Why has President Peter Mutharika of Malawi sacked General Vincent Nundwe?

General Nundwe (video via facebook)

Many people in Malawi are wondering why General Vincent Nundwe has been removed as Commander of the Malawi Defence Force (MDF), and replaced with Major General Peter Andrew Lapken Namathanga.

In an interview, General Nundwe said he was not aware of any wrongdoing that may have led to his removal, but he said it was the president’s prerogative to choose who led the army.

However, in a week where the president has refused to assent to bills that Malawi’s parliament passed a few weeks ago (those relating to the new elections to be held in May this year), and refused to sack the Malawi Electoral Commission commissioners, as recommended by the Public Affairs Committee, and when Mutharika had ordered the MDF to use force against protesters who plan to march to State House on March 25th, Media analysts, Governance experts and Political Scientists are saying the decision to fire Nundwe and his deputy are politically motivated.

My word to my successor is that they should always act according to the law

– General Vincent Nundwe

For those who have not been following politics in Malawi in recent months, General Vincent Nundwe has led the army through a time where it has dutifully and lawfully protected citizens from the lawless aggression of the Malawi police, during the protests which Malawi’s citizens have mounted against the government in recent months, calling for electoral justice against the fraud-marred May 2019 elections (which the Constitutional Court annulled in February due to widespread irregularities).

So Nundwe and the MDF are seen as heroes in Malawi, for their professionalism in protecting citizens and not allowing the MDF to be used as a tyrant’s tool that quashes peaceful protests against the regime – as has been commonly the case in many African countries that are ruled by despots.

Thus, if Nundwe was the preferred soldier’s choice to replace General Griffin Spoon Phri when he got appointed, what changed for Nundwe to be booted out? Did the same soldiers who wanted him in to lead them request the President that there be a change at the top? Did Nundwe do something wrong that was a grave breach of his duties to the constitution and to Malawi, or is Peter Mutharika merely looking for a partisan, compliant and spineless officer to push around, one who will try to force the MDF to do his bidding?

In these uncertain political times in the country, I think Malawians need to know.

And if there are no credible or convincing reasons why Nundwe has been removed, then the next government will have a duty to restore him to his role.

Looking at Peter Mutharika’s recent actions, and considering public anger against his unpopular government, especially in light of the constitutional court decision, the world’s eyes will be watching what the new leadership at the army does, especailly since Malawi is scheduled to hold fresh elections as directed by the Constitutional Court.

Minimally, Malawians will be expecting the army to uphold the constitution, and for the MDF to maintain the same level of professionalism and high standards which Nundwe and others before him presided over. And if not, Malawi will be yet again thrown into political chaos and public unrest. Especially since over the years, Malawi’s army has had a legacy of upholding the constitution, even when people outside Malawi expected otherwise. So a sudden change is likely to irk those who have been protesting against the may 2019 rigged election and will most likely work only to increase the intensity and magnitude of the protests. In 2012 for example, when the then president Bingu Wa Mutharika died, General Odillo, a Bingu appointee moved to uphold the constitution and prevent a coup by Bingu’s cabinet (which included Peter Mutharika), who had at the time conspired to prevent Joyce Banda (Bingu’s estranged Vice president at the time, but rightful second in command) from assuming the presidency, protesters only left the streets after there had been a peaceful and constitutional transition of power.

Other interesting links across the web:

//Product development //

//Young People’s Empowerment//

// Skills Transfer to African youths//

WHO IS CONTROLLING THE SECOND MUTHARIKA?

puppet-122915_640by Z Allan Ntata.

After almost a year in power, the dust has now settled on the hullabaloo that was the rise of Peter Mutharika to the presidency of the Republic of Malawi. What can now be observed clearly is the familiar Mutharika curse that led to the decline and fall of his late brother’s otherwise purpose-filled presidency.

Anyone familiar with Malawi and the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s presidency will testify to the fact that one of the issues that aroused the anger and disapproval of the late Bingu for many Malawians was his eagerness in allowing himself to be influenced by the Muhlakho wa Alomwe ethnic grouping. The invasion of this grouping into the affairs of state, especially the presidency, led to the kind of cronyism and nepotism that reminded people of Dr Hastings Banda’s days in which the Chewa people had over 90% of the national cake. Such behaviour was certainly one of the reasons that late Bingu’s second term ended on a note of severe controversy.

Peter Mutharika should not be deluded into thinking that Malawians have forgotten the DPP low points; the unjustified authoritarianism, the lack of essential political reforms, the governance challenges, the vain celebrations, and most of all, the Mulhako cronyism.

Although Peter Mutharika seems to have borne in mind that at one point in his late brother’s administration, about half of the cabinet was Lhomwe, he seems to have failed to recognise the danger of trusting too much in one or two confidants without proper justification.

In late Bingu’s administration, we saw at one point that senior cabinet ministers such as Justice Minister Prof. Peter Mutharika, Minister of Education Dr. George Chaponda, Minister of Tourism Anna Kachikho, Gender and Women Affairs Minister Patricia Kaliati, Trade and Industry minister Eunice Kazembe, Minister of Irrigation Richie Muheya, Deputy Finance minister Nihorya, Deputy Lands and Housing Minister T. Gowelo, Deputy Disabilities Minister Felton Mulli, Deputy Information Minister Kingsley Namakhwa, and Deputy Education Minister V. Sajeni were all from the Lhomwe belt.

We also saw that principal Secretaries in key ministries also reflected a pattern that favoured the same Mulhako kinsmen and that within the Executive big institutions were also assigned to Lhomwes. These included ADMARC General Manager Dr. Charles Matabwa, ADMARC Finance Director Foster Mulumbe, ADMARC Head of Administration George Bakuwa, Auction Holdings CEO Evance Matabwa, NFRA boss Edward Sawelengera, Immigration Chief Elvis Thodi, Anti Corruption Bureau Director Alex Nampota, Director of Intelligence Clement Kapalamula, Inspector General of Police Peter Mukhito, Chairperson Malawi Electoral Commission, Anastanzia Msosa, Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo, Clerk of Parliament Maltilda Katopola, Attorney General Jane Ansah, Secretary to Treasury Randson Madiwa, General Manager Malawi Housing Corporation (MHC) Mondiwa, MBC- Director General Patrick Khoza, Reserve Bank Governer Perks Ligoya, Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) Commissioner General Lloyd Muhara, Blantyre City Assembly Chief Executive Ted Nandolo and Malawi Savings Bank CEO Joseph Mwanamvekha.

More importantly, late Bingu was controlled to a significant extent by Leston Mulli and the top Mulhako wa Alhomwe brass that included individuals such as Jean Namathanga and Noel Masangwi. These people formed the President’s unofficial advisory council on governance, public appointments and political strategy.
The fact that Malawians are quiet now should not delude the current Mutharika into thinking that Malawians are not noticing that a similar trend has already emerged. Speaking to ministers and government insiders, it is apparent that the country is not really being ruled by Peter Mutharika, but the power behind the power that is a clique of special assistants, bodyguards and certain relatives.

But surely the learned professor of Law knows that Malawians gave a governing mandate to Peter Mutharika, and not to any of his personal assistants, doesn’t he? Does the Professor not know that the ruling mandate was given to him and the DPP on the basis, in part, of his solemn pleas that the DPP had changed and should be forgiven for past mishaps such as the nepotism and cronyism mentioned above? Does he not realise that Malawians expected that the DPP would honour that forgiveness by following a new political path, a different style of political leadership and governance, with appointments based solely on merit and in recognition of the contribution that various individuals have put towards supporting this country and their bid for the presidency?

The simple fact is that as learned as he is, the professor knows these things. The problem appears to be the fact that his administrative powers have been relinquished to his assistants and advisors. This relinquishing of his administrative powers to his personal assistant, and the warmth and cosiness that he is again displaying with the Muhlako old guard is not only disturbing, but may indeed be a cause for worry as to the direction of his presidency, and whether the so-called new and changed DPP was simply such in rhetoric only.

During its two years of exile, many talented and capable young men and women led the DPP push to power. These need to be given an opportunity to now utilise their talents in promoting a national development agenda. It will be an affront to public trust demonstrated in the vote to ignore and overlook these able individuals simply because one or two personal assistants, advisors or even valets (imagine that!) are in control and only their cronies can assist the leadership.

Indeed, it would be useful to remind the President that critics are already waiting in the wings and will soon come out of the woodwork with their pens blazing. It seems to be rather unwise to provide critics with ammunition in the form of competent CVs overlooked on important positions simply because they were not endorsed by one or two personal assistants or that they fall on the wrong side of the ethnic divide.

Furthermore, certain leadership blunders are already becoming evident: The misguided graffiti painting of Lumbadzi police cells, the seriously dubious asset declaration, the suspicious sale of MSB Bank just to name a few. Are these ideas consistent with a supremely learned professor of law with donkey’s years of experience? The answer is probably No- although anything is possible in politics!

How does one identify a puppet? You know you are dealing with a puppet when every time you try to say something to the puppet, the puppet says: Talk to my assistant, the guy pulling the strings.

Given the high intellectual respect with which President Arthur Peter Mutharika is regarded in the country and internationally, perhaps the time has come to ask the question publicly instead of simply joining those asking it in secret: Who really is controlling Peter Mutharika?

*** ~ *** ~ ***

Z. Allan Ntata is a Barrister of Middle Temple, Governance Specialist, Ex-Counsel to the President of Malawi and author of “Trappings of Power”. More details about him can be found on his website

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

czech-republic-457019_640
Czech Republic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Essential Ingredients of Effective Political Leadership which many African Leaders lack

Lets get a few things out of the way: Firstly I am African so I think I can make the above statement without being accused of racism, arrogance or being labelled as condescending. Secondly, over the course of a good part of a decade or so, I have been closely following African politics, and have realised that the lack of certain aspects in most African leaders either renders them ineffective in their governance or are partly responsible for their failure. Finally, the factors below are not lacking in African leaders only. Many non African leaders lack one or more of these ingredients.

1. Empathy for the man on the Street

poverty-509601_1920Why did it take Goodluck Jonathan so long to comment on the atrocity of the kidnapped girls in Nigeria? Why do politicians demand massive pay hikes while the majority of people in their countries continue to suffer with abject poverty? Further, why do leaders like the late Bingu Wa Mutharika buy a private jet when the country was struggling financially? What made it difficult for him to see his people needed more help? Whatever you want to call it, for me it boils down to lack of empathy. African leaders can be so aloof to the point most don’t even know the price of Chiwaya or Kanyenya on the street. How the hell are they supposed to know how best to help the common man escape the poverty trap and live a dignified life? [Essential reading: Entrepreneurial Solutions for Prosperity in BoP markets]

2. Competent Advisers

advisorChief among the reasons why African politics stinks is one root of glaring rottenness: Bad advice. The continent is full of it. Wrong advisers who don’t care of the consequences of their advice. Officials who are uneducated (or have lied or faked their qualifications); Officials with little or no exposure to progressive ideas or development in action (so have not formulated a sound philosophy or adopted best practices and techniques that have delivered successful results elsewhere). Ignorant officials who are unwilling to learn.

These are the kind of people who are keen on titles, they like to feel important, but are completely disinterested in any form of intellectual stimulation or debate that will challenge their starved ideas or expose their narrow mindsets. To them money and material pleasures which they can solicit in the here and now is king.

Most political advisers in Sub-Saharan Africa, and in particular in Malawi, are firefighters, reacting to the narratives developing around them, instead of leading the narrative. Which is especially problematic since the narrative in their countries is often a reaction to the public (or to the Media’s) as to their incompetency. Let me give an example. A London-based acquaintance once told me a story about his encounter with a presidential adviser: He had gone to Malawi a couple of years ago to sound out the possibility of a diaspora financing initiative that would alleviate forex shortages in Malawi. This was  at a time when the country was facing forex shortages. When an adviser from State House met him one evening – at a local beer joint, he was surprised to hear the adviser question why this acquaintance wanted to begin the initiative. The adviser asked this man something in the lines of “Who do you think you are to want to institute such an initiative?”. As if that was the most important thing. Unfortunately in Malawi, such an encounter with a presidential adviser is not rare, and there have been many accounts of instances where presidential advisers solicited bribes, or refused to take up ideas because such ideas had no immediate benefit to them.

The political adviser Africa needs is a person who has devoted their life to studying the successes and failures of prominent politicians. Someone who is happy to constantly delve into leaders and prominent personalities from Mandela, Lumumba, JFK and Che Guevara, to Mao, Reagan,Truman and Churchill, and extract valuable lessons from the lives and careers of these stalwarts. What were the highlights of their achievements? How did they help their peoples? What did they get right? What did they get wrong? What could they have done better? How have the times changed since, and what lessons from their leadership are applicable in today’s society (or today’s local setting)?

Tru3. Effective Operators

Having a title as the head of state, as a minister of some department or as a chief adviser to the government in itself doesn’t mean anything unless you can deliver on promises. And sometimes being the best implementor is better than having a title.  Many years ago, I read a biography of JFK that said JFK relied heavily upon the administrative abilities of his brother Robert Kennedy – who was Attorney general in JFK’s Government. It was ‘Bobby’ as Robert Kennedy was fondly known who implemented most things of importance. And the president had absolute belief in his brother’s implementation skills. This relationship is best captured by an account according to one researcher, Christian Hald-Mortensen,  in John F. Kennedy – Leadership Qualities That Moved A Nation:

Next to McNamara and Rusk, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy was the most important cabinet member – in a class by himself. Undoubtedly, JFK’s ability to assert political control was strengthened by the presence of his own brother in the Executive Branch. He naturally became a close confidant of the President on policy matters that ranged beyond the jurisdiction of his own department. Bobby’s influence was felt throughout the government, as bureaucrats occasionally could pick up the phone and hear the attorney general requesting action on an initiative. “Little Brother is watching you” became an Administration in-joke

He [Bobby] was very assertive, to the nuisance of other advisors – the Undersecretary of State, Chester Bowles more than once went to the President and said: “Who is in charge here?”, “You are”, JFK replied, to which Bowles added “Then would you please tell that to your brother”

Most African leaders do not have enough capable implementors in government who can get things done, done properly, and done quickly.

4. Respect for the rule of Law

StopHow many times have you heard of an African leader using the police or army to oppress citizens of his own country? To disperse protesters. To frighten opponents,… even to murder dissidents. How many times have African leaders violated their countries’ constitutions in order to assert authority or suppress dissent? Hooligans hired to intimidate or censor the media. Thugs hired to beat up legal practitioners of their opponents. How many of these leaders self-examine to ascertain whether their actions are driven by selfish intentions, or whether their actions genuinely will benefit the country? How many will as soon as they leave office find themselves hounded by the very same laws they sought to undermine?

5. Seeing the bigger picture

robot-507811_640The common good is the bigger picture. Far removed from partisan squabbles, untainted by jealousies or fiscal shortsightedness, the common good is what we all should long for.

The question is, what can we as the government do for the people, whether they voted for us or not, to improve their lifestyle, their way of living, their health, to give them a vocation that can put food on the table, every day, to transform the country into a success, and to do all these things sustainably?

On any given day, the basic needs of man can probably be categorised as the need for Employment, affordable Food, affordable or at least decent shelter and the availability of Entertainment. To this list can be added accessible and affordable Healthcare, accessible quality Education, effective Transportation systems and a Social Mobility structure to aspire to. I’ve made some assumptions. For example I’m assuming  that a government is able to provide electricity (although this factor is not strictly necessary for people to be happy in the 21st century, it’s probably a must), clean drinking water, and sanitation.

In most African countries, even though most are past the 50 years + mark since they gained independence from colonisation, these basics haven’t been provided to the majority of their citizens. For example, in Malawi, about 80% of children do not have access to clean drinking water. Yet when you frequent the presidential palaces, and state residencies, there is luxury and opulence wherever you look?? What is stopping the country’s implementors from beginning a major borehole project to ensure that every village has access to clean drinking water? Instead of relying on aid organisations to dig boreholes, why can’t the government’s own Water Boards buy equipment and begin such a project?

Because leaders and their advisers either don’t care, or they fail to see the bigger picture.

I’ll give another example: Fuel. During Bingu Wa Mutharika’s government, the Malawian economy came close to collapse as donors pulled out, due in part to Bingu’s autocratic tendencies, and due in part to his refusal to devalue the Malawi Kwacha. While I did not agree with Bingu’s increasingly oppressive governance, in my view, the episode will go down in history as a squandered opportunity for Malawi to advance economically because the government could have taken out a loan elsewhere (say from Russia, Iran, Norway, China or Brazil) and began instituting self-sufficiency initiatives designed to curb Malawi’s reliance on petroleum.

They would have done this by investing in alternative fuels like bio-diesel, including instituting an industrial scale vehicle conversion project to enable cars in Malawi to run on bio-diesel. They could have reviewed their contracts with large multinationals to ensure that foreign companies paid their fair share of tax. They could have passed emergency legislation banning import of products like Tea, Coffee, Eggs, Tomatoes, and other perishable goods in preference for locally sourced and locally processed goods. They could have invested in Solar Technology to create a huge Solar Power farm to feed power derived from Solar panels into Malawi’s energy grid. They could have created Tax free zone for certain industries like I.T. and Manufacturing, (excluding heavy industry like mining, Oil / Gas exploration) to attract investors and create employment among the Youth. They could have started a media campaign, explaining to the electorate the real effects of devaluation and over-reliance of foreign goods on foreign exchange reserves and the economy. They could have revamped tourism in the country, including tax breaks to new companies that attracted tourists to Malawi. They could have invested in Bottom of the Pyramid Industries, and individual communities, including building new and improved markets.

Think about it: wouldn’t more self-reliance projects rolled out in the form of cooperative unions help a small country like Malawi? Things like collective ownership of farm machinery to redeem farming time, and improve farming practices, is something that is not only achievable at village level but desirable for communities that expend a lot of energy on working the fields.

Furthermore, donors and investors may promise you the moon, but never forget that they have their own, sometimes selfish interests. There is evidence that some African leaders are unable to see this fact clearly. Whether it’s being asked to devalue the local currency, being prohibited from buying tractors for agriculture, or whether a loan with dodgy conditionalities attached is being offered, there’s nothing like a free lunch. African leaders would be best advised to seek independent advice from those unconnected with such transactions or institutions before committing to agreements or contracts which will come back later to bite their successors. Organisations such as  Corporate Europe Observatory and World Development Movement are known as being independent, and standing up for poor countries. They are certainly better than hiring expensive ex-prime ministers of European countries to advise you on government policy.

6. Admitting and learning from past mistakes

When was the last time you heard an African president apologise for some misdemeanour or disastrous decision their administration had been involved in? Or better, when was the last time you heard an African president take full responsibility for some catastrophic failure his government was responsible for? You know why you haven’t heard it: because it rarely happens.

7. Knowing when to step down

WelcomeOverstayedDon’t try to lobby your country for a change of the constitution so that you stay longer in power. Don’t try to force a puppet leader onto your political party, and the people, ignoring your party’s executive council, so that you stay in charge. Don’t manipulate whoever takes over the reins – let the best and most competent politician run the show! Even after you are gone.

Why did Nelson Mandela step down voluntarily after only one term? He was not forced, not pushed, nor coerced. It wasn’t as a result of a fall from grace. Mandela wasn’t overthrown. The man simply decided he had done his part for South Africa, and that it was time to leave the reins of power to  the younger generations, those who were more imaginative and hopefully could implement the vision of South Africa which he and many others before him had dreamed of. And in doing this, he chose the noble role of an advisory or father figure – one that all South Africans loved him for.

Why can’t more African politicians be like Nelson Mandela?

Walking away with your dignity intact can sometimes be the best thing you can do as a leader. And it’s not only good for the leader, it can set an excellent example for those who look up to you, and are following in your footsteps.

pedestrian-468297_640

Press Reform: Time to create an independent media watchdog for Media Organisations in Malawi

projector-64149_1280Who regulates the Media in Malawi?

Who is it that will confront  the many dodgy online (and some who are not online) publications that have been known to create false stories against public figures out of no-where? What code of conduct do they subscribe to? Who is it that they are answerable to? Are their writers trained journalists conversant with established journalistic inquiry methods? What standards do they observe when they go about crafting their menace? When they concoct their heresies – who can chastise them? Who gets to rebuke those who push out false material into the unsuspecting public in an everything-goes fashion?

I’ve not suddenly become pro-establishment. I’ve not suddenly woken up today and dreamily decided to attack press freedoms.What I’m asking after a long contemplation of the news coming out of Malawi News portals in recent months is what exactly constitutes press freedoms? Can writing a story that one knows is false, that one knows didn’t happen, or that one suspects couldn’t be true, all in an attempt to create a stir, or appease a financier, does that qualify as ‘press freedoms’?

The questions above need to be carefully considered for a good number of reasons.

Firstly, as many Malawians who follow the news will know, we have been misled quite a number of times by the news agencies, and various publications, over issues from president Joyce Banda’s dealings in office, to  the current president’s sexuality. It’s simply not fair, or sustainable, or even professional for such kind of rubbish-pit chicanery to continue to splatter the media. Think false or twisted stories against some Malawians, including Jessie Kabwila, and much recently against Thoko Banda and many others.

Those who write these stories will obviously have justifications for creating them. Any fool can do that. It takes a real professional to independently verify a story before presenting it as ‘fact’. It takes a real professional to separate fact from allegation. What is also interesting, especially in online news portals, is that in regards to most such false stories, as soon as the authors are confronted, they quickly backtrack and delete these stories – issuing an apology. But only after thousands of readers have already accessed the fabrications. After the damage has already been done. Often than not, the story leaves behind a record, a trail which can be used to unfairly taint a character – many years later.

It’s simply not sustainable for Malawi’s media organisations to operate like this. There has to be some basic standards and fair reporting.

Secondly, some of the Media organisations are owned by politicians. Or by people with direct affiliations to political parties and politicians. So, what they publish is invariably going to favour their patrons. Which is not always good, especially if they begin to unfairly attack other politicians or groups opposed to their patrons. Further, there are some media organisations in Malawi, which in an attempt to bring down an opponent will publish material that is false, or will twist facts to present a sensationalist picture that is not entirely true. One that does injustice to the individual concerned. Obviously this is not right, and you can not use ‘freedom of speech’ to justify such behaviour.

‘What about MACRA (Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority)?’ I hear you say. Can’t they regulate this environment? Isn’t that their job? Well, they have been described as ‘poorly managed‘ by the 2006-2007 Media Sustainability Index Report. They have been accused of pro government bias. In my view, MACRA is overburdened by other things. Their organisation is already stretched in dealing with issues such as tax evasion by telecom companies, unauthorised broadcasting by the same, and other tedious issues. They are not ideally equipped to scrutinise as many media outfits in the land to ensure that what is published is, firstly true, and secondly in line with the type of code of conduct I hereby propose. Further, if MACRA went about demanding integrity and quashing rumour and propaganda in online publications, such behaviour is likely to come across as anti-democratic, and may even qualify as censorship, simply because MACRA is a government institution.

‘You are advocating press Censorship’ I hear another say.

And why would I do that? If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll realise that I’m quite liberal in my thinking. I often publish material on accountability, fair and even distribution of wealth, anti-corruption and such themes. Why then would I suddenly become a chum of the powers that be, and advocate censorship? There’s a difference between on one hand propriety and abiding by professional standards that aim to preserve integrity and professionalism, and on the other hand censorship. Asking that publications must verify the truthfulness of a story before publishing it is not censorship. Instead, it is ensuring that fabricated rumour and other gooble-de-gook doesn’t pass-off as news. At its bare bones, I’m advocating a quality check.

I believe what the European Court of Human rights once said (Castells vs Spain): “Freedom of the press affords the public one of the best means of discovering and forming an opinion of the ideas and attitudes of their political leaders. In particular, it gives politicians the opportunity to reflect and comment on the preoccupations of public opinion; it thus enables everyone to participate in the free political debate which is at the very core of the concept of a democratic society”

Words which echoed Theodore Roosevelt, when he said ” Free Speech exercised both individually and through a free press, is a necessity in any country where people are themselves free.”

But this free political debate only works if the public opinion or the ‘free speech’ that is published is in fact true. It can’t work if the stories are false or fabricated with the intention of character assassination or otherwise.

What about the recent E-bill?

Well, it doesn’t go far enough, and critically it focusses the power in the hands of the government via MACRA, the regulator, which as I said above is restrictive. Like the current framework, it is not sufficient. What is needed instead is a framework run by an independent body with neither political nor neopatrimonial interests.

So what form will this new regulator take?

Well, assuming that we agree that the current state of play is not sustainable, we will probably also agree that self-regulation is not an option. Similarly, if  the likes of MACRA have been accused of interfering, or being pressured by the state to interfere with the media, then they are probably not the ones to front this.

Thus, taking a simplistic view, what I propose is a Malawi Media Monitoring Commission that will have a parliament sanctioned Professional Charter and Code of Conduct. Its role will be to uphold standards in the media and communications industry.

It’s not going to be that simple. Public Affairs Committee (PAC) will need to take an active role in formulating that code of conduct, and a public consultation will need to be launched, to ensure that views of ordinary Malawians are taken into account, and that the executive does not monopolise or influence the organisation.

Why all the hassle?

Because the role of a free press is to hold the government to account. It should not work the other way round. And you cannot have a free press if there are few or no standards being observed, or if the government attempts to stifle or gag the press via instruments such as the E-bill. Leaving the formulation of this important aspect of democracy to parliament alone can compromise its independence and thereby press freedoms.

The Commission will be led by a commissioner on a 2 year contract, appointed by a committee including members of PAC and some parliamentarians. In order to minimise costs, the office of the commissioner will have no more than 10 fully paid members of staff, whose duties will include advocating the merits of a free impartial and professional press, sensitizing the public about the code of conduct of the watchdog, running seminars for journalists and members of the media, investigating complaints, dealing with reports of false and fabricated stories, investigating false stories, imposing fines against unscrupulous media outlets, enforcement, and in particularly acute cases, proposing the prosecution of media organisations or their employees. It will operate separately from MACRA, although it will need to work with the police to ensure that the public’s faith in the regulatory structure is restored. Further, MACRA will be obliged to pass on any complaints of unfair reporting they receive to the new commission.

To me this sounds like a more functional and independent system with much better prospects of creating a media that is responsible, and that puts leaders to task, than the current framework. In any case, it prevents concentration of power in the arms of the executive or legislature.

Global 100 Voices: No 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15. Any famous last words?

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

* Emphasis in brackets added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Satans Neonazi Conmen (Part 2): To stay put + die / migrate but risk death + persecution

Sometimes the law defends plunder and participates in it. Sometimes the law places the whole apparatus of judges, police, prisons and gendarmes at the service of the plunderers, and treats the victim – when he defends himself – as a criminal. Frederic Bastiat

Rich countries figured out long ago, if economies are not moving out of dead-end activities that only provide diminishing returns over time (primary agriculture and extractive activities such as mining, logging, and fisheries), and into activities that provide increasing returns over time (manufacturing and services), then you can’t really say they are developing – The Myth of Africa’s Rise – By Rick Rowden

It is better to be a lion for a day than a sheep all your life. ~Ghanaian Proverb

It’s a simple mathematical analysis almost every living human being is capable of making, and which nomadic tribes have used for survival for centuries :- Do I stay in my present environment and put up with this drought/ hunger/ deprivation/ corruption/ sh*t and risk death, or do I go somewhere else in search of greener pastures even though there are also dangers there. Which risk is a safer bet? Which risk is worth my life?

For some, the urgency of their situation, or the realisation that there has got to be something better in life than the status quo, than their miserable existence motivates them to take extremely challenging (or even reckless) risks (see here , here , here and here).

The result, some make it out successfully, while others still end up dead (Niger migrants’ bodies found near Algerian border – via BBC,  Substantial risks for African migrants ) while attempting to make it out. Some get to the new frontier but have to endure untold persecution for years; others make it out but find themselves victims of organised crime, while a smaller percentage eventually settle into a newer better life – one still littered with challenges.

This is a realisation which is difficult to explain” one man told me, a Somalian migrant who came to Britain 10 years ago “You have to experience it yourself to understand it

But why are people prepared to risk their lives for what is effectively a pie in the sky; a dream that may never materialise, or which may end up killing them – as it has killed thousands others in the past?

Well, some are running away from unpredictability of life, chronic economic deprivation, high death rates and low life expectancy. Living conditions that can partly be painted using the following pictures:

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Others are seeking new frontiers, and are wearied by the lack of educational opportunities in their own countries (educational opportunities that are narrow, often expensive – and beyond their reach – and that do not cater for a diverse range of skill sets). These people have resolved to find education elsewhere.

Some are fleeing from wars or military conflicts that have ripped apart their societies, setting one man against his brother; fighting on ethnic or religious lines, either for political or resources control. Else, they are victims of organised crime (Trafficking victims too often treated as immigration cases, say campaigners – via the Guardian) – manipulated and scammed into believing a better life awaits them on the other side of the sea. When they get to Europe – they face more persecution!

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Others are purely economic migrants in search for work and better pay because the rate of unemployment in their own countries is too high. Combine that with low wages and increasing cost of living and the picture couldn’t be more depressing. For this group, using the family’s savings to get to Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia or America is a safer bet than going months on end without a job. Some families literally bet all their earnings on a single son, with the hope that if he succeeds in reaching Europe, he can get a job and help them by sending money home to them. And if you look at countries such as Somalia where their youth unemployment rate for 14 -29 year olds hovers around 67%, you can easily see why this group prefers to leave. As Mohamed Ali says in this TED talk, there is a link between unemployment and terrorism.

Else, there are those who are sick and tired of the scheming, lies and broken promises from the political classes. This group will often have waited for quite sometime before making a move, betting on one leader or another, hoping that real change that can transform their economic plight will arrive. When it doesn’t after decades of waiting, remaining in the country is not an option. In Malawi, president Joyce Banda, Africa’s second female president, who was warmly received by the international community less than 2 years ago, and who is a favourite to many leaders of Western countries, has been struggling to address a massive embezzlement scandal (see here and here) that has recently been uncovered at State House and in which millions of dollars were stolen from state coffers. Predictably, the beneficiaries of such dirty money are only a few hundred dodgy individuals-mostly those with links to the ruling party, whereas for the majority of citizens, living conditions have not improved in as many years, and in some cases they have worsened with reports of people dying because of lack of medicines, causing anger against the political elite and ruling PP party:

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Then there are the enlightened younger generation who are touted to be the hope of third world. Some of these are fortunate to have received a decent education in their own country (however remote such prospects may seem) or abroad, but are held back by lack of capital, demands of bribes from officials, issues such as regionalism, ageism, nepotism and other cancerous and backward biases. To this group, which is by far ‘better informed’ than the older generations, the idiocy of the political class, the massive corruption and fraud in government, the gaffes from political leaders, the lack of opportunities in society, the water cuts, blackouts / electricity shortage, the ignorance + backwardness of some sections of the older generation, increasing cost of living in the face of low wages, the high crime rates, social sentiments that are out of touch with global happenings in general, are all too much a burden to bear or live with. They look West, or move to developed countries which have better economic and social outcomes.

As an example, consider this statement which was made by a friend on a social media outlet:

“How can a Malawian lose when he/she give up the citizenship? After all some Malawians are treated like second class citizens (Scums) in their own land just because they are coming from certain region. I remember one Malawi head of state said, “Who cares about you in this country all you contribute is 25% to this nation development.” Referring to people from certain region. Thank God he was arrested by nature. Malawi will never develop because people who can really develop the nation are completely outnumbered.”

The numbers of those trying to get to Europe illegally may be high but as I stated in my earlier post, not everyone can live in Europe or North America. And indeed not everyone must want to live in Europe or North America. The countries on these continents have finite resources and mass migration puts a strain on their medical services, and on social and welfare services. Schools can become overcrowded, and native populations can find it difficult to adjust to the newcomers. Further, the culture is different – some may not like what they find. But to top it all,  in the long run, uncontrolled migration is bound to be unsustainable.

However, the solution can never be subjecting migrants (most of whom have genuine grievances) to harsh and inhumane hostile treatment. That does not target the root of the problem – it only causes suffering and creates enmity.

In my view, while there is a historical aspect to migration (which I will explore in my next and final installment) there are things western governments can do to reduce the numbers of migrants that attempt to leave their home countries (‘source countries’) :

1. Government policies on migration should place people at the centre in that there must be realistic alternatives on home soil.

“At its heart, migration is fundamentally about human beings” – Navi Pillay

It may seem like an obvious thing to say but potential migrants living in developing countries must be given an alternative. And if for whatever reason their own government is non-existent (as the Somalian government was for a very long time), incapable or under-resourced such that it cannot provide them with better opportunities – others must decisively step in. Only then will illegal immigration begin to be curbed. Essentially this means that people in a place like Mogadishu must have a realistic shot at life (affordable food; decent educational opportunities; availability of microfinance; adequate security; accessible and affordable healthcare, etc).

A choice between something pleasant and decent – and the journey that could kill them.

This also means that more resources should be poured into challenging extremism, and these resources must be well-administered to ensure that they reach the point-of-need and are not embezzled by corrupt politicians/ officials.

In a discussion with a friend the other day he said something simple but profound:

If you are sending £600 million in aid to Pakistan, are you then monitoring how that money is being spent, or do you then just look away and assume it will be spent properly?” he said

“How can extremism be defeated if there is no accountability from both the donor and the recipient of the funds?”

On this point, while the US and other western powers are withdrawing their forces from Afghanistan and Iraq, wouldn’t it be a good idea for a battalion or two (with the help of Nato or even the likes of Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran) to get into Somalia and other countries who are considered to be breeding grounds for extremism, to assist the anti-terrorism efforts against the likes of Al-Shabaab.

2. Most people don’t like to live away from their home country, their birth place, but as can be seen above, sometimes circumstances force them to leave. In order for illegal immigration to decrease, there must be better awareness in the home country from where the migrants originate. Instead of european border agencies focussing primarily on questionable measures to discourage illegal immigration, their governments should invest in training to be provided in the home countries of the migrants, to inform the local public of the dangers of illegal migration and what conditions illegal migrants live in. As involving as this may sound, if the national government of an African country such as Niger is unlikely to provide such information, isn’t it sensible for the destination country that will bear the burden of the arrivals to make it a point to do something before people think of leaving? In my view, this system would have much positive outcomes than harassing migrants who are already in Europe/ Australia.

3. Criminal organisations that encourage or fraudulently deceive people into believing that migration will give them a better life must be apprehended. There are no two ways about this-if there are 10,000 criminals trafficking people, then 10,000 must be imprisoned.

Unless the criminals who are encouraging illegal migration and who are providing the means, the actual transportation are caught and put behind bars, and kept there, it will be difficult to stop illegal migration. This also means financing and working with the ‘source countries’ to upgrade their national laws to ensure that such crimes have prohibitive penalties/ jail sentences that are long – giving a clear message.

4. Greater and more equal distribution / sharing of resources:

Western countries must change tactics in the fight against poverty. Most experts agree that ending poverty is key to solving many of the problems afflicting the continent of Africa. But few ever agree on a specific course of action. In my view, there are some ideas that can work better than others, and some ideas have been tried with little or no success.

If people can find a decent job in their own backyard, which can give them a relatively decent lifestyle, or if they can take out a loan to start a small business (and receive support from institutions that can help them succeed), why would they want to risk death for a dream they may never attain? As some argue, Is trade not aid, the answer for Africa? I believe there has to be a fundamental shift in the way western countries deal with Africa and other third world countries in that more focus should be given to getting  people financially independent (irrespective of who is leading the country), and not on the country’s resources. If people are empowered with the means to carve an existence, they will be better equipped to address the bad politics in their country.

Western governments must stop tolerating or financing mediocre and thoughtless leaders that are depriving their local populations of even the basics.

As I hinted here (and here), the quickest way to do this is to begin Research centres / Universities across Africa, with the hope that these will spur innovation in the form of sustainable industries around or alongside them – as has often happened with Universities in most western countries.

‘Working research centres’ focussing on sustainability and green technologies, or ‘Manufacturing Universities’ that make actual products designed for the African market can be built and funded to churn out a breed of African innovators.

Examples of products that can be manufactured here are Mosquito nets, Medicines, Animal feed, Juice extraction and manufacture, Software development, Manufacture of composite materials made from recycled products, Solar panel manufacture and suchlike.

5. Common problems that are hampering the progress of developing countries must be addressed. This also includes regulation of businesses at UN level to ensure that corporations that set up in places like Africa do not take advantage of weaker laws or crooked officials to sign backdoor deals at the expense of the local population, depriving the country of essential tax revenues.

6. The risks and Benefits of migration must be shared.

‘This Article argues that the global welfare gains from migration can be divided in a way that makes all stakeholders better off. It develops the idea of a “Migration Fund” that is used to insure the destination country against fiscally induced or otherwise undesirable migration while simultaneously serving as a mechanism to compensate the source country for the potential adverse effects of outward migration…’

7. Pathways of citizenship for migrants already in the destination country must be created. Most of these people have already suffered painful and unbelievable ordeals – why make them suffer more? Further, most of these people are instrumental in sending huge amounts of money back to their own countries. Some of that money fulfills the purposes laid bare above, and it is in the interest of the host country that this financial outflows continue.

8. Racism must be untaught. The more people in first world countries appreciate that migrants are humans just like them – in almost every other way, the less bias / discrimination there will be in society (irrespective of whether that society happens to be in a first world country, a developed country or in a third world country). There is no substitute to tolerance.

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African Queens: the catty spats inflicting havoc on Africa’s first two female presidents

Malawi-President-Joyce-Banda
Joyce Banda and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf via http://womensenews.org

If you thought the verbal missiles flying between the Malawian President Joyce Banda and several prominent women in Malawi (Seodi White and Jessie Kabwila to name a few) was a phenomenon unique only to Malawi, think again.

In recent months, the Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has also been on the receiving end of criticism by a woman she is well familiar with. Arguably one of her staunchest critic, Leymah Gbowee, the Nobel Peace prize laureate with whom Sirleaf shares her Nobel Peace Prize resigned last October as head of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, citing Johnson Sirleaf’s failure to combat corruption in government as one of the reasons. Further, she questioned why the president’s sons had important official jobs in Liberia. Gbowee said Sirleaf’s sons needed to be swept out. Singling out Robert Sirleaf, a senior adviser and chairman of the board of state-owned National Oil Company of Liberia Gbowee said:-

“This is wrong and I think it is time for her to put him aside,” Gbowee told the BBC. “He’s a senior economic adviser, and that’s well and good, but to chair the oil-company board—I think it’s time he stepped aside.”

An account on the Guardian puts it as follows:

While the criticism might come as a surprise to the international community, it’s nothing new in Liberia. “The issues raised by Gbowee are discussed in every sector of Liberian society,” said an official with an international NGO operating in Liberia, speaking to Daily Maverick. “There have been public outcries for months if not years that all the top positions in the government are friends and family. Corruption has overshadowed the country. And the gap between rich and poor is huge. Cabinet ministers have monthly allowances of $30,000 per month, while the average civil servant makes $100.”

This is not the first time Sirleaf has been criticised for her inability to tackle corruption. Despite her many accolades as a beacon of hope for Africa and women’s’ rights, her first term was littered with corruption scandals (to scratch the surface see here and here ) and indecision over corrupt figures in her government. One account reads:

Then, [Charles] Taylor’s presidency became a case study in kleptocracy and warlordism. By political necessity, the transitional government that followed, preceding Sirleaf’s administration, was made up by many of those who made money during the Doe and Taylor years. Even some members of Sirleaf’s government retains shady figures from the past.

Her 2011 re-election was very much in doubt such that the election was decided by a runoff in which her main opponent boycotted, leading to claims that she did not have a clear mandate; that she won by default because the voters of the other candidate never showed up.

Her Cabinet reshuffles have been criticised as superficial:

Minister of Agriculture Florence Chenoweth, for example, was spared despite being deeply implicated in a scandal regarding the questionable manner in which 25% of Liberia’s land and 40% of its rainforests were sold off to foreign logging companies….

Even the awarding of her Nobel prize just days before presidential elections in Liberia in 2011 didn’t go through smoothly, and was criticised as a political move by hidden forces attempting to win her political support; some have even called her a puppet forced onto the Liberian people by imperialist powers…

And fighting back she has, being quoted in 2012 to have said “she [Leymah Gbowee] is too young to know what we’ve done to reach peace and security in our country.” a statement which in my view hints of ageism, a bias not entirely desirable in a political leader.

In some respects Joyce’ Banda’s experiences as Malawi’s leader are not too dissimilar to those of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as Liberian president. Like Johnson Sirleaf (who came to power after 23 years of war had devastated Liberia), Joyce Banda inherited a broken country that was on the brink of collapse as a result of Bingu Wa Mutharika’s troubled relationship with donor countries. While Malawi’s condition was a lot less severe than that of Liberia, Banda came to power when there was little forex in the country, and many services had been crippled; when foreign companies had pulled out (or were threatening to pull out); when there was shortage of sugar – this happening in a sugar exporting country; there were water shortages, and even the main brewery in the country scaled down operations (this was happening in a country which has a 360 mile long fresh water lake!?!); when teachers were on strike, the civil service including the police and lecturers hadn’t been paid for months (and the police were told to fend for themselves); corruption was commonplace; the price of fuel had gone through the roof and there was severe fuel shortages; prices of goods were increasing uncontrollably, there were demonstrations on the streets, and police brutality had killed at least 19 civilians and injured 58…

One and a half years on, while the situation has significantly improved from those turbulent days, most people agree that Joyce Banda’s honeymoon is long over. It is time for the president to show real leadership and put in place genuine policies that have a realistic chance of transforming Malawi. There is increasing frustration amongst many Malawians that the Malawian president has done too little to improve the lives of ordinary Malawians, and that nepotism (hiring family members to serve in government – the president’s sister was appointed as Principal Secretary in the ministry of Education) continues to be rife. There is a general feeling of discontent in some quarters that only people in government (or those who have connections with them) are truly benefitting from her presidency.

The president has publicly attacked unmarried women, and fuelled a spat with the above mentioned female activists. Further, like Johnson Sirleaf, there is concern that the president has turned a blind eye to corruption inside her cabinet, whereby several members of the government (including senior ministers) have been implicated in corruption scandals but have received no flak, and have not been prosecuted. In addition, there is growing concern that just as during Bingu Mutharika’s era the presidency was too close to a handful of corporations, Joyce banda’s government has been criticised for being too close to certain companies and corporations, in one instance the president was pictured clothed in attire having the logos of a local private bank –which had donated K28million (~£52,000) to one of the president’s initiatives. Then, there is the issue over the independence and competency of the judiciary – as the old legal maxim goes

“Justice delayed is Justice denied”

there are several high-profile cases (including several corruption cases) pending in the Malawian courts, which appear to be dragging through at snail’s pace, with little or no sign as to when a decision will be issued. Some observers state that this is unconstitutional and with good reason believe that the president has not done enough to ensure that justice is served promptly on such cases, or that any obstacles (be they shady judges or otherwise) are set aside from obstructing the course of justice.

In Education , and despite some glimmers of hope, there is concern that the president has not done enough to increase the standard of education in the country. To build more Universities and technical colleges to equip the large number of unemployed youths with skills necessary for vocations such as entrepreneurship or commercial farming.

Talk is also rife that Joyce Banda’s son, Geoff Kachale, raised eyebrows over the apparent quick and sudden accumulation of wealth he is said to have acquired. Further, according to Face of Malawi, there are reports that the man has been putting pressure on some parastatals to award him contracts, or suffer consequences. Whether this is in fact true or mere speculation is anyone’s guess? Similar to such allegations is another allegation that Mr Kachale imported a large number of trucks into Malawi, a few of which are now being used by Mota Engil…??

Add to that poor judgement (Madonagate, South Korea labour fiasco (more here), selling presidential jet to buy maize); the wasting of public resources (e.g. The president’s excessive travelling [with too many members of cabinet – all of whom claim allowances], Facebook fiasco – wasting unjustifiable amounts of public money to create a personal Facebook page); her troubled relationship with the media; carrying hard cash to distribute to rally goers; Refusing to disclose her assets; getting ‘cosy’ with Mugabe (more here); and like Johnson Sirleaf, Joyce Banda promised to repeal Malawi’s anti-gay laws, but has yet to make good on her promise…

Finally, there is also concern that most of Banda’s policies lack sustainability and potential for long-term wealth creation. Many of her widely publicised activities involve giving maize handouts, giving free money to supporters, distributing  blankets or livestock and such menial tasks that can be entrusted to a junior minister or low-level civil servant. They are mostly hand to mouth initiatives, and could never help Malawi achieve economic independence in the ways that other countries globally have done in the past.

However, unlike Joyce Banda, who is known to have travelled far and wide in an attempt to attract investment into Malawi, some of the achievements of Johnson Sirleaf are quite remarkable. Prue Clarke and Emily Schmall write in the dailybeast:

… Johnson Sirleaf deserves credit for some stunning economic achievements. The Harvard-educated (Kennedy School of Government, 1971) president used her credentials as a former World Bank and Citigroup economist, along with a mighty dose of charm, to persuade Liberia’s creditors to write off nearly all of the country’s crushing foreign debt. International investment in industries like oil exploration, iron ore, and palm oil has soared from nothing to $19 billion, much of it from emerging economies of India, Brazil, and China. Government revenue has grown 400 percent.

But while there have been many poor decisions, and lack of sustainable policies with developmental potential, Banda has been in power for just one and a half years now,…which may not be sufficient time to roll out a real developmental agenda. With the pressure of running a country, and elections looming in 2014, now may be the last chance for Joyce Banda to try to get things right.

Most foreigners who visit Malawi temporarily don’t get to see the real drama played out, and leave the country singing praises, a good example here are Tony Blair and Clinton, who promised to help Malawi fix its problems. However, for those who stay a bit longer to properly study the dynamics and  observe the course of things , they soon get to see the real deal

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Shredding of Public Institutions in Malawi – by Jimmy Kainja

Shredding of Public Institutions in Malawi

law

The Daily Times of Friday, July 26, 2013 had a screaming front-page headline: “JB defies court order”. The story is on President Joyce Banda’s decision to go ahead with elevation of Traditional Authority (TA) Chikowi, in Zomba, to a senior chief on the following Saturday, July 27 in an apparent disregard for a court order stopping the initial installment of Mariam Saiti as a TA.

There is a family dispute on the succession of the chieftaincy. One side of the three families that exchange the chieftaincy placed their faith in the justice system and sought a court injunction through lawyer, Wapona Kita, to stop Saiti’s installation; an injunction was granted, according to Kita but Zomba District Commissioner Harry Mtumbuka Phiri has denied that his officer was saved with the court order, therefore paving way for Banda to elevate the chief.

However, Kita insists that the injunction was saved and “if the court rules that the person who is being elevated is not the rightful heir to the throne then we will start all over again”, The Daily Times quoted Kita. According to the newspaper, Banda is not a stranger to the dispute as she has previously lived with one of the families from the grieved side in Zomba police lines.

“The President is a close friend of our family from way back when we were living together in police lines in Zomba … when we exhausted all channels to amicably settle the dispute, we requested to have an audience with the President to mediate but she ignored all our communication”, Roselyn Mankhwala from the grieved side told The Daily Times.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on chieftaincy issues nor I am I a legal expert but this case has an important governance issue at its heart, this is way beyond the succession dispute. A lot of public resources will be used for the elevation. The public outcry about the president’s travels is well documented and now you can add this one on the list. This could turned out to be even more wasteful should the court rule that Saiti is not the rightful heir to throne. Public resources wasted and deepening animosity for the concerned families.

President Banda’s knowledge of the issue not withstanding, why can she not wait for the court ruling first? Shouldn’t Banda as a president play a uniting figure in such matters? Here it is irrelevant whether the Zomba District Council was received the injunction or not. It is clear that Banda is aware of the dispute, through the family connection. Even if she was not, does she do these elevations without background checks?

Ignoring a court order is a disregard for basic democratic principle: separation of powers. This is designed to strengthen good governance; it guards against abuse of power, which is seemingly the case here. What if every Malawian decides to do likewise? Is it not a chaotic country we are creating? It is important to remember that might does not make it right.

At the height of the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s short-lived autocracy, the renowned Malawian academic, Thandika Mkandawire, bemoaned what he called the “shredding” of public institutions in Malawi. This looks agonisingly similar, it is now well and truly entrenched into the political system and every caring Malawian should be concerned about it. In his own wards, here is what Mkandawire said:

“DR. Banda bequeathed Malawi three institutions that gave a good start towards democratic consolidation: (A) a relatively independent judiciary, since the political cases were handled by the traditional courts; (B) a depoliticized military since the political side was handled by paramilitary young pioneers and (C) and a fairly competent civil service. It is these institutions that ensured us a peaceful referendum.

 “DR. Banda further gave legitimacy and credibility to these institutions by accepting both results of the referendum and the first democratic elections. Muluzi in his own way strengthened the legitimacy of these institutions by accepting, albeit reluctantly, their ruling on Dr. Banda and the Tembos.  He accepted the parliament’s rejection of his third bid. To appreciate the full value of the legacy one has to consider the cases of many African countries where these were severely compromised during one-party rule.

 “Such countries have had huge political problems with their democratization since they have no credible institutions to adjudicate even the simplest of squabbles. In Malawi all political actors have respected the courts and sought to redress their grievances through the court system. Malawi had more litigations going on than the entire SADC region. One can point to some of the abusive aspects of these litigations but all in all they are partly evidence of the faith in our court system.

 “When Bingu came to power he promised to reverse the creeping trend towards the politicization of these institutions. He specifically promised to strengthen the meritocratic basis of the civil service. What we are witnessing now is the shredding of the legitimacy of these institutions by politicizing them and by implying their daily management of their affairs depends on “orders from above”. The institutions are now being pitted against another.

 “… Those in power now should remember their own future will also depend on how well these institutions are.”

 

This article is cross-posted on Nyasa Times

[Author – Jimmy Kainja]