Area 18 Interchange - Malawi

An intertwined road Interchange in Malawi got the whole country talking

Call me a cynic, but sometimes the country of my birth baffles me to the point I wonder: Is this really happening?

And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a brief: Malawi’s capital Lilongwe recently saw the opening of a new intertwined road interchange, named ‘Area 18 Interchange’. And because nothing like it ever existed in the country before, loads of Malawians began talking about it. The excitement soon reached fever pitch, to the point people were going out of their ways to go to the location of this interchange, to see it with their own eyes and observe the traffic criss-crossing its roads. Malawi’s president even visited the site the other day and stated his government’s commitment to develop the country’s cities through construction of transformative pieces of infrastructure.

Now you might say thats not a big deal, people in the developing world get excited about all sorts of ordinary things which westerners take for granted. And you are right. But what irked me was the hero-worship that followed, in that some Malawians began to claim that the construction of the road is one of the major achevements of former president of Malawi Peter Mutharika.

At which point I snapped.

It’s just a road. A tiny road for that matter. that if you go to other countries, you’ll find bigger and much better intertwined junctions… its no big deal.

On a much more reflective note, other people rate their leaders on substantive material things they achieved in their lifetimes. Achievements of huge significance that impact thousands of people, in some cases literary changing the course of history. To give a flavour, how about ending slavery as an achievement, defeating Nazism, ending the colonisation of a country, developing a Nuclear Weapon, giving the vote to women, presiding over a large National Economic Transformation (The New Deal); ending Apartheid and becoming the first black president of South Africa, lifting over 800 million people out of poverty(as China has done) …

How ridiculous do you think Malawi appears, when faced with a list of such noble and grand achievements, we’re in some corner hollering and worshiping a former leader based on a tiny road interchange that was built under their watch?? In 2020?

Is that really how low our standards have fallen? Kamuzu Banda must be spinning in his grave…

Some of these people need to visit Durban, Nairobi, Kigali or Addis Ababa- to see what real development looks like …

Let me tell you what I believe. Its no secret that countries like Rwanda, Botswana, Malaysia, and South Korea were at one point in the 50’s and 60’s on the same level of development as Malawi. But unlike Malawi, they chose to develop and made significant strides out of poverty to become middle income countries. It was a deliberate and sustained intervention to match and be level with some of the best.

Now you might say our politics were different at that time, we had an inward-looking dictator more concerned with self-preservation, and you are right. But since the start of multiparty democracy, we’ve had 26 years in which to “catch-up”. But there’s been nothing to show for.

And yet, our contemporaries also faced innumerable challenges. Like us, they didn’t have enough money. Their people weren’t that educated. In fact if you look at where we are, we probably have more incentives to develop that countries like South Korea or Botswana had in the 60’s and 70’s. The difference is while we sometimes appear comfortable in our sorry state, these countries were not content with mediocrity or token gestures. I mean, when was the last time you heard of an aid organisation working to feed hungry children in Souh Korea?

These countries decided they needed to create economies that could stand side by side with some of the largest economies in the world. Economies that were resilient to existential shocks. And it is high time we did the same.

In Malawi, we have to be careful not to let our historical excuses and well-rehearsed pragmatism (the “Malawian standards” / “crawl before you can run” excuses), ending up being main obstacles in our path to development. I’ve said it here several times before, but we really have to raise the bar on what counts as development, and what is raw and unmistakable mediocrity.

Peter Mutharika (like him or hate him) didn’t do much to develop Malawi because he was not a transformational leader. There was no blueprint, no grand plan, no credible and actionable dream, no rhetoric to charge and fire up people’s imaginations. His leadership, busied by tribalism, corruption and deceit – left much to be desired, and there was more bluster than implementation. If you don’t believe me, just look at the promises that were made in DPP’s 2014 Manifesto and compare with what was actually achieved by 2019.

In Malawi, we say of undeserved promotions that “Anangogweramo” , meaning Mutharika just fell into it. It was an accidental selection, and he wouldn’t have ended up as a leader of a party and the country if not for his brother pulling him into DPP’s Politburo.

But this post isn’t about the Mutharikas and DPP’s woes.

Malawi has to start seeking capable operators who will move us forward as a country. We have to begin to seriously empower people who are qualified and know how to build and develop a country and have the force of character to deliver on promises. Osati zongochitikira mwa ngozi.

There’s another equally important aspect to all this.

If a tiny road intersection has got the whole country excited, what do you think foreign dignitaries will think of us, as a nation? What do you think they will report to their countries, as ways in which to pacify or otherwise impress our people? Imagine how all the ruthless and pushy countries, even a China omwewa will deal with us, when they know it takes very little to impress our people… ?

We have to press the reset button on what we regard as development. Toilets that look like ma sakasa, Airport terminals towoneka ngati khola la nkhuku, tima bridge ta make dzana… and yes your little interchange, they’re all not signs of development in the context of the 21st Century. Because there are such things as global standards, and we have to pull up our socks in this area and begin to match the rest of the world. Rwanda and Kenya are doing it, why can’t we?

In any case, how can you possibly attract investment in the form of a factory (say Chevrolet, Nissan or Kia for argument’s sake), or how can you seriously attract a tech giant’s assebling facility (APPLE, IBM, HP, MICROSOFT) and compete against the likes of Ethiopia or Kenya – who have impressive infrastructure and who are doing far more to attract foreign corporations to set up shop in those countries, when your own infrastructure leaves plenty to be desired?

How South korea became a Hub of Innovation

Six Markets to Watch: South Korea – The Backwater That Boomed via Foreign Affairs

A few excerpts:

” …  Despite all this progress, the country’s recent years have not been uniformly easy. Still, one of the things that has distinguished South Korea is its ability to adapt to and learn from setbacks. The country was badly burned during the 1997–98 Asian financial crisis, for example, which exposed a weak, badly regulated financial system; wildly overleveraged firms; and occasionally corrupt corporate governance practices. But the government under Kim Dae-jung responded by undertaking significant reforms: it shut down bad banks, forced the resolution of bankrupt companies, and, most of all, strengthened previously inept financial regulation.   …”

“…  South Korea also needs to squeeze the most productivity it can out of its labor and capital, especially given the competition it faces from its neighbors low-wage China and high-technology Japan. South Korea may be tempted to try to accomplish this feat by emphasizing technology above all else. After all, as competitors from Apple to Toyota will attest, the country’s progress in this field, particularly in information technology and manufacturing, has been phenomenal.

But increasing productivity requires more than just technological innovation; it also takes encouraging innovation in emerging sectors while terminating inefficient practices throughout the economy. In South Korea’s case, the area that needs the most help is the heavily regulated service sector. If the government were willing to lower barriers to entry, the ongoing development of the country’s financial sector could help restructure the service sector by making more capital available to underwrite innovation and boost investment….”

14 African Countries Forced by France to Pay Colonial Tax

Its anybody’s guess how true some of the allegations in the link below are, but probably not something to read on a Saturday morning 😐 .

What is clear is that Western Countries like France have had a huge and unfair economic advantage over non-western countries, and some of their policies (which are precisely the policies which gave them that unfair economic advantage) towards former colonies were clearly and undeniably oppressive.

The reason I don’t buy the BS which goes something like:”Stop moaning, others like South Korea have moved on from the colonial bashing….and are now prosperous” is that unlike any of the African countries, South Korea got a huge grant of at least $3 billion dollars (others researchers say it was tens of billions of dollars: ) between 1965 -73 to build up its economy.

So South Korea was given huge amounts of money to build its economy. It didn’t just happen accidentally. It is an ignorant fallacy to claim that with the problems facing African countries can just be transformed using aid, diplomacy or education.

I think, considering that western politicians have failed miserably to use aid to solve Africa’s major problems the last 60 years (not that it was their call to do so – but their predecessors were part of the problem that created unquantifiable damage to Africa), in so far as sustainability is concerned, so as to remedy Africa’s problems, it is most probably time for educated African entrepreneurs (not Politicians) to be given ‘reparatory grants’ to rebuild their countries’ economies. Anything short of massive and reparatory investment into Africa is unlikely to create sustainable economies where the Africans themselves are in charge, and in control of their countries economies. After years of study, observation and obsessive inquiry, I’m convinced this (or a derivative form thereof) has to be part of the equation to rectifying the troubles in Africa.

14 African Countries Forced by France to Pay Colonial Tax via Systemic

Malawi’s Zero-sum Democracy: The Case of South Korea Labour Export – by Jimmy Kainja


Malawi’s Zero-sum Democracy: The Case of South Korea Labour Export  via Jimmy Kainja

The story that governments of Malawi had struck a deal South Korea to export labour turned that it was yet another pack of lies and deceit. If there’s any truth in it then it probably lays somewhere between the government of Malawi’s claim that it was a done deal and South Korea’s denial of such agreement. About two months later, Malawi has moved on to other issues, this story is dead in the water.

This epitomises successive Malawi governments, since the country’s return to multiparty democracy in the mid 1990s, close to zero locally initiated policies are seen through to the end, and that is how government resources are spent. The country is littered with unfinished projects. How much ministry of labour spent setting and promoting the South Korean scheme is unknown and the likelihood is that the public will never know. Because the story is now dead and there is no legal provision that empowers the taxpayer to demand information on how their money is spent.

This is how democratic Malawi is run. Successive regimes have always come up with quick-fix, populist policies that are only aimed at exciting people in short term and help the ruling party return power at the turn of five year electoral interval. No long-term policies to help Malawi wean itself off aid dependency, for instance. Nearly 40% of Malawi annual budget is subsidised by the donor community. The country’s economy nearly collapsed two years ago when Malawi’s late President, Bingu wa Mutharika foolishly decided to bite a hand that feeds – he became hostile towards donors. Donors packed their bags and leave the country to fend for itself. Mutharika portrayed himself as a victim of neo-colonialism and western imperialism, which to some extent he was but the main issue was and remains Malawi over dependence on foreign aid.

Mutharika resorted to local borrowing, meanwhile lying to Malawians that its initiative of spending no more than it could raise locally (zero deficit budget) was working. The truth of the matter only came out after President Joyce Banda seceded wa Mutharika in April 2012. The Finance Minister who oversaw the lies on ‘success’ of zero budget deficit, Ken Lipenga still holds the same portfolio. An inquiry setup by President Banda apparently established that Lipenga was not aware that the government was surviving on local borrowing. In any case this amounted to incompetence anyway. One wonders if there is anything that would stop Mr Lipenga lying to Malawians again.

Everything and anything that can help you win elections in Malawi is game, ethical or not. Ethics are not part of the game in fact. Lipenga is seen as an asset in the ruling party, so he must be taken care of. Knowing this fact, it is not surprising that President Banda’s administration is leaving no stoned unturned in its pretence that it is concerned about a huge youth unemployment rate in the country. Youth unemployment is a global problem at the moment but this cannot be President Banda’s mitigating factor, each government must sort out its own. Thus, Malawi government wanted to be seen trying to do something youth unemployment. After all Malawi has tripartite elections in May 2014 in which President Banda’s People’s Party contest. 65% of Malawi’s 14 million people are aged between 15 and 35. Thus, the youth forms a huge voting block.

The move to export labour drew a considerable amount of criticism and protest. Some have accused the government of initiating modern day slavery and others have referred to it as government sponsored brain drain. These are strong words that cannot be ignored. Yet the level of unemployment and helplessness, especially among the youth in the country means that there are thousands of young men and women ready to takes risks in search of a better life in places they have no idea about.

Now there is deafening silence on the issue as the country has moved on to other hot topics. Government resources spent on lies, suffering youths lied to and deceiving ministers maintaining their portfolios to lie and deceive again. This is a story of Malawi, a story of impunity; tale of a system that is very good at capitalising on people’s mystery while masquerading as its saviour. Those that are outraged by such system and speak out against it are labelled “controversial”, trouble-markers up in arms against the ruling part, which is a de facto government in Malawi. The country thrives on “you are either with us or you are with them” kind of totalitarian kind of politics; a zero-sum game. Sadly, no successful nation has ever been built on such foundation.