Reuniting Africa: Infrastructure

It was delightful to hear news that Kenya in collaboration with the Chinese government will be investing $13.8 billion to build a railway line to link its port city of Mombasa with the capital Nairobi. It is hoped that the line will eventually extend to the landlocked countries of Uganda, South Sudan and Rwanda. This is great news not only because of its Pan-African connotations, but also because it’s a step forward towards getting Africa’s infrastructure interconnected and closer to global standards ( for example to the level of the Eurotunnel).

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Whenever foreigners come to Africa to visit, they always exclaim how challenging and long it can take to get from one place to another in certain areas. It’s incredible how disconnected Africa remains. The same applies to movement of goods (a factor essential for commerce and business). Often and comparatively with say Asia, it takes longer (and costs a lot more) than must necessarily be to send goods, or receive goods from one African country to another, which is not desirable.

The vastness and distances may be a problem, and environmental degradation such projects cause is also a major consideration, but that doesn’t mean that there are no workable solutions to such challenges. Often the cause of inaction or lack of progress appears to be bad politics and selfish financial interests, which end up  frustrating well-meaning projects whose economic and social benefits could be significant for a country and its neighbours, and far outweigh the negative impacts.

Take Malawi for example. Mota Engil the Portuguese conglomerate was contracted by the government of Bingu Wa Mutharika to construct a port in Nsanje (see animation of the Nsanje Inland Port via YouTube), at great expense to the Malawian tax payer.

The  project was part of a project known as the Shire-Zambezi Water Way, and whose total cost was said to be US$6 billion would have reduced the cost of importing goods by 60%.

The Malawi section of the project took years to build, and costed the Malawian government €25 million dollars. Now, almost 2 years after the sudden death of Mutharika, the first ship is yet to sail to the port. There is little or no dialogue about the way forward, the current Malawian president is in no rush to resurrect the project, even when the Malawi Trade & Investors Quarterly Magazine in 2007 wrote that Malawi spends at least US$200 million annually to import or export goods via ports in Mozambique or Tanzania. My question is this: isn’t reducing the cost of imports for landlocked countries in Africa a priority to the whole of Africa? Shouldn’t it be a priority to all Africans? Think about it… look at the US, or for that matter the European Union, and their policy of free movement of goods.

How can the countries in Africa, let alone the continent ever develop when leaders do not collaborate or are only too willing to impede such meaningful projects before they even commence? Why can’t African leaders (including the chiefs of the African Union, SADC, COMESA and African Development bank) begin to practise continuity, and put pressure on the stakeholders to get to grips with the project? Of the countries who signed the memorandum of understanding of the Shire-Zambezi Water Way, why does it appear like no one is actively seeking to resurrect and resume the project ( Is the said feasibility study Mozambique was demanding underway? If so what is the progress on that front?), since it’s undeniable that there will be mutual benefits to the greater economy of Southern Africa?

Looking at half-hearted comments from those who think they have something to lose (other shallow comments from here), you will find that the Mozambicans have to shoulder part of the blame for the stalling of the project. Against all appearance of conventional wisdom, it seem they have been dragging their feet from throwing full support behind the project, with talk of environmental assessments, etc and greater emphasis of development of roads?? Can such a massive project have been commenced and physical construction at Nsanje began without first assessing or undertaking an environmental assessment?

I’m not convinced. Either there’s something about this project that ordinary folk like us have not been told, or there was a massive miscalculation on the part of Mutharika to begin building the port. Else, it was visionary (see YouTube marketing clip ‘overselling’ the idea here), a quality often lacking within leadership across Africa.

Having said that, it is more likely than not, that the reason some people in Mozambique are unwilling to fully support the project is to do with the alleged financial loss they expect if goods are able to go straight into Malawi or Zambia and Zimbabwe, and not via Beira or Nacala.

Such a selfish narrow viewpoint undermines any potential benefit a new transportation link may create for the region. Surely, a thoughtful and better-informed African leader would have recognised the overall impact (e.g. jobs, increased trade, tourism, easier flow of resources, cheaper import costs and societal advancement)  the port will have not only to the Mozambican towns near Nsanje, but also to the greater Southern African economy of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, or even to Rwanda and Burundi.

Very few African countries geographically formed themselves into the shape they currently take. In fact only Liberia and Ethiopia were never colonised, but even their national polity formation had a lot to do with regional colonial activity around and about them. Thus, most decisions that determined the geographical shape of African countries were made by colonialists, a figment of history most Pan Africanists would rather forget. This to me means that it is shortsighted, regressive, a deficiency in intellect and a great fallacy (most often perpetuated by ignorance), for leaders of African countries today to be fighting against each other, or indeed dashing each others economic fortunes – when there is every chance that had colonialism never occurred (as we understand it), Africa could have ended up as a vast continent of undivided Kingdoms, each with access to the sea. Something that would have looked like this:

644px-Colonial_Africa_1913_Gold_Coast_map.svg
What Africa may have looked like if colonisation hadn’t occured. What Africa may look like in the future, hundreds of years from now

That is precisely why Uhuru Kenyatta must be applauded for the visionary Mombasa Nairobi railway link.

Similar Links:

Peter Mutharika attacks Malawi govt. for ignoring ‘Ndata’ University, Nsanje port in budget

MALAWI: Dream fades for inland port project

The Shire Zambezi Waterway Project is still a priority says Sadc secretariat [August 2013]

Malawi, Mozambique agree deal on Nsanje World inland port [April 2013]

Nsanje Inland Port Mw

Same **** different players

So the cowboys have finally taken to the dock. After that fateful night in April plotting to effectively hijack the presidency, an unconstitutional coup that was only prevented by the combination of the fury of discerning Malawians, and the true patriotic knight that is General Odillo – a man every Malawian should be thankful to – the midnight six are now facing charges of treason.

But putting aside the case itself, what I’ve never been able to comprehend is this: While this case is ongoing, why are DPP supporters still betting on Peter Mutharika for leadership? Is DPP’s part of Malawi really that short of people, and leadership, such that they continue to fawn at a man who flew the dead and rotting body of his brother to South Africa, and count on him as a presidential candidate?

NewsTo be frank, as a Malawian, I really wouldn’t want to be associated with a country whose president has such a dodgy and inhumane history. Not in a 21st century post dictatorship democracy.

When Bingu was a president, I supported him. I’ve never believed in the backward, cheap and regionalistic politics of only supporting people from your village or region because such is what causes underdevelopment in Malawi, since people vote for incapable candidates because they are ‘Mwana wakwithu’. Mwana wa Mayi…its absurd, and Malawians must move away from this type of thinking to a logical position where they vote for competency, not along tribal or regional lines.

Anyway, despite being a northerner, I supported Bingu, after he began DPP, because he represented a fundamental shift from the cheap, corrupt and brutish voter-rigging, empty rampaging charade of acheya’s UDF. Having said that , my family didn’t like Bingu  because they didn’t know him and thought he would turn out to be just like the others before him, making promises he wouldn’t be able to fulfill. They had their reasons.

But Bingu did well in his first term of office. He began to actively target corruption (see this brilliant tribute by Yves Kalala), and indicated an interest to spark economic development and improve education and research. Despite the high expense, the FISP programme proved a success, and from around 2006 created a huge surplus (1.3 million Metric tonnes) for Malawi, increasing food availability and transforming Malawi into a grain exporter. Malawian harvests became a global model. Bingu began promoting gender equality and had several female politicians hold high political office – including Joyce Banda. Bingu made a stand against some western policies, which at times have been selfish and not exactly in the best interest of poor Malawians.

But when his second term came, after a 66% majority, and the whole Mulhako Wa ALhomwe thing (which to me is a divisive initiative a sitting president shouldnt involve himself too much in); add  Mulli and Mota Engil to that and I found myself doubting where the man was going.  I couldn’t support a figure who was increasingly becoming divisive.

There were some things I still believe Bingu was right about, even towards the very end. The issue about currency devaluation was a hotly debated topic, and even experts disagreed on whether devaluation was the best course for Malawi to take, considering its circumstances. Then there was the story about energy generation – to buy from Mozambique (and be  a recipient of electricity which you didn’t control, while the Mozambicans made money off your head – kutidyela masuku pamutu) or for Malawi to generate its own energy(he chose the latter – and he was absolutely right)

What he was wrong about was becoming a divisive figure, the attacks on civil liberties and CSO’s, including the question marks over the death of Robert Chasowa. The intolerance  and heavy-handedness that led on July 20, 2011, to the death of 19 demonstrators. The blind eye paid to corruption that saw millions of dollars looted. The close links with Mota-Engil and Mulli – companies which under Mutharika’s leadership won many substantial contracts. All this isolated many well-meaning Malawians who had initially supported Mutharika, when he fell out with UDF. Bingu’s own indiscretion blurred his reputation even more.

Today, we have a different problem in Malawi that is somewhat linked to the problems of those days. When Bingu ignored the advice he received regarding the IFMIS, he either did so knowingly, or he did so because he was trying to appease some people within his circles. Whatever his intention, he was wrong not to address the issue, which today we are told is in fact responsible for the looting of millions of dollars, this time under Joyce Banda’s government.

The plot is intoxicating and the revelations keep pouring in. Yesterday another version or appendage to the story sprang up. Here, I would call upon the auditors looking into the cashgate scandal to take note of what Mphwiyo’s wife is alleged to have said. After all, wives generally do get to know a lot of their husbands’ dealings:

What Ralph Kasambara knows and the reason he wants JB [Joyce Banda]. Mpinganjira,Cecilia Kumpukwe to be his witnesses [ in his court case] is that Lutepo withdrew K4 billion with the help of Chuka and together with Cecilia deposited the money into the Joyce Banda foundation accounts.

Ralph’s role was to explain to Chuka the legal implications of disobeying the president if he was going to say no and consult regulatory bodies. Zonsezi zimachitika [All this was happening] the same week Mphwiyo was shot.

Nde Now aMphwiyo asked Ralph for his cut since he had to be made aware of the transaction and Ralph refused to comment citing presidential confidentiality agreement.

Mukumva? [Are you listening]

thats when they labeled him a liability and had to be eliminated.This is according to Mphwiyos wife… Who also mentioned Manganaue Mphande to be one of many people who visited him in an SA hospital…nkhaniyi ndiyayitali [this story is long]….

a few days ago, someone else said:

Mr. Lutepo had a joint contract with Roy Kachale, to supply transformers to ESCOM. They were supposed to be paid K1,356,000,000.00 (K1.3Billion). Transformers were delivered on 13th September, 2013. Allegedly, award of this contract flouted some procedures and ACB was supposed to interrogate officers at ESCOM headquarters on Monday, 21st October, 2013 after a tip-off from ESCOM employees. Those doubting this information can cross check with MRA, where Mr. Lutepo cleared four 40 feet containers of ESCOM Transformers. AMALAWI TSEGULANI MASO! (Malawians open your eyes!)

And it gets worse, with another group here speculating that they may have been responsible for burning down Escom house???

Who do you believe in a country where some opposition journalists live in fear, or are under intimidation, so cannot do their job properly!

Hopefully, time will tell what is true or what of everything I’ve written regarding this scandal is infact mere speculation. At that point count me in as one deceived by liars!

Time will tell where Malawian politics goes from here, however, knowing how  things have worked in the past, we may never know the full story…we may never know the whole truth. Especially with shady PR organisations being hired (see here) at a cost of millions of tax payers kwachas (at a time when there are no medicines in hospitals, and thousands of teachers have not been paid) to paint false reputations, how should anyone be able to distinguish fact from fiction, or indeed put their leaders to task?

teachers

My message to anyone outside Malawi who truly wants to  know what is going on in Malawi is this: –

IF YOU CAN AFFORD IT, PLEASE GO THERE, AND SEE FOR YOURSELF!

DON’T TRUST ANYONE, CERTAINLY NOT THE MEDIA AGENCIES ACROSS THE WORLD OR IN MALAWI – there are strong indications of a conspiracy going on. Mercenaries with devious intentions are about, pulling strings.

DON’T TRUST ANY NEWS AGENCY-SOME OF THE VOCAL ONES (INCLUDING ONLINE PORTALS) HAVE ‘SOLD OUT’ AND ARE ON THE PAYROLL OF POLITICIANS, OR HAVE AGENDAS.

DON’T EVEN TRUST THIS BLOG! PLEASE DON’T.

GO INTO THE HOSPITALS, THE VILLAGES AND THE SCHOOLS, GO AND SEE FOR YOURSELF WHAT IS HAPPENING IN MALAWI TO KNOW THE TRUTH

HEAR IT FROM THE PEOPLE, AWAY FROM PR GURUS ON POLITICIANS’ / GOVERNMENT PAYROLL, AWAY FROM COMMENTATORS,  PARTY SUPPORTERS OR SPIN DOCTORS WITH QUESTIONABLE AGENDAS

Product Appeal: Winning hearts and minds

feridies-peanuts-us

Remember my post here, on Corporate Longevity?

Well, a friend recently talked about something similar. He suggested that one of the reasons why most African companies, and their products do not receive widespread appeal worldwide is because they make very little effort to win the hearts and minds of the consumers, or of potential customers. Their main focus is too narrow, and they do very little to win customers beyond the horizons.

“It’s as if they know the domestic customers are there to stay and have nowhere else to go get the product” he said

He cited a recent article(OP-ED) (I think I may even have sent this link to him) written in the New York Times,  titled The Romantic Advantage, by David Brooks, which argues that Americans are better than the Chinese at creating well-known brands because Americans put that little bit extra into their brands. Because most of the branding specialists are essentially romantics who see brands more as artistic creations (apparently some even see them as spiritual creations), and not just generic names of products.

“How can they find buyers here, if the product doesn’t look good? Consumers here are demanding, they are sophisticated and want more” he says, and adds  “Never mind what’s inside the can, if the outside is not convincing enough, how will buyers of retailers here or in America even consider it?”

I find myself agreeing with him, that essentially the branding of the product must look good to make it to the shelf. Over the last few years I have studied some of the packaging and products out of Africa, including some out of Malawi. Mainly, foodstuffs and other small commodities. I have compared these with some of the branding and packaging of products from Europe and Asia (for example South Korea, Malaysia) and other parts of the world. Not necessarily like-for-like products. To my dismay, most of the products out of Africa simply don’t look good enough, in comparison to those from elsewhere. The quality of branding is somewhat substandard, at times it’s as if it were done in a rush. Some even have spelling mistakes!!

I’m not saying that the branding on all products of African origin (or out of Malawi) is bad, or that the products themselves are no good. No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is I think there is quite a lot of space for improvement in terms of the allure of the branding of some of these products.

And while in some cases a company’s cost-saving exercise dictates the amount of money that is spent on branding, such cost-saving can be ‘overdone’, with the consequence that you end up with a product whose appearance is bland and devoid of any appeal. One which does not attract customers, but instead repels them. Branding which will not sell, at least not in markets beyond the home market. Obviously, this is not an ideal situation as it limits the potential of the product. These manufacturers may be losing money simply because their products do not appeal to a wide range of customers, and this anomaly could ultimately dictate the success of the product (or even the company making it)

Below is a random collection of pictures of products from within African and those made outside Africa (which includes the ‘Malawi Mango‘ juice from Bai, an American company)

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