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?
This article titled Noam Chomsky: America is the gravest danger to world peace from Salon is beautifully written and I can’t help but comment.
I think in a world where western countries have in the past used their economic advantage to suppress dissent or force countries which do not agree with them into line, or to punish countries which disagree with them (e.g. Cuba, Zimbabwe), such carefully articulated views must be more widely disseminated in so far as showing who is in the wrong and being unfair.
In my view, it can never be right or fair for some countries to be at mercy of other countries which have an economic oligarchy / monopoly … and greater military power. The average Iranian has never done anything wrong to any American, so why should they suffer as a result of economic sanctions on Iran for the decisions of their leaders? And why should they suffer at all – just because their country’s leaders fundamentally disagree with the Americans?
In the past Americans through doctrines such as Manifest Destiny have pursued imperialist ambitions culminating with their defeat in Vietnam. And when the Shah of Iran, the puppet leader the American leadership installed in Iran was ousted, and the Islamic Revolution took off, it seems some have harboured this unreasonable anger against Iran since then. In my view it is no more than a hegemonic attempt to control other people, to exploit their resources, and suppress dissent that is driving America into conflict, and you don’t need to refer to the hacking of communications of world leaders by the NSA to see this kind of poisonous mindset.
The opposition to this nuclear deal is frankly disgusting, and for me it shows a number of things about some American leaders including:-
there are too many warmongering American leaders who still believe it is up to them to police the world, and tell others how they should live their live.
the United States is partial and dishonest about nuclear power, as it is about carbon emissions ( do as I say, not as I do)
If you are willing to indiscriminately bomb iran, its children, its women, what does that say of how you see the Iranian people? …………………… Would those same leaders be happy if some country bombed New York or San Francisco?….. It’s people, its women, its children causing deaths of hundreds of thousands of people?…………… Of course not….. So why then is it acceptable or somehow even a consideration for the American airforce to bomb the people of Iran, just as they’ve done in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya – causing untold devastation and suffering, causing deaths of over a million people and leading to the rise of ISIL? Why is it acceptable to bomb a middle eastern country but not acceptable to drop bombs on the people of California? The answer to that question is this: because those hawks and others who think like them, advocating military action or heavy economic sanctions against foreign countries, are racists who do not view Iranians as people in the same way that they view American people; they don’t see Iranians as people deserving peace, happiness, prosperity and security. They see them via a patriarchal lens that categorises people based on their skin colour, where they were born and what they believe in …..
If it was possible for some of the leadership to have normal family relations with people of Iranian / Iraqi heritage, say grandparents of a spouse in Iran, or had married Iranian women/ men, and got to visit Iran, and see the ordinary lives of the Iranian people; people who just wanted to be part of the global village, to send their kids to school, to be able to afford groceries, to be able to afford nice holidays, to have safety and security, I think some of them would realise the flaws in their thinking, and begin to see things differently. But as things stand, it’s stunning just how offensive some of the rhetoric is – which I think points to being closed minded.
Such type of divisive conduct is what made dictatorships such as Nazi Germany, and such type of thinking is what was responsible for everything from the holocaust to Colonialism and Slavery; that certain people have more value than others; that certain people deserve to be treated better than others; that certain people should be subservient to others.
I totally reject such type of thinking.
All people are equal and valuable under the sun, before God, irrespective to where they live, their skin colour, their nationality, their sexual orientation, gender or age, irrespective of where they were born, or how much money is in their bank accounts.
You may not agree with the Iranians or the Afghan people or Iraqis over one policy issue or another, but that doesn’t authorise you to bomb their country and bring death and devastation to their lands… what happened to your Christian values – if you claim to have values? Would Jesus Christ – the same Biblical character who courted the poor – authorise the bombing of Iran? Bombing another sovereign country unprovoked, and for no sensible reason only shows you to be a coward akin to a school playground bully. If he can’t get what he wants he fights.
But even if you were not Christian/religious, what about simple and old-fashioned humanity and decency? What about propriety?
I don’t believe Iran is capable of bombing Israel, if anything they are more troubled about the plight of Palestinians, as is every true muslim. Let’s be honest, Palestinians are in a much worse situation than that which black people of Apartheid South Africa ever were, and if I were a muslim I too would be more concerned than I already am.
So this ridiculous fallacy that Iran is a threat to world peace must be put to bed sooner than later, and Chomsky does a good job at this. Over the course of my life in the UK, I’ve known a few Iranians, and they tell me their country cannot attack Israel or some other country because the military wouldn’t have the support of the people. Army officers would simply refuse to effect any such nonsensical order. The establishment may have gotten away with rigging elections during Ahmadinejad’s tenure, but they would never get away with such an atrocity. The rhetoric of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former president, was largely because being a volunteer to the Revolutionary Guards – he may have felt obliged to appease his fellow hardliners, the same camp he may have had to return to after serving as president. So, far from his talk being threats, it was just theatrics.
Also how would the world react against Iran if they indeed fired even a single missile into Israel? The Iranian leadership is not stupid not to know that such would be the end of the Islamic Revolution. It’s a disingenuous western lie by an unholy alliance of the right-wing media and dodgy alarmist politicians who are drumming up the hatred against Iran, for some other motive – my guess a financial motive. The same kind of lies that claimed Weapons of Mass Destruction existed in Iraq.
After all the ills of the last 200 or so years, each country should decide what they want to do, and how they want to do things, it should not be up to Europeans or Americans or anyone else! to dictate to the rest of the world how they should live their lives or how they should generate their energy or what kind of policies those countries should adopt. After everything the Americans and Europeans have done in the past, which history can testify to, it sure is high time to get off the high horse.
The issue of Cecil Rhodes’s statue being pelted with excrement has deeper issues, of the emerging free thinking young Africans who do not want to be influenced by warped views of Westerners who cannot identify with the enlightened African – of whose breed there are no averages. Scouring the many debates of this issue exposes a deep divide between Africans and Westerners on the issue of colonialism and how it should be remembered. The young minds of Africa who are free from biased views of the world from a western context, are beginning to question certain aspects of African history which was mostly written by Westerners.
First of all, it is of no wonder that the students of University of Cape Town have reacted in this way, because for centuries the African life and history has been dictated by Europeans. Today, a spirit of rebelliousness is slowly fermenting in the young minds of Africans who are fed up of western hegemony on public life in Africa. For once, this new breed of Africans want to decide on what is right for their culture and history, without any distortions or sympathy for imperialism and its so-called advantages from anybody. They want to decide by themselves, and they will decide for themselves – Kwa wenyewe! Ngokwabo! Pawokha! Nipaara wọn! Da kansu!
Scouring the many social media comments on this issue, it is disparaging to hear of the lazy argument that claims that there would be no South Africa without colonialism. The claim is that Africa would not be introduced to the modern pillars of life that is education, technology and democracy if it was not for men like Rhodes. Basically what they are saying is that Africa would not be what it is today without imperialism and somehow Africans need to be grateful despite colonialism’s grave flaws.
What a load of bullshit!
What these arguments seem to forget is that, no one in Africa asked for this so-called intervention by Europeans. Africans had their own interpretation of life before the Europeans came, and it is unintelligible to claim that Africans should be grateful for colonialism.
Kerr Cross for example writing in 1890 had this to say about the social and economic life of Northern Malawi:
Food is everywhere abundant, bananas, sweet potatoes, cassava, yams, Indian Corn, beans, peas, millet and other seeds, wild fruits, honey, milk and beef
And in regards to the social order, a look at the village life provides a good picture:
All weeds, grasses, garbage and things unsightly are swept away by little boys. Each house is built of bamboo, with clay worked by the women into little rounded bricks ….The doorsteps are often painted with designs in red, yellow and other colours, and altogether there is an air of comfort, and plenty
(Cross, D.K., Geographical Notes of the country between lake Nyassa, Rukwa and Tanganyika, in: Scottish Geography Magazine VI (1890) pp. 283-4, quoted in: McCracken,J., op. cit., p.98.)
So life for the Africans living in those days must have been reasonable enough in the African context. In fact innovations used in agriculture, in the military and in industry developed in the Northern parts of Africa, by earlier civilisations in Egypt, and those developed by the Nubians, and by civilisations like that of Great Zimbabwe would later find their way southwards, to be improved upon. [For a much more indepth description refer to this video by Dr Yosef Ben Jochannan ]
Though people have lived in Africa quite some time… Iron tools enhanced weaponry, allowed groups to clear and manage dense forests, plow fields for farming, and basically better everyday lives. Ultimately, iron tools allowed Africans to flourish in every environment, and thus they could live in larger communities which led to the formation of states and kingdoms. With state formation came the formation of modern civilizations with common languages, belief and value systems, art, religion, lifestyle and culture
They go on to say that:
Later European explorers and settlers often argued that territories were unsettled upon their arrival and thus were ripe for the taking, but these assumptions were misguided. Often land had been abandoned due to poor soil quality, infrequent rainfall, or had been claimed for future use
No matter how people frame these spineless arguments that portray pre-colonial Africans as having been in need of a white saviour, Africans had their own way of life which was derived of African innovations. The unfortunate thing is that we shall never know what life in Africa could have been without the slave trade and colonialism. Having said that, pre-colonial communities were never completely isolated,and there was interaction between states and with outsiders including the Middle East, India, the Chinese and Europeans. Thus, there are credible grounds to suggest that exchange of ideas on a purely economic relationship (as opposed to coloniser and colonized), relationships in which African truly benefitted, would have ultimately led to a level of development comparable if not superior to those witnessed in other parts of the world.
It needs to be noted that when colonialists came to Africa, they found a continent that was rich in both resources and culture. Africa was home to kingdoms, chiefdoms and previously had housed some of the most intriguing empires which were built using a sophisticated craftmanship previously unknown to Europeans.
But somewhere along the way theories were cooked up which concluded that Black African lives were inferior to White lives. In the absence of written African accounts (many of which were purposely destroyed) that disproved this thesis, such ideas, peddled about by racists such as Arthur de Gobineau and Georges Vacher de Lapouge then spawned the belief that it was in the best interests of Africans that Westerners erase their way of life, whether they liked it or not because the African could not comprehend what was right or wrong for him/her. According to such supremacist theories – which were driven more by propaganda that needed to find an excuse to use in the dispossession of the African, and were devoid of any truthful and verifiable science – the African needed ‘help’ from a superior being: the white man.
No matter how anyone tries to frame these argument, the fact remains that when the Europeans first arrived, Africans were not lacking. And while they may not have had certain ‘luxuries’, most parts of Africa were stable, had capable people who were content with their lives.
There were diseases (e.g. malaria and dysentery), just like everywhere with such warm climates, and the usual tribal conflicts, but at no point were Europeans asked for their ‘civilization’ to be transplanted to Africa. Put simply, it was forced upon them.
So, its absurd to suggest that colonialism despite its barbarism, needs to be applauded for it ‘civilised’ the savages of Africa.
What people who push that argument seem to forget is that most of the so-called savagery in Africa at that time was fermented because of the transatlantic slave trade which pitted one African tribe against each other. For example in East Africa, before the Arabs came in search of slave labour, the various tribes that inhabited the area were either subsistence farmers or practicing animal husbandry. Society was orderly, and discipline was observed. (Here i must say that the ‘savagery’ painted on Africans at the time doesn’t come anywhere near to the level of savagery by Europeans in the middle ages – from religious persecution to wars of conquest in which thousands were massacred).
It is this sense of entitlement on the part of Europeans and Americans that has lived on up to this day, that still fuels western countries to meddle in the domestic affairs of other countries, even when they wouldn’t have others meddle in the internal affairs of their own countries. Because some of them are raised to think they are more important than anybody else; that the world owes them resources, wealth, happiness, and it doesn’t matter what or who is in their way; that others who have better things must be dispossessed; that others cannot enjoy their own resources without interference. Jealousy and Greed. This kind of mindset still remains, as Rhodes said,
I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race.
And that is just so sad.
This imperialist kind of thinking is what explains Western countries aiding dodgy rebels to kill Gaddafi, in a country that was more prosperous than any other country in Africa. It is what causes them to back fascist militia to oust an elected government in Ukraine…
Remember what happened to Morsi?…. how a shady military general who is ex-CIA was entertained into pushing out an elected leader in Egypt…
The Syrian conflict and 200,000 people who have died as a result. Iraq and the over one million people who have died as a result…
Gaddafi, Morsi and others were no saints (and yes Morsi was incompetent), but as I’ve argued on this blog before, Gaddafi’s Libya was a hundredfold better than the current Libya, which is ruled by a thousand different murderous militias, causing mindless carnage that is destroying the last vestiges of African prosperity. Many Libyans today openly regret what has become of their country. And the sad thing is western countries can’t fix the mess they helped create.
So, as an African who lives in a country that was a former colony (to which colonisation deprived access to sea – leading to a perpetual volatile economy, and a never ending high cost of living), I’m deeply offended and find it appalling when some fools still think Cecil Rhodes should have a place in African history. I think that decision is for Southern Africans to make and if they deem him to be a villain not a hero, then it should be so – at which point some of us will gladly applaud.
In the same manner that most Africans accept that Adolf Hitler was a murderer, a pillager and conqueror, is the same way the Europeans should accept the view of some Africans on Cecil Rhodes. Having a statue of Rhodes at UCT is abhorrent in all types of rationality, because it was only about 110 years ago that an infestation of men like him masqueraded as angels across the African landscape when in fact they were on a mission of exploitation and pillage. Plundering Africans and their natural wealth: a theft that has clearly benefited the West up until the present time, and whose negative effects are there on African soil, visible for all to see.
I therefore believe that the towering statue of Cecil Rhodes should be pulled down at UCT because it is a constant reminder of colonialism and white superiority. Unlike the pulling down of Saddam Hussein’s statue in 2003… or unlike the pulling down of Lenin’s statues in former soviet republics after the fall of the USSR ( the fall of whose reigns were fingered by foreigners) I think it is time that Africans get to decide on what pages of history they want to write for themselves, and to remember – whether such is accompanied by ‘faeces flinging’ or not, without any foreign interference. And I’ll tell you why: because for years we have been brainwashed with the ‘heroic’ deeds of such charlatans who did nothing for us of any real value. If anything, accepting Cecil Rhodes as a hero is accepting and validating white superiority which once thought African cultures had no place in the world. It’s a bit like trying to convince Iraqis to erect a statue in honour of George Bush and Tony Blair, the two politicians who in recent years have done the most to destroy any hope of peace, security, prosperity and normality for ordinary Iraqis. Glorifying Cecil Rhodes and people like him is tantamount to accepting Slavery and Apartheid.
Slavery…dishonors labor; it introduces idleness into society, and with idleness, ignorance and pride, luxury and distress. It enervates the powers of the mind and benumbs the activity of man. – Alexis de Tocqueville
For the enlightened African, Cecil Rhodes is a pillager, murderer and a bigot who may have made wealth for some countries in Europe, but is partly responsible for the poverty, sickness, corruption, hegemony and human suffering that we see across Africa today. He has no place in our societies that are striving for love, equality, peace and prosperity for all (irrespective of gender, colour, nationality or race).
So then…Kwa wenyewe! Ngokwabo! Pawokha! Nipaara wọn! Da kansu!
I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I’m not sorry to be the one that spoils the party. Especially this particular party…because while Malawi is currently heated with election campaign fervour, some of the events happening on the ground have caused one part of me to doubt whether much substance will in fact come out of the leadership that will be appointed after the 20 May elections.
Are we really going to see the transformation being excitedly predicted by each party’s honchos? What kind of transformation will we see? Are the parties really going to deliver what they have promised in their manifestos? Weren’t similar promises made during the election campaigns of 1994, 1999, 2004 and 2009? To what extent were those promises honoured? So then, what major transformation came out of the administrations who won those elections?
I think no matter who you choose to vote for, it would be wise to be cautious, and carefully examine each candidate on their merits, and what their track records in terms of actual achievements the last 5 – 10 years (not just the last year or two) have been…
Many a times I have waxed lyrical as if on a soapbox about economic empowerment of Africans, and many a time, I have not exactly got through to the right people. Which is okay. The right people are rarely in the right jobs, they are rarely listening.
In Malawi most NGO’s do not have the power, nor are they sufficiently well resourced to influence the establishment of a nationwide empowerment initiatives that have a real chance to make a big enough impact. It’s all down to the government and MP’s, and for what it’s worth one part of me can’t see enough progress being done after the elections. Maybe I’m being unfair and prematurely judgemental, but I’m yet to be convinced whether any of the major parties truly can deliver what they promise. And this is not only because the practicality of what they promise in their manifestos is questionable but also because the vagueness of some of the promises render them useless.
But for those voters who are listening, and concerned, the important questions every Malawian should ask the candidates of the 20 May elections, before voting, are these:
What will they do differently to ensure that Malawians are economically empowered, and not taken advantage of? And why should we trust you?
This is important especially because it is clear to most Malawians that the tenures of the MCP, UDF, DPP and PP governments in the past have established very little for Malawians to show for. While countries like Kenya, Zambia, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Mozambique (where there was a debilitating 15 year long civil war) have powered forward with impressive results, Malawi, despite unsustainable blips of progress, is still languishing in the doldrums.
So, what will the candidates who vie for election to Parliament do which hasn’t been done already in the country’s 50-year-old history?
The reason that this question must be answered is that economic empowerment will not occur if the policies the new government institute turn out to be mediocre (like distributing cattle, chickens, houses or shoes) or the same as what has not worked in the past, and if corruption continues to be tolerated. In a country with 15 million people, the presidency would be best advised to think on a much larger scale, than wasting resources on mediocre projects.
Taking a simplistic general view, for people to be innovative and industrious they require one or more of the following:- an income, education, inspiration, tools/ building blocks (trucks, implements & equipment), and power (literally electricity). So, one would think that when a government articulates how they will provide these as part of a wider national transformation strategy, there will be a much higher chance of transforming Malawi than say distributing a million cows to villagers.
But that alone is not enough. Empowerment essentially means giving one power or authority to do something. So I’d like to see factories built, where young people can work, earn an income and develop transferable skills. And those factories, must be majority owned by Malawians, so that the profits made from Malawi stay within Malawi. Further, instead of giving a mining contract or power generation contract to a foreign corporation – which has its own interests, I’d like a government that promises, and implements a national mining company, or power generation company, which is government owned, and whose profits are reinvested into Malawi.
That is precisely the kind of visionary leadership Malawians should seek and vote for.
My next guest is a good friend who I have known for just over 13 years now. He’s a Malawian businessman who currently is the manager of Phalombe Hardware in Limbe. Mr Ibrahim Nathanie, thank you very much for taking the time to do the 100 Voices interview.
As a Malawian, how important is Malawi’s Socio-Economic stability to you and your family?
As a Malawian, Malawi’s socio economic stability is very important. I am a fourth generation Malawian and all my immediate family has been born and bred in Malawi. We have businesses running in Malawi that have recently struggled when dollars were scarce, fuel queues were rife and inflation was high. Things have now stabilised and as a result business is slowly improving. When things are not stable it directly affects how I can provide for my family.
2. After nearly 50 years since independence, what visible progress do you think Malawi has made since independence, and in your view, what pressing challenges remain? In view of those challenges, what do you think is the role of government and the people in tackling those challenges?
Since independence there has been progress in a few areas. For example we have now more graduates in various fields than we had then, more hospitals, more hotels. However, a lot of the progress mentioned has been donor funded.
Our pressing challenge is to try to reduce our dependence on being donor funded. One way this can be made possible is to take advantage of the natural beauty and fertile land we have in Malawi. Government has to improve infrastructure and provide incentives to the tourism industry. Improve airports, improve electricity generation.
3. As someone who lived(or has lived) outside Malawi for some time, and has been exposed to modern and progressive ideas, what symbols of development in the foreign country in which you lived have had the greatest impact on you, and why?
I studied in London, and a major symbol of development that had an impact on me was the transport facilities. As a student I could catch a bus or train and travel throughout London and not be dependent on anyone.
Another thing I thought was quite impressive was theNHS (Although I know the British people don’t think it is). Although, I have never had to use the service while I was studying; coming from Malawi I found it very impressive that anyone living in the UK has access to free hospital care.
4. What lessons do you think Malawians and the Malawian leadership can learn from those ideas?
Malawi and its leaders really need to look at ways to improve our transport sector. We need to improve our rail link and our airports. We need to break the monopoly South African Airways has on the Malawian market. For example if I wanted to fly Johannesburg from Blantyre it would cost me 450,000 MWK (~£859). If I wanted to fly from Johannesburg to London it would cost me the same. Surely government should realise that they need to open up the skies so that there is competition in aviation field and that potential tourists are not priced out of coming to Malawi.
5. When you last returned to Malawi, what struck you the most as the greatest sign of improvement or development since the last time you left?
When I returned to Malawi in 2006 , the greatest sign of improvement was the opening up of banks and businesses in rural trading areas such as Mangochi, Balaka, Dedza, Ntcheu, Mulanje, etc.
“For example how can employees at the National Food Reserve Agency fail to realise that a silo had a leak. If this happened in the UK the guy who was responsible would have resigned. “
6. What struck you the most as the biggest sign of stagnation or regression?
The fact that I had to use a paper driving licence for a year as Road Traffic had run of cards to print them on. The fact that nobody in the government is being held accountable for wrongs being done. For example how can employees at the National Food Reserve Agency fail to realise that a silo had a leak. If this happened in the UK the guy who was responsible would have resigned.
7. Malawians will be going to the polls in 2014, to elect a new president. In your view what kind of leader does Malawi NEED, considering the country’s current challenges? And specifically, how should that leader approach the top job in terms of creating sustainable development and foreignreducing aid dependency?
I find the work that Joyce Banda has done in the short time she has been president is commendable. There is now forex in Malawi, no shortage of goods and no fuel queues. My only criticism of her presidency is that she has not taken any active steps to reduce our dependency on foreign aid.
I would vote for Joyce Banda but would advise her to introduce incentives for investors to come and invest in Malawi. Provide incentives for our farmers to add value to their crop before exporting their crop. For example instead of Malawi importing cigarettes we should encourage cigarette companies to come and open manufacturing plants in Malawi.
8. As you know, Tobacco is Malawi’s biggest source of export revenue. Looking at the problems that have plagued the tobacco industry in recent times, what alternatives do you think Malawi has besides Tobacco, and why are they viable alternatives?
Tourism sector really needs to be exploited, you only have to look at how Zambia and Kenya are benefitting from exposing themselves to the rest of the world. We are blessed with beauty that is unmatched in the world; we however are not blessed with people in power who can see this.
They need to build international airports at the lake, and domestic airports dotted along the lake shore. We need to attract tourists who actually spend money in Malawi not just back packers who are looking to get stoned on Malawi Gold (On a side note we could actually legalize the export of marijuana and rake in substantial forex). We need to reduce the cost of coming to Malawi. I gave an example earlier of how expensive it is for us to fly to Johannesburg.
9. Considering our troubled history with donors and funders such as the IMF and World Bank, most recently when Bingu Wa Mutharika was president, how do you see Malawi progressing from this relationship in view of the criticisms these organisations have received in the media across the world?
To be honest I feel we have already progressed from this relationship. The donors are in love with the donors.
Without a doubt we have to reduce our dependence on the donors as we all know it’s a vicious cycle. It is not in their interest for Malawi to be self-sufficient; as if we were they could not enforce their views and western cultures upon us.
10. We now know that Malawi has some precious minerals, including Uranium, possibly oil and other natural resources. How do you think the present government is doing regarding managing Malawi’s natural resources?
The people in charge in my opinion have done nothing with regards to managing our resources. This is evident in that Paladin got a great deal from the government for our uranium???
The guys in charge have to look at how Zambia is doing with it copper resources, Ghana with its oil and even other European Countries with their natural resources such as Norway to realise we have got it horribly wrong.
11. In your view, can the government do better to manage natural resources? If so, how can it do better?
“When oil was discovered in the Norwegian continental shelf in 1969, Norway was very aware of the finite nature of petroleum, and didn’t waste any time legislating policies to manage the new-found resource in a way that would give Norwegians long-term wealth, benefit their entire society and make them competitive beyond just a commodities exporter. “Norway got the basics right quite early on,” says John Calvert, a political science professor at Simon Fraser University. “They understood what this was about and they put in place public policy that they have benefited so much from.” This is in contrast to Canada’s free-market approach, he contends, where our government is discouraged from long-term public planning, in favour of allowing the market to determine the pace and scope of development. “I would argue quite strongly that the Norwegians have done a much better job of managing their [petroleum] resource,” Prof. Calvert says. While No. 15 on the World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness rankings, Norway is ranked third out of all countries on its macroeconomic environment (up from fourth last year), “driven by windfall oil revenues combined with prudent fiscal management,” according to the Forum. Before oil was discovered, the Act of 21 June 1963 was already in place for managing the Norwegian continental shelf. This legislation has since been updated several times, most recently in 1996, now considered Norway’s Petroleum Act, which includes protection for fisheries, communities and the environment. In 1972, the government founded the precursor of Statoil ASA, an integrated petroleum company. (In 2012, Statoil dividends from government shares was $2.4-billion). In the same year, the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate was also established, a government administrative body that has the objective of “creating the greatest possible values for society from the oil and gas activities by means of prudent resource management.” In 1990, the precursor of the Government Pension Fund – Global (GPFG), a sovereign wealth fund, was established for surplus oil revenues. Today the GPFG is worth more than $700-billion. While there’s no question that Norway has done well from its oil and gas, unlike many resource-based nations, Norway has invested its petro dollars in such a way as to create and sustain other industries where it is also globally competitive. The second largest export of Norway is supplies for the petroleum industry, points out Ole Anders Lindseth, the director general of the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy in Norway. “So the oil and gas activities have rendered more than just revenue for the benefit of the future generations, but has also rendered employment, workplaces and highly skilled industries,” Mr. Lindseth says. Maximizing the resource is also very important. Because the government is highly invested, (oil profits are taxed at 78 per cent, and in 2011 tax revenues were $36-billion), it is as interested as oil companies, which want to maximize their profits, in extracting the maximum amount of hydrocarbons from the reservoirs. This has inspired technological advances such as parallel drilling, Mr. Lindseth says. “The extraction rate in Norway is around 50 per cent, which is extremely high in the world average,” he adds. Norway has also managed to largely avoid so-called Dutch disease (a decline in other exports due to a strong currency) for two reasons, Mr. Lindseth says. The GPFG wealth fund is largely invested outside Norway by legislation, and the annual maximum withdrawal is 4 per cent. Through these two measures, Norway has avoided hyper-inflation, and has been able to sustain its traditional industries. In Norway, there’s no industry more traditional than fishing. “As far back as the 12th century they were already exporting stock fish to places in Europe,” explains Rashid Sumaila, director of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit at the University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre. Prof. Sumaila spent seven years studying economics in Norway and uses game theory to study fish stocks and ecosystems. Fish don’t heed international borders and his research shows how co-operative behaviour is economically beneficial. “Ninety per cent of the fish stocks that Norway depends on are shared with other countries. It’s a country that has more co-operation and collaboration with other countries than any other country I know,” Prof. Sumaila says. “That’s [partly] why they still have their cod and we’ve lost ours,” he adds, pointing out that not only are quotas and illegal fishing heavily monitored, policy in Norway is based on scientific evidence and consideration for the sustainability of the ecosystem as a whole. Prof. Sumaila cites the recent changes to Canada’s Fisheries Act, as a counter-example: “To protect the habitat, you have to show a direct link between the habitat, the fish and the economy,” he says, adding, “That’s the kind of weakening that the Norwegians don’t do.” Svein Jentoft is a professor in the faculty of Bioscience, Fisheries and Economics at the University of Tromso. He adds that Norway’s co-operative management style, particularly domestically, has been key to the continued success of the fisheries. “The management system [for fish stock] is an outcome of the positive, constructive and trustful relationship between the industry on the one hand and the government on the other hand,” Prof. Jentoft says. “They have been able to agree on issues that you and many other countries haven’t been able to, largely because the government has listened to the fishermen.” However, Prof. Jentoft isn’t on board with all of his government’s policies. He’s concerned about how the quota and licensing system is concentrating wealth and the impact that this will have on fishing communities. He predicts that Norway’s wild stocks will remain healthy in the foreseeable future and that the aquaculture industry (fish farms), where Norwegians are world leaders, will continue to grow. In 2009, Norway’s total fish and seafood export was $7.1-billion, $3.8-billion was in aquaculture. By 2011, Norwegian aquaculture exports grew to $4.9-billion. In Canada, total fish and seafood exports in 2011 were $3.6-billion, with approximately one-third from aquaculture. Norway’s forests are another important natural resource, and its pulp-and-paper industry has many parallels to Canada’s. Both nations are heavy exporters of newsprint. With much less demand since the wide adoption of the Internet and competition from modern mills from emerging markets, both nations have suffered through down-sizing and mill closures over the past decade. Both have been looking for ways to adapt. The Borregaard pulp and paper mill in Sarpsborg has become one of the world’s most advanced biorefineries. From wood, it creates four main products: specialty cellulose, lignosuphonates, vanillin and ethanol, along with 200 GWh a year of bioenergy. “You have a diversified portfolio of products,” explains Karin Oyaas, research manager at the Paper and Fibre Research Institute in Trondheim. “The Borregaard mill uses all parts of the wood and they have a variety of products, so if one of the products is priced low for a few years, then maybe some of the other products are priced high.” She feels this is a key change in direction for the industry in Norway. She doesn’t want to see the industry putting all of its eggs in one basket, as it did with newsprint. Dr. Oyaas also thinks that rebranding the industry is key to its survival and success in Norway. The forestry industry doesn’t get the same kind of attention as the oil industry, nor does it have the high-tech image. But it is just as high-tech, and it has the bonus of being a renewable resource. “You can make anything from the forest. You can make the same products that you can make from oil,” explains Dr. Oyaas.”
12. What is your answer to increasing transparency and eradicating corruption which is plaguing most governments across Africa?
Corruption is prevalent everywhere. It is just more prevalent in Africa. The reason being is that our civil servants e.g. the cops, the guy connecting your water or ESCOM metres are not paid well enough. We need to improve wages.
Consumers also need to change the way we operate. In order to get things “done” we feel we need to bribe. This enables people who do simple things like process your driver’s license or come to inspect your imported goods being offloaded not even being shy about asking for a bribe.
I reckon we need to start with these small steps and then look at the bigger bribes.
13. Any famous last words?
I manage Phalombe Hardware in Limbe – directly opposite Standard Bank in Limbe. At the moment investing in Malawi by building a house or commercial property is the way to go. We can provide all building materials from the foundation right up to the finishing stages for your house. Please visit us on face book or email us for a quote. Phalombe@africa-online.net
Global100 Voices is a collection of reflections, views, opinions, ideas and thoughts by Malawians across the world, regarding the past, present and future of Malawi
My next guest is a good friend and a brother who I have known for many years. Based in London, he is a true son of Malawi, and someone who I genuinely believe has a bright future ahead of him. Yet it was only recently that I discovered just how much passion and ‘fire’ he has for Africa. Mr James Woods-Nkhutabasa, thanks for doing the Global 100 Voices Interview!
[ Brief profile: James has several years’ of communications experience working for public and private organisations, in promoting achievement in African leadership, issues concerning global governance and development. He is also one of the founding members of Diaspora Capital LLP (dCAP), a members investment club which seeks to make socially impactful investments in Africa ]
As a Malawian, how important is Malawi’s Socio-Economic stability to you and your family?
I believe a socio-economic stable environment is beneficial not only for the nation only provided government can create an arena of good governance, accountability, transparency and no corruption. This is also attractive for investors.
After nearly 50 years since independence, what visible progress do you think Malawi has made since independence?
The visible progress for me is that Malawi is now a democratic nation, people have more access to goods and are also more connected due to the digital revolution. On the downside Malawi is still fighting the goals set at independence and poverty levels remain high. We still have a long way to go. Maybe regional integration is key to addressing this weakness through the delivery of wider social and economic benefits that would benefit the country and drive its development further. We need to stop thinking of Malawi as a single unit but think of it as a major part of the remaining 53 nations on the continent. Only then will we sing our success story. But we need to get our house in order first.
3. In your view, what pressing challenges remain and what should Malawi aspire towards?
Malawi, similarly to other African countries is facing major corruption issues and a lack of good governance. Our parliament is also filled with recycled politicians – what I aptly name – ‘The Kamuzu/Muluzi Giants’. It seems to me that our politicians change allegiances as much as they change suits. The political world, leading a nation, serving your people should be a vocation or ‘a calling’ but not a pension, as it currently seems to be for some.
Malawi should aim to be a success story in good governance.
In view of those challenges, what do you think is the role of government in tackling those challenges?
Create an environment of patriotism, transparency and competence. The government needs to remember that they are there to serve their people: men, women and children and thus to run the country accordingly as it is their responsibility. We need strong leadership and this can be achieved collectively, through government and civil society. Malawi needs an enlightened and dedicated sort of leadership that looks forward and not backward. Most importantly get the right sort of people involved in government.
As someone who has lived outside Malawi for several years and hopefully been exposed to modern and progressive ideas, what things in your country of residence have had the greatest impact on you, and why?
The competitive work ethic and drive that people have in London is absolutely brilliant. People have the desire and resilience to achieve the best possible outcome. This has taught me to continuously improve to keep up with this ‘rat race’ and be able to be significant in the growth and development of the nation.
What lessons do you think Malawians and the Malawian leadership can learn from those ideas?
Malawi has extremely bright individuals who can contribute great things for the nation. The leadership needs to promote an open society – welcoming of all and not based on ethnicity, tribe or social standing, but instead on what you can offer to drive forward development.
If you have recently visited Malawi, what struck you most as the greatest sign of improvement or development?
The amount of women and youth trying to make a living through a business; truly inspiring to see the entrepreneurial spirit and a can-do attitude, be it selling vegetables on the side of the road to managing small wholesalers. It is really amazing at how they have adopted technology such as the use of mobile phones to sell and place orders. This has inspired me.
What struck you most as the biggest sign of stagnation or regression?
I believe the lack of good educational standards and opportunities have really been under-played. Youth are the future of Malawi, the leaders of tomorrow; they are being frustrated by the lack of opportunities and a lack good of education. These youth can be a curse or a blessing and rather sadly it has been a curse on the nation with increased criminal activity. If we do not invest in the youth and create jobs how are we to have a good future? Without the right investment we will continue to face the same problems of corruption, poor leadership and bad governance.
Malawians will be going to the polls in 2014, to elect a president. In your view what kind of leader does Malawi NEED, considering the country’s current challenges?
I think we need a bit of the positive characteristics that our past and present leaders have shown but most importantly we need a leader who has an entrepreneurial spirit, a socio-entrepreneurial impactful spirit. We as African’s are natural-born entrepreneurs…we need a leader who will use an entrepreneurial approach to create sustainable development and leadership in so doing promoting a culture of hard-working, ambitious young people to drive forward development. A leader who has innovative ideas and simply not just focussing on what has been done, but looking at what can be done. We need a leader who will deal with disparities in wealth that exist between the poor, the middle class and the rich. High on their specification will be better business and financial acumen, infrastructure, education, employment and better health services.
Specifically, how should that leader approach the top job in terms of sustainable development and reducing aid dependency?
I believe aid is still vital to Malawi for the next few years at least, but our president needs to really focus on the fruit of a stronger regional economic integration across the continent; and build economies of scale to enable Malawi and Africa to better compete in the global economy. Malawi seems to be attracting a lot of investors to the vast minerals in the country ranging from bauxite, gold, limestone (marble), monazite, niobium and uranium…then we’ve got oil and agriculture. The key aspect to ensuring the leadership moves away from aid dependency is to create a strong and efficient financial system that could support high levels of investment…also the need to eliminate the tax breaks these foreign investors have in the country as we are losing millions of US dollars annually.
Malawi can have a wonderful future. By strengthening its financial and legal systems respectively, and focusing on regional integration, Malawi has the potential to become one of Africa’s fastest growing economy by the end of this decade provided that political stability, social protection, quality education, private sector and good governance are implemented.
Looking at the problems that have plagued the tobacco industry – which is our biggest source of export revenue– in recent times, what alternatives do you think Malawi has besides Tobacco, and why are they viable alternatives?
There is a major problem by relying on tobacco. Let us look at the bigger picture – tobacco farming is a major employer in Malawi where it employs 70% of the nations workforce – in terms of providing a living to the population it plays a big part.
The country does need to diversify and not only focus on tobacco as the international controls on tobacco are surely having or going to have an effect on the economy.
I think a strong emphasis should remain on agriculture produce such as tea, coffee, macadamia nuts, groundnuts, sugar, cotton, soya and timber. The potential for agribusiness is there but we need the right mentality in promoting good practice to increase efficiency and bring in investment and expertise to help scale up production but also go into agroprocessing, where higher prices for commodities can be achieved.
Infrastructure development is vital for Malawi’s economy to flourish. There is a need for better roads, airports and aviation, rail, ICT, water and sanitation.
Stronger focus on the extractive industries and corporate realisation of Malawi’s objectives in oil found in Lake Malawi. Mining currently accounts for only around 2% of GDP, with tobacco, sugar and tea remaining the main exports by value, but we all know the short and long-term potential of the mining industry if we play our cards right.
Tourism is another sector to focus on. This would bring the needed foreign exchange and foreign direct investment and importantly raise the profile of the nation as truly ‘the warm heart of Africa’. I do not know if you are aware but Malawi was recently crowned runners up in the 2012 Safari Awards “Best Africa Tourist Board” beaten by Kenya. This is definitely an important space.
12. Considering our troubled history with donors and funders such as the IMF and World Bank, how do you see Malawi progressing from this relationship in view of the criticisms these organisations have received in the media across the world?
Malawi, is still too fragile to sustain herself – as mentioned earlier I believe once the powers that be start developing the nation, attracting more investors and regional integration is in place Malawi will be on the right path to stand with the rest of Africa as partners and not rely on these international bodies.
13.How do you think the government is doing regarding managing Malawi’s natural resources?
Problems are there, such as issues to do with mining legislation. The main legislation governing mining is the Mines and Minerals Act 1981.
The Mines and Minerals Act 1981 states that companies operating in Malawi need to employ and train local staff but this is left at the discretion of the company, thus local workforce are often found to be losing out. There is lack of regulation, think of the people who are displaced by the mining companies? There is no protection for these people – regulatory framework for resettlement only requires compensation to be given for land, livestock etc…but nothing is in place to give those people back land of same quality. Most people living in villages where these mines are based do not own the land through purchase but through living there for generations thus when the mining companies come, these people are evicted and not titled to any compensation. Most importantly there is a lack of transparency – mining companies are not revealing their profits in line with expenditure and taxes. The mining companies are not required by Malawi government to reveal their spending in Malawi.
14. Can the government do better to manage natural resources? If so how?
Government needs to address the points I’ve just raised and ensure something is done to curb this behaviour of secrecy. They need to tighten legislation, this will be achieved by revising the Mines and Mineral Act 1981 – I understand that this is being done.
15. What is your answer to increasing transparency and eradicating corruption which is plaguing most governments across Africa?
African governments need to be accountable to their citizens. The responsibility for dealing with corruption and transparency falls equally on all parties from governments and donors, to civil society and citizens. We all have to fight to ensure we can develop better leadership with the tools of good governance.
We have to remember, when we the people have information; we have the power to hold our leaders and governments accountable to improve the systems, tackle corruption and have transparency.
16. Any famous last words?
Let’s continue driving our country and continent forward. In the words of Kwame Nkrumah ‘’We face neither East nor West: we face forward’’.