Bad & Deceitful Counsel: Malawi’s unutilised advisers

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There’s an old Ghanaian proverb that says When a King has good counsellors, his reign is peaceful.

This proverb essentially means a leader is defined by the circumstances and people around him. If a King is surrounded by good and honest people, wise men and women of good repute, truly knowledgeable and full of wisdom and grace, it is highly likely that they will provide sound advice to him; it is also highly likely that they will foresee potentially troublesome situations well in advance.

The result will be that the King will make good decisions, and fewer mistakes; the advisers will shine a torch for him, to see where the potholes are, all of which will benefit the people of the land he rules.

On the other hand, if a King’s advisers are unwise, evil or plain bad, if they are more interested in accumulating wives, wealth and personal possessions, and power, their advice is unlikely to be sound or helpful. They are more likely to give that King the wrong kind of advice, and if he listens or implements such bad advice, it is likely that his reign will be disastrous. Indeed many mistakes will be made, and the people of the land will be the ones who will suffer most.

The assumption implicit in these scenarios are that the King does listen to his advisers, since it is possible to have a wise King who happens to have a few bad advisers amongst the majority good ones, but who is strong enough (mentally) to filter out the bad advice he receives, selecting only that which is progressive and helpful for the realm, leaving out the crap.

There are too many examples of sayings or scenarios similar to this proverb throughout history, although a few are worth a mention.

In Genesis chapter 26 verse 26, we are told that Abimelech, the Philistine King went to Beersheba to see Isaac from Gerar with his adviser Ahuzzath and Phicol the commander of his army. This is one of the earliest mention of the presence of an adviser in the Bible and some scholars say Ahuzzath may have been a  ‘friend’ or ‘minister’ to Abimelech. But whichever way, if you read the story in full, you will see that throughout the period Abimelech lived at peace with Abraham’s son, save for a few minor scuffles between their herdsmen. It’s quite possible that this peaceful co-existence was largely due to the advice the Philistine leader received from his advisers. Indeed many stories in the old testament testify of the eventual downfall of Kings primarily because they listened to the wrong type of advice, ignored the right kind of advice, or sought no advice at all.

For those who disbelieve the Bible, dismissing it as a collection of fairly tales, maybe the influence of Piers Gaveston on Edward II of England will convince you. He was an adviser to Edward II and according to one account here

 Piers Gaveston was a knight’s son who had been Edward’s friend since boyhood. When Edward, still a prince, feuded with important officials in his father’s court, Gaveston was seen as the cause, and was sent to exile. Summoning him home was Edward II’s first royal act. Gaveston was made Earl of Cornwall, but his political fights with the existing nobility would define the rest of his life, which didn’t last long. The nobility, without whose money and prestige and feudal armies Edward could not run the country, forced Gaveston into exile twice more in the next five years. He was never openly attacked for his sexuality, but instead was hated because he gave advice to the king that was no good, and the king should be taking the real nobility’s advice, anyway. In 1311 a committee of aristocrats and bishops imposed a series of Ordinances on the king, which declared that “through bad and deceitful counsel, our lord the king and all his men have everywhere been dishonoured.”

Bad and deceitful counsel. It’s one of many stories but it always ends pretty much the same way.

Although it doesn’t mean that even wise counsellors don’t get it wrong sometimes. In Daniel chapter 2 verse 24, we have Daniel pleading with  the executioner Arioch, who King Nebuchadnezzar had appointed to execute the wise men of Babylon (after they failed to interpret his dream) “Do not execute the wise men of Babylon. Take me to the king, and I will interpret his dream for him.”

More recently, during President Ronald Reagan’s administration, despite a somewhat positive and respectable legacy, the US government was involved in so many controversies many of which were the result of bad counsel perpetrated by more than just a few dodgy advisers. Reagan’s White House aide Michael Deaver and national security adviser Robert McFarlane were convicted of various offenses. MacFarlane pleaded guilty in 1988 to four misdemeanors of withholding information from Congress and was sentenced, but later pardoned by George H.W. Bush. Deaver was convicted of perjury for congressional testimony he submitted to a congressional subcommittee and federal grand jury investigating his lobbying activities with administration officials. Then there was Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger who was indicted but later also pardoned by Bush? The question is why didn’t Reagan refuse to authorise all these botched schemes?

At this point let us consider the well-known English idiom Birds of the same feather, flock together, and ask the question under what circumstances will a sensible leader allow people who are unlike him to influence him in some material way in terms of making decisions that have particularly far-reaching implications? After all what do crows (akhwangwala) know about hawks? Isn’t one bird a cowardly scavenger ever pursuing after leftovers, whereas the other is a bird of prey that is not only an able hunter, but belongs to the same group from which the King of the birds come. Shouldn’t there be an exercise of judgement?

But what has all this got to do with Malawi?

Well, these days as I talk to Malawians from all over the world, and read what other progressives are writing about in terms of development and the general climate on the ground in Malawi, I’m left surprised by the sheer number of good ideas they have. From the writing by one Malawian originally from Salima,  to those of another (who is not from Salima, but is nevertheless inspiring), I feel these kinds of ideas should be listened to? In any case, just because someone opposed a certain thing doesn’t mean that what they are advocating is not valid.

On this blog, I’ve purposely chosen to echo some of such views not because I’m sunk in an illusory world of familiar opinion. Instead, I believe that in the right hands, with the right leadership and mechanisms of oversight, with driven effectors, those same ideas these people advocate can help transform our country positively.

I mean take a look at the recent news headlines coming out of Malawi, can you see anything that you can point that has a chance of transforming a country with 14 million people? The Banning of Satchets? Breaking up Escom? Tobacco Sales (the country’s largest source of export revenue) in Lilongwe Suspended again

The news that populates the airwaves is not that of innovative ways of helping young people, or of increased Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as a result of a clean and conducive investment climate. Something which Paul Kagame in Rwanda has strived and just about achieved. No, the news on Malawi news channels is filled with accounts of dubious court cases (some on prosecution of embezzled funds by government officials, and another – a recent one –  in which it is alleged the president is suing a well-known UK-based activist); you hear of a presidential aide who is said to have bought a PhD from some serial con-artist – brilliantly seared here by one Pasteni Mauka (himself said to be a DPP insider in concert with other disgruntled DPP insiders, now turned against the clique running the show at Capital Hill);

As if this is not enough, then you read of charities pitying Malawians and sending them token gestures. And celebrities – all of which also serves to remind us all just how terrible the country’s situation is. Every single day I get about 3 different stories in my inbox, on various charitable efforts happening in Malawi. That’s over a thousand a year! What concrete progress has those efforts achieved all these years, especially in terms of sustainability and ensuring that the recipients stand on their own feet?

Here please allow me to digress: when was the last time you heard that some famous star had gone to Mauritius or to Malaysia to give alms? When did a wife of a billionaire wear a sari, mingling with the women who live in the slums of Mumbai? There are poor people in these countries – just as there are poor people in America, and in England. But such places are not ‘headline grabbing’. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but the fact is you rarely hear of such charitable visits…Instead it’s always a poor African country at the receiving end of do-gooders (most of whom I doub’t know these facts). Most recently it’s increasingly becoming fashionable to go do something charitable in Malawi. Malawi is fast becoming the Oxfam of the continent, if it hasn’t already done so.

It seems it’s easier to give Malawians fish, instead of a fishing rod. Because if you give them a fishing rod, you probably won’t be able to go back in 2 years time and pose for carricatured photos demonstrating your charitable kindness. Photos which you can then put up on Instagram and twitter for all the world to marvel at your fantastic heart.

Then there’s the regionalistic hatred (‘Ntumbuka’ uyu, ‘Mbwenu Mbwenu’…azipita kwawo) spewed shamelessly on the comments of these news sources I refer to … which frankly speaking shouldn’t be authorised on any news site; there are stories of police beating up innocent people – over some lame vendetta. And oh, I almost forgot – a presidential press secretary who writes a memo encouraging government ministries to advertise on a radio station with links to the presidency. And then accuses the radio station of forgery???

And in most of these things one must wonder where Peter Mutharika or his advisers are. Fine, you can’t expect a leader to hold everyone to a leash, but there has to be some ground rules, some responsibility, some direction. And when people screw up at government level -be they advisers or otherwise, they need to face the music. That’s the only way to restore public trust in politics.

So then, next time you meet a King or a leader, remember When a King has good counsellors, his reign is peaceful.

Some Malawians are joining Politics for the wrong reasons

The 20th May general elections of Malawi consisted of three major political families all vying for the seat of the presidency. On one side there were the Mutharikas, on the other side there were the Muluzis and somewhere in the other corner were the Bandas. Distinctly different from this family centric crowd and very much an outsider was  Lazarus Chakwera and the Malawi Congress Party (MCP).

The three political parties, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the United Democratic From (UDF), and the Peoples Party (PP) all promised prosperity for the people of Malawi. However, the structure of Malawian political parties looks increasingly to be made up of political families who are chosen because of affiliation rather than merit. This sort of political selection leaves questions as to the credibility of some of the politicians, because a good number of them are only employed because their relatives hold senior positions in and around the executive.

Politicians are like modern-day pastors in that the prevailing ideology has entrusted them with a job which in theory can be likened to bringing salvation to the people of the world. Politics is about bringing change for countries and helping those that are helpless and living in abject poverty. Whether for good or ill, Politics has also been about ensuring that those who hold power and resources, get to keep that power, and those resources. But all good Politicians have to be patriotic, strong-willed, selfless, truthful and compassionate in the face of global societal problems. Michael Ignatieff , Edward R. Murrow Professor of Practice at Harvard’s Kennedy School writes,

All the best reasons for going into politics never really change: the desire for glory and fame and the chance to do something that really matters, that will make life better for a lot of people. You have to be one of those people with outsized, even laughable ambition, who want their convictions to mean something more than smart conversation at dinner tables. You have to have a sense of vocation, a belief that something must be done and that you’re the person to do it.

The problem we have with Malawian politicians is that most of them never had a calling to become politician. Most of them just became politicians because of circumstances and opportunities that came their way. Most of all, some people in Malawi take politics as a means to an end of all their financial problems. Some Malawian politicians think more of the perks that come with the job than the job they were entrusted with by the electorate – who are always seeking the right individuals to govern them. Further, most of our politicians who are in power or in the opposition parties are usually handed the opportunity to become a politician on a silver platter.

hand-634689_640In an article titled ‘Barack Obama: how an unkown senator became president of USA‘, Robert McGuigan Burns details how Obama from an early age at Harvard embodied leadership qualities. An excerpt from the article describing Obama’s early achievement at Harvard University and how he turned down a high-paying job to work with the community.

After finishing High School he would study at Columbia University in New York before later going to gain a law degree from Harvard University. It was at Harvard that, somewhat portentously, Obama became the first African American President of the Harvard Review. Moreover, Obama’s co-workers, notably John Owens, were already noting Obama’s presence and power early in his career. In a Boston Globe article from 1990, Owens described: “…this guy (Obama) sounds like he’s president of the country already…” (Matchan, 1990). Obama chose to decline a high paying corporate law job in favour of a small civil rights firm and continue his work in the community, later entering politics (Bacon, 2005: pp 60).

In contrast to our politicians, how many Malawian politicians have such backgrounds where they dedicate years of their lives to work with the community from an early age? How many Malawian politicians can claim to have turned down a life-changing opportunity to work with people for a meagre salary? To understand the needs of those at the bottom. To build an informed picture of what the country truly needs?

Let us talk of our current president Peter Mutharika. Professor Mutharika worked at the prestigious Washington University for about 40 years where he was a professor at law. One of the colleagues at the Washington University had this to say about Professor Mutharika when they heard he was involved in politics in Malawi,

“I guess what’s surprising is he was a quiet man in class,” said attorney John Kozyak, one of Mutharika’s first law students at Washington University in 1971, and now a friend. “So it was surprising to me a couple of years ago when I was looking on the news and saw that he had thousands of people come out to rallies for him and he was dressed in some sort of (ceremonial) garb. I never saw him in anything other than a black or gray or blue suit. I never thought of him as a real African politician.”

Indeed Mutharika today is the president of Malawi at 74 years of age. Peter Mutharika was drummed up to be the leader of DPP through his brother’s presidency. I would strongly argue that had Bingu Wa Mutharika, Peter’s brother had failed to win the 2004 general elections, It is highly doubtful whether Peter Mutharika would have seen the light of day as President of Malawi. The argument is that Peter Mutharika became a politician by chance. Primarily because his brother was handpicked as UDF’s candidate, and subsequently became the president of Malawi. Peter Mutharika did not join politics of his own conviction and drive. I don’t believe that for the 40 years that he was in the USA he at any point seriously planned to become a politician in Malawi at the age of 65. If he did, then the evidence is nowhere to be seen. No political articles written, no evidence of serious participation in Malawian or other political Pan African organisations in the diaspora. Nothing.

A similar scenario applies to Atupele Muluzi whose father Bakili Muluzi was the first democratically elected president of Malawi in 1995. The young Muluzi, having little political experience in the form of a parliamentary seat, came out of nowhere, to head the United Democratic Front, when there were other senior individuals with substantially more experience, and who had been in the party for many years, some since its inception in 1992. This incident splintered the party, and saw the exit of some bigwigs, the likes of Brown Mpinganjira. Others claimed Atupele would be used as a puppet by his father Bakili, who Malawians will remember failed to change the constitution of Malawi to allow him to serve for a third presidential term. The senior Muluzi rejected this allegation.

Similarly, the current member of parliament for Zomba Malosa  Roy Kachale Banda, whose mother Joyce Banda took over the reins of power after Bingu Wa Mutharika’s sudden death, arguably joined politics only because his mother became president. It’s probable that his parliamentary campaign was financed by funds which only became available due to his mother’s elevated profile. In any case, Joyce Banda has been active in politics since 1999, winning the same Zomba Malosa constituency Roy now represents. Why didn’t Roy join politics earlier?

There have been several other examples.

Therefore, it is not rash to conclude that a considerable number of individuals that join politics in Malawi, do it for the wrong reasons. If a member of a family joins politics, it is common that cousins, sons, daughters, uncles or aunts, all suddenly have the conviction to help serve in an official capacity, under the totally convenient pretext that they want to ‘develop the country together with their relative’ who happens to be in power. Consequently, these become helpers, assistants and other officials around the corridors of power. And while one may argue that if the rules or constitution does not explicitly prohibit employment of  family or relatives then it shouldn’t be a problem, but what about a conflict of interests? What does it say of our politics? Further, when Malawi has suffered from tribalism and neopatrimonialism for many years, how justifiable is such behaviour?

cardsI believe that political and leadership skills in general are skills that either have to be learned, and or have to be honed over the years of someone’s life. One cannot just wake up one day and decide to become a politician. The awakening of politicians usually happens earlier in life where one decides to dedicate his/her life to help others through politics. It is delusional if not dangerous for anyone to consider themselves a politician just because a father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, sister, brother, aunt or uncle has or had a position in the government at some point.

As things stand in Malawi at the moment, cronyism is the biggest recruiter of politicians, when it should have been patriotism and a desire to improve people’s lives inspiring selfless individuals to be a part of change. This is why political parties in Malawi are run as if they are family entities, complete with wedding receptions of relatives at State House almost every year.

DPP has had two Mutharikas at the helm. UDF has had two Muluzi’s at the helm. AFORD has had two Chihanas at the helm and we are yet to see the next leader of PP after Joyce Banda. My guess is he or she will be dynastically linked to Joyce Banda. Even MCP in John Tembo had a leader who was arguably connected by a dynastic ‘family’ tie to Dr Kamuzu Banda via Cecilia Kadzamira.

However this is not to argue that one cannot become a politician when a relative or family member has been in top government positions. The intentions are the issue here. My argument lies in the manner in which politically affiliated individuals ascend to roles of power when their lives previously had nothing to do with politics.

(Edited by S Nkhwazi)

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African leaders must stop seeking medical treatment overseas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Reasons to Love Uruguay’s President José Mujica

The following article was originally printed on Counterpunch here

José MujicaPresident José Mujica of Uruguay, a 78-year-old former Marxist guerrilla who spent 14 years in prison, mostly in solitary confinement, recently visited the United States to meet with President Obama and speak at a variety of venues. He told Obama that Americans should smoke less and learn more languages. He lectured a roomful of businessmen at the US Chamber of Commerce about the benefits of redistributing wealth and raising workers’ salaries. He told students at American University that there are no “just wars.” Whatever the audience, he spoke extemporaneously and with such brutal honesty that it was hard not to love the guy. Here are 10 reasons you, too, should love President Mujica.

1. He lives simply and rejects the perks of the presidency. Mujica has refused to live at the Presidential Palace or have a motorcade. He lives in a one-bedroom house on his wife’s farm and drives a 1987 Volkswagen. “There have been years when I would have been happy just to have a mattress,” said Mujica, referring to his time in prison. He donates over 90% of his $12,000/month salary to charity so he makes the same as the average citizen in Uruguay. When called “the poorest president in the world,” Mujica says he is not poor. “A poor person is not someone who has little but one who needs infinitely more, and more and more. I don’t live in poverty, I live in simplicity. There’s very little that I need to live.”

2. He supported the nation’s groundbreaking legalization of marijuana. “In no part of the world has repression of drug consumption brought results. It’s time to try something different,” Mujica said. So this year, Uruguay became the first country in the world to regulate the legal production, sale, and consumption of marijuana. The law allows individuals to grow a certain amount each year and the government controls the price of marijuana sold at pharmacies. The law requires consumers, sellers, and distributors to be licensed by the government. Uruguay’s experience aims to take the market away from the ruthless drug traffickers and treat drug addiction as a public health issue. Their experiment will have reverberations worldwide.

3. In August 2013, Mujica signed the bill making Uruguay the second nation in Latin America (after Argentina) to legalize gay marriage. He said that legalizing gay marriage is simply recognizing reality. “Not to legalize it would be unnecessary torture for some people,” he said. In recent years, Uruguay has also moved to allow adoption by gay couples and openly gay people to serve in the armed forces.

4. He’s not afraid to confront corporate abuses, as evidenced by the epic struggle his government is waging against the American tobacco giant Philip Morris. A former smoker, Mujica says that tobacco is a killer that needs to be brought under control. But Philip Morris is suing Uruguay for $25 million at the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes because of the country’s tough smoking laws that prohibit smoking in enclosed public spaces and require warning labels, including graphic images of the health effects. Uruguay is the first Latin American country and the fifth nation worldwide to implement a ban on smoking in enclosed public places. Philip Morris, the largest cigarette manufacturer in the United States, has huge global business interests (and a well-paid army of lawyers). Uruguay’s battle against the tobacco Goliath will also have global repercussions.

5. He supported the legalization of abortion in Uruguay (his predecessor had vetoed the bill). The law is very limited, compared to laws in the US and Europe. It allows abortions within the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy and requires women to meet with a panel of doctors and social workers on the risks and possible effects of an abortion. But this law is the most liberal abortion law in socially conservative, Catholic Latin America and is clearly a step in the right direction for women’s reproductive rights.

6. He’s an environmentalist trying to limit needless consumption. At the Rio+20 Summit in 2012, he criticized the model of development pushed by affluent societies. “We can almost recycle everything now. If we lived within our means – by being prudent – the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed. Global politics should be moving in that direction,” he said. He also recently rejected a joint energy project with Brazil that would have provided his country with cheap coal energy because of his concern for the environment.

7. He has focusing on redistributing his nation’s wealth, claiming that his administration has reduced poverty from 37% to 11%. “Businesses just want to increase their profits; it’s up to the government to make sure they distribute enough of those profits so workers have the money to buy the goods they produce,” he told businessmen at the US Chamber of Commerce. “It’s no mystery–the less poverty, the more commerce. The most important investment we can make is in human resources.” His government’s redistributive policies include setting prices for essential commodities such as milk and providing free computers and education for every child.

8. He has offered to take detainees cleared for release from Guantanamo. Mujica has called the detention center at Guantanamo Bay a “disgrace” and insisted that Uruguay take responsibility to help close the facility. The proposal is unpopular in Uruguay, but Mujica, who was a political prisoner for 14 years, said he is “doing this for humanity.”

9. He is opposed to war and militarism. “The world spends $2 billion a minute on military spending,” he exclaimed in horror to the students at American University. “I used to think there were just, noble wars, but I don’t think that anymore,” said the former armed guerrilla. “Now I think the only solution is negotiations. The worst negotiation is better than the best war, and the only way to insure peace is to cultivate tolerance.”

10. He has an adorable three-legged dog, Manuela! Manuela lost a foot when Mujica accidentally ran over it with a tractor. Since then, Mujica and Manuela have been almost inseparable.

Mujica’s influence goes far beyond that of the leader of a tiny country of only 3 million people. In a world hungry for alternatives, the innovations that he and his colleagues are championing have put Uruguay on the map as one of the world’s most exciting experiments in creative, progressive governance.

 

The real reason why I oppose drilling for oil on lake Malawi

Whatever you choose to believe, here is one hypothesis you must seriously consider; That a nation that does not own its natural resources is not independent at all. That instead, what exists are different levels of servants (anchito) working for a foreign master (bwana) under a semi-sovereignity.

After all the unnecessary toiling, studying, chasing one research project after another that has preoccupied my time the last two years, I have come to the sobering,inevitable and unsurprising conclusion that there is a worrying number of people who think you or someone like me doesn’t deserve much good out of this life.

A worrying number.

Some of these people think that if you are black and were born in Africa, in a country that is considered poor, in a family that does not have strong and powerful political allies, with little or no personal ‘fortune’ of your own, that your place on the socio-economic ladder is right there where fate (or an accident of evolution) created for you, exactly in the societal ‘bracket’ in which you were born. Where social / financial progression is an unattainable pie in the sky. In this place, a dead-end job is the best you can expect, and hand-me-downs or clothes sold in ASDA (or Walmart) with brands such as ‘George‘ and ‘White Stag‘ are worn. It’s a place devoid of vacations, where Sirloin steak is an unjustifiable luxury, and where a McDonald’s burger counts as a treat; where trips to the movies and broadway featured shows are unheard of, and golf – the preserve of the extremely wealthy. Lets just say it’s a place where a gym membership is not even a consideration when one’s salary can barely cover everyday expenses. In this place £7.50 spent on 400g cherries would be an obscene expense; it’s a place where a typical evening consist of dinner that costs less than $10 for a family of 5, (and does not include wine), and typical everyday entertainment is either Eastenders or some crap show on the radio, while drinking a bottle of Carlsberg.

These same people would have you believe that such a life is ‘normal’ or at least relatively normal. They bet on showing you a worse existential state to justify that while they exploit your resources (and make lucrative deals with your country’s selfish and spineless politicians), they are doing you a favour, you are in fact getting a better deal than that guy over there, in whose country a war has been raging for years, where women are unsafe and rape is commonplace, that guy’s country has virtually no education system in place, and look, armed guerilla fighters! In a country with no local currency, courts presided by warlords and a society infested with corruption….

Such scare stories are meant to somehow pacify your human (umunthu) and natural rage against what is clearly injustice against your brothers and sisters. Injustice which in other forms sees you called black monkey’s in your own country. They are the kinds of people who in Victorian times would have suggested (or mixed with people who were likely to suggest), without qualms, that a woman’s place is in the home; that women should not be allowed to work or vote. These are the kinds of people who would have owned the cotton mills (or mixed with people who owned the cotton mills) of Manchester and South Carolina, including being at the forefront of recruiting cheap child labour – for maximum profit. They are the kinds of people who would have been involved in the mistreatment of Jews throughout a large part of  European history. These kinds of people would have suggested to Pontius Pilate that because Jesus was a friend of the poor and ‘rejects’ of society, that he indeed deserved the most severe punishment for calling himself the son of God.

The haughty demagoguery of these sorts saw them perpetrate beliefs such as Manifest destiny, Supremacism and the Slave trade, and their puppets coin phrases such as ‘Axis of Evil‘ and ‘War on Terror‘. For the purposes of this article, not least dramatic effect, I’ll call these people the Greedy architects of death.

Yet aren’t these precisely the kind of attitudes which precipitate global unrest? Is this not what deprives humanity of peaceful coexistence and harmony? I say this because beneath the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Ukraine, or even the economic troubles facing Zimbabwe, there is a simple altercation: that of land and resource control.

In the case of Zimbabwe, please reason with me for a moment. Why on earth should a country be punished with sanctions for wanting to take back land that was forcefully and deceptively taken away from it in the first place??? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in support of violence, but what is it that lies at the heart of the matter?

Another facet to their characteristics is that of standing. Here, a common trait of the architect is opposition to any deal in which they aren’t getting a cut. In other words, when others do something bad, and these architects are not getting any money or resources from that bad something, then the action is wrong/unforgivable/ atrocious etc. But when the architects do that very same bad thing, they can can sugar coat it and self-righteously justify it…with phrases such as ‘Oil for food‘ and ‘Regeneration’, helpfully assisted by their Bretton Woods colleagues, with selective use of the biased chastisement whip commonly known as ‘International law’.

annan-3But how does all this relate to Malawi and the oil drilling on lake Malawi I hear you ask? Well, because at the heart of Malawi’s problems is land and resource control, and the puppet masters pulling the strings are exactly the same kinds of people brewing trouble elsewhere.

So, assuming you’ve heard of the Scotland independence debate, then even though I identify with old fashioned views that divorce must be avoided wherever possible and people must discuss to resolve differences, one part of me says that maybe Scotland should become independent from the UK. Because maybe then will they be able to use their resources for their own country’s benefit. Maybe if independence occurs, some of these architects will begin to realise just how their selfish and greedy actions have been hurting other people across the world?

In Europe maybe if Crimea joins the Russian Federation it will not be exploited by the pro-western kingpins of resource control – some of whom have probably been responsible for financial trickery or misconduct elsewhere?

Similarly, let the people of Malawi resist (at all costs and in whatever manner) drilling of oil on their beautiful lake because in the end, it’s not the local people who stand to benefit from the profits of the oil drilling. As the Paladin episode at Kayelekera has shown (and as other examples on the continent continue to demonstrate), it’s only a few corrupt government officials with off-shore bank accounts in tax havens in Switzerland or the British Virgin Islands who benefit. It’s large Investment Banks that provide the capital to the architects who will get the lions share, it’s a handful of millionaire tycoons with surnames like Borshoff and Ichikowitz, who live in mansions thousands of miles away and whose surnames the locals can’t even spell or pronounce properly, they are the ones who stand to profit. It is the Greedy architects of death (whose actions spur domino type effects, causing wars, and thereby suffering and hardship to millions across the world) who stand to benefit.

It sounds like a tedious link to make, but what has been the number one cause of unrest across the world if not battles for resource control?

That is my reason for opposing drilling on lake Malawi. Because while there is a high risk of environmental degradation which could affect the lives of fishermen who depend on the lake for their livelihoods (it happened in the gulf of Mexico, and happens in the Niger Delta all the times [see another link here via Amnesty International] – how can anybody sane think it will not happen on lake Malawi?), and which could negatively affect tourism and life ecosystems in and around the lake, in the end, there will be tears and loss as very few Malawians will benefit proportionally from the oil resource. In the end it could create strife….

But I’m not saying that the transactions a poor country such as Malawi signs with foreign ‘speculators’ are all bad or useless, and do not bring some material benefit to the country or its inhabitants. No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that comparatively, the benefit to Malawians is too small, too insignificant, chicken feed – unsustainable. In my view, it’s no more than a trojan horse that later comes back to bite and haunt the country. Instead, the net benefit of most of these deals is significantly in favour of these architects, who come into an area, pour in their capital, make billions of dollars in profits, then move out richer than they came in – leaving behind more than just a mess. Leaving behind broken lives,in which the local man remains economically where he was prior to the ‘invasion’, or even poorer, resigned to licking his wounds, as one aggressor after another wrestle for his country’s resources.

And that is hugely problematic because no matter who Malawians elect in May 2014 elections, if the status quo of dealing with investors is maintained, where African leader treat the national purse (and national assets) as private belongings, where investors are allowed to illicitly wire billions of untaxed funds out of the continent, if economic disparities across the country are not decisively addressed (in this I mean by creating companies in which trained locals are majority shareholders and investors are minority shareholders), if the leaders of western countries continue to be hypocritical over the well-documented conduct of business leaders from their countries, poverty levels will continue to linger in Malawi and across Africa for a very long time. And come next election very little would have changed, people will be scratching their heads, and you can come back and read this article again.

By the way, you don’t have to believe anything I’ve written above 🙂 . As I said in the first paragraph, it’s just a hypothesis, a theory based on my observations 🙂 … But even so, take a look at what these people here are saying (AfDB-GFI Joint Report: Illicit Financial Flows Render Africa a Net Creditor to the Rest of the WorldSub-Saharan Africa loses 5.7 percent of GDP to illicit financial outflowsIllicit financial outflows from Africa crippling continent’s development – UN ). With such stories of behaviour which is clearly hurting Africa, should Malawians really risk another Kayelekera? Would it be wise to entrust the lake to people whose number one motivation is profit and little else? Could anybody say the country is really independent? How can you justify independence when you depend too much on the help of others for your existence?

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Satan’s Neonazi conmen: The Institutional Discrimination and Racism hidden within Immigration (part 1)

racism

“Institutions can behave in ways that are overtly racist (i.e., specifically excluding people-of-color from services) or inherently racist (i.e., adopting policies that while not specifically directed at excluding people-of-color, nevertheless result in their exclusion). Therefore, institutions can respond to people-of-color and whites differently. Institutional behavior can injure people-of-color; and, when it does, it is nonetheless racist in outcome if not in intent.”  via http://racism.org/

“Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and happy to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.” Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

“I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.”  ― Martin Luther King Jr., I Have A Dream

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” —Malcolm S. Forbes.

“Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.”   Muhammad Ali

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” – Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

I was going to subtitle title this post as ‘Stupid & Repressive laws from Stupid & Repressive institutions’, but that subtitle was too long, sounded angry and would have messed up the layout of this article.

A more moderate subtitle would definitely be more effective in getting the important message across. Then I thought of calling it ‘A radical experiment on Immigration’ in a similar fashion to Sam Richard’s brilliant video ‘A radical experiment in empathy’, but that subtitle didn’t explicitly specify the Racism and Discrimination aspects…

A few months ago, I read an article on the Guardian website, in which the writer wrote that “Unless universities realise that merely paying lip service to equality will not eliminate society’s prejudices from their campuses, racism will continue to flourish” [posted on Guardian blogging Students website by one Conrad Landin].

As a migrant who is proud to have come out of two British Universities with two good degrees, I couldn’t agree more. I was racially abused in University (not once or twice), my first encounter with the practice on British soil, but even then I recognised that it was a part of a much bigger and wider problem. A problem that in other forms extended to double gold medallist Mo Farah being stopped and questioned by US customs, over his Somali origins.

Up to the time I began writing this article, I had been asked to write something on immigration and racism by three of my closest friends, and up until recently I gently resisted their requests. Not that I didn’t want to write about the subject or that I didn’t care so much about their requests, nor that it hasn’t affected my own family, no, not because of all that. Instead, it’s quite a painful subject to write about when one’s experiences have been hellish in this regard, and when the institutions involved have caused one’s family members (especially my mother) a lot of grief and hardship. Extremely painful, in more ways than words can describe, so to an extent I was shunning the topic because of the inevitable pain writing about it would cause…..

To put it into perspective, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) has been described as Cruel (Roseline’s journey: a kidney transplant patient meets UK Border Agency contractors , Child refugees harmed by ‘cruel’ detention systemState-sponsored cruelty  , Medical Justice : “‘State Sponsored Cruelty’: Children in immigration detention” and here: Child detention is ‘state sponsored cruelty’- report finds); they have been accused of Harrassment; described as Oppressive (The UK Border Agency’s long, punitive campaign against children (helped by G4S and Serco), Not fit for PurposeRacist (Indians to pay £3,000 cash bond deposit for U.K. visa ) , (Why Is the UK Border Agency Racially Profiling People On the Tube?), (Exclusive: Doreen Lawrence pledges to condemn ‘racial profiling’ spot checks in the House of Lords) and (CABIN CRUELTY: MORE TROUBLE AT THE UK BORDERS AGENCY – via Liberty ) which contains the paragraph:

Predictably the UKBA refused to disclose its policy in full. But even what we were shown set alarm bells ringing. There was no provision whatsoever for training staff for aircraft removals – all scenarios related solely to prisons. The approach towards medical care was inconsistent at best, and little or no attention had been paid to de-escalation techniques. It’s not hard to work out that dealing with a distressed deportee on a long flight, confined inside a claustrophobic cabin, might pose particular challenges and health risks. But there was absolutely nothing to suggest the UKBA appreciated this

IncompetentDamning report says practically all UK LGBT asylum claims are being refused; Border Agency “cruel and discriminatory” ) , a law unto itself – a link that contains the paragraph:

“The hearings at the Home Affairs Select Committee enquiring into the running of the UK Border Agency were hard to credit. Keith Vaz, the Chairman of the committee, asked the Head of The UK Border Authority for information about their operations, and the Head of the UKBA replied that he was unwilling to provide said information. It was entirely obvious that the UKBA has become a law unto itself. “

and even Murderous (Jackie Nanyonjo, Jimmy Mubenga and Joy Gardner: all killed by Britain’s racist deportation regime)

The issue has become politicised with people separated from their families ( My battle with Britain’s mean, ineffective immigration system:  ‘Controlling immigration’ means being rude to foreigners — as I found out ); genuine weddings have been wrecked:-

“We travelled down to the venue from Nottingham, only to find that the Bride had been arrested by the Police upon arrival at the Church. It was stated it was due to an Immigration matter. They detained her over night and released her on Sunday without charge. They claimed she had indicated in her application that she was married in the USA and that it was a sham wedding. The girls father had travelled all the way from Malawi, they had friends and guests from all over the country and everything was ruined. The Bride is Malawian who has a USA Green card and lives in America. The groom is a Malawian student who has finished his studies and is waiting for his passport which is with UKBA so that he can leave.They had done all the necessary paperwork to enable them to get married here, gone to the registrar etc and all was in order.”

Even those who served in the armed forces are being harassed.

Another source told me:

“My own sister and niece, who obviously are black – and now American citizens have been denied a visitor visa once, even when they are fully settled in the US, and have no intention of moving to the UK, they have a good life there…much better than what I have here, and at the time of making the application, they supplied all the material that was required for the application…and paid a lot of money, only to have a visa denied, after all that money!”

And all this is just scratching the surface. Indeed the sad stories (that includes staff at UKBA slamming the phone down on nervous applicants) are many and heart wrenching and we don’t have time or room to list them all here.

But how can this kind of treatment of other countries’ nationals be fair game? And why hasn’t the coalition government done something decisive to end the harassment? Do they approve of such heavy-handedness? How many people must die before the UKBA is finally brought to book, and its officers prosecuted? In case you didn’t know, the guardian reported here that detainees at Yarl’s Wood immigration centre were ‘facing sexual abuse’, with guards preying on isolated women at the institution (which is run by Serco), and orchestrating a cover-up. How bad can it get?

Nelson Mandela once said that “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity. To impose on them a wretched life of hunger and deprivation is to dehumanise them.”  In other words, such treatment simply means the victims are being stripped of their humanity; deeply ingrained in the persecutor’s head is the notion that the persecuted are not humans (or are lesser humans). Precisely the very same type of racist ideology that was partially responsible for apartheid, slavery and the holocaust.

Just because it’s happening to a non-white non-British national, does it mean that abuse, cruelty, force, harassment, mental torture, murder and other evils are justified?

Would the British authorities (let alone the officers responsible for these crimes) be happy or content if in quid pro quo fashion, British nationals abroad (there are 5 million of them living outside the UK) were treated inhumanely in the same manner that the UKBA (and its associate agencies) treats migrants here in the UK?

I think not. I think if you showed the majority of British subjects living abroad how migrants are treated by the UKBA, and asked them what they think of the practices, and whether it would be fair game for the authorities in the country in which they are living in to treat them in a similar or identical manner, most would be appalled by the UKBA’s conduct and would not be happy to be treated anything like it.

Someone needs to inject some common sense into this madness…

To some christians in pentecostal and other churches, the UK Border Agency is the very embodiment of Satan, his machinery, the officers – employees of organisations such as Serco and G4S (which have been implicated in numerous heinous scandals [see here, here, here and here]), possessed by his demons.

To aggrieved intellectuals, the UKBA are Neo Nazis, similar in manner to the Gestapo; they are the 21st century’s version of the Ku klux Klan. If their behaviour is anything to go by, there is certainly a case that they have crossed the line, especially with reports (After Serco, what rights do asylum seekers have in detention?) that a manual that authorised guards to use force to incapacitate detainees (including to kick, punch and target pressure points on detainees)  was as recently as last year still in use.

Some say the UKBA is just a money-making scheme (see here , here and here[UK Border agency accused of charging excessive fees for visas – made £225 million PROFIT in 2012]); a profiteering scam with government blessings designed to suck money from already impoverished foreigners (and from wealthy ones); an institutional conduit of funds and a modern-day servitude for the deprivation of foreign nationals. As someone who has had to dish out over £10,000 (a sum that at the time would have completely wiped away all my family’s debts) for one visa or another (including exorbitant solicitors fees), I agree with this allegation to a great extent, and to be honest I’m a little bitter about having had to pay so much. Especially since a lot of that money was paid by my mother, a single parent who at over 60 years of age still had to work (while I was unemployed).

But if you are prepared to use force and even go as far as kill innocent people, to enforce your oppressive laws, what’s a mere low-level scam that causes untold financial hardship?

And this ‘scam’ didn’t start just yesterday. As far back as 2006, some rational people were already questioning the UKBA visa fees policy, with one account in the Financial Times here, stating:

“Students who need visas will already be paying much higher tuition fees than British and other European Union students. If it is argued that if you can afford the tuition fees you can afford the visa fees, a thoroughly incorrect attitude is revealed.

Are we trying to drive away students in need of visas? The visa service is said to be largely self-financing, a typically short-sighted arrangement that ignores the external benefits of accessible visa fees.”

And somehow, despite the complaints against the UKBA, there is nothing wrong with all this, apparently….??

Further, you rarely hear any of their ill-treatment of innocent people in the mainstream media, especially on Tv, which to me is highly suspicious. With the exception of a few bold publications (see Guardian report here) and specialist publications such as New Statesman, which has a story (published March 2013) titled “The UK Border Agency: after four years, a car crash in slow motion finally comes to a stop“, that includes the paragraphs:

“..But incompetence is one thing – cruelty quite another. The fact the new body was kept at arm’s length lead Theresa May to conclude it had created a “closed, secretive and defensive” culture. Staff from sub-contractor Reliance were transporting Roseline Akhalu when she ended up pissing all over herself because she wasn’t allowed to use a toilet. Staff from Tascor – which superceded Reliance – allegedly beat Marius Betondi and broke his nose during a failed deportation attempt. That was one of thousands of distressing cases, the product of a system in chaos.

The failure to prosecute G4S staff over the death of Jimmy Mubenga has been described as “perverse” by the former Chief Inspector of Prisons. Just as it failed to protect victims of torture, so the system failed to protect victims of slavery. The right-wing Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) found a litany of flaws in UKBA’s procedures and concluded that “too often the CSJ has been told that UKBA involvement in the . . .  process acts as a major barrier to victims [of slavery] to make a referral.”…

When a reckless banker misuses the funds of his bank, leading to loss of millions of pounds, it is reported as news, often with glee. When a sea creature is washed up on a beach, the story is reported, even the polar bear cub Knut (who sadly died 2 years ago) received so much publicity!

Is the media saying that such ill-treatment of innocent people (who are HUMANS) as reported in the articles above is not newsworthy?? Or is something more sinister going on?

The way I see it, the silence of large media houses suggests either an indifference (in the same way as Hitler was initially tolerated before everybody realised [rather late] he was pure filth and evil) by the media to atrocious treatment of migrant by UKBA (i.e. we don’t think it’s news) – a massive miscalculation and a failure of judgement; or the silence suggests complicity (i.e. let them get on with it, somebody has got to do it).

In addition, you rarely hear of anyone white, especially from non-EU countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the US or even countries such as Israel being mistreated or harassed?? In the 11 years that I have been living in Britain, and following these issues, I’ve never read a single report of people from these countries being a victim. Instead by far the majority of those who are victimized by what is by all appearances a Neo Nazi fascist organisation are Black Africans, Afro-Caribbeans, Arabs or Asians, which is appalling and quite shameful in a post-apartheid post-slavery 21st century.

It doesn’t speak well at all of Britain’s race relations, or indeed its Human Rights record.

So, given the material I possessed, part of the reason I hesitated in writing this article is because I was still trying to resolve my thoughts and feelings regarding what my true position on the topic was.

And since its pretty clear that there was nothing positive about the Nazi’s, I’m struggling to find anything positive about the UK Border Agency.

Also, the fact that the topic was too broad and requiring formal research didn’t make it easy. Add to that the many facets deserving consideration, the history, multiple implications for the lives of tens of people I know and thousands I don’t know, and the picture couldn’t be fuzzier. That was until a couple of months ago, when a friend told me of his ordeal, which although not as heart wrenching as some of the above cases, demonstrates that the problem is not only in the UK, and even when you have legal status, if you are an ethnic minority, discrimination is everywhere.

Good friend A lives in England with his family (a wife and 3 young kids – the oldest is 6), and has a good job. ‘Good job’ meaning he’s in a managerial position with 8 people below him and earns a good salary. He lives in a 4 bedroom house, and has some savings. Good friend A regularly supports at least 5 relatives back in Africa from his salary (almost every month). I know all this because he told me. He holds a Malawian passport and has travelled extensively over the last 10 years or so, to Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria and other European countries. Recently he wanted to attend a 2 day music festival in a European country with his family. Having made his visa application, showing the festival tickets which costed him around €200 in total, the officials at this country’s embassy in London told him to book his hotel, which he did, spending an additional €200 even when he didn’t know when they would issue the visa, and therefore when he would travel. Then, just before the weekend of the event (and too late for him to cancel his hotel) they requested that he submit additional documents, even when he had supplied everything that was stipulated on both their website and their application forms. Then he went for the interview at the embassy, to find staff who were so haughty, condescending and disparaging, he came out feeling disgusted.  Suffice to say, he missed his festival, and €500 (including the cost of the visa and trip to the embassy) went down the drain.

I’d love to say that there is no racial discrimination in the immigration system, but I’m afraid as all the above demonstrates I can’t. There are too many stories like those above – whose victims are ethnic minorities – which suggests otherwise.

If you look across Europe, just as its undeniable that there has been an increase in ‘hostilities’ against muslims (another type of largely baseless discrimination), there’s an ‘anti-immigrant wave’ blowing across the continent, in France, Sweden, and other countries, and a large part of that wave is directed towards non-white, non-european migrants from outside the EU.

But I’m not saying that there are no other aspects of immigration worth considering. It is perfectly clear that not everybody can live in Europe, or America, or Canada or Australia, for all sorts of reasons (and I’m going to outline them in my next post), but to exclude and discriminate against people robotically on the basis of their race and nationality is in my view simply wrong. To use force to wreck lives without a basis is inexcusable, to harass people who have a genuine case is atrocious, to kill innocent people or separate families is a criminal act.

In addition, I’m concerned that very few people are prepared to ask, why are all these people wanting to live here, and not in their own countries, what is happening in their own countries that’s causing them to want to live here?

And predictably with such pressure and harassment some people get desperate, and in an attempt to stay in the country from which they are being threatened with removal utilise every means possible, from fake passports to shady lawyers. The effect, it diminishes the credibility in the genuine cases of other migrants such that everyone is viewed with suspicion.

And because usually with such stories, people have had some extremely bad and painful experiences, emotions run high, and some can be dismissive. One friend recently declared:- “the west pillaged resources from other continents, and then created a ‘apartheid’ immigration system, a walled fortress to keep out everyone from the wealth that was built on the proceeds of the plunder. You see it in Canada, in Australia, in the US, in Britain and most western economies.” 

And in countries which have non-white ‘native populations’ such as Australia and the US, the parodies are never in short supply:

grg

Many years ago, I used to wonder, why some people fail to forgive. Why some people get hardened. What exactly is happening in their hearts? Why can’t they just let things go? For example why is retaliation the song of the day between Israel and Palestine? Why can’t one of them say,

Look we’ve caused each other too much pain already, enough lives have been lost, enough is enough, this has got to stop. This ends now.”

I couldn’t understand it. Then recently, while doing research for this article, that led me to places where I heard views from many people who have been affected by the Immigration system in the UK, I began to see it, I began to realise that sometimes, undue persecution, institutional harassment and violation can run so deep, and the unhealed wounds can continue to be painful after so many years, and be so many of them, such that forgiveness is impossible. It appears like one can literally lose the capacity to forgive. In such out of control circumstances, I can imagine why an eye truly and only calls for another eye.

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Where is Africa’s manufacturing?

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I prefer to ask (and answer) the above question, that references to the ‘stage’ or ‘point’ (not physical location) when asked ‘Why is Africa not manufacturing?’ . I’ve been asked this question so many times, by people beffudled as to how Africa pretty much fails where everybody else has succeeded. The reason I prefer to answer the above question is because unlike popular belief Africa is in fact manufacturing, just not as much as everyone else, and just not always visibly (you don’t hear these stories on Tv, and they are rarely in the mainstream media publications – unless you read FT – although that’s arguably not mainstream)

Similar to the questions of manufacturing is that of whether the skills for the establishment of a bigger manufacturing sector are readily available for investors to tap into?

KiZerbo200

I’ll start with the bad news:- If the skills are available on the continent, then as things stand, they are in severe shortage and are not really of African origin. According to research from OECD [see BBC link here], by the end of this decade (emphasis required, that’s by 2020) 4 of every 10 young graduate is going to be either from India or China. Looking at the list of countries listed, not even a single one is an African country. What does that say? Well, a number of things; that we are not producing enough graduates, or that the number of African graduates with skill sets (and of a high calibre) who can compete with their contemporaries from Chinese and Indian universities is comparatively insignificant. Which is worrying, because it essentially means Africa’s manufacturing is nowhere, or only material if driven and held together by non-African effectors.

In the past the Education of Africans has received very little support from those who should know better. Most dictators who took over from the colonialists did too little to maintain the standard and level of Education (or Higher Education) across Africa, focussing instead of consolidating their rule. With a few exceptions, multiparty governments that came after dictatorships followed suit, by not investing anywhere near enough as was necessary. The donors that were bed-fellows with the dictators (and those that came after) arguably weren’t as sympathetic or visionary. According to an ESSA paper (quoted in this paper titled “THE ROLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION IN AFRICA” by Prof.Dr.Birgit Brock-Utne of the Institute for Educational Research at the University of Oslo) the World Bank once viewed Higher Education in Africa as a luxury:

“To meet minimally acceptable targets for coverage and quality of lower levels of education in most countries, as a general rule the tertiary sub sector’s share of stagnant real public education expenditures cannot expand further, and in some cases may have to contract. Some combination of efficiency improvements, increased private contribution to costs, and constrained growth of – in some countries and fields, outright cutback in – production of graduates must be sought.” (World Bank 1988: 95)

Expenditure on education was merely a self-serving budgetary exercise, and it didn’t matter what the result was, or whether indeed Africa would be ‘left-behind’ as a direct consequence of the under-investment, what mattered was only that money had been saved.

Without research into what their policy position currently is, I wouldn’t be able to tell you whether this view has changed or not.

Investors with the means have been to put it mildly, shy of investing on the continent let alone into skills development. A paper by a researcher named Paul Bennell which addresses the issue of whether structural adjustments programs ( these are those stringent rules imposed on African countries as part of loan agreements from the likes of IMF and World Bank) over a 15 year period have indeed achieved the desired response (i.e. increasing foreign investment in the hope of triggering technology transfer from the industrialized countries to Africa) paints a depressing picture. To quote Bennell (via this link):

Surprisingly, the share of net earnings from UK manufacturing investments in Africa remitted each year to the UK was higher than the global average between 1985 and 1990 . . . While UK companies have been keen to reinvest very sizable proportions of their profits in North America, Europe and Asia, investment opportunities in manufacturing have generally been very limited in Africa and thus, given the option, most parent companies would like to remit the bulk of subsidiary profits from the region

In other words, Africa was where you went to make your money, and not a place to reinvest your profits.

But it isn’t all bad news.

Recently, the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) approved a US$ 45 million grant for the creation of a Pan African University (PAU) that will consist of five Pan African Institutes focussing mainly on science, technology and innovation. The background to the story reads:

Africa has only 35 scientists and engineers per million inhabitants, compared with 168 for Brazil, 2,457 for Europe and 4,103 for the United States. Shortage of skills has been a major constraint to Africa’s progress in science, technology and innovation. Due to low investment in research and development, Africa ranks low in global competitiveness and productivity. African students tend to opt for economics, business, law and social sciences rather than science, engineering and technology, hampering the continent’s competitiveness and growth. The result is a mismatch between skills produced and private sector jobs.

While one would hope this initiative will be a success, and the Institutes will not falter under the common problems that beset universities and research institutions across much of Africa, it will be interesting to see how this develops.

As is well understood universally, innovation is the lifeblood of industry, and without the creation of ground-breaking and new products,  a country cannot advance or gain a competitive advantage. It was the case during the industrial revolution, during the rise of countries such as Germany, Russia, Japan and even Brazil. The exception (only to an extent) to this rule appears to be China, but that’s for a whole load of other reasons that distinguish it from the rest of mankind

But as the African Development Bank correctly observed above, in order to create ground-breaking innovations and products, and in order to influence global scientific research and technology, you need a skilled workforce. That’s why  the AfDB initiative represents a realignment of Africa’s potential in the right direction.

Across Africa, there are many success stories that are truly inspirational, although as i stated above, these are not shouted about in the mainstream media. One such inspirational story is that of Fabrinox, a south African company manufacturing sheet metal that was formed in 1993, and that has seen turnover in recent years hit US$5.8 million. Asked what had been the best decision he had made to grow his company, the company founder says:

To have followed the advice of my business mentor Johan Beyers to not restrict Fabrinox and its people to one geographical area, product or service, but to take a global view in running the business. For instance, it means that we think globally in terms of our supply chain, and are most willing to service clients beyond the boundaries of the Western Cape province in which we are located, and South Africa for that matter.

In addition to such success stories, there are also many partnerships between foreign manufacturers and agricultural producers across Africa, and some of those partnerships are genuinely beneficial to Africans. Who knows maybe some of these could one day pave way for an African manufacturing industry of its own, if some haven’t began to do so already? After all, manufacturing in industries such as motorcycle build and assembly in China began when after purchasing equipment from Japan, the Chinese assemblers began to modify the Japanese made components; fast forward a couple of decades, and China was making its own motorcycles which essentially were improvements (i.e. “innovations” more or less) of the original Japanese models.

The partnerships article above correctly points out that:

The level of mechanisation in African farming is still very low. Kenya had 25 tractors per 100 square kilometres of arable land in 2009 while Nigeria has almost seven, according to the most recent data from World Bank. That compares with an average of 271 machines in the US.

There are also some manufacturers who are looking towards Africa not because it’s ideal, but because they are getting sick and tired of the happenings in Asia (workplace safety that in recent years has become a major issue, levels of corruption, the increasing fees demanded by some factory owners, etc)

But before anybody gets too excited, look, the Chinese are planning on setting up shop in Africa! (see here and here). Although here one must wonder, does that mean Chinese labour (as they have been known to do in some African countries across the continent) or will these factories use African labour?

As for the power that will drive everything and get every bit of machinery working (in some countries – putting an end to years of intermittent blackouts), that’s about to get much more exciting. At least that’s what Obama seems to be saying.

African Queens: the catty spats inflicting havoc on Africa’s first two female presidents

Malawi-President-Joyce-Banda
Joyce Banda and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf via http://womensenews.org

If you thought the verbal missiles flying between the Malawian President Joyce Banda and several prominent women in Malawi (Seodi White and Jessie Kabwila to name a few) was a phenomenon unique only to Malawi, think again.

In recent months, the Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has also been on the receiving end of criticism by a woman she is well familiar with. Arguably one of her staunchest critic, Leymah Gbowee, the Nobel Peace prize laureate with whom Sirleaf shares her Nobel Peace Prize resigned last October as head of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, citing Johnson Sirleaf’s failure to combat corruption in government as one of the reasons. Further, she questioned why the president’s sons had important official jobs in Liberia. Gbowee said Sirleaf’s sons needed to be swept out. Singling out Robert Sirleaf, a senior adviser and chairman of the board of state-owned National Oil Company of Liberia Gbowee said:-

“This is wrong and I think it is time for her to put him aside,” Gbowee told the BBC. “He’s a senior economic adviser, and that’s well and good, but to chair the oil-company board—I think it’s time he stepped aside.”

An account on the Guardian puts it as follows:

While the criticism might come as a surprise to the international community, it’s nothing new in Liberia. “The issues raised by Gbowee are discussed in every sector of Liberian society,” said an official with an international NGO operating in Liberia, speaking to Daily Maverick. “There have been public outcries for months if not years that all the top positions in the government are friends and family. Corruption has overshadowed the country. And the gap between rich and poor is huge. Cabinet ministers have monthly allowances of $30,000 per month, while the average civil servant makes $100.”

This is not the first time Sirleaf has been criticised for her inability to tackle corruption. Despite her many accolades as a beacon of hope for Africa and women’s’ rights, her first term was littered with corruption scandals (to scratch the surface see here and here ) and indecision over corrupt figures in her government. One account reads:

Then, [Charles] Taylor’s presidency became a case study in kleptocracy and warlordism. By political necessity, the transitional government that followed, preceding Sirleaf’s administration, was made up by many of those who made money during the Doe and Taylor years. Even some members of Sirleaf’s government retains shady figures from the past.

Her 2011 re-election was very much in doubt such that the election was decided by a runoff in which her main opponent boycotted, leading to claims that she did not have a clear mandate; that she won by default because the voters of the other candidate never showed up.

Her Cabinet reshuffles have been criticised as superficial:

Minister of Agriculture Florence Chenoweth, for example, was spared despite being deeply implicated in a scandal regarding the questionable manner in which 25% of Liberia’s land and 40% of its rainforests were sold off to foreign logging companies….

Even the awarding of her Nobel prize just days before presidential elections in Liberia in 2011 didn’t go through smoothly, and was criticised as a political move by hidden forces attempting to win her political support; some have even called her a puppet forced onto the Liberian people by imperialist powers…

And fighting back she has, being quoted in 2012 to have said “she [Leymah Gbowee] is too young to know what we’ve done to reach peace and security in our country.” a statement which in my view hints of ageism, a bias not entirely desirable in a political leader.

In some respects Joyce’ Banda’s experiences as Malawi’s leader are not too dissimilar to those of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as Liberian president. Like Johnson Sirleaf (who came to power after 23 years of war had devastated Liberia), Joyce Banda inherited a broken country that was on the brink of collapse as a result of Bingu Wa Mutharika’s troubled relationship with donor countries. While Malawi’s condition was a lot less severe than that of Liberia, Banda came to power when there was little forex in the country, and many services had been crippled; when foreign companies had pulled out (or were threatening to pull out); when there was shortage of sugar – this happening in a sugar exporting country; there were water shortages, and even the main brewery in the country scaled down operations (this was happening in a country which has a 360 mile long fresh water lake!?!); when teachers were on strike, the civil service including the police and lecturers hadn’t been paid for months (and the police were told to fend for themselves); corruption was commonplace; the price of fuel had gone through the roof and there was severe fuel shortages; prices of goods were increasing uncontrollably, there were demonstrations on the streets, and police brutality had killed at least 19 civilians and injured 58…

One and a half years on, while the situation has significantly improved from those turbulent days, most people agree that Joyce Banda’s honeymoon is long over. It is time for the president to show real leadership and put in place genuine policies that have a realistic chance of transforming Malawi. There is increasing frustration amongst many Malawians that the Malawian president has done too little to improve the lives of ordinary Malawians, and that nepotism (hiring family members to serve in government – the president’s sister was appointed as Principal Secretary in the ministry of Education) continues to be rife. There is a general feeling of discontent in some quarters that only people in government (or those who have connections with them) are truly benefitting from her presidency.

The president has publicly attacked unmarried women, and fuelled a spat with the above mentioned female activists. Further, like Johnson Sirleaf, there is concern that the president has turned a blind eye to corruption inside her cabinet, whereby several members of the government (including senior ministers) have been implicated in corruption scandals but have received no flak, and have not been prosecuted. In addition, there is growing concern that just as during Bingu Mutharika’s era the presidency was too close to a handful of corporations, Joyce banda’s government has been criticised for being too close to certain companies and corporations, in one instance the president was pictured clothed in attire having the logos of a local private bank –which had donated K28million (~£52,000) to one of the president’s initiatives. Then, there is the issue over the independence and competency of the judiciary – as the old legal maxim goes

“Justice delayed is Justice denied”

there are several high-profile cases (including several corruption cases) pending in the Malawian courts, which appear to be dragging through at snail’s pace, with little or no sign as to when a decision will be issued. Some observers state that this is unconstitutional and with good reason believe that the president has not done enough to ensure that justice is served promptly on such cases, or that any obstacles (be they shady judges or otherwise) are set aside from obstructing the course of justice.

In Education , and despite some glimmers of hope, there is concern that the president has not done enough to increase the standard of education in the country. To build more Universities and technical colleges to equip the large number of unemployed youths with skills necessary for vocations such as entrepreneurship or commercial farming.

Talk is also rife that Joyce Banda’s son, Geoff Kachale, raised eyebrows over the apparent quick and sudden accumulation of wealth he is said to have acquired. Further, according to Face of Malawi, there are reports that the man has been putting pressure on some parastatals to award him contracts, or suffer consequences. Whether this is in fact true or mere speculation is anyone’s guess? Similar to such allegations is another allegation that Mr Kachale imported a large number of trucks into Malawi, a few of which are now being used by Mota Engil…??

Add to that poor judgement (Madonagate, South Korea labour fiasco (more here), selling presidential jet to buy maize); the wasting of public resources (e.g. The president’s excessive travelling [with too many members of cabinet – all of whom claim allowances], Facebook fiasco – wasting unjustifiable amounts of public money to create a personal Facebook page); her troubled relationship with the media; carrying hard cash to distribute to rally goers; Refusing to disclose her assets; getting ‘cosy’ with Mugabe (more here); and like Johnson Sirleaf, Joyce Banda promised to repeal Malawi’s anti-gay laws, but has yet to make good on her promise…

Finally, there is also concern that most of Banda’s policies lack sustainability and potential for long-term wealth creation. Many of her widely publicised activities involve giving maize handouts, giving free money to supporters, distributing  blankets or livestock and such menial tasks that can be entrusted to a junior minister or low-level civil servant. They are mostly hand to mouth initiatives, and could never help Malawi achieve economic independence in the ways that other countries globally have done in the past.

However, unlike Joyce Banda, who is known to have travelled far and wide in an attempt to attract investment into Malawi, some of the achievements of Johnson Sirleaf are quite remarkable. Prue Clarke and Emily Schmall write in the dailybeast:

… Johnson Sirleaf deserves credit for some stunning economic achievements. The Harvard-educated (Kennedy School of Government, 1971) president used her credentials as a former World Bank and Citigroup economist, along with a mighty dose of charm, to persuade Liberia’s creditors to write off nearly all of the country’s crushing foreign debt. International investment in industries like oil exploration, iron ore, and palm oil has soared from nothing to $19 billion, much of it from emerging economies of India, Brazil, and China. Government revenue has grown 400 percent.

But while there have been many poor decisions, and lack of sustainable policies with developmental potential, Banda has been in power for just one and a half years now,…which may not be sufficient time to roll out a real developmental agenda. With the pressure of running a country, and elections looming in 2014, now may be the last chance for Joyce Banda to try to get things right.

Most foreigners who visit Malawi temporarily don’t get to see the real drama played out, and leave the country singing praises, a good example here are Tony Blair and Clinton, who promised to help Malawi fix its problems. However, for those who stay a bit longer to properly study the dynamics and  observe the course of things , they soon get to see the real deal

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Global 100 Voices: No 7 (Part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

more-art golf early days

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

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

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

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

[Part B coming soon]

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

Global 100 Voices: No 5

IMG-20120822-WA0012(1)

My next guest describes himself as the proprietor of a recently opened media company(AGM Media).The company offers photography, audio and video services, amongst other services. He’s also undertaking International studies with the Open University. Mr MKOTAMA KATENGA-KAUNDA, thank you for doing the 100 Voices Interview!

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

It is important because as a human being, one always aspires to have a better life for one self and his/her family. Socio-economic stability gives a better chance for someone with a dream to have a better quality life in a developing country.

    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?

It is really difficult to pinpoint any visible progress Malawi has made since independence. It is the same scenario of ‘the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer’. It is sad that Malawi has not developed as it should have because the majority of visible structures in our country were built by Kamuzu Banda about twenty-plus years ago. It has been 19 years since we became a democratic country and not much has really changed in Malawi. In my view, I fail to register any visible progress that Malawi has made since independence because we have destroyed the very foundation which our nation once built (electricity and water supply is erratic, refuse collection is non-existent, our postal services are inefficient, Malawian-owned industries have been sold off etc). The most pressing challenge is ‘corruption’ at all levels of society in Malawi. For things to change, the government, starting with the executive, need to be exemplary by being tough on corruption at all levels in society. If the government is serious about such issues, then it is inevitable that citizens will follow suit.

  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 lived in the UK for 12 years and there are a lot of symbols of development in the UK that have had the greatest impact on me. My view is that, anybody that works hard in the UK has the chance to live life above the poverty line. Their social welfare is admirable in that it manages to help those citizens who are unemployed, homeless, sick and disabled etc. The roads, universities, transnational corporations, manufacturing industries and many more are all symbols of development that are prevalent in the UK. These symbols of development have had the greatest impact on me simply because my country of origin, Malawi, is lagging behind as one of the poorest countries in the world.

   4. What lessons do you think Malawians and the Malawian leadership can learn from those ideas?

As this is a globalised world, a lot of Malawians have travelled and are still travelling. When we travel, it broadens our horizons and whatever we see in developed countries, always inspires us that we can also develop to the level of western countries. The lesson to be learnt is that as a nation, we should be resilient and ambitious with our developmental plans, because it is possible for third world nations to become developed nations. We should study and analyse those countries that have developed and try to figure out where we have gone wrong to strengthen our weaknesses on our path to development.

   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?

I think the most clear sign of improvement that struck me was the number of better cars in Malawi.

   6. What struck you the most as the biggest sign of stagnation or regression?

The biggest sign of stagnation was corruption because everywhere i went, people preferred to do things through the back door.

frgl7. 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 foreign reducing aid dependency?

The biggest challenge Malawi has, is that we are dependent on foreign exchange for economic stability. As we approach the elections, Malawi needs an innovative leader that’s ready to initiate an ambitious blueprint to try to become self-sufficient. Malawi needs a frugal, transparent and incorruptible leader who is willing to make sacrifices for the future of our nation. This means that we need to utilise all our natural resources in a meaningful way where we get full returns that in turn spark developmental pathways for our nation.

   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?

Malawi’s alternatives to acquiring foreign revenue apart from Tobacco, is through natural resources. We have uranium in the northern region which is a sought after mineral in nuclear energy physics. Lake Malawi is rumoured to have gas and oil deposits underneath its seabed, which is believed to have caused tension between Malawi and Tanzania. However if the prospect is true, the returns from natural resources are always rewarding to countries with natural resources.

   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?

The only way to progress from such a relationship is by becoming self-sufficient. Countries like Malawi are in a vicious cycle where they have become used to being dependants of the IMF and the World Bank. To come out of the reach of the IMF or the World Bank, Malawi needs to utilise its natural resources by channelling monetary gains into improving our social welfare.

   10. We 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 present government’s management of natural resources is poor. Rumours were rife in the previous administration that they signed a weak contract with Paladin an Australian company that was given concessions to mine uranium in Malawi. The current government has also kept the nation in the dark about the contract and no one really knows whether Malawi is gaining from it or not.

   11. In your view, can the government do better to manage natural resources? If so, how can it do better?

Yes, the government can do better by becoming transparent in its dealings with foreign companies that are given concessions to extract minerals from Malawi. Contracts should be negotiated for the benefit of the nation and not for just a select elite few. There is need for our government to realise that natural resources are for the benefit of all the people of the country, and not just for the leaders in the executive.

12. What is your answer to increasing transparency and eradicating corruption which is plaguing most governments across Africa?

The answer is to have a strong constitution without any loopholes, a constitution that punishes anyone in contempt of the law. There is also a need to separate the police from the state so they can work independently without government interferences.

   13. Any famous words?

Running a government is very serious business – Bakili Muluzi

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