Should Malawi’s next Cabinet reflect the country’s demographics?

So you’ve managed to get the May 2019 Presidential election results nullified. Great! And since February the 3rd of this year, your beloved Malawi, the beautiful country which you love has become a shinning star, the gold-standard in judicial independence anywhere in the world.

Fantastic news!

Media outlets everywhere are praising you, Africans are congratulating you, everyone who knows you are Malawian talks positively about the developments in your country in terms of free and fair elections and an independent and competent judiciary. You feel proud. Fabulous!

Look! The FT has called the Constitutional Court decision… a victory for African democracy’. (Yes, the same Financial Times with revenues of $500 million). Favourable publicity doesn’t get any better than this, does it? All great, all wonderful stuff.

But let’s not get too excited too quickly here. Let’s not celebrate too much … yet. Ask any honest person who follows politics in Malawi, and they will tell you that while the victory against the fraudulent enterprise that is the Malawi Electoral Commission is one important victory battle in a war of many battles, there is unfinished business and on-going tussles that must be won in order to to clean up the structural rot in Malawi’s public bodies.

As Professor Danwood Chirwa put it here in his brilliant analysis whose intro was “The rearguard action has begun“, some people will fight tooth and nail to resist any meaningful change.

For example, there are Malawians who still think it is okay for a president or a government minister to decide which contractors should be awarded lucrative government contracts?? Then, there is the matter of public appointments; why should the heads of statutory corporations or parastatals still be appointed by the president, under a system that is definitely not merit-based – see [1], [2] for reference?  What about the boards of statutory corporations, shouldn’t their composition also be merit-based, and shouldn’t they be appointed by an independent body? What about public sector reforms. Didn’t the commission heading the initiative say the lack of political will was the reasons why bringing in the reforms had failed, with the UNDP comenting that: “Reforms call for transformation of organisational structures, a merit-based public service, transparent processes and procedures for improved service delivery.” (source: ‘Reforms on deathbed’, Rex Chikoko, The Nation)?

“Reforms call for transformation of organisational structures, a merit-based public service, transparent processes and procedures for improved service delivery.”

There is also the issue of the independence of the graft-busting body – the Anti-corruption Bureau (which in the past has been accused of being partial and having factions controlled by the executive); there is the matter of the independence of the police (who have at times used violence and acted shamefully against Malawians as if they were merely an unruly mob of the ruling party – see [3],[4]); there is the issue of the taxpayer-funded MBC, and how biased and unprofessional it is – see [5],[6]); there is the issue of political advisers, party honchos, strategists and other minions (some who like to call themselves “ana a daddy”) amassing fortunes and large amounts of unexplained wealth…

I could go on and on, and on.

And then there is the issue of the make-up of the Cabinet (which in past administrations, not only Peter Mutharika’s administration, has not reflected the country’s demographics). Wouldn’t it be fit and proper if Malawi’s next Cabinet more accurately reflected the country’s demographics, and was more than just a reflection of the president’s inner circle, party loyalists, cronies and tribal buddies?

Shouldn’t such be a given, that in a 21st century young democracy, one with (unfortunately) deep seated tribal allegiances, we should have a Cabinet that reflects the country’s ethnic make-up?

In any case, how are we to get rid of tribalism, cronyism, regionalism and nepotism in public office in Malawi, if we ignore the problem, and certain ethnic groups continue to be favored whereas other ethnic groups are sidelined and discriminated against when it comes to ministerial appointments, or more generally public appointments? You can’t say you have a genuine interest to get rid of tribalism, cronyism, regionalism and nepotism, but fill your cabinet positions, parastatals and board posts largely with yes-men, people from your village, chiefs, cronies from your region, members of your enthnic cultural association, and family members galore. That can’t possibly be right! Those state bodies can’t possibly excel.

If Malawians are going to fully capitalize on the Constitutional Court’s decision, and clean up the country’s many ills and failings (let’s be honest, there are many) for the benefit of every Malawian, then important undertakings like public appointments, cabinet positions and ambassadorial/ foreign mission postings must not be rewards for patronage or loyalty, but must be transparent merit-based exercises which reflect the country’s demographics and in the best interest of all Malawians.

The Other: What people say about Migrants

P1060325Once every now and again something happens that prompts me to troll through the comments people leave in response to articles on news websites. This exercise is purely a curiosity driven exploration of the range of views out there. And except for the clearly idiotic  (which there are many), I think most comments reveal a lot about the people who write them.

So maybe comments could be a way of gauging what a part of the readership of a publications thinks about certain issues. Maybe it can be used to gauge popular sentiment, but I doubt it is necessarily representative of a population or locality in the way that a referendum does. It couldn’t possibly be, for many reason including because not all readers in a locality read the same publication (or even read a newspaper). And for those who read a particular publication, not all of them leave comments. Even those who leave comments do not always show their true colours.

Still, comments being opinions are subjective and often filled with emotion even though as subjectivity goes some opinions are rather scary.

Also it’s interesting to see that the notion of freedom of expression in some countries is quite difficult to pinpoint, if not altogether warped, while in other countries, it’s the quickest ticket to persecution, jail or worse. To some people, expressing hate and what could come across as vile, equates to freedom of expression. To others its heresy. No surprises then that in this nirvana of duplicitous opinions found on newswebsites, certain subjects (in particular those praising certain dictators) are out-of-bounds and you can very quickly get in trouble, whereas praising other dictators (for example Stalin for some bizarre reason) is unlikely to get you in any trouble, leaving one wondering whether the measure used in deciding what is acceptable isn’t questionable in itself.

Criticising certain religious figures is likely to go unchallenged, while criticising others could elicit violence. Which is why lots of people leave comments from behind an alias unconnected with their physical person.

It appears that the criteria for determining what is acceptable freedom of speech and what isn’t, isn’t straightforward. Especially if you consider that in some countries what passes as freedom of speech would be deemed to be unlawful, slanderous, even criminal elsewhere.

So in the end, what you are not allowed to say in public is not uniform universally (and indeed cannot be).  It’s down to issues like where you live, the civil liberties you are afforded, the cultural bias of your community, what the dominant religion is, the threshold of what the presiding authorities deems to be acceptable, how well resourced the authorities are, how stringently the law is enforced, how brave / foolish you are, and so on.

Political correctness has a nationality, and a religion.

Anyhow, in this realm, it’s not uncommon to find the bizarre, hilarious, fascinating, truthful, misleading, ignorant, mockery, satirical and the poetic lying cosily next to each other.

Since 50 million people worldwide currently are refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced within their own countries, then in light of the xenophobic attacks in South Africa, and frequent drownings of migrants in the mediterranean sea, I thought it appropriate to list some randomly picked comments that were written in response to articles that had something to do with migrants / refugees, from across the world.

Enjoy 🙂

From Swinging guns and fleeing foreigners: What is the state doing?  (Mail & Guardian)

Zuma giggles while SA burns. If you have no house , no job, no money, no propects of getting a job you may as well join a movement – any one will do. Unemployment is getting worse- a clothing factory in Durban has retrenched 300 workers and moved its operation to Swaziland -cost of labour is much cheaper and without all the unions red tape. Meanwhile our President is buying new jets to the value of 2 or 3 billion….hhe he hheee…..let them eat cake

*** ~ *** ~ ***

Stewart •   Is apartheid to blame for this? Egalitarians probably believe so, but the reasons behind all of this are too politically incorrect to air. This more or less standard operating procedure for countries nearing collapse and about to achieve failed state status. Its almost inevitable.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

uma’s announcement during SONA that no foreigners could own land in SA was met by probably the loudest applause of the night. It’s exactly that kind of anti-foreigner sentiment that gives some citizens confirmation that foreigners are the enemy that should be acted against.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

nocent black people? You mean those same people who moved from central west Africa and occupied Sub Saharan Africa? You mean those very same people who engaged in the Mfecane, cleansing the nearby peoples. Or perhaps the same people who displaced the Khoi whose paints are a start reminder in those isolated caves in the Drakensberg?

Stop telling lies about a history that only happened in the fertile tracts of your mind. Human history is a bloody one and there are no gentle peaceful tribes.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

While nothing good came of apartheid… The picture postcard of post-apartheid South African prosperity is nothing more than just a fairy tale.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

From  Incendiary SMS targets foreign nationals in Jo’burg  (Mail & Guardian)

Sibusiso •  The biggest walking fire is Zuma and his deafening silence….#ZUMAmustGO

*** ~ *** ~ ***

 Heraklit • South Africa open for business?
Gateway to Africa?
Looks more like Dante’s first stop over on his way into purgatory right now…

*** ~ *** ~ ***

*** ~ *** ~ ***
Lets build my statues of Jan van Riebeeck, Rhodes, Ghandi etc….. -that should divert their attention for a while!

*** ~ *** ~ ***

From Rights violation charge laid against Zulu king  (Mail & Guardian)

BritinSA •  “The King is not to blame”. “The Kings words have been lost in translation”.

If you threw a match onto flammable material, then you DID start the fire.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

Brian • It is about time our governnment realize the cost of corruption they have created. Most foreign people in this country are not documented correctly if not at all. It is easy for them to do as they please. Some of the areas like Hilbrow and Kempton Park have been turned into little Lagos and drugs dealings is 2nd nature to them. Police are doing nothing about it. It is wrong for South Africans to take out their frustrations to our foreign brothers and sisters that are in the country legally and are contributing positively to the growth of this country. Not all foreigners in this country are criminals and sell drugs. Let those who are not documented correctly and committing all sorts of crime be broad to book and if possible deported back to their countries and that should be done within the law. As for the king and his utterances, it was wrong of him as a leader to say what he said.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

King Butter •  The Zulu’s should unite and fight this Monarchical Insubordination. Our damn King, in Our damn Province speaking to HIS people; and he gets insulted (BY FOREIGNERS??) for speaking the obvious truth, that ILLEGAL migrants should be repatriated.

Rod Baker to King Butter •  Exactly.He is YOUR king, the Zulus king, He is not my king, not the Xhosas’ king, not the Vendas’ king, Sesothos’ king etc. He is king of no one else but the Zulus.

So you go ahead and defend him – and while you are about it, also pay in full for his upkeep and leave us out of it. Our taxes should go to other things.

As for what he said, people in his position have to be extremely circumspect in what they say – and should know better than to say foreigners need to pack their bags and go. There are too many people out there who are willing to help the foreigners on their way, and help themselves to the latter’s good while they are about it.
*** ~ *** ~ ***

e should also be investigated by the nature conservation people for wearing furs and feathers of possible endangered fauna.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

From Katie Hopkins calling migrants vermin recalls the darkest events of history (Guardian)

SamStoneI was just about to write “the thing about Katie Hopkins is, absolutely no one likes her, so whatever she says, everyone automatically disagrees with her because she’s so ludicrous”

BUT….Then I just read the most up-voted comments about the same migrants article on the Daily Mail website, which said, starting with the most liked…

“She’s absolutely right!”

“Kate gets it right again.”

“I agree with her. She speaks a lot of sense and has the guts to say what others are thinking.”

And now I despair for humanity.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

Coolhandluke77 :    It is not unheard of for radical environmentalists to compare the whole of teaming humanity to locusts, cockroaches or other vermin. And many have less than progressive views on immigration.

Where is the outrage..? Where are the petitions..?

And speaking of hypocrisy, these immigrants are dying trying to get into Fortress Europe. That is the EU. But all the posturing by pro EU politicians has been against Farage, who is not even in power.

So apart from the fact that some should be choking on their own hypocrisy, I do agree with the article.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

 After we in the west have created the conditions under which tens of thousands of people feel so desperate that they will risk their lives to escape, we then turn round and say we can´t help them because we don´t have the capacity? We had the capacity to bomb their countries for weeks on end and create havoc where there had been stability. We really are a disgusting lot, dragged along on the coat tails of the Yanks year after year, doing the dirty work of international corporations that exist because they thrive on war and disorder. Speak for the ordinary people like yourselves, because that´s what these people are, just ordinary men, women and children taking the flak for the greed of the few.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

mizdarlin :  This is hate speech pure and simple..and should be dealt with as such..if she is as insane as she sounds, and having her taken away for psychological analysis for a few months might be the only way to find out-then do so at once and make her spew disappear…

*** ~ *** ~ ***

From Europe Considers Response as Hundreds of Migrants Die in Mediterranean Sinkings (New York Times)

Nancy , Great Neck:  That the countries of Europe are not monitoring the Mediterranean for attempted passages and such terrifying tragedies is beyond shameful. There is evidently a sense that monitoring passage attempts encourages them, but taking this as a justification for neglect of a humanitarian obligation is profoundly immoral.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

Rita,  California: Of course European countries need to work towards a common resolution of the refugee crisis. Borders are porous and the initial influx into one country will eventually disperse into others. The ultimate resolution requires stabilizing the region so that refugees can return home.

Massacre is the right word to describe the actions of those who take refugees’ money and then load the boats past capacity limits.

PS Erecting a wall or starting a naval blockade are not feasible solutions.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

John, Los Angeles:  A tragedy. But not Europe’s fault. At some point, political boundaries have to have meaning. If people want to risk their lives to illegally enter a country they are ultimately responsible for their own fate. Perhaps European countries should simply blockade north Africa and turn back all ships.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

Underclaw, The Floridas: Remember when President Obama launched an air attack in Libya that led to “regime change” in Tripoli (and the public execution of Qadaffy)? And remember how the United States then up and left Libya in chaos and anarchy? And remember how we were lectured about how Obama’s policy of “leading from behind” in places Libya was a “brilliant” foreign policy doctrine? Well, now look.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

From German Asylum: Attacks on Refugee Hostels a Growing Problem (Spiegel Online)

antfreire 04/11/2015  Since when is legal, or ethic that people that don’t have a satisfactory way of live where they live have to be accepted in countries where they decide to move? Does Germany have any commitment or moral duty to accept people from Sudan, or Siria, or Irak, etc. just because they are not doing well there? Will the people that promote this type of “serve yourself” inmigration bring a couple of this inmigrans to their house to live with them?

*** ~ *** ~ ***

Inglenda2 04/11/2015 When governments choose to ignore the wishes of their own people, it is almost impossible, for normal citizens, to take action against those responsible. The result is, that there will always be parts of the population, who express their justified, but falsely directed, frustration by violence against the weakest of the weak. In this case it is the refugees who are made to suffer. In psychological circles, such conduct is known as projection and is more common, for example in mobbing, than most of the general public are aware of.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

ernestokunn 04/14/2015  As Slavoj Zizek states, TOLERANCE IS NOT ENOGH. There are limits, certainly. It becomes an explosive problem if two ethnic or religious groups live together in close vicinity who have irreconcilable ways of life and, as such, perceive criticism of their religion or way of life as being an attack on their very identity. We all should stop with hypocrisy. Mainly our politicians.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

alfuryu 04/12/2015 It saddens me that again the Spiegel again only scratches the surface of what those outside Germany understand. After the war you did not pursue those animals that perpetrated crimes in fact you harboured them and protected them you even have specific laws that still protect them and the officials that support and still carryout what those outside of German would call racism. Your public bodies do not have open complaint procedures when such crimes are committed so inside the population we see the hatred or is arrogance of the Germanic race to think they are better than all. Come on Germany the world gave you a chance supported you after the war turned a blind eye to you not paying up what you were due in the 1950s or pursuing the guilty only the auschlanders are handed over funny old thing. The reality is there is a still a group of nutcases within Germany that need to be purged and it needs to be a bigger crime to be racist than it is to accuse someone of having the behaviour of a NAZI i.e. a bully, thug, a person who considers all others unequal. I see it

*** ~ *** ~ ***

From  Xenophobic attacks: Nigeria counts losses   (Vanguard – Nigeria)

Oldbendel • 5 High profile international football games cannot change the mentality of these big heads South Africans,send them to school where they can be tought some lesson on issues relating to globalization,cultural diversity etc,or else they remain barbarians forever.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

Micho • Nigeria is the most accommodating country in Africa. I can say that we are America in Africa. Go to all these African country, blacks are seen and addressed as foreigners, I could remember when I was in Gambia, they used to Address Nigerians as fucking foreigners while white and people from Mauritania and worshiped like gods. Nigeria just need good leaders we shall be very great. The wrath of God is on any country that maltreat foreigners, that is one of those warnings that God gave the people of Israel when they left Egypt.South Africa will be punished for what they are doing, but I pray to God to forgive them because of the faithful ones among them.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

Okoko • When the igbos shops were looted in Nigeria due to envy by other tribes, no one shouted. When igbos were deported in their own country, it was normal for yorobber folks. Xenophobia is everywhere, even in Nigeria.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

Somalis, Sudanese and Ethiopians are some no-nonsense taking people, i wonder why they played calm thus far. Hopefully they won’t follow trend and start blowing up South African investments and killing South Africans in their country. The situation is getting really out of control.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

Emma Kuyty •  Absence of love,hatred,wickedness,jealousy etc are synonymous among African Negro and Negra,it is only almighty JAH JEHOVAH that will help Africans.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

Ekwe111 •  Mandatory S.O.S. deductions were levied on Nigeria Govt. employee salaries and elsewhere in the 80’s, principally for the liberation of SA and Zimbabwe; countries that bitterly resent and spite our citizens today.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

From Paytriotism – Becoming British is a Costly Business  ( Economist)

Cutters. Apr 20th, 12:18

Becoming a UK national and gaining access to all the rights and privileges that go with it are far to cheap.

It is bad enough that the dregs of the continent are able to arrive unrestricted, putting massive pressure on local services and adding insignificant amounts to GDP (0.04% per head reported), without British citizenship being cheaply sold.

The cost could rise by 5x as much and demand would scarcely falter.

*** ~ *** ~ ***
guest-olwnaon Apr 19th, 15:56

When our govt receives fees for whatver – residency, health, visa renewal, citizenship, tuition fees, all amounting to billions, it keeps its mouth shut and go to the media to stoke animosity and hate against immigrants. What happened to all the money collected from applicants at the visa processing centres? Yet border staff were made redundant! what happened to the billions that our universities receive from genuine students? if one non EU student pays al least 12,000 pounds as tuition fees per year for a 12 month course, if universities admit 1000 non -EU students that gives a total of 12,000,000 per university. But we know that only the 1999 universities (new breed universities) charge the least amount. Other red bricks, Russell, 1964 universities charge a lot higher ranging from 17-26k. Unfortunately, when immigration figures are collated, 92,000 non EU students are added. What arrant nonsense! I see why vice chancellors and Principal live larger-than-life lives while PhD holds struggle to get regular teaching hours. Yet we are asked to blame immigrants. NO!

*** ~ *** ~ ***

 CA-Oxonian, Apr 16th, 18:39

The excessive fees imposed by the UK government throughout the residency and citizenship application process are just one more sad indication of how insular the UK really is. While the USA is stifling its tech industry with absurd visa restrictions the UK is stifling its entire economy. Apparently Little Britain is quite happy remaining a moribund, inward-looking, and rather stagnant sort of country. Too bad. Aside from the atrocious weather and inept approach to providing services, it’s not entirely a bad place to reside.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

From Rising tide of UK anti-immigrant sentiment (Al Jazeera)

Sayyed Musawi
one thinks that the arrogant Brits ought to remember they plundered the world for centuries stealing, including the Kohinoor diamond they stole from the Indians, the cheap labor they have benefitted from Immigrants, and the contributions made. Just imagine if all Immigrants were to leave britain today with their wealth and Britain were to be honest and give up the money they stole from Nations, the wealth stored up stolen, and the contributions made to it then I am sure britain will just be another empty, depressing European country.
*** ~ *** ~ ***
Arthur Coxon  TODAY THERE IS NO COHESION IN BRITISH SOCIETY WITH SO MANY DIFFERENT IMMIGRANTS, AND RELIGIONS IN THE COUNTRY. ONE FEELS AS IF YOU ARE LIVING IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY. IT’S A TOTAL NIGHTMARE !!!
*** ~ *** ~ ***
SeaNote  If immigrants don’t assimilate, get rid of them.
*** ~ *** ~ ***
Bohdan Chochoł
Oh yeah, the infamous ‘We’ (this & we that) approach to life. While there is a major generation gap now  between under and over 30-year-olds (the young being less prone to nationalist-ic ‘introversion’), the fact Poles became so numerous and at such break-neck speed cannot bode well for British civil society (for genuine civil society in Poland has yet to get into the air, even while the British institution is probably plummeting). The grounds for pessimism  are clearly enough expresed by the “editor-in-chief” (ah yes: hierarchy-mania) of “Our  Pages=Vantage Points=Side-s” (each meaning suggested by the /plural/ term “Strony”; cf.: [–link removed–]). Should it be for purely materialistic reasons that Poles have a right to live in Britain – en masse?
I abhore the so-called road the country went down from Thatcherism onwards; if it’s a road, it’s one that leads to living hell. I understand how difficult it is to get anywhere now in Poland if you’re young and without the kind of status symbols so conveniently listed by Pan Redaktor Naczelny Andrzejko. I equally appreciate how hundreds of thousands, if not millions Poles do not exactly live in Britain but exist as poorly-paid labourers, while others have truly found a place in the world where they wish to remain, because in Britain they’ve found something they could not find in a country like Poland. And yet, between those two more or less extremes is a lot of people who could almost certainly do more for their own country by living in it. Pressurizing the centralised bureaucratic autocracy there into responsible administration, for a start – rather than terrorising local surgeries for their -odding “prrreeskrrreeptsyon”, or ranting how well they know English at OAPs who can’t even begin to understand their Slavspeak, etc. And what about all those crumby shops on the High Street, money laundering or what?
No bad feelings intended, it’s just a subject that defies any softly-softly treatment .
*** ~ *** ~ ***

Mohammed Rahman Islam is a religion of peace.

I invite you and all the readers to study the life of prophet muhammad pbuh and decide on your own. 
He was totally against terrorism. The first three wars of badr , uhud , ahzab were defensive wars to protect the home city of medina. 
*** ~ *** ~ ***
Bader Rammal
No Muslim country invited you to invade and colonize their countries. You colonized….You pay the price….Don’t complain and whine about the results and outcome of your past reckless irresponsible behaviors.

From Britain’s criminally stupid attitudes to race and immigration are beyond parody – Frankie Boyle (Guardian)

GiulioSica  Brilliant writing and analysis, as ever. Thanks Frankie. It really is shameful the way the racists are unashamedly crawling out of the woodwork trying to rewrite history and ignore the present world problems.
*** ~ *** ~ ***

foralltime...”We have streets named after slave owners.”… Spot-on with that one, Frankie…

Penny Lane is a street famous worldwide thanks to The Beatles 1967 hit, but the Liverpool street owes its name to an outspoken Liverpool slave ship owner and staunch anti-abolitionist. James Penny was a Liverpool merchant who made his money from the transportation of slaves.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

atillazenun  Yet another article trying to guilt people and countries for their achievements. Where would the colonies be without the infrastructure that was created for them? Ever thought of that?
If you are so pro-immigration, please list your home address so that a family of four can be sent to live in your spare bedroom.
No?
But you are OK with tax payer money being used to support mass immigration “somewhere not too close to you?”. Get real.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

Fence2  Is the next generation responsible for past generations actions?
No, because if it were then there would be guilty atoms and molecules out there, which is ludicrous.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

moneymonkey  What a lazy article, roll out the tired old nonsense.

Everything we have, we stole from the immigrants in the first place…. UKIP are racist…

wacism, wacism, wacism….

etc etc.

orlandaowl responding to moneymonkey

…… monkey your effing self. Ironically, your beloved Fuhrer is married to a German!

*** ~ *** ~ ***

herbmonkey  Absolute rubbish. Why am I made to feel bad about events that ocurred before I was born. £11.4bn in foreign aid last year came from all our pockets. Yes we had our colonial past and faults but can we be really be held responsible for local corruption where african govenments drive around in Mercedes while their people starve. This piece once again paints the entire nation with a shitty sheen that is only representative of what pisses off the writer. I and my friends speak different languages, do show remorse for the terrible past crimes of our nation and do not display this “casual racism” that apparently the entire natioon should hang our heads in shame about.

*** ~ *** ~ ***

SimonBol Frankie: this is great stuff. You are saying in this single piece what sociologists and historians cannot say in a whole book.

African leaders must stop seeking medical treatment overseas

You can be a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Budhist or Atheist, or none of these, but one thing you will all agree to is this: that there is no justification whatsoever for a leader of a country (his family, his ministers and families) to go overseas to a wealthy country to seek medical treatment, while his country’s people – who elected him to power, and most of whom are poor – make do with underresourced, understaffed and in some cases dangerous hospital facilities at home.

Yet this is what has been happening in Africa for at least 50+ years. Yes, thats right: 50 bloody fat years. Dictators and the anti-colonialist strongmen of the colonial and post-colonial era did it, at considerable public expense. Now their successors – politicians of governments in multiparty democracies who like to dress up in expensive western clothing and are accustomed to lavish lifestyles are doing exactly the same. While their poor countries continue sliding down, becoming poorer.

To the list of Zimbabwe, Malawi, Ethiopia and Zambia, add all the others you know of,  whose leaders are guilty of this behaviour.

Emmanuel Fru Doh, in his book Africa’s Political Wastelands:The Bastardization of Cameroon puts it like this:

‘Another area that shows how a people with resources end up exploited and deprived by their own government primarily, is health. Like Everything else in Africa, the health facilities have continued to shrink such that today one cannot even tell if anyone cares any longer about the system – its perpetrators and the victims, government officials and the public. One cannot help wondering then why all in Africa must keep rotting away in spite of the quality manpower and all else that the continent has to offer in every area of society, if not because of a system of government, borrowed from imperialists, that alienates instead of uniting the citizens. But then it dawns on one again, that this decay in the area of health is the case because the corrupt leaders can afford to fly to foreign nations for medical check-ups while the wretched of their nations are left to make do with sub-standard medical care. Why must a president, his clients, and members of the their families leave their country for medical consultation overseas instead of investing wisely by building and equipping hospitals that would benefit their nations? The answer is simple: most African leaders are not patriots and are unfortunately equipped with a weird sense of self-importance that only has meaning when they see others around them without the facilities they enjoy, albeit criminally in most cases. Ofcourse, but for greed, it would be easy for the World Health Organization and other international institutions making so much ado about helping poor African countries to start by making it impossible for African leaders to get medical treatment anywhere else but in their own countries. …’

Instead of trekking to Asia, Europe or the US for treatment, why not spend your country’s meagre resources upgrading its healthcare infrastructure, so that it is on par or better than the health services in Europe, Asia or the US? If Cuba can achieve that, with all the pressure their economy has been under the last 50+ years, why can’t African countries do the same.

DSC_0004_14

Surely, medical equipment is not the obstacle, because there are many sources of alternative approved medical equipment which is cheaper yet just as functional as much of the equipment in first class hospitals around the world.

Money also is not the issue because most of these governments lose hundreds of millions (if not billions) to corruption and other factors, meaning the money is there, it’s just being mismanaged.

So what then is the problem? Ian Taylor, Extraordinary Professor at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, writing on the South African Foreign Policy Initiative (SAFPI) website has this to say:

Of the ten African heads of state that have died of natural causes in office since 2000, only two actually passed on in their own countries. And of these two, both had been receiving medical care abroad and effectively returned home to die. In other words, not a single African head of state who has died in the last ten years of natural causes had any confidence in his own country’s healthcare.

The phenomena of African presidents dying abroad is truly a disgrace and reflects the failure of Africa’s leadership to seriously invest in healthcare provision. Quite simply, in many African states the elites have not bothered to provide public health leadership and management, have not invested in sufficient health-related legislation and the enforcement of such laws, have proven inefficient in resource allocation and use, and have systematically undermined the provision of adequate national health information and research systems.

A failure to invest in national healthcare systems has then led to extreme shortages of health workers, exacerbated by inequities in workforce distribution (with a strong urban bias) and subsequent brain drain.

Leaders haven’t bothered to fix hospitals or bring in legislation that will protect those hospitals, to ensure that they are well resourced and well-funded, or otherwise up to scratch. Taylor goes on to note that:-

Rampant corruption in procurement systems and inefficient supply systems then combine with unaffordable international prices to produce shells of “hospitals” where one has a greater chance of contracting something extra than being cured of one’s existing ailment.

So then, why haven’t African people taken their leaders to task about all this? Taylor again:

Elite survival comes from access to rents to distribute to patronage networks and thus retain key support, not on investing in services. Investment in such national infrastructure and the advancement of policies that benefit broad swathes of the population is not required in many of Africa’s neo-patrimonial regimes.

This has a direct impact on policy formulation. Why bother spending money on building and maintaining hospitals (or schools or universities) when one can fly to European hospitals to be treated—or send one’s kin abroad for education? Within the logic of many extant African regimes, it makes no sense to invest in public ventures. That’s what the gullible donors are for!

So African politicians know that even if they don’t fix hospitals or bad infrastructure, so long as they pay chiefs and other power brokers who help them maintain popular support, their hold on power is not threatened. Further, their irresponsible logic takes their people for granted by assuming that donors should be the ones fixing the hospitals?  As if the people in those countries voted for donors…

But if not impunity and contempt for their own people, what else explains leader’s like Mugabe’s  actions (see this silly speech here, which he gave after returning from a holiday in Asia – where he and with his family received medical check-ups and underwent treatment)?

What explains Mugabe’s behaviour when others, including one ZANU PF politburo member and former Midlands governor, Cephas Msipa, have refused to seek medical treatment abroad:

“Do we really have to go outside the country for treatment? We should be proud of our own health care services,” he said during the official handover ceremony of a US$1 million casualty ward at Gweru Provincial Hospital last year. He went on to say that:-

“Our doctors and nurses are capable and compete well with other health professionals in other countries. There is no need for people to go to India and other countries to seek medical attention because our own practitioners are equally competent.”

Now, I’m not saying that circumstances will not arise that necessitate the expertise of an overseas specialist in a particular medical area to be sought. Indeed expertise from specialists in various medical fields must be sought. But that’s not what is happening across Africa.

Another commentator who goes by the name Dr Given Mutinta says that medical trips abroad are ‘used as an opportunity to thank ‘good’ bootlickers to the big shots in government.’ Writing on the Zambian Watchdog he says:

If truth be investigated, how many government officials would want to use personal money to pay for medical treatment abroad when they leave office, if at all they would still have the money they are stealing? Besides, how many before coming into power sought medical treatment abroad? What has changed in the past three years they have been in power that they cannot be treated locally?’ noting that ‘These medical vacations are also a scheme government officials are using to embezzle public fundsan allegation I have encountered numerous times. He poses the question: ‘What are the kingpins at the Minister of Health, Dr. Joseph Kasonde and Dr. Chitalu Chilufya doing to promote local capacity, strengthen the health sector, improve fiscal policy on medical equipment and monitor medical tourism?’

DSC_0005_10I think Africans must ask such questions to their public officials. Upcoming and progressive African leaders need to take note of these repugnant anomalies in African politics, and find effective and sustainable ways of preventing what is not only a wanton waste of public resources, but also a violation of the trust of African people. To do this obviously means enacting legislation that will not only protect the healthcare sector, but will ensure that doctors and nurses are paid living wages that remunerates them adequately.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patriotism, National Pride, Public Responsibility and Self-Esteem

flag2I saw this image on a friend’s Facebook wall the other day. It shows a tattered Malawian flag suspended on a rusty pole outside Salima District Council, in what is Salima district.

And it got me wondering, whether there is a link between a country’s ‘perceived patriotism’ or shall we say national pride with its officials public responsibility (or responsibilities)?

I asked this question because I couldn’t help wondering just how much replacing that flag would cost. Surely it can’t possibly be that much? Or can it?

Okay, lets look at it a different way. Are the council officials, although not excessively paid, on a salary? They are not volunteers, so of cpourse they have to be paid. Also, as far as Malawian civil service salaries go, is it fair to say that they are paid the same or better than teachers or nurses? Being an ‘office job’, I’d imagine they are paid relatively decent wages for them to be able to support their families. I can also guess that they probably have some electronic equipment that enables them to undertake their duties? If they can create a Facebook page, they definitely have computers (or at least access to a computer). Which could mean their building has electricity, and someone pays for it.

So then, how much would it cost to replace a tattered flag? Something that should be a symbol of your nationhood. Something you should be proud of, flying at full mast outside your office. Shouldn’t this be a priority? I doubt it would cost much. I’d be surprised if it cost more than $300 -$400 to get the flag replaced. But even if it did cost that much, there are many relatively wealthy people in our societies who originally come from Salima, who if approached with such a request, I doubt would hesitate to donate something for the cause.

In the end, I think its down to diminishing public responsibility, on the part of public officials, in that a flag is not seen as important enough to maintain. Even asking for donations from the member of the public for such a cause has probably never been considered. I can also guess that if you dig beneath the surface, there will be further rot. Possibly toilets in a bad state, an air-condition system that’s either non-existent or has been broken for tens of years – and nobody has since bothered to report for fixing. There will probably be badly maintained if not dangerously under-maintained motor vehicles. And other examples of negligence. Funnily enough when you travel across Malawi, you see the same urban decay everywhere, not only in the public sector, even in the private sector. And its worrying to say the least.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Because what does it say, what message does it give? Why the detachment from keeping things in a relatively functional or at least ‘not dysfunctional’ order? Why can’t Malawians be bothered about these things? Or about anything for that matter?

Surely it’s not only down to poverty? Or is it? I don’t think so because even wealthy neighbourhoods in the capital Lilongwe have under-maintained roads, and poor public facilities. Could it be a low-self-esteem issue linked to lack of education as others have pointed out in the past? Or is it that an increasing number of Malawians have somehow ‘evolved’ to adopt a mental state where they always expect someone else to do things for them? What exactly is going on here?

I think we have to flush out this toxic mentality because it gives the wrong picture. I think we have to begin to be concerned about things other than one’s immediate family, because a society where people care for each other is a strong society. I think public officials must take another look as to what their responsibilities are towards those they serve, and ask whether they are fulfilling those commitments.

  • Value and Ethics of Public Responsibility

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.

Democracy: At what price?

chibamboOn the day that I saw the above message on Facebook, I also saw this, titled “Malawi, Africa Countries Snub ‘Un-African’ Proposals At UN CSW Meeting” which has the following two paragraphs:

“There were issues of comprehensive sexuality education, and abortion among others and it was proposed that a child should be taught about issues surrounding sexual life from the age 0 – 4, and that the girl child should not be restrained from having sexual intercourse as long as she is old enough,” explained Makungwa.

She added, “So as Africans, we stood our grounds because we found such proposals very un-African and as for other proposals such as that of homosexuality, we clearly told the meeting that as a country, the matter was referred to the public for debate.”

While conservative leaning churches would probably be pleased with these kinds of headlines, to me a more pressing issue is troubling.

Who gets to decide who makes the law? Or rather, who gets to decide who dictates public policy? Is it the people of an African country, its government or the donors and financial backers who must map public policy?

As a black person living in Britain, I’m always appalled when the rights of minorities are denied by popular sentiment, or by religious / perceived pseudo-religious beliefs of the majority. But in this case, I find it extremely difficult to reconcile the fact that when less than 50 years ago the law in the UK forbade homosexuality, you now have what amounts to ‘carrot demands’ by what are probably western organisations pushing young African democracies to legislate or support similar laws to those which in the West took hundreds of years  (and murderous mistakes) to properly form. Irrespective of African culture and other considerations.

It’s a bit hypocritical isn’t it? In my terribly (un)imaginative mind, it sounds a bit like a man mouthing off in the London Underground voice ( ‘Mind the Gap’) : It took us 500 years to overturn these laws, it must stake you less than 40…”  Tasteless.

Further, on the list of what should be priorities (hunger, disease, poverty, education, rights of women, etc) of African leaders, where does LGBT rights feature? Is it really sensible to ask a presidential candidate to support gay rights when half his country’s population is starving, when the country has poor public health facilities, hospitals without medicines, when crime is compratively high (than in most western countries), when illiteracy levels are high, when there are poor educational prospects in the country, an unacceptably high number of women continue to die in childbirth, when unemployment is high, and when corruption is rife in both the public and private sector?

Wouldn’t it be wiser to allow the political leaders of African countries some leeway for what will probably be a slow but organic natural transition? As opposed to applying forced catalysts whose motives are not entirely clear.

Ahmed Dassu Letter to President Joyce Banda

On Jun 7, 2013, at 2:42 PM, Ahmed Dassu wrote:

 Excellency

 I refer to your response to my request for an audience during your visit to London for the G8 summit, which was “not available. JB,” which appears both intentionally abrupt and unbefitting of your high office and public servant number one!  Therefore I feel it prudent to address in this email the issues I had wished to discuss with you had you granted me the audience, in order to avoid any misrepresentation or misunderstanding.

 That I share a passionate interest in Malawi and its future with my colleagues Edgar and Thom of Nyasa Times, as I do with many other Malawians is widely known.  Arising from this I had expressed to Edgar and Thom some concerns regarding recent political developments and the continued unabated and open corruption in the sector of public procurement, and asked if Nyasa Times would carry an opinion piece by me, expressing these concerns.  Instead both Edgar and Thom suggested that as you were travelling to London soon I should meet you, Excellency, to put across my concerns directly.  This is what prompted me to request an audience with you.

 Turning first to the political scene.  On President Mutharika death, although I had previously expressed deep reservations about your leadership in a TV interview on MTV, I was amongst the first to publicly demand that constitutional order should prevail, and that as Vice-President you should be sworn in as President.  I convinced others to do the same, including a person who had during President Mutharika’s administration been at the forefront of publicly humiliating you and who had publicly demanded press censorship – now a leading office-bearer in your party, the PP. 

 Indeed on your swearing-in as President, in common with a majority of Malawians, I considered this as a Godsend for a new beginning for Malawi; this conviction was further strengthened by the words of wisdom in your inaugural address to the nation – full of promise and hope.

 Sadly, in office instead of being the stateswoman we had all expected you to be, you practise the politics of marginalisation and victimisation based on whether one is perceived to be your supporter or not. Instead of honouring the high expectations we Malawians built up on your assuming office, your Presidency is built and sustained on the foundations of Members of Parliament, now transformed into political prostitutes who who have been induced to defect from their own parties to your party by patronage and corruption , which the high office of President enables you to practise. Given the opportunity I would have pleaded with you, Excellency that it was not too late for you to live up to the high expectations and hope for a new beginning that were aroused on your ascendancy to the highest office in the country.  That you should focus on how Malawians judge you and how they will perceive you in posterity, and be the stateswoman that the world assumes you are instead of the power hungry, corrupt, vindictive woman, engaged in theft of public funds and who will do whatever it takes to remain in power, which is what a majority of Malawians now see you as doing.  What we see is you practising the politics of marginalisation and victimisation, all glitter in orange with no substance where it concerns democracy, accountability and transparency. 

 You are not minded to accept that you were not elected to the high office of President, just as your party was not elected to govern.  It is blatantly obvious that you are subjecting Section 65 to the patronage and corruption to sustain you an unelected President, in office instead of leading Malawi by consensus.  You have followed in the footsteps of President Mutharika and set aside Section 65 by encouraging resort to courts in the usurping of the powers of Parliament. You have condoned and sheltered those ‘political prostitutes’ who have defected to your party. In a parliamentary democracy there can be no more damning indictment.  Sadly the Speaker himself has fallen victim to allowing the usurping of the powers enshrined in the Constitution for Parliament and become a political prostitute himself.

Turning now to the issue of business, I believe that Edgar and Thom had conveyed to you the need for the wiping out of corruption in government procurement so that companies like mine and others which were prejudiced during President Mutharika’a administration could be encouraged to submit competitive tenders for fertilizer and in other areas of government procurement and thereby reduce costs and improve delivery.  

 It may be foolhardy to ask you to recall, so in the light of what has since transpired, so permit me to remind you that as Vice-President you had publicly said that President Mutharika had institutionalised corruption in government procurement of fertilizer and that you would be exposing the corruption. So it was reasonable, your having implied President Mutharika was corruptly awarding government contracts to selective companies, that these companies were guilty accomplices in the corruption of which you accused President Mutharika.  However in office you have proved no less corrupt, in fact even more so, as immediately on assuming office you proceeded to award contracts for the supply of fertilizer to the very same Indian-owned companies, except for a black indigenous Malawian who, because of his tribe and colour, was identified as a supporter of President Mutharika, when in fact he was no more a supporter of Mutharika then were Abdul Master, Apollo or the other Indians who are paying you millions of Dollars in corrupt deals.

 Indeed the vast unexplained assets and resources now at your and your party’s disposal since you assumed office are ample evidence of the high level of corruption in your government.  I go so far as to challenge the very concept of the Supplementary Fertilizer Subsidy Programme as being a manifestation of the unprecedented corrupt practices and an instrument for the bribing of voters with corruptly acquired funds by you. For as if you were cheating children in a kindergarten you cloud your corrupt misdeeds by telling Malawians that “I personally and my friends will fund the fertilizer for the Supplementary Fertilizer Subsidy Programme”. Where will the funds come from? No doubt the public purse that you are busy looting.

 And who are these friends other than those who are awarded the government contracts by you corruptly?

 In conclusion let me add that I know that in writing to you I expose myself to your reknown vindictive nature and possible victimization by you.  But I shall persevere whatever consequences I am made to suffer, for the struggle for a better, democratic, free Malawi, free from the hunger for power of individual politicians like you have turned out to be, is one I have engaged in since 1972.  My commitment to Mother Malawi is for Malawians to judge.  Indeed, I am convinced posterity will judge me a far better citizen of Malawi  than contemporary politicians like you have done.

God Bless Malawi

 Ahmed Dassu

Source: The Oracle

Flipping the Corruption Myth

Flipping the Corruption Myth by Dr Jason Hickel, a lecturer at the London School of Economics and an adviser to /The Rules
– Corruption is by far not the main factor behind persisting poverty in the Global South.  Original article via Al Jazeera here

* * * * * *  * * = * * * * * * * = * * * * * * *

Transparency International recently published their latest annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), laid out in an eye-catching map of the world with the least corrupt nations coded in happy yellow and the most corrupt nations smeared in stigmatising red. The CPI defines corruption as “the misuse of public power for private benefit”, and draws its data from 12 different institutions including the World Bank, Freedom House, and the World Economic Forum.

When I first saw this map I was struck by the fact that most of the yellow areas happen to be rich Western countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, whereas red covers almost the entirety of the global South, with countries like South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Somalia daubed especially dark.

This geographical division fits squarely with mainstream views, which see corruption as the scourge of the developing world (cue cliche images of dictators in Africa and bribery in India). But is this storyline accurate?

Many international development organisations hold that persistent poverty in the Global South is caused largely by corruption among local public officials. In 2003 these concerns led to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which asserts that, while corruption exists in all countries, this “evil phenomenon” is “most destructive” in the global South, where it is a “key element in economic underperformance and a major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development”.

There’s only one problem with this theory: It’s just not true.

Corruption, superpower style

According to the World Bank, corruption in the form of bribery and theft by government officials, the main target of the UN Convention, costs developing countries between $20bn and $40bn each year. That’s a lot of money. But it’s an extremely small proportion – only about 3 percent – of the total illicit flows that leak out of public coffers. Tax avoidance, on the other hand, accounts for more than $900bn each year, money that multinational corporations steal from developing countries through practices such as trade mispricing.

This enormous outflow of wealth is facilitated by a shadowy financial system that includes tax havens, paper companies, anonymous accounts, and fake foundations, with the City of London at the very heart of it. Over 30 percent of global foreign direct investment is booked through tax havens, which now collectively hide one-sixth of the world’s total private wealth.

This is a massive – indeed, fundamental – cause of poverty in the developing world, yet it does not register in the mainstream definition of corruption, absent from the UN Convention, and rarely, if ever, appears on the agenda of international development organisations.

With the City of London at the centre of the global tax haven web, how does the UK end up with a clean CPI?

The question is all the more baffling given that the city is immune from many of the nation’s democratic laws and free of all parliamentary oversight. As a result of this special status, London has maintained a number of quaint plutocratic traditions. Take its electoral process, for instance: More than 70 percent of the votes cast during council elections are cast not by residents, but by corporations – mostly banks and financial firms. And the bigger the corporation, the more votes they get, with the largest firms getting 79 votes each. This takes US-style corporate personhood to another level.

To be fair, this kind of corruption is not entirely out-of-place in a country where a feudalistic royal family owns 120,000 hectares of the nation’s land and sucks up around £40m ($65.7m) of public funds each year. Then there’s the parliament, where the House of Lords is filled not by-election but by appointment, with 92 seats inherited by aristocratic families, 26 set aside for the leaders of the country’s largest religious sect, and dozens of others divvied up for sale to multi-millionaires.

Corruption in US is only slightly less blatant. Whereas congressional seats are not yet available for outright purchase, the Citizens United vs FEC ruling allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns to ensure that their preferred candidates get elected, a practice justified under the Orwellian banner of “free speech”.

The poverty factor

The UN Convention is correct to say that poverty in developing countries is caused by corruption. But the corruption we ought to be most concerned about has its root in the countries that are coloured yellow on the CPI map, not red.

The tax haven system is not the only culprit. We know that the global financial crisis of 2008 was precipitated by systemic corruption among public officials in the US who were intimately tied to the interests of Wall Street firms. In addition to shifting trillions of dollars from public coffers into private pockets through bailouts, the crisis wiped out a huge chunk of the global economy and had a devastating effect on developing countries when demand for exports dried up, causing massive waves of unemployment.

A similar story can be told about the Libor scandal in the UK, when major London banks colluded to rig interest rates so as to suck around $100bn of free money from people even well beyond Britain’s shores. How could either of these scandals be defined as anything but the misuse of public power for private benefit? The global reach of this kind of corruption makes petty bribery and theft in the developing world seem parochial by comparison.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. If we really want to understand how corruption drives poverty in developing countries, we need to start by looking at the institutions that control the global economy, such as the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the policies that these institutions foisted on the Global South, following the Washington Consensus, caused per capita income growth rates to collapse by almost 50 percent. Economist Robert Pollin has estimated that during this period developing countries lost around $480bn per year in potential GDP. It would be difficult to overstate the human devastation that these numbers represent. Yet Western corporations have benefitted tremendously from this process, gaining access to new markets, cheaper labour and raw materials, and fresh avenues for capital flight.

These international institutions masquerade as mechanisms for public governance, but they are deeply anti-democratic; this is why they can get away with imposing policies that so directly violate public interest. Voting power in the IMF and World Bank is apportioned so that developing countries – the vast majority of the world’s population – together hold less than 50 percent of the vote, while the US Treasury wields de facto veto power. The leaders of these institutions are not elected, but appointed by the US and Europe, with not a few military bosses and Wall Street executives among them.

Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank, has publicly denounced these institutions as among the least transparent he has ever encountered. They also suffer from a shocking lack of accountability, as they enjoy special “sovereign immunity” status that protects them against public lawsuit when their policies fail, regardless of how much harm they cause.

Shifting the blame

If these patterns of governance were true of any given nation in the global South, the West would cry corruption. Yet such corruption is normalised in the command centres of the global economy, perpetuating poverty in the developing world while Transparency International directs our attention elsewhere.

Even if we do decide to focus on localised corruption in developing countries, we have to accept that it does not exist in a geopolitical vacuum. Many of history’s most famous dictators – like Augusto Pinochet, Mobutu Sese Seko, and Hosni Mubarak – were supported by a steady flow of Western aid. Today, not a few of the world’s most corrupt regimes have been installed or bolstered by the US, among them Afghanistan, South Sudan, and the warlords of Somalia – three of the darkest states on the CPI map.

This raises an interesting question: Which is more corrupt, the petty dictatorship or the superpower that installs it? Unfortunately, the UN Convention conveniently ignores these dynamics, and the CPI map leads us to believe, incorrectly, that each country’s corruption is neatly bounded by national borders.

Corruption is a major driver of poverty, to be sure. But if we are to be serious about tackling this problem, the CPI map will not be much help. The biggest cause of poverty in developing countries is not localised bribery and theft, but the corruption that is endemic to the global governance system, the tax haven network, and the banking sectors of New York and London. It’s time to flip the corruption myth on its head and start demanding transparency where it counts.

Dr Jason Hickel lectures at the London School of Economics and serves as an adviser to /The Rules. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jasonhickel

China Funding construction of new airport in Malawi

First it was a parliament building, then a road to connect Karonga and Chitipa, a five-star hotel, followed by a stadium, and now it seems they will be building an Airport. China is Africa’s new friend and within the last decade, they have made some serious inroads into Africa. The question that interests me looking at all the things China is doing in Africa, and considering they are not a colonialist is this: why didn’t any of the former colonialists build infrastructure comparable to what China is building in Africa today, when back in their own countries, they continued to build structures which no doubt contributed to their economies during the same period? Especially since some of these organisations had large empires which no doubt contributed to their enormous wealth….

Was it because they didn’t think Africa needed its own infrastructure? There was no plan …? Or was it because they had no money?

Anyhow i’ll ponder that another day 🙂

While President Joyce Banda should be commended for pushing through this excellent development (which is exactly the kind of infrastructure Africa needs) since it is true that our airports are outdated and in serious need for improvement, I wonder what she has granted the Chinese in return? What does the deal involve? Is the deal public? Would be interesting to see what is being offered in return…

Similar

Quality Education and Economic Growth – Lessons for Africa

madison-141735_1280
A building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin

Quality Education is essential for Economic Growth

Bold statement? Well, no, not really, how about ordinary and ignored statement. At least in most parts of Africa?

Okay, so this is one of the topics I’m most passionate about for reasons which are somewhat obvious, but which our leaders in Africa are yet to realise, that is if they haven’t realised already.

You can’t have development, especially sustainable development if your educational system is crap. Period. Soon enough something will have to give. Also, when building a house, you don’t start with the roof, before the foundation has been laid, conventionally anyway (and wisely I’d think) you don’t do that. The foundation must be laid first, and the structure built, then you can start fumbling around with the roof…unless ofcourse yours is a futuristic / modern design that defies convention? 🙂

Anyhow, I have compiled a number of articles that support the view that a high quality education is essential for sustainable economic growth.

While there may be numerous assumptions to make before such a hypothesis is held true, generally it holds true. Specifically, while there may be a need for defining precisely what is meant by “quality education” (which may differ depending on who you speak to, and which may limit scope or leave out an education system that is better than others, but couldn’t be described as ‘quality’) there is quite a bit of substance to the above view.

Further, there are exceptions, for example why certain countries with high mineral resources  experience fast economic growth rates –  a feature that occurs when the leaders in such countries invest the proceeds from those resources responsibly and strategically – even in the absence of a quality education system.

Thankfully, a few clever people have helpfully explained why education is important for economic growth:

1. Education and Economic Growth  – Eric A. Hanushek (Standford University), Ludger Woessmann (University of Munich)  via Education Next . According to one of the authors:

This article reviews the role of education in promoting economic growth, with a particular focus on the role of educational quality. It concludes that there is strong evidence that the cognitive skills of the population – rather than mere school attainment – are powerfully related to long-run economic growth. The relationship between skills and growth proves extremely robust in empirical applications. The effect of skills is complementary to the quality of economic institutions. Growth simulations reveal that the long-run rewards to educational quality are large but also require patience.

2. Education and Economic Growth: From the 19th to the 21st Century, Riel Miller (www.rielmiller.com),  commissioned by CISCO

3. Education and economic growth -Schooling quantity and educational quality effect on GDP level and economic growth,  Liang Zhai, Wenjun Zhao, Bachelor Thesis in Economics, Mälardalen University.

Similar