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.

The Government of Malawi has introduced licence fees for the cultivation of medicinal/ industrial Cannabis, but some Malawians are unhappy

If there is one example of a country whose people are so engaged in it’s Political and Democratic process, but also so easily enraged that at the slightest whim they’ll publicly criticise any decision from their government – when such is deemed wrong or unfair, look no further than Malawi.

Recently the Tonse Alliance government of Lazarus Chakwera gazzeted cannabis licence fees for the cultivation of industrial or medicinal hemp (cultivation, storage, distribution & selling), as part of it’s commitment to implement the legalization of cannabis cultivation and processing (following a bill which Malawi’s parliament passed in February 2020), and take advantage of the huge opportunities that exist within the sector.

However the decision has sparked a huge national debate, with some Malawians complaining angrily that the fees are too high and unaffordable for the average Malawian farmer, whereas others disagree with this complaint and are saying that the fees present an opportunity for groups of farmers to work together in cooperatives, managing larger and more efficient commercial farms, instead of the archetypical small subsistence farms common in Malawi.

Among the complaints being made is also the assertion that since the fees are beyond the affordability of ordinary Malawian farmers, it will in fact be those with deep pockets and foreign investor companies who will ultimately come to dominate the market, creating another monopoly that is controlled by a select few, and which is beyond the reach of ordinary Malawians.

The government has missed an opportunity to empower farmers in the villages – some of whom have been cultivating cannabis illegally in hidden farms for years, who would have otherwise been legitimised had the licence fees been affordable.

The government has missed an opportunity to empower farmers in the villages – some of whom have been cultivating cannabis illegally in hidden farms for years, who would have otherwise been legitimised had the licence fees been affordable. – one person told me.

Sameer Suleman, chairperson of the Parliamentary committee on Agriculture, described the cannabis licence fees as a deliberate move to prevent Malawians from benefiting from hemp farming.

A Malawian tobacco farmer

It’s unfortunate that many Malawians cannot afford the licence fees for the cultivation of medicinal / herbal cannabis, but it is not surprising seeing Malawi’s weak economic standing on the global stage. It is also true that several large industries in Malawi (Rubber, Coffee, Tobacco & Sugar to name a few examples) have come to be dominated by deep-pocketed individuals or well-resourced foreign companies, some of whom demand cheap labour and low tariffs on the raw materials they export. For this reason, my sympathies lie squarely with those who are calling on the government to do more to help Malawian farmers, the great majority of whom would struggle to raise $10,000.

One way of achieving this would be a Cannabis Cultivation & Processing Loan Scheme that would be extended to a group of farmers, say a minimum of 3 farmers who get together to collectively cultivate the crop. The way it would work is that a ‘Commune‘ of 3 or more farmers would get together and register their interest for a licence with the Cannabis Regulatory Authority, including providing details of the size of the land that is to be used, it’s location(s) and what crop(s) are normally grown on it.

The government would then record these details and after a verification / inspection process, would issue the licence, stipulating that the licence cannot be transferred / sold to a party other than those to whom it has been issued; that only the farmers named in the commune can use that licence.

The farmers would then be assisted with technical know-how, training, equipment (Fencing, solar panels, irrigation equipment, etc.), or other essential inputs that are required for the optimal cultivation of the crop. All this would be part of the loan. A small collateral would probably be required, although such would need to be means-tested, in that poorer farmers should be exempt.

A Cattle auction

Once the crop is ready, an Auction House or stock exchange operating under the auspices of the Cannabis Regulatory Authority could be established that deals with marketing various grades of the crop to buyers, both local and international, both physically and online. The licensing fees (or a part thereof) for the licence issued to each commune, and other capital costs, would then be deducted at this stage, or over several years.

I believe such an approach would lessen the financial burden of raising the licence fees, and capital costs, on impoverished farmers, and would ensure that Malawians are not unfairly prejudiced by their economic circumstances.

I think this would be a better model of taking advantage of the opportunities in the sector, while not excluding Malawian farmers, however, an alternative approach could be the use of public private partnerships.

But to be fair on the government of Malawi, this sector is being seen as one way which can help them balance the country’s books. When Tobacco sales (Malawi’s largest source of export revenues) have been declining (they were down 31% recently) and the country’s economy has been negatively impacted by COVID-19, a fresh in-demand crop with established international markets presents a rare opportunity.

Our view as regulator is that if we get honest investors, the hemp industry can supplement export revenues from tobacco, and in some cases, surpass it. But it will not immediately replace tobacco” said one Boniface Kadzamira, the Board chair of the Cannabis Regulatory Authority.

So I don’t necessarily think the licence fees should be slashed by too much. As a compromise, maybe an explicit distinction needs to be made between “Private applicants” and “Corporate applicants”? Done this way, the licence fees for corporate applicants can actually be increased to say $25,000, helping subsidize the private applicants.

Malawi among other things is also famed for its recreational Cannabis sativa strain known as “Malawi Gold” , which is extremely hardy, and according to a World Bank report is among “the best and finest” marijuana strains in the world.

Creating Large State owned corporations

They have them in most developed countries, and there is no reason why Malawi shouldn’t have a few.

For example did you know that Parpública, the Portuguese behemoth founded in 2000 and with assets worth US$13 billion, and which owns Air Portugal is a state-owned enterprise?

In the quest to find alternative solutions of economic development, the very first thing our country needs, maybe besides a mindset change, is to raise significant amounts of Capital.

This can be done in a number of ways, but probably one of the best ways is by issuing Sovereign Bonds. Using Sovereign bonds can lessen the debt burden on Malawi, and prevent the country ending up in the debt mess spiral that countries like Zambia and Angola have found themselves in.

This is because aside from the fact that the government would set the terms and conditions of the Sovereign Bonds issuance, it would also allow domestic Investors to invest and would not disproportionately make the country beholden to a foreign financier, private or public.

The reason we need such Capital is to make large strategic investments into infrastructure and equipment, which with proper planning and execution can enable Malawi to manufacture certain products which our people need most (domestic market),  but also for foreign markets, and for which we have a steady and affordable supply of raw materials.

So for example, we can use such Capital to buy a refinery to manufacture Ethanol for use in the Pharmaceutical industry and in alcoholic beverages, and for use as an additive in Vehicle fuels, by expanding and starting one or two additional sugar plantations and processing plants as the ones they have in Dwangwa and Nchalo, in a similar rural area. The ethanol product can also be exported to neighbouring countries cheaply undercutting their current supply chains, but creating a new revenue stream for the Government.

The waste products from the sugar plantations (bagasse https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/bagasse ) can be used as a biofuel, reducing our country’s over-reliance on firewood – which is worsening deforestation situation in Malawi, and is responsible for the numerous floods we experience almost every year.

Similarly, a large Sheet Metal Fabrication factory could be established to manufacture Iron sheets for roof houses (malata) to be used to supply hardware stores across the country.

Both the Sheet Metal Factory and the new Sugar Processing Plant would create employment for thousands of Malawians, and can be scaled intonmuch bigger operations if required. New and organised dwellings and townships can then be created around them. 

This is one way of creating large state owned corporations that can give jobs to thousands of citizens, creating employment across the country.

There would be other added benefits, such as more equitable spreading of the prosperity of the cities into the rural areas, decongesting the cities of traffic, and reducing migration to cities – as more working-age people would choose to live closer to these rural factories – where they can find jobs.

Finally, it would accelerate the provision of decent housing, water, sanitation, communications, energy and transportation infrastructure to the rural areas – factors which would contribute to the fight against poverty.

The Secret to successful state-owned enterprises is how they’re run (The Conversation)

More interesting posts at

http://malawiace.com

Area 18 Interchange - Malawi

An intertwined road Interchange in Malawi got the whole country talking

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

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

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

At which point I snapped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s another equally important aspect to all this.

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

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

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

Why asking interview candidates ‘Kodi kumudzi kwanu ndi kuti?’ should be outlawed in Malawi

Former President Peter Mutharika’s presidency was characterised by accusations of tribalism

Let’s be honest, there have been some unfair recruitment practices in Malawi the last few years.
For example, why is it the case that the first question some candidates were being asked in interviews was ‘Kodi kumudzi kwanu ndi kuti?’ (Where is your village?).
How is that question relevant to the position that is being advertised? How does where one comes from provide the interview panel with answers as to a candidates suitability for employment?
You might say such questions are ice breakers, merely small talk, but actually the anecdotal evidence shows that this question was often used with the intention of identifying where people came from, and filter out those who were deemed by some members of the interview panel, as coming from the “wrong regions” or of not being the preferred tribe, such that positions would often be awarded to people who were deemed as ‘ndi wathu uyu’ (they are one of us).
It is a pointedly tribalistic question, and there is little rationale to asking it during interviews, unless you are intentionally trying to find a way of marking down someone based on their tribe/ethnicity.
Our Labour Laws in Malawi (Section 5 (1) of Malawi’s Employment Act 2000) prohibits discrimiation on the basis of Race, Sex, Religion, Ethnicity, Marital status and Nationality among other characteristics. In particular, it states that No person shall discriminate against any employee or prospective employee on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, nationality, ethnic or social origin, disability, property, birth, marital or other status or family responsibilities

Subsection 3 prescribes a fine of K10,000 plus a 2 year prison sentence. So it’s incredible that questions that have a thinly veiled inquiry into one’s ethnicity or tribe continue to be asked 20 years on?

The practice of interview panels asking where one comes from, or where one’s village is needs to be stopped immediately. And it needs to be stopped via a stronger legislative framework – one that is actively enforced.

The Ministries of Labour, and the the Ministry of Civic Education & National Unity should work together in creating and backing legislation that can be introduced into parliament to explicitly prohibit employers from asking any questions that coerce a candidate to disclose their village, region of origin, language or family roots in interview questions, employment reviews, promotion interviews or other pre-appointment interviews . And if such questions are asked, candidates should have a recourse to redress, including compensation, with the state levying penalties to the offending company, institution or organisation.

If you are Malawian, you are Malawian. Full stop.

Asking kuti “Kumudzi kwanu ndi kuti” should be made an offence under new and stronger employment laws.
No longer should HR managers, General managers, Directors, Interview Panels and others who periodically interview candidates or are invoved in the interview process be allowed to ask such tribalistic questions.
Such legislation would prevent discrimination against some Malawians on the basis of their place of birth or family origin. It would open up opportunties for all Malawians to feel co-ownership of the nation, without regard to tribal affiliations. Isn’t that the meaning of Malawi was Tonse?
And if you are one of those people who objects to such a policy, claiming that the question is asked to prevent non-Malawians masquerading as Malwians in interviews. My answer to that is that there are several other better ways of ascertaining whether one is Malawian – without being caught up in tribalistic social engineering.

Saulos Chilima & the Devil

There comes a point in a leader’s life when they have a critical choice over an important matter. The decision they make defines them forever.

Saulos Chilima & wife
© AFP. Saulos Klaus Chilima, accompanied by his wife, Mary, waits to be screened at Lilongwe High Court, where judges later annulled the May 2019 election,Lilongwe, Feb. 3, 2020.(Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

There is a little known African proverb which says Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won’t eat you.

It’s a metaphor which has been interpreted to mean people can achieve great things as a group rather than as individuals even when faced with danger; its the classic proverb meant to encourage collective action against innumerable or otherwise monumental challenges, even when there is danger (symbolised by the crocodile) and an obstacle or uncertainty of large proportions (i.e. the river).

But the metaphor can also be invoked to mean if someone undertakes an action together with a majority, they are unlikely to face the wrath of the masses (symbolised by the crocodile) sometime down the line since when making the decision, the person didn’t think only about themselves but took the decision (i.e. crossing the river) together with the crowd.

However, the kind of ‘crowd’ (and more generally partners) one chooses to mingle or intertwine themselves with when faced with a challenge matters.

While some crowds can elevate you, and propel you to greater heights far beyond your original standing, other partnerships can pull you down or even destroy you altogether (‘feed you to the crocodiles’). Knowing one from the other can be the difference between survival and catastrophe.

Malawi has recently experienced a monumental and historic moment in its democracy. In a landmark judgement, Saulos Klaus Chilima & Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera v Arthur Peter Mutharika & Electoral Commission, a unanimous bench of the High Court of Malawi sitting as a Constitutional Court nullified the country’s May 2019 elections and ordered that fresh elections be held in 150 days. Malawi is the second African country to nullify a presidential election, after Kenya. The court further held that a proper interpretation of section 80(2) of the Constitution of Malawi requires that presidential candidates garner 50% + 1 votes to be duly elected, effectively striking down the first past the post system for presidential elections.

However, now that the Constitutional Court has clarified the 50% +1 issue, it means it will now be difficult for any political party to win an outright majority in an election. It means parties must enter into alliances to be able to form a government, as is the case in many other countries around the world.

Critically, it also means Saulos Chilima and his United Transformation Movement (UTM) party will most likely become the kingmakers. This gives him a lot of influence because it means whoever he decides to work with will have to offer concessions or policy promises which appease the UTM block, which only has 4 MPs in Malawi’s 193 member Parliament.

There has been speculation that Saulos Chilima is open to working wth the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of Peter Mutharika, the same party from which he resigned in 2018. In particular, several sources have told me that senior advisers around Chilima think it is feasible and not preposterous for UTM to get into an Alliance with DPP to contest the upcoming fresh elections, which the Constitutional Court ordered should be held within 150 days of its judgement.

Mind you, this is the same DPP which has been called by some Malawians as “our common enemy”. It is the Same DPP which has presided over numerous corruption cases, over accusations of nepotism and cronyism; a government that tried to intimidate those protesting in the streets and labelled them terrorists, shielding police officers when they committed sexual assault and raped women and girls in Msundwe. The DPP government has abandoned our hospitals in Malawi as people die because of inadequate medical care and lack of medicines while party cronies swim in unexplained wealth, and can afford medical attention abroad; this is the party that said nothing regarding an attempted bribery of the judges presiding over the Constitutional Court case – resulting in an unknown magistrate quashing the warrant of arrest of one of the suspects of the bribery (later the warrant was restored by a High Court Judge).

But most of all, the DPP government has presided over a corrupt, rotten and unprofessional electoral body, the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) which the Constitutional Court revealed conspired with DPP to defraud the people of Malawi, of a free and fair election.

Is that really the kind of party Chilima now wants to associate, let along re-align with?

When Saulos Chilima left DPP, he insinuated many things about his old party’s excesses. Among the things he said were the following words, which many thought pointed to the rot within DPP. In an interview with Reuters News Agency, Chilima said: “I have been vice president for the last four years. I’ve had no support within to fight corruption, so the best way is to run for the highest office and then take corruption head-on”

I have been vice president for the last four years. I’ve had no support within to fight corruption, so the best way is to run for the highest office and then take corruption head-on

So contrast those words with the murmurs that a UTM – DPP alliance is still on the cards, and it’s easy to see why some of his supporters are livid.

Whether he realises it or not, this is the moment when ‘the dark side’ attempts to coerce an upstanding leader who up until now has made more right moves than wrong ones; this is the moment dark forces attempt to seduce someone into lowering their political standards against their better judgement, with potentially catastrophic consequences; a wanton and reckless decision devoid of any wisdom or forethought, one that would destroy their reputation, including any good fortune, high esteem held or respect the public had of them.

Here, a bit of context is necessary in that most of the people around Chilima have never held political office, either as elected representatives, or by being appointed to an official role besides an elected representative. So you’d think some of the advice they give will at best be taken with a pinch of salt.

But Chilima’s predicament is not unique to him or indeed Malawi. Many other leaders throughout history and in literature have been faced with challenging situations of one type or another.

This is the moment narrated in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, when Jesus no doubt exhausted and hungry from fasting forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, is taken by the devil to a very high mountain and showed all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. The devil says to him in Mathew 4 verse 9: “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” to which Jesus replies: “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only”

When Geroge W. Bush was president, the unholy cabal of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and other hawks convinced the malleable Bush with feeble if not dodgy intelligence that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). A decision to go to war led to the deaths of over 300,000 Iraqi civilians, (500,000+ people according to other estimates[Washington Post]) and forever labelled ‘Dubya’ , as he was nicknamed, as the US president who took the US into a phoney war. Not only did the Iraq War completely destroy large parts of Iraq, but it spurred hatred against the US in the region, and directly led to the rise of extremist groups, including that known as ISIS.

This is the moment Nick Clegg, former leader of the UK’s Liberal Democrats Party made the ultimate political error by allowing the UK’s Conservative Party under David Cameron (with whom the Liberals were in a coalition government, following an election that produced a hung parliament) to overrule his most important policy commitments on University Tuition fees; a mistake so grave it angered his party’s core supporters who punished the Liberal Democrats at the next election (held in 2015); his party’s MPs were fumigated from parliament like rats flushed out of a rat hole. They lost a whopping 49 seats and Clegg resigned as leader!

This is the moment in July 2011 when faced with demonstrations in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Karonga, Bingu Wa Mutharika ordered a crackdown instructing riot police to fire teargas and live bullets in confronting them, leading to the deaths of 18 people. Malawians never forgave Bingu for that one single act.

It is akin to the moment Aung San Suu Kyi, once celebrated internationally as a champion of democracy, ignored widespread allegations of mass murder, rape and forced deportation in Rakhine state in Burma, and did little to act and protect the lives of hundreds of thousands of persecuted Rohingya Muslims, even after a UN fact-finding mission investigated the allegations and found compelling evidence that it said the Burmese army must be investigated for genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine.

Malawians have been taken for fools for a long time, and their peaceful nature and hopeful trust in strong-men (“abiggie”), abused by politicians of all colours; the kind who make false promises (“I will turn Malawi into Germany“) that can’t possibly be fulfilled.

But if there is one certain thing the recent protests in Lilongwe and across the country have shown, it is that Malawians will no longer be taken for fools. Going forward, no one will take the people of Malawi for granted anymore: Not donors, not foreign election observers, not local political parties, not local party leaders, not chiefs, not foreign investors, not Chinese investors …. NO ONE!

So, whatever Saulos Klaus Chilima decides to do now, whether to listen to the blue imp perched on his left shoulder whispering falsities into his left ear, or whether to heed the red imp on his right shoulder – the tambala wakuda – he can be certain without a shadow of a doubt of one thing: that the Malawian people are watching his every move. And that what he does next will most-definitely be his legacy that will define him forever.

In praise of the resourceful Nigerian

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Nigerians are go getters…you just have to admire their fighting spirit. While there are many Nigerian conmen out there (who over the decades have tarnished the reputation of Africa, and Africans), there are many more honest and hardworking Nigerians doing some very interesting things – involved in some innovative businesses, so it’s no overstatement to say we can all learn from their ingenuity http://www.nairaland.com/2512295/top-14-nigerian-innovators-watch

Malawian entrepreneurs in contrast appear to be different. While this is a generalisation, some Malawian business people will see the purchase of a private jet or building of a hotel, and think that such is a sign of development or wealth…??

Instead of buying a private jet (in a very poor country) or building a shopping mall, Malawian ‘entrepreneurs’ who have significant capital resources should consider investing their money into something transformative that has a potential to create a massive industry, one that will improve the lives of large numbers of people, especially since Malawi is a country that needs to let go of it’s over-dependence on Tobacco. And this is not about social enterprises as you’ll see below.

To give an example, the Indians invested into call centres after China took over their manufacturing edge, and recently there has been an increase of so many Indian companies getting into industries like the provision of SEO services (they control 6.6% of the global market https://moz.com/industry-survey), building Apps and other businesses which are not only scalable, but have the potential to employ hundreds of thousands of people. That’s even before you mention Automotive (On top of Tata Motors, they also own Jaguar), … But back to Malawi for a moment; we cannot be building shopping Malls, Golf courses or Hotels and claim that such is a sign of development? Building Shopping Malls or Hotels only encourages consumerism, spending… spending… spending… it doesn’t increase the net worth of the majority of people, it doesn’t in itself help improve the lives of those who buy from those malls, and generate incomes for them. A shopping Mall will not increase your earning potential, and only benefits the few families who have the capital to set up shop in them, including those investors who own the Mall.

I would rather Malawians build institutions that provide skills to our people to enable them to be qualified so that they can work in sectors that manufacture goods and compete with the likes of Kenya, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brazil.

All well and good talking about wanting Africa to make stuff, to make motorcycles, cars, aeroplanes, refridgerators and whatever else… but are the people who will make those things sufficiently qualified?

Most people like to give an example of China, South Korea, or Singapore as examples which Africans should emulate, but what they forget to mention is that in these societies, a greater proportion of the workforce is extremely highly qualified (not in terms of just having PhD’s, but they have transferable technical skills: They understand Physics, Electronics and Engineering principles and Manufacturing processes, and can use such skills and knowledge to apply to problems with the hope of finding a solution. If a solution is found, they can come up with a product that embodies that solution). In addition many innovators fromthese countries are trained in business, unlike the situation in our African countries where too many people who run businesses don’t even follow the fundamental concepts essential for a successful business.
What Malawi should be striving for, is to equip it’s young people with skills so that they can become resourceful and attempt to solve the problems within their communities/ global challenges, and in the process increasing their earning potential.
Let me proivide another example. If a Malawian national had invented a device similar to this ocean cleaning bin http://www.boredpanda.com/floating-rubbish-bin-ocean-clean…/ it is possible with visionary leadership, a good strategy and the right kind of funding to create a factory that would employ 3000 – 4000 people in Malawi over 5+ years, making these devices within Malawi, and selling them all over the world. The invention would make huge profits for the owner of that company…. in any case, this is only a simple device, and there’s nothing too complicated about it. In my view it can even be made from dry reeds weaved in the same way as weaved baskets, so no excuse for the unavailability of raw materials:

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In case you are asking why such a business would work, it has to be because sea / ocean debris is a real concern all over the world, and there is a huge demand (a market, which is an essential component for a product based business) for a simple device that can be made cheaply and deployed to clean oceans and lakes of all the plastic and other waste that’s thrown into them(waste that endangers marine life).
In contrast, even if a Shopping Mall or Hotel creates jobs for 200 – 300 people, comparatively it’s far less than what a factory making goods that can be exported globally has the potential to employ. Further, the money that shopping mall makes for the owner would be miniscule compared to the profits that would be generated by a product that is a commercial success globally.

Why I’m not excited about Roger Federer’s investment into Education in Malawi

Early this week, many people in Malawi were excited by the news that Roger Federer (ranked world number 2 best tennis player by the Association of Tennis Professionals), had launched a childcare centre at Lundu village, about 10 Kilometres outside Lilongwe, the Capital of Malawi.

While there is good reason to be happy about such news, whereby a big sports star has decided to use his time and resources to help Malawi in this area, a part of me thinks otherwise.

A part of me thinks that Malawi not only needs help in terms of pre-schools and child development centres, but also over the whole educational system – which is archaic, and needs to be revamped.

And here’s why:

Firstly, whats the point of giving children a great pre-school start only to disappoint them later on in primary and secondary education? How so? Well, according to Ripple Africa, a charity with a base in Nkhata Bay district:

… The government of Malawi recognises the importance of pre-school education, and encourages communities to set up their own pre-schools, but does not support pre-schools financially. With no funds to support pre-schools, most of them are run on a voluntary basis and are unregistered. Most teachers work for free, and have no resources to help them teach, lacking the very basics including blackboards and chalk, let alone books and toys which might commonly be associated with pre-school education in the West. It is rare that pre-schools have their own school buildings, and many pre-schools share facilities with local churches or other buildings built for a different purpose

It goes on to say

Although primary education in Malawi is free, students are required to purchase their own school uniform, pens, and notebooks, which many families find difficult. Rates for drop-outs are high, and, according to UNESCO, only 58% of children will complete a full course of primary school, and 20% of children repeat one or more school years, often several times, if they have had to take significant time out of school and have fallen behind. It is very common for children in Malawi to come in and out of school depending on their family situation, employment responsibilities, pregnancy and marriage at a young age, sickness, and more. By the time students leave primary school, many of them are far older than primary age, having repeated several years, and many lose interest and drop out all together.

If you read further, you’ll find the usual problems across the whole education board: poor infrastructure, lack of materials, unpaid untrained teachers even at pre-school level…  the usual.

How can you help children learn if schools have little or no study materials, and teachers are not properly trained? Before you do anything for the children shouldn’t you first make sure that their teachers have the right qualifications, and there are suitable facilities available for them to use in teaching.

So, in addition to improving pre-school education, I think the initiative should go hand in hand with improving the standard of education across the board, and not just in pre-school education.

In any case, we know from reports from employers that many people who come out of form four (or even Universities) in Malawi lack the basic skills needed by most employers. A scenario that probably is a result of dysfunction within Universities themselves. This dysfunction was summarised by The Nation News paper a few years ago:

In some public universities, for example, there is acute shortage of books or even chairs in classrooms, leading to students standing throughout lectures. Some of the faculty members also need to upgrade their qualifications; so, too, do catering and accommodation need improvement, among other facilities.

The above article by Ripple Africa also mentions the lack of buildings.

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image from typicalmalawian.wordpress.com

 

Malawi needs more school buildings, more resources such as desks, black boards and stationery in both primary and secondary education (including properly resourced dormitories in boarding schools). This will cost money, but the government needs to upgrade these facilities across the whole country. It cannot be piecemeal or random, because then it will not be effective. It has to be planned and transformative and must be made a top priority.

This is important because a child who undertakes their pre-school in a well-furnished nursery (complete with chairs and tables) is not going to be assisted if they then have to be downgraded and sit on the floor during primary school.

Never mind early education, primary and secondary school, what about tertiary education? Should the government be doing more to invest in tertiary education?

Recently in June 2015, Grant Shapps, UK International Development Minister, at the announcement that the UK would pump £11.6 million into Malawi education sector said:

“Malawi’s future doctors, nurses, IT experts, teachers and entrepreneurs will help build a nation eventually independent of foreign aid and with our own historic links to Malawi, particularly those of Scotland, this is also in the UK’s interest, because creating a more prosperous world will benefit us all in the long run”

The question is where will they be trained, and who will foot the bill? Is £11.6 million enough to train doctors, nurses, IT experts, teachers and entrepreneurs for a country with a population of 13 million people? Adequate training that will help Malawi compete on the global stage…? And not only provide Doctors and Nurses for Europe…?

There are other factors other than pre-school education that must be addressed if the education sector in Malawi is to be improved.

tfac-teacher-stats

Factors such as the effect H.I.V has on teachers. These need to be looked at, in collaboration with charities such as Theatre for a Change. It’s important that resources are dedicated to address them.

Aside from the education front, the other question politicians and stakeholders should be asking is after these children become young adults who have been ‘educated’, where will they work? No point training them when at the end of it all, you have no jobs to give them. A youth unemployment crisis which many western countries including the UK, Spain, Portugal and Greece are currently facing. Does Malawi have enough jobs and an economy that can support its young people of working age? How can the country create more jobs and assist its citizens to be resourceful?

Looking at the statistics of youth unemployment across Malawi, I can tell you that the country definitely doesn’t have enough good jobs, and this is a situation which could become a crisis if not addressed urgently.

Furthermore, Malawians must not rely solely on donors or foreign companies who have their own interests to come into Malawi and create jobs. This also extends to our educational system.

We must stop relying on foreigners to come in and sort out our problems.

When for example will Malawian corporations emerge that are owned by Malawian nationals, and employ thousands of Malawians?

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I’ll end with a personal story. A few months ago, a cousin-nephew who lives in the city of Blantyre in Malawi told me he wanted to study IT, in particular he wanted to work in Software or web related technologies. I told him to learn programming, and referred him to the City Library in Blantyre to find a book on the ‘C programming language’ which he could use as a starting point, since being trained as an Electronic and communications engineer I know that my education in programming began with C programming (as has been for many other people working in software and IT). So I was keen to get him down a similar path in this sense.

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A few days later he told me he had gone to the library but was told that they didn’t have any book on C programming. Further, he doesn’t have a computer, so even if he did have a book, there’s no where to practice how to code. Also he wasn’t sure whether he could install educational software on some of the public computers he has used in Internet Cafe’s. I wondered how it was possible for a library of a major city of a country to not even have a single book on C Programming, let alone computers for the public to use…In this digital era.

If things are like this outside the classroom, in a city, in 2015, I could see how easy it was for teachers to be frustrated.
Today, my thoughts are punctuated by an article I remembered, written by Steve Sharra titled Malawi at fifty One: the education legacies of Malawi’s presidents hitherto in which he argues that the failure to utilise the higher educational system to improve the quality of teaching and the teaching professions has negatively affected the country’s developmental process. In the article, Sharra writes :

However at primary and secondary school levels the problem of teacher morale, the most significant of the problems afflicting Malawi’s education system is getting worse. Today, anger amongst Malawian teachers has become so pervasive it severely corrodes the education system. In the first of 2015, salary delays took a turn for the worse. With communication from the ministry not forthcoming, teachers resorted to asking fellow teachers on Facebook groups for updates. It is frightening to imagine how these angry, bitter, frustrated and demoralised teachers are treating children under their care.

So here I am seated in a central city library in Nottingham (East Midlands), which has recent issues of magazines published in India, several copies of Der Spiegel, (including a May 2015 copy), and even an East Midlands Polish publication, let alone books on computer coding;

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I’m surrounded by both young and older people – all oblivious of my observations, getting on with their lives ; and I’m thinking how I can send a netbook with a compiler pre-installed on it, and a book on C programming to Malawi. I’m also thinking about all those young people who want to study IT related subjects across Africa(some of whom are being taught under trees), who greatly desire to tap into similar knowledge as is scripted in the pages of these books on the shelves next to me, but who can’t find a book anywhere to help them … who don’t have anyone to send a computer to them.

That is why I’m not excited about Roger Federer’s investment into pre-school Education in Malawi

Bad-mouthing a country

monkeys-47226_640The other week President Peter Mutharika of Malawi said that Malawians should not bad-mouth Malawi. That people shouldn’t say negative things about the country.

Although I see his point, in that he would like a more positive message about Malawi to be visible, especially to foreigners, I was left wondering, how can one not comment on the things that are going wrong in the country when very little seems to be done to prevent against them; when those in power come across as either not caring, or are preoccupied with self-enrichment to take serious note of the needs of the populace.

For example, not too long ago, I read an article on Malawi 24 that said students at teacher training colleges were going hungry after the government stopped giving them allowances in April. The problem the article said was centred at Machinga Teacher’s training college where student’s had not been paid their allowances and did not have money to buy food. Yesterday another news report came out saying about 2.8 million people were at risk of starvation in Malawi. It quoted an assessment of the damage caused by the recent floods, by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (which only last year also warned of food shortages).

But as far as hunger goes, there is more bad news. At the beginning of the month, the Malawi Congress Party refused an invitation to a state banquet commemorating Malawi’s 51 years of independence on moral grounds, saying why would you want to celebrate when the majority of Malawians were starving.

“Even ambulances are not operating, how can we be dinning and wining at the state House, this is setting priorities upside down” said Dr Jessie Kabwila, MCP’s publicity secretary.

They questioned why instead of spending K300 million (£427,870.00) on the banquet, the money couldn’t be used on a necessary expenditure such as on paying civil servant salaries – which had been delayed.

On one level I understand why when commemorating an occasion in which dignitaries and a president of another country  have been invited, it would be rude to send them back without some kind of a banquet. On another level though, desperate situations require wise measures. Spending on food and strong drink when salaries have not been paid is irresponsible.

Maybe they could have asked donors to chip in? But again, why can’t they ask donors to chip in to pay civil servants? And much more importantly, where is the ‘independence’ if you have to run to donors for every piece of expenditure?

But I digress, the reason people complain about what is happening in Malawi is not that they like complaining, or that they are anti-DPP. There may be some people who are just disgruntled moaners, but I think they are in the minority.

One of the most common reason why people complain about the situation in Malawi is because there appears to be way too many thoughtless decisions (which adversely affect Malawians) at the heart of government, and not enough thoughtful decisions to help the people on the ground. And frankly this trend has been the same with all previous multi-party governments since 1994. In my view, the only administration which tried harder (or appeared to be trying harder) than the rest to manage Malawi properly was Bingu Mutharika’s first government. That’s not to say that it didn’t have its ills. It did , and we can argue about that till the Chickens come home to roost. But the point is Bingu tried.

Which reminds me of my post last year here, titled 7 Essential Ingredients of Effective Political Leadership which many African Leaders lack.