very clear: Just because you have dealings with a former world leader whose politics is far from palatable doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with each and every aspect of their foreign policy.

For the longest time, Malawi had dealings with all manner of dodgy regimes like Apartheid South Africa, Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique) and the People’s Republic of China (PROC), let alone the Mugabe’s and the Gaddafi’s of this world. These days, we are cosying up to Israel’s Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s MBS – who are far from faultless. But we didn’t (and don’t) necessarily endorse or agree with any of the controversial or plain wrong things which those leaders and their regimes did/do. Our alliances with them is purely business.