Does Education matter in Malawian Politics?

We vote for politicians because we want our country to do better. We stand queueing for hours to pick a president and member of parliament of our choice. We wait anxiously by the radio for results, but it seems that no matter who we elect in Malawi, we end up being disappointed. By now we all know that most Malawian politicians are opportunists who have over the years acquired impeccable skills in ‘party migration’. They are skilled in image reinvention and tactful only when their personal interests are on the line. For years, politicians in Malawi have played this game with us and I wonder whether education has a part to play in all of this.  Is it because we have set the bar too low for politicians in terms of education?

Politicians are a special people because billions of people in the world  depend on them to solve the many global societal problems. In representative democracies, politicians are employed to make policies which reflect the wants and needs of the electorate. Through political manifestos, the electorate make choices on who is better poised to govern and through the ballot box, politicians are entrusted with the most important jobs on earth. It is therefore important that the electorate through their choices pick the best men and women who have the ability to achieve positive results for their countries.

box-321776_640The phenomenon of globalisation has changed the nature of international politics through the interconnectedness of different states in the world. Transnational Corporations have sprung up all around the world. States co-operate with each other on inter-state relational matters through international organisations such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation to name a few. The game of politics has changed at the world stage and competition between states through international treaties requires witty  politicians to make positive gains for their respective countries. For countries to win, there is need to employ politicians that have the necessary skills in international politics to compete with their counterparts. The international stage is where all the treaties concerning trade, security, the environment and other pressing national matters are negotiated. It is where our fate as a country is sealed through our negotiation skills and capabilities.

Malawi being part of this competitive global world needs brilliant minds to compete at the international level with other countries. Whatever politicians do at the domestic level still has an impact on us as a nation because we are living in a globalised world. We need capable minds that can be able to sit and challenge ‘hand me down’ policies that have for years held African countries down. Malawi needs people who can initiate policies that can increase our comparative advantage in the area of international trade. I therefore believe that it is only through education that we can be able to disseminate the complex world of inter-state  relations in the new liberal world order.

It is therefore questionable that the most important jobs in the country only require an ‘o’ level certificate as the minimum qualification.  Some of the leaders we elect in our parliament only have an ‘o’ level certificate and it is highly doubtful that knowledge attained at this level can produce minds that can initiate structural transformation in Malawi. Politicians are responsible for developing countries, and the content and scope of knowledge at ‘o’ level is insufficient  for one to grasp the intricate world of development theories. If we are serious about advancing our standing at the international stage, an ‘o’ level mind will not be able to compete with the many brilliant minds out there. The international realm is about competition and if we are to have a chance at diversifying our economy, then a Malawi School Leaving Certificate will fail us.

This country fails because we employ people who are not qualified for their jobs. We have seen ministers heading ministries with the wrong qualification or without any tertiary qualification on their portfolios. We have seen ambassadors being appointed to head embassies without any prior qualification or knowledge in international relations/politics. We have some members of parliament who only have an ‘o’ level certificate and then we wonder why these MPs spend 5 years just clapping hands as solutions to our problems. We have councillors that do not even know what town planning is all about and then we wonder why a nightclub is opened next to people’s homes.

This is why our parliament is passive when it comes to enforcing the clauses in laws in section 65. This is why our presidents to not even care to declare their assets at the start of their term as required by law. Parliamentarians are supposed to ensure that the constitution of Malawi is respected by all political parties. However, time and again, our MPs let us down because most cannot even realise the seriousness of not upholding the constitution.

I therefore firmly believe that Malawi needs tertiary educated politicians starting from top to bottom. And if they are educated, their qualification should be at least relevant to their posting. We need politicians who are qualified to grasp the challenges facing a developing country such as Malawi. Most non governmental organisations doing developmental work at the district level in this country require staff with a tertiary education. It is then absurd that the most important jobs in this country only requires a secondary school education.

Leadership for the Africa we Want – Kigali, May 2014

Sponsored by the African Development Bank.

Shorter version focussing on points made by Thabo Mbeki and Benjamin Mkapa:-

My Comments

  • Education has not been a priority for most countries across Africa. As a consequence, Africa doesn’t have enough high quality and decisive leaders and effectors capable of transforming not only their own countries, but the continent. Thus, Africa needs to develop and entrust young people with the knowledge that will empower them to be agents of change. Agents of change capable of prioritising what the continent needs.
  • Further, African people are disunited. Most African people have been divided on political lines such that they often fail to distinguish when our economies are failing because of external influences (or external cause) – which calls for supporting the leadership – and when a national leader’s policies are failing – which calls for criticism.
  • The Neo-liberal Institutions such as the IMF have fed African governments a crippling poison of conditionalities that work for them and their backers but that has made it extremely difficult for sustainable progress to be made across Africa. Before countries like Great Britain, the US, Canada and New Zealand had market based economies operating under market forces, there were long periods of a planned economy in these countries. In fact in Britain, it was only beginning the 70’s and 80’s that state-owned companies were privatised. Before that most infrastructure (not only in Britain) from Railways, Hospitals, Factories, Utilities (Energy companies, Water companies and Gas companies), Mining, Telecommunication companies belonged to the state (or the state was a large and active player in such industries). And that ownership provided employment, tax revenues and dividends to the State. Yet when the likes of the IMF and World Bank came to Africa, they told African leaders that the state must not own anything. The reasons they gave was that it was inefficient for the state to be in business. They were right to an extent but only because the inefficiencies came as a result of the inherent limitations which those state companies possessed. Specifically, these parastatals were not run efficiently as profit-making businesses in a business sense:- you had the wrong kind of leadership calling the shots (not innovators of the calibre and ingenuity of say Lord Alan Sugar, Sir Richard Branson or Sir Philip Green). So how do you expect an organisation to be profitable and innovate if it’s run by the wrong people? Secondly, there was little investment in employee training – so lifelong and transferable skills in tune with technology were not being passed down. To see understand this anomaly consider this: What percentage of over 60’s who were civil servants in the 70’s and 80’s or who were working in government institutions at the time of the privatisations of major UK industry were comfortable with using computers and other technology at the time or even today? Most were not, and even now only a small percentage is conversant with technology. The reason :- Because when they were working for  these government-owned businesses, there was little or no investment into their skills development. In other words when technology was changing, they didn’t have the skills to keep up. Further, there was little competition between these companies and other independent companies so not enough incentive for innovation. No surprises then that parastatals were inefficient and didn’t perform particularly well. But since we now know all these things, as I clearly articulated here, I don’t believe that its impossible to run a government-owned company profitably in this day and age.
  • Ageism is a real problem in Africa. So is Regionalism and Tribalism. Until we begin to entrust people with responsibility on a merit-based criteria (and not by how old they are or from which region they come from, or what religion they are) we’ll struggle to find an edge.
  • Advanced Business Training If Steve Jobs had a business school which he run, what kind of graduates would the school produce? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think formidable ones. Africa needs to train its young people to be formidable in business…
  • Capital Without money Africa can’t advance, because where will the tools of development come from? Financial Investment in young people (and I’m not talking minute $1000 – $2000 type business loans) is a necessary tool to development.


America’s rotting empire: Billionaires galore and a crumbling infrastructure

This is an article from May 2014 by CJ Werleman, which appeared on, which I think is quite interesting, and some of the observations therein probably apply to African countries more than it applies to the US Education system:-

…There is a defined correlation between literacy, numeracy and technology skills with jobs, rising wages and productivity, good health, and even civic participation and political engagement. Inequality of skills is closely correlated to inequality of income. In short, our education system is not meeting the demands of the new global environment, and the outlook is grim,

But the correlation between a strong public education system and social mobility is demonstrated clearly in the OECD report. A 2006 report by Michael A. McDaniel of Virginia Commonwealth University showed that states with higher estimated collective IQ have greater gross state product, citizens with better health, more effective state governments, and less violent crime. In other words, were we to invest more in public education, we’d be instantly more intelligent, healthy, safe, and financially sound….

But the conclusion sums it up best:

…The principal force for convergence [of wealth] — the diffusion of knowledge — is only partly natural and spontaneous. It also depends in large part on educational policies,” writes Thomas Piketty in his 700-page bestseller Capital in the Twenty-First Century. In other words, if we really want to reduce inequality, and if we really want to be a global leader in the 21st century, we need to invest more into our education system, which requires the federal government to ensure the rich and the mega-corporations pay their share…

Quality Education and Economic Growth – Lessons for Africa

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 (,  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.


Global 100 Voices: No 7 (Part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

more-art golf early days

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

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

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

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

[Part B coming soon]

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