A Rotten Society

court-house-25061_1280What does one make of professor Garton Kamchedzera’s claims that Malawi is experiencing a dwindling of legal standards?

Last week, during a sensitisation conference organised by the Malawi Law Society in Lilongwe, the lecturer said

“It is very embarrassing and hurting to hear that some of my former students are implicated in dubious deals which has lowered the public trust on legal practitioners in the country which is one of the oldest and noble professions worldwide due to greed and hunger to make money fast”

During his presentation(titled ‘The Salient Failures of ethics for the Malawian Lawyers: Emerging issues in ethics’ ) at the conference, Kamchedzera said the legal profession was a calling from God, and so legal practitioners needed to be competent and comply with high ethical standards, so as to properly serve the public. He urged vigilance in ‘ reversing the country’s values through our decisive attitudes…’

This is a guy who in the past criticised Ken Lipenga and urged him to step down amidst massive corruption and fraud in Joyce Banda’s government. He has also said in the past that Malawi has leaders who like to be worshipped – an allegation I completely agree with.

What struck me this time around though is that he talked of ‘an already rotten society‘, saying the greedy behaviour of lawyers wouldn’t help fix such rottenness.

I’ve heard too many complaints about legal malpractice in Malawi and if you have dealt with lawyers in Malawi, it’s likely you too have a tale or two to recount, but that’s not what this post is about.

When I hear terms such as ‘rotten society’, the immediate question that comes to mind is not what does he mean by ‘rotten’, but instead, how did such a society become ‘rotten’? And, what’s keeping it rotten?

I’m sure these are questions which some progressives who would like to see a better Malawi will be thinking of. But assuming we all agree on what is meant by a ‘rotten society’, it seems to me that if you ask any knowledgeable commentator about these issues, they will identify one or more of the following as some of the causal factors :-

  1. Governance failures & Corruption since 1994 (Cashgate remains unresolved; Bakili Muluzi’s case has not been finalised; We don’t know the full-scale of plunder during Joyce Banda’s government; there’s a lack of continuity in state projects (the Shire Zambezi project hasn’t been completed); Malawi has in the past hurriedly negotiated resource contracts – which later prove to be flawed, and deprive the government of essential funds)
  2. Lack of discipline and disregard for the Law (Corrupt policing, bribery, rent-seeking, Thuggery, etc) Why would someone steal Solar Panels which are meant to illuminate their city at night (thereby bringing about a degree of safety)? solarLightsFurther, were the culprits of this crime found, and punished? Did the government launch an awareness campaign to ensure it doesn’t happen again?
  3. Lack of Independence of critical institutions (why should the head of the Anticorruption Bureau be appointed by the president? It’s a civil service role, why can’t it be advertised like any other civil service job? Same with the Judiciary, and even the State Banking Corporations [which as the MSB case has revealed were abused to channel money to the country’s then president]. On this point, has an investigation been opened into the affairs of Bingu Mutharika to find out whether what Mulli claims is true? Shouldn’t such an investigation be opened, and be free and fair?)
  4. Poor healthcare (ill-equipped, under-resourced, under-staffed hospitals)
  5. Pull down syndrome, and jealousy (Instead of people working to lift each other up, when one succeeds, they drag each other down). This is closely associated with a lack of a forward-thinking culture. For example since Malawi often has power cuts, how many people have invested in alternative sources of energy like solar? solar-cells-594166_640You may say you don’t have the money to buy them, but the chances are you haven’t even tried saving for them? Frankly, from my experiences many people are happy drinking away and using their money for partying – instead of attending to their problems. poverty
  6. Poverty and Economic stagnation (As a result of lack of money and under-investment in services). One effect of this is that there are so many young people without jobs (prime fodder for criminal activity).
  7. Excessive consumerism of foreign products (as opposed to buying local products, something that could help  revitalise local economies). They want to wear Gucci and drive big and expensive German cars, yet when there’s a fuel shortage (as happened in 2012) they can’t drive those expensive cars. Isn’t it sensible to first work towards a dependable fuel source? To establish a stable economy before thinking of driving a Range Rover? If you have a business, shouldnt you first establish yourself by putting in place measures that will protect the business and give you a breathing space should the worst happen and the market dries up or a much bigger competitor enters the fray?
    Further, when your country is often gripped with forex shortages, shouldnt luxuries take a back seat. And practicality triumph over the need for false appearances? (Malawi’s taste for imports hurting economy )
  8. And a cultural decay (It’s strange how Malawians want to fit in so much with western standards/ lifestyles. Why can’t we embrace our culture, and love ourselves for who we are? Why try so hard to fit into American or foreign cultures?)

These are some of the most common I’ve heard, although I’m sure there are many others.

So the question then becomes, what can/ must be done about them?

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers here since money is a big part of the problem. If the government doesn’t have money, or can’t properly prioritize how to use its resources, very little will change.

Having said that, it’s very easy to place blame on the government (its true that they would need to take a leading role – since few individuals have the capacity and capital to orchestrate state-wide projects), but I believe it is the duty of every Malawian to know these lingering problems, and begin working against them on an individual basis. Having an honest, transparent and responsible government would help, but they are only a part of the problem. Having honest, transparent and responsible people is where it all begins.

Practical Community led Activism

Now that the UK general election is over and done with, people this side of the world can get back to work, and begin focussing on the difficult issues facing Britain.
Among the terms that have been used by some commentators lately (often referred to together with the notion that the UK needs a federal system), is ‘Community led Activism’. This is probably very similar to the much talked about concept of a Big Society.

But what would Community led Activism actually look like? You hear it talked about, but few take time to really spell out how it would relate to everyday life.

I was curious, so after some thinking, probing about online, and studying various articles on the subject, I’m inclined to think any form of Community led Activism is incomplete without the following ingredients:-

(i) Change management strategies

(ii) Local ownership of change

(iii) Introduction of practice guidelines / best practices; and

(iv) Regular evaluation.

Community-led-ActivismBefore we open up churches as centres that are eligible to administer healthcare, before we begin community projects that serve communities while giving jobs to local people, and before our cities’ libraries also become art galleries, music venues-cum-coffee shops that operate for profit to raise money for communities, (as well as having free services for the most disadvantaged in society), before we increase local food production, before we have cooperatives in charge of local generation of green energy, before we bring back manufacturing from China, before we begin opening up parts of the greenbelt and brownfield land for building of affordable residential accommodation…

internetbefore we invest in information technology education to empower young people to be equipped with the necessary skills for the digital economy,..before all that and more, there has to be a general function that powers Community led Activism. Think of it as a macro level approach, underneath which everything else sits.

The best way to explain this is to look at a number of areas in which the above four ingredients may be useful.

Lets take Education for example. If you want to have devolution of powers from London to communities so that they get authority to decide on Education Policy as they see fit, there must be change management strategies employed in each of the communities concerned. This may come in the form of a new culture instilled at the devolved locality which establishes an effective management system to oversee, administer and evaluate the new policies, and move away from what hadn’t worked. Since the people who are already working in the environment are stakeholders, it is crucial that they are not maligned or resistant to the new proposals.  In fact Educational Authorities (or whoever is eventually given the responsibility to run the scheme) would need to embrace any new changes (and from experiences of the past this is not always easy, as Michael Gove’s stint as Education Secretary proved. See another link here).

Thus, change would need to be brought forward from the bottom-up (as opposed to top-bottom). Just as well, because Local ownership of change is also an essential ingredient. This is important since there will be localities which are happy with their current systems – which deliver desired or at least satisfactory outcomes, and so need not be interfered with too much. For such communities, Local ownership of change is empowering as they don’t have to do what they do not want; as will be for localities which have special needs by virtue of having different circumstances, and so which need slightly different solutions to the schemes/ solutions which others in the same country are adopting.

Similarly, for communities whose Education sector is lacking in some ways (be it in performance levels, funding or otherwise), if change is ‘owned’ at local level, then people are empowered to be able to find solutions that are tailored to the needs of their community. Since it is in the best interest of the community for certain results to be achieved, that change will be embraced quicker and more willingly if it is ‘owned’ at local level, and driven not by consultants hired by HQ, but by the stakeholders at local level.

But what about Introduction of practice guidelines / best practices? Well, lets take Job Creation & Employment legislation for example. Practice guidelines lay down the rules, to ensure there is uniformity across a region/ country. Employment legislation protects employers and employees across a jurisdiction (be it a state country or region) from abuse or unwarranted harassment. If a community seeks change in the labour market, for example to improve conditions for workers, then practice guidelines will be needed once that change is achieved (or even before) to ensure that the desired change is sustained, and is not short-term. Practice guidelines ensure consistency. They help everyone know what their particular roles are, and when such must be undertaken. And in relation to Employment legislation, guidelines at community level will enable employers and employees to know what their responsibilities are towards each other in the general scheme of things, without necessitating a change in the law at national / state level. This means if there is a problem in an industry that is concentrated in the North west of England (or say in a specific industry such as the hotel insustry), guidelines can be rolled out affecting the north-west (or that specific industry), without tinkering with the law at national level, thereby not interfering with the practice elsewhere.

Finally, there is the matter of Evaluation. This is important, because it means improvements or new policies can be reviewed, and if they are not doing as well, a better solution or alternative found. It allows the community to ask: Are we really doing as good as our research stipulated? And if not, why? It enables you to change course when new policies at community level are not having the desired effect.

You can apply the above ingredients to Residential property development, Healthcare, Tax policy, Welfare, Immigration, Pensions, Sustainability and Conservation… the list is endless, and I believe it is possible to make some good progress; even in a country which some people think is suffering a hangover of the politics of fear.

Malawi Government, Zodiak radio to Award Best Performing Secondary Teachers

Malawi Government, Zodiak radio to Award Best Performing Secondary Teachers via AllAfrica

The story in the above link is inspiring and president Joyce Banda’s government and Zodiak must be commended for beginning this. While some may say it is an election ploy, I hope this initiative continues after the May elections, irrespective of who is eventually elected, because we need to inspire teachers for them to do their job well.

I have a profound belief that continuity in nation building is what builds nations, not a me me attitude that selfishly sees a leader abandon works in which millions have already been invested – just because it wasn’t their idea….

Abandoning the major and critical projects of your predecessor only reveals your ignorance and selfishness more than anything else. So, in the event that Joyce Banda is not re-elected, it will be foolish for the new president to halt all of Joyce Banda’s major projects.

And you don’t have to agree with each project to continue supporting it, and pushing for its successful completion. So long as there are people who are genuinely being assisted by the project, and so long as the cost is not ridiculously expensive, and unsustainable, those are reasons enough to continue in the positive footsteps of your predecessor – even if he/ she had abandoned their predecessors projects.


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While you’ll find several references to Infrastructure on this site, I think this time around I’ll leave it to the experts to do the convincing. Paja akulu anati mutu umodzi siwusenza denga

And if one takes time to browse through the cited references below (some of which are straight off page 1 + 2 of Google), it’s hard to argue against the fact that Infrastructure is one of the essential drivers of economic development. In this sense, and for the avoidance of doubt,  infrastructure is not limited to roads, railways, airports and buildings (for hotels, schools, Universities, hospitals, business centres, research facilities, etc), but also includes for example a good telecommunication network (internet, voice, data and the like) and power supply.

Infrastructure for sustainable development – European Commission

Intro reads: ” Good quality infrastructure is a key ingredient for sustainable development. All countries need efficient transport, sanitation, energy and communications systems if they are to prosper and provide a decent standard of living for their populations. Unfortunately, many developing countries possess poor infrastructure, which hampers their growth and ability to trade in the global economy. “

Infrastructure’s value to economic growth – Richard Lee, Partner, KPMG (via BBC)

which includes the statement : “…In fact, a recent KPMG International survey found that an overwhelming majority – 90% – of business executives said that the availability and quality of infrastructure affects where they locate their business operations…”

Needs For and Benefits of Infrastructure Connectivity – Asian Development Bank Institute
which includes the statement: “… The rapid economic and population growth of Asian economies in recent years has put huge pressure on its existing infrastructure, particularly in transport and energy, but also in communications. Asia’s infrastructure is world-class in parts, but is generally below the global average. This is a bottleneck to future growth, a threat to competitiveness, and an obstacle to poverty reduction.”
which includes the following statement: – “…An adequate infrastructure is a prerequisite to economic development. Transportation and communications are important in developing and strengthening social, political, and commercial ties. These ties must be developed before trade can be handled on a regular basis.”
Why Is Infrastructure Important – David Alan Aschauer, formerly Senior Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and now (at the date of writing/publication) Elmer W.Campbell Professor of Economics, Bates College
Infrastructure and Poverty – The Global Poverty Project
the Intro reads: “Infrastructure – physical resources like roads, telecommunication networks, schools and drains – is necessary for a society to function: people can’t access healthcare if there are no hospitals; trade can’t take place if there are no roads on which to transport goods to markets. Infrastructure facilitates the basic functions of a society that are necessary to transport resources and people, produce and trade goods, provide essential services and ultimately reduce poverty.”
it follows with ” Lack of infrastructure also leads to lack of employment by acting as a disincentive to investment. Companies who struggle to produce and sell goods in an area with inadequate roads, electricity or water supply do not want to set up the factories or businesses that could potentially generate employment, improve living standards and reduce poverty. “
and “Lack of infrastructure can also lead to poor health and high mortality. Where there are no clinics or hospitals available, or where lack of roads or bridges makes them inaccessible, people cannot access the medical services that they require to be healthy and productive. A villager in Mozambique explains “The most dangerous thing is that [cholera] has always appeared during the rainy season, and it is then that the river is in spate and boats cannot cross.”
The Broader Benefits of Transportation Infrastructure – Ian Sue Wing, William P. Anderson and T.R. Lakshmanan, Center for Transportation Studies and Dept. of Geography & Environment, Boston University [similar article here]
uses the term Meso-scale to describe their approach. A slide from their presentation is quite appropriate in summarising some of the developmental + ‘equilibrium’ impacts, and worth replication:-
Finance and Infrastructure: The Economic Benefits of Infrastructure Projects Procured with Private Finance –  Andrew W Morley, International Congress Washington, D.C. USA, April 19-26 2002.
Infrastructure – Engineers Against Poverty
Intro reads as follows: “Without significant progress in the provision of infrastructure services it will be impossible for many countries to significantly achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Globally, more than 1 billion people have no access to roads, 900 million do not have safe drinking water, 2.3 billion lack reliable sources of energy, 2.5 billion have no sanitation  facilities and 4 billion are without modern communication services.”
which contains the paragraph “When it comes to infrastructure development, Thailand has done very well compared with some other Southeast Asian neighbors. In fact, appropriate infrastructure, including access to power and water, has helped Thailand fuel rapid economic growth during the past three decades. Good infrastructure has made Thailand attractive to foreign investment, helped facilitate international trade, and improved the efficiency of everyday business activities. All of these led to more jobs, and more jobs led to more income for the poor. For some not-so-poor people, good infrastructure also helps them improve productivity or fulfill their lifestyles.”
RURAL INFRASTRUCTURE AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT –  Dr. Mohammad Tarique, Lecturer, University Dept. of Economics, B.R.Ambedkar Bihar University, Muzaffarpur.
Abstract reads: “Infrastructure development has a key role to play in both economic growth and poverty reduction. Failure to accelerate investments in rural infrastructure will make a mockery of efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in poor developing countries while at the same time severely limit opportunities for these countries to benefit from trade liberalisation, international capital markets and other potential benefits offered by globalisation”
Private Sector Participation in Infrastructure:the case of Thailand – Deunden Nikomborirak – Asian Development Bank Institute Discussion Paper No. 19
Road Funding: Time for a Change :- Economic Growth Benefits of Transportation Infrastructure Investment – Dr. John C. Taylor,  Associate professor of marketing and logistics at Grand Valley State University and a senior policy analyst with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan.
which contains the statement “…No, the key benefit and reason for transportation investment is from helping to make businesses and individuals more productive, across the geographic landscape. We rely on our transportation investments to increase the economy’s overall productivity – both in terms of making individual travel (business and personal) faster and more reliable, and in terms of the productivity benefits of making freight flows faster and more reliable…”
World Bank — Malawi’s infrastructure: A continental perspective: Vivien Foster; Maria Shkaratan, ISSN: 1813-9450.

As you can see, the above papers + articles present a credible argument that a good and functional infrastructure is essential for economic development.
But that’s not to say that there are no credible counter arguments against infrastructure. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m sure one can cite the prevention of deforestation or preservation of natural habitats as factors against excessive infrastructure. Also, there is the issue of encouraging tourism which could probably mean encouraging greater biodiversity, creating / preserving forests  and wildlife reserves (but even in such circumstances, you still need a world-class airport for a good first impression (the kind of impression you get when you first land at Hong Kong International); functional roads (at least 3 lanes on each side between major cities) that minimises journey times; and world-class hotels and resorts. Why should you give tourists (who in large numbers can be the source of much-needed forex revenue) less than what they are accustomed to, and expect that they will return to your country, or recommend a visit to their friends?). Never mind recommendation, how can you compete on the global stage, when your facilities are substandard? Further, why shouldn’t it be possible to build modern factories with reduced carbon footprint (see Marks & Spencer’s ‘eco-factories’ initiative here) side by side with wildlife/forest reserves?
So, considering all this, I find it hard to imagine a credible setting in which arguments against infrastructure may find pre-eminence, over arguments for infrastructure; especially for a poor country whose majority infrastructure was built  50-year ago; whose roads are littered with pot-holes, with virtually no world-class business centres; that has old airports – with poor facilities including smelly badly looked after toilets; a country that experiences intermittent blackouts almost every week; that is struggling to attract significant investment from abroad; a country where 74% of the population live below the poverty line; which is heavily reliant on agriculture and dwindling tobacco exports + has negligible industrial output; has few natural resources; has a large relatively unskilled young population and suffers widespread corruption and cronyism, even in the upper echelons of its government.

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My question to you then is: why are the leaders of such countries not investing heavily (sooner than later) into major infrastructure projects, when it is in fact a determinant factor in economic development and a serious game changer? Is it because they are in fact not cut out for the job and would be better followers instead of leaders?