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 ]

Reshaping the African Politician – Nick Wright

reshaping-african-leaderIn my quest to find progressive views and forward-thinking ideas which if embraced could potentially improve Malawi’s economic situation, I found myself interviewing Sir Edward Clay, the former British Ambassador to Kenya, whose interview will be posted on this website soon. He spoke about some very interesting things, including introducing me to another individual, a  British historian in the form of Nick Wright, who has spent several years in Africa, including some time in Malawi. It is my pleasure to share with the readership of  this website his insightful observations:-

1. You’ve had some exposure to Malawi and Africa in general… if you were to summarise your experiences, what has been your African experience?

My wife spent several years as a physiotherapist in Mulago Hospital, [in] Kampala. We had several Ugandan friends from that experience. After leaving our jobs in Australia, we enrolled in the (British) Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO): I as teacher of English in Chimwankhunda Community Day Secondary School in Blantyre, Malawi; she as physiotherapist at Malawi Against Polio (MAP), also in Blantyre. We were there for two happy years. I became interested in Malawian politics at that time and started as Malawi correspondent for the London-based Africa Confidential. Journalism of this sort continued for several years after our departure from Malawi in 2001 and obliged me to make several return visits to Malawi in order to conduct interviews. I met the leaders of all major Malawian political parties and the heads of some government departments, foreign embassies, aid-agencies, newspapers and business enterprises.

2. Most of the African countries in which you spent time in gained their independence around early to mid-1960’s. And at the time, Pan-Africanism was probably at its peak, with a freedom fervour sweeping across the continent, something that can probably be compared to what we recently witnessed in North Africa with the so-called ‘Arab spring’; It’s now close to 50 years since those ‘glorious days’, but to what extent in your view have the goals or overarching expectations of ‘independence’ conceptualised by the founding fathers of African countries been realised for the majority of their citizens?

Nkrumah’s pan-African ideal of the 1960s was never adopted because arrogant African presidents, like Hastings Banda, were (and still are) too attached to the trappings of a threadbare sovereignty to be able to surrender all the flags, palaces, UN flummery, and motorcades. I think the Western powers had an interest in divide and rule, too.

I once wrote an article which mourned the collapse of the East African Federation for just such reasons: “Central Africa’s Sovereign Issues”. Regional federations, as stepping-stones to wider unions, make good sense for Africa – especially for land-locked, resource-poor, Malawi – and they must not be allowed to remain the modern taboo that Kamuzu Banda made them.
This is another example, I’m afraid, of too much power in the hands of Presidents who scorn institutions like Parliament, the Judiciary; the printed media; the Civil Service, the Constitution which are set up to be their “checks and balances”. Presidents are told by everybody around them (until they are toppled) that they are God Almighty, and they come to believe it. Only Nyerere came close to the ideal of a model, modest, president, and his modesty was treated with contempt by the others

I developed a healthy respect and liking for individual Malawians but a very strong feeling that Western aid policies were failing Malawi badly. Why? Because: (1)they fed complacency, idleness, irresponsibility and corruption within the Malawian elites; (2)they fed arrogance amongst the expatriate community who were forever in the company of grateful and respectful poor people; (3)they created passivity and feelings of helplessness in ordinary Malawian people, including those in government who had their responsibilities taken away from them. Whilst being aware of the many individual benefits brought to poor Malawians by individual aid- projects, I felt that the real beneficiaries of aid-money in Malawi were: (1)state-presidents and their family members, friends, and hangers-on; (2)the staff of a multitude of NGOs and aid-agencies, and (3)expatriate consultants expensively employed by DFID, the EU, the UN etc to write expert reports. Bingu wa Mutharika was on the right track with his angry denunciations of Western aid but his protestation was undermined by his own lavish personal spending and his grotesque toleration of corruption. How can a person who makes all the decisions in Malawi and whose immediately previous experience was in minibus driving and in the corrupt bureaucracy of COMESA(Bingu) or small business (Muluzi), be trusted to act solely in the public interest of Malawi? Bakili Muluzi was more likeable as a man than Bingu but identical in his failure to distinguish between personal and public.

3. And if such goals and expectations have largely not been met, what are the main reasons as to why they have not been met?

Far too much unchecked power is in the hands of individual Malawians, especially the President, because of the “Big Man” [similar link here] culture which prevails in the country and the weakness of public institutions. The independent national newspapers, like The Nation, do a reasonable investigative job but are easily intimidated by threats to their advertising revenues and by their own lack of resources; the MBC public broadcaster is entirely under government control and biased in favour of government; the Malawian churches retain a sporadic consciousness of their responsibility as “public conscience” of Malawi but are often distracted by their own factionalism. The Parliamentary committees occasionally exercise oversight on public spending but only when in session and they are often starved of vital evidence by government departments and tend to divide on party-lines. The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) is widely considered to be only for “small-fry” financial criminality, and firmly under presidential control where corruption itself is often centred. Western embassies, (individually and collectively), sometimes exercise a restraining hand on the presidency through their aid-policies, but their staffs are usually too comfortably entrenched in their own luxurious lifestyles, and too suspicious of each other and of China, to risk serious confrontation with the president. The Executive arm of government (effectively the President) is overwhelmingly powerful in Malawi, and this patrimonial model of government filters down to all levels of administration. “L’etat c’est moi”

4. While there has been visible progress in some parts of Africa, when one travels in other parts, especially the rural areas, the story of suffering is the same. If it’s not wars and ethnic violence, then it’s disease and poor healthcare, or famine and hunger, else it’s lack of resources, poverty, corruption…the list goes on.  After over 50 years of foreign intervention and billions of dollars in aid, what in your view is preventing Africa from getting its act together?

Aid is ruining Malawians’ self-respect and their natural honesty and capacity for hard work. Its gradual removal will cause as much consternation in Western donor capitals (“What will Bob Geldof say about all the hungry people?”) as it will in some of the poorest households of Malawi (“See how our politicians can’t provide “Development”). But it is a “bullet” that must be “bitten” for the greater long-term good of Malawi. The Fertiliser Subsidy (FISP) which absorbs most of the agricultural budget has become a millstone around the neck of Malawi’s agricultural development.

The subject of overseas aid is a very important one and for the reasons explained above. Why should the presidency take note of competing institutions when the Executive is virtually guaranteed free money from overseas? Why should government departments do their jobs properly when overseas experts with university degrees in International Development seem to know all the answers? Why should Presidents feel the necessity of proper financial accountability?

All aid should be phased out. The endless tinkering between “good” and “bad” aid will not do for Malawi any more. It is ALL bad! If its abolition means the collapse of Western-style democracy in Malawi, then let it go. It will return in a different, better, African, form!

5. One of the problems that has been cited as holding back the growth of African economies is the relatively low levels of Venture capital investment into Africa, when compared for example with the Venture capital investment that has been flowing into Asia or South America. Do you agree?

Venture capital is largely absent from Malawi, except in uranium-mining at Kayelekera, and in tourism (i.e where Malawian control and profit-taking is minimal)

Nick Wright has worked in the History Department at Adelaide University (1975-1991) and for Africa Confidential as its Malawi correspondent (2003-2010).

Other Articles by Nick Wright:

 

Global 100 Voices: No 7 (Part 1)

My next guest is a true son of Malawi and a businessman who has done remarkably well for himself and his family. Based in South Africa, he is the founder and CEO of the Ulalo Group of companies, who have operations in South Africa, Malawi and China. He has a great desire to see Malawi and Malawians advance, grow and become economically independent, and I must say his experience in this regard is something we can all learn from. Mr Joshua Chisa Mbele, thank you for doing the 100 Voices interview.

[Note- this particular interview is a transcription of an audio file which will be available from this website soon]

Thank you very much for having me, my name is Joshua, Joshua Mbele, a Malawian by birth, I come from Salima, I’ve stayed in South Africa for almost 24 years, I’m married here, I have got kids, here, I have got businesses here and also in Malawi, I also have operations in China. I came to South Africa in 1989 or somewhere there, to seek I’d say I was an ‘economic refugee’; I was looking for greener pastures. Coming in 1980’s early 90’s it was not easy to settle in South Africa as you can imagine, it was a white South Africa, but I tried my luck, and persisted, buried my ways and settled, that’s the background. In terms of Malawi, I went to Robert Blake sec school, I went to Malawi Polytechnic to do Mechanical Engineering, and then I came here both to work and to pursue education. Today I am a fully fledged business person. As I indicated, I do have businesses in Malawi, I think if I’m not mistaken, I was the first Malawian who took hard-cash in terms of US$4 million then to invest in Malawian telecommunication industry, I have also invested in other sectors of the economy, we hold shares in Sunbird hotels, we hold shares in Mpico, we also hold shares in other sectors of interest and are still looking for opportunities in Malawi. Thank you.

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

The socio-economic stability of Malawi to me is of paramount importance. As you know that the building blocks of the society is a family, that’s the root. Now, where there is economic havoc, you have unstable family structures. To have a stable economy also stabilises family lifestyles. A family which is skilled, which has got a father and a mother as professionals, which can send their kids to school and educate them adequately, which can put food at the table every evening, it means that it has got a more meaningful role to play in the economy, an active family is a productive family. A productive family is part of a productive community, it’s part of a productive society, and the two, the productive society and social economic environment of the country, the stability of it are integral to each other, so it is very important that we stabilise both the social and political environment in Malawi. For me as a family person and as a business person those are fundamentals that we need most.

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, that’s very true…in chatting with my friends; I normally refer to myself as a founding father, to the amusement of many, what I mean by that, not that I founded the Malawi nation,  but I try to say that I was born just before the dawn of independent Malawi, because I was born in 1964, I’m as old as Malawi itself. Now, I know for sure that I have grown up seeing Malawi, we’ve grown up together I’d say so, from the dawn of the independence, Malawi made quite a lot of significant inroads, or there was significant tangible development so to speak, just to give you brief outline of that, since 1964, Malawi embarked on to be an agricultural country and Dr Banda established so many farms, tobacco, maize, cotton. We already had the established tea industries in Thyolo and Mulanje, and he went on to plant the forestry, you remember the Chikangawa forestry in the North, and not only that, he revamped what was then Farmers Marketing Board (FMB), into a corporate commercial ‘ADMARC’, which was there to serve both the growers and the market. It was the meeting point. And in terms of the infrastructure, things do speak for themselves. We upgraded what was the colonial rail from Luchenza, Nsanje, Blantyre, Salima, and later on, it was extended from Salima to Lilongwe and Mchinji under the Malawi Canada project. And also from Machinga, going out to Mozambique to Nacala port. We also had the development of the lakeshore road, not forgetting the Kamuzu International Airport. We should also not forget that Malawi established its own University of Malawi with the constituencies of Chancellor College, Bunda College, Kamuzu college of Nursing, Malawi Polytechnic  and he also planned for school of Medicine; those were Dr. Banda’s plans, not to mention the movement of the capital from Zomba to Lilongwe, to centralise administration. But, after 1994, the advent of the multiparty democracy, which I welcomed so much, to some extent we downplayed the development that we had, we did not insist to maintain the momentum of development, it seems that we threw away the bucket together with the dirty water, because we slowed down, from 94 to-date, very small tangible infrastructure projects that have taken place, compared to what Malawi achieved, from 64 to 1994, so there was progress during the era of the Dr. Banda and we have slowed down in development, even the quality of education has gone down, so  those are some of the areas that we need to look at very carefully; we can look at the congestion on the roads, roads with potholes, we can look at the dilapidated universities and schools, we can talk of the empty hospitals without medications, the clinics … up to now Malawians do not have continuous supply of electricity, not everybody has got access to clean running water. These are the basics that we should have had by now 50 years down the line, but we are still struggling, even worse we have fallen behind with our agricultural outputs, we are now a begging nation, no longer self-sufficient.

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

That’s a good question. I would start by saying that first, I’m not a public administrator but I would try as much as I can to define the role of the government from my personal perspective, experience as a citizen, and also experience as a business person. The government is there to take care of the social welfare of anybody that lives in the land, take care of the environment, okay; Now with that in mind, we need to bear that the first and foremost the duty of the government is to uplift the lives of its citizens; how can the government do that? That is by putting economic policies, okay, based on stable political environment, to make sure that there is tangible progress in the economy, because economy governs everybody, it also governs politics of the day; if we’ve got policies that are conducive for economic growth, the multiply effect is shared benefits for everybody, now the government role in this regard is to facilitate progress, prosperity and development; in our case to make sure that policies are in place that invites and ‘water’ the development of businesses from ‘nobody’ into ‘smaller businesses’, ‘smaller businesses’ into ‘medium businesses’, ‘medium businesses’ into bigger businesses’, that should be the trick; Private public partnership another aspect, where the government invites the private sector and say: look, these are the sectors that we would like to develop, it’s not the duty of the government alone, we want the private sector to come and join hands, here is an axe, lets join hands, so that we mobilise resources jointly and tackle the challenge together, so that we realise the benefit as a nation.

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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?

Yes, that is very true, just a bit of a background; That as much as I’ve stayed in South Africa for so long, but I’ve reached South Africa as a spring-board. My profession took me from working for one big company to another big company; with this I had an opportunity in my areas where I worked with BHP Billiton, BHP Billiton is the largest mining company under the sun. And with them I travelled to countries and worked in those countries, for example I worked in Belgium and France, to master the aluminium technology with the Pechney company for their latest technologies, and I worked in Kwazulu-Natal for that. After that I left South Africa and went to the US to pursue some of my ambitions, so I know what life looks like in the US, I was in Miami for some time, and I commuted between Miami and Atlanta, Georgia.  But when I delved into my private business, I did consulting, in my consulting field I worked for telecommunication industries; I worked for companies like MTN South Africa, MTN Nigeria and I also worked for companies that develop the software, I happen to also work with that company in Athens, to do the Application developments for telecommunication industries, so I have seen quite a lot, I have absorbed a lot, to observe how ‘catchers’, and ordinary citizens behaviour to influence the economic development. Today I am in China, I understand where China is coming from. In 1949 it was the poorest, today it is the second largest economy under the sun. What is it that other nations are doing that we are not doing?  First and foremost is the access to skills, if we cannot develop our own skills, forget about any development, secondly innovation, creativity, skills development as a priority in whatever we do. We must re-align our educational curriculum to our prerogatives as to where we want to take the country in the next 20, 30 years; science and technology, very important; we cannot do anything without such skills.  Now, my observation is that we are lacking behind because we still believe in the ‘I am going to school so that I can be employed as a manager, as a supervisor, I’m hoping to be appointed as a CEO’ No! Each one of us, every Malawian is a CEO in his or her own right. If anybody [among] us has a hunger to succeed, we should be able to create our own jobs, and employ others. Examples are there in China, China is a thriving economy, it is solidly built on small businesses, of course there are big businesses [in china]; look at Brazil, look at India, you know, there is no major intellectual difference between them and us, it’s simply the attitude, we can be just like any other nation, which was once the poorest and today is one of the most successful. Just in History, just to compare Apples with Apples, Malawi and Singapore in 1964 were in the same basket; President Lee and President Banda were friends. Actually Lee visited Dr Banda in Malawi, in his book he (Lee) said [something in the lines of]: ‘One of my best friends which I visited was a country that was also under the British rule, Malawi’…the difference between Singapore and Malawi was the attitude of the citizens and commitment to develop themselves, long-term plans, long –term strategies, today Singapore is a first world [country], Malawi still remains the poorest under the sun, so the attitude, the drive from the government, skills development, access to resources, partnership, those things are key to take the country forward.

more-art golf early days

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

I go to Malawi very often, as I indicated that I do have businesses in Malawi so almost every year; in the recent past I used to go to Malawi almost every other month. I’ve seen the change of guards from the UDF government, 2004, to Dr Bingu Wa Mutharika, I must say I recommended him, he started very well, he did quite a lot of good work, he improved the road networks in the country, he had his own vision and I recommended him, I complimented him, you might be interested to know that I had a meeting with Dr Bingu Wa Mutharika on the 20th August 2007 at the state house, where he narrated his vision for Malawi by heart, which road will be linking which one, what building will be wherethe expanding of  Lilongwe capital city reaching the frontiers of the Kamuzu Central Hospital, creating the five-star hotels, building the new stadia,  the highways, I was very impressed, and true to that word, when you go to Malawi today, the skyline of Lilongwe has changed, you cannot miss the Malawi parliament, you cannot miss the five-star hotels, you cannot miss the convention centre, you cannot miss the road, the presidential drive that takes you from the city centre to area 18, the roundabout, it’s quite beautiful. And the roads connecting the other rural areas, Chitipa, Karonga road is there, in the south there are a number of roads going from Blantyre to Mulanje…, those are developments that happened under his first term of office. But as usual, things changed, things changed for the worse, apparently he decided also to reward himself, so what was intended for Malawi became for himself, and things went wrong I must say and its only today that we realise to what extent things went wrong, but he started very well, there is evidence to that, but unfortunately, it wasn’t like that at the end.

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5b. I note that in your description of your encounter with the late Bingu Wa Mutharika, you haven’t touched on anything to do with industrialisation – did Bingu’s plan have anything to do with increasing Malawi’s industrial output?]

I’m here to make an honest and objective assessment. If Dr Bingu drove his vision, the way he articulated everything, in the earlier days of his presidency, he was on the road to achieve that. What happened later on is that when things started going wrong, companies that were supposed to expand or small businesses that were supposed to grow were wiped out, one, It was difficult for people to have access to Forex to import machinery or to import raw materials, but most importantly, he played a cronyism card such that only those connected to his regime were developing; Now, you cannot develop a country based on family framework, or friends framework, it doesn’t work.

[Part B coming soon]

100 Voices is a collection of reflections, views, opinions, ideas and thoughts by Malawians across the world, regarding the past, present and future of Malawi.

Global 100 Voices: No 5

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My next guest describes himself as the proprietor of a recently opened media company(AGM Media).The company offers photography, audio and video services, amongst other services. He’s also undertaking International studies with the Open University. Mr MKOTAMA KATENGA-KAUNDA, thank you for doing the 100 Voices Interview!

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

It is important because as a human being, one always aspires to have a better life for one self and his/her family. Socio-economic stability gives a better chance for someone with a dream to have a better quality life in a developing country.

    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? In view of those challenges, what do you think is the role of government and the people in tackling those challenges?

It is really difficult to pinpoint any visible progress Malawi has made since independence. It is the same scenario of ‘the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer’. It is sad that Malawi has not developed as it should have because the majority of visible structures in our country were built by Kamuzu Banda about twenty-plus years ago. It has been 19 years since we became a democratic country and not much has really changed in Malawi. In my view, I fail to register any visible progress that Malawi has made since independence because we have destroyed the very foundation which our nation once built (electricity and water supply is erratic, refuse collection is non-existent, our postal services are inefficient, Malawian-owned industries have been sold off etc). The most pressing challenge is ‘corruption’ at all levels of society in Malawi. For things to change, the government, starting with the executive, need to be exemplary by being tough on corruption at all levels in society. If the government is serious about such issues, then it is inevitable that citizens will follow suit.

  3. As someone who lived(or has lived) outside Malawi for some time, and has been exposed to modern and progressive ideas, what symbols of development in the foreign country in which you lived have had the greatest impact on you, and why?

I lived in the UK for 12 years and there are a lot of symbols of development in the UK that have had the greatest impact on me. My view is that, anybody that works hard in the UK has the chance to live life above the poverty line. Their social welfare is admirable in that it manages to help those citizens who are unemployed, homeless, sick and disabled etc. The roads, universities, transnational corporations, manufacturing industries and many more are all symbols of development that are prevalent in the UK. These symbols of development have had the greatest impact on me simply because my country of origin, Malawi, is lagging behind as one of the poorest countries in the world.

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

As this is a globalised world, a lot of Malawians have travelled and are still travelling. When we travel, it broadens our horizons and whatever we see in developed countries, always inspires us that we can also develop to the level of western countries. The lesson to be learnt is that as a nation, we should be resilient and ambitious with our developmental plans, because it is possible for third world nations to become developed nations. We should study and analyse those countries that have developed and try to figure out where we have gone wrong to strengthen our weaknesses on our path to development.

   5. When you last returned to Malawi, what struck you the most as the greatest sign of improvement or development since the last time you left?

I think the most clear sign of improvement that struck me was the number of better cars in Malawi.

   6. What struck you the most as the biggest sign of stagnation or regression?

The biggest sign of stagnation was corruption because everywhere i went, people preferred to do things through the back door.

frgl7. 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? And specifically, how should that leader approach the top job in terms of creating sustainable development and foreign reducing aid dependency?

The biggest challenge Malawi has, is that we are dependent on foreign exchange for economic stability. As we approach the elections, Malawi needs an innovative leader that’s ready to initiate an ambitious blueprint to try to become self-sufficient. Malawi needs a frugal, transparent and incorruptible leader who is willing to make sacrifices for the future of our nation. This means that we need to utilise all our natural resources in a meaningful way where we get full returns that in turn spark developmental pathways for our nation.

   8. 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?

Malawi’s alternatives to acquiring foreign revenue apart from Tobacco, is through natural resources. We have uranium in the northern region which is a sought after mineral in nuclear energy physics. Lake Malawi is rumoured to have gas and oil deposits underneath its seabed, which is believed to have caused tension between Malawi and Tanzania. However if the prospect is true, the returns from natural resources are always rewarding to countries with natural resources.

   9. 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?

The only way to progress from such a relationship is by becoming self-sufficient. Countries like Malawi are in a vicious cycle where they have become used to being dependants of the IMF and the World Bank. To come out of the reach of the IMF or the World Bank, Malawi needs to utilise its natural resources by channelling monetary gains into improving our social welfare.

   10. We know that Malawi has some precious minerals, including uranium, possibly oil and other natural resources. How do you think the present government is doing regarding managing Malawi’s natural resources?

The present government’s management of natural resources is poor. Rumours were rife in the previous administration that they signed a weak contract with Paladin an Australian company that was given concessions to mine uranium in Malawi. The current government has also kept the nation in the dark about the contract and no one really knows whether Malawi is gaining from it or not.

   11. In your view, can the government do better to manage natural resources? If so, how can it do better?

Yes, the government can do better by becoming transparent in its dealings with foreign companies that are given concessions to extract minerals from Malawi. Contracts should be negotiated for the benefit of the nation and not for just a select elite few. There is need for our government to realise that natural resources are for the benefit of all the people of the country, and not just for the leaders in the executive.

12. What is your answer to increasing transparency and eradicating corruption which is plaguing most governments across Africa?

The answer is to have a strong constitution without any loopholes, a constitution that punishes anyone in contempt of the law. There is also a need to separate the police from the state so they can work independently without government interferences.

   13. Any famous words?

Running a government is very serious business – Bakili Muluzi

 100 Voices is a collection of reflections, views, opinions, ideas and thoughts by Malawians across the world, regarding the past, present and future of Malawi.