Calling Malawians ‘lazy’ for their plight is misguided and self-Defeating

“The realities of the modern global economy require government to play a substantial role in ensuring the national and economic security of the people.” ~ Matthew Continetti

One the advantages of publishing online are instant responses and feedback you get from a wider audience – albeit a similar demographic. Some comments are abusive, mostly attacking the author. Not engaging with the content. Yet, there are also critical and engaging comments. I pay attention to the latter and I learn from it.

I mainly write on socioeconomic, development and political issues. I do not hide from the fact that Malawi is a very poor country, with poor public services and unscrupulous leaders – bordering on fraudsters, think cashgate. I believe Malawi can do much better and I believe the government and political leadership have a critical role in this. Yet, the most recurring point from commenters is that scribes, civil society and the intellectual community are fond of blaming the government while they contribute very little if anything towards national development. Others simply say Malawians are poor because they are “lazy”.

Here, “lazy” implies that Malawians always want their government to provide for them. The argument is in the similar lines to the former USA President, John F Kennedy’s (JFK) famous assertion: “… ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” It is a plausible view but only if taken into the right context. is concerned. There is only so much that citizens can achieve without what economists call ‘invisible arm’ of the state.difference

In her highly acclaimed book, The Entrepreneurial State, (2013) Marianna Mazzucato, economics professor at Sussex University, England observed that some of the most successful innovations of the modern world such as the internet, the web, GPS, algorithm search, which search engines such as Google and Yahoo! use, most of software used in slick Apple products and social networks such as Facebook all benefit from USA government’s huge investment in research and development (R&D).

The core argument of the book is that states have a key role to play in backing new innovations and entrepreneurship, through investment in R&D among other things. In this case, the USA, a home to all the aforementioned products, laid a foundation for success of its citizens and companies. Thus, JFK’s call to his fellow citizens to not only ask from their government but also contribute to its success is justifiable.

Has Malawi government invested enough if at all in R&D? Has Malawi taken right steps to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship? This is a question we must consider, carefully, before start labelling Malawians “lazy”. The “lazy” card must be measured against available opportunities. Majority of Malawians work very hard for very little. Poor Malawians do all the backbreaking farming and dreaded jobs in both private and public sectors. Yet, they remain poor because of unfair economic system at play. It is the political economy, stupid.

In previous column I argued that majority of Malawians have become fatalistic. One of the commenters insisted on “laziness” being the problem. He pointed out that though the majority of Malawians rely on agriculture, they only work about three to four months of year – meaning in their fields. It is a valid argument and I have come across it many times before.

Yet, this overlooks the fact that agriculture in Malawi is not mechanised, and it remains rain-fed – most of it. It is impossible that most Malawians can cultivate more than once a year. Manual farming work is backbreaking, there is only so much folks can do. There is a need for state intervention: investment in mechanised agriculture and make irrigation farming a reality, on a grand scale.

The lack of mechanised farming in Malawi goes beyond manual work in farms. It also contributes to land sales because as it is, land – the only valuable asset that majority of Malawians have, is labour intensive and not capital intensive. This is why most Malawians are happy to sell their land because they see no benefit from it – worsening their poverty. Farming is very expensive in Malawi and the state has done very little to make it affordable and attractive.

There is farm input subsidies programme (FISP) but this is a merely political programme. It is the gesture that matters. No one cares what happens once the subsidies have been distributed. Estimates show that postharvest loss in Malawi is at 30% annually. Yet, the state is not taking investment in technologies to cub these losses seriously if at all. Leaving everything to profit making multinational corporations. No wonder FISP has failed to reduce the number of beneficiaries. On the contrary, the number of beneficiaries has increased.

Calling Malawians lazy for their plight only is misguided and it is self-defeating. I know some who was keeping cattle for milk production. Around 2009 he started investing in equipment for cheese production. He was going to add five to his five and six permanent and seasonal workers, respectively. This would help reducing unemployment, extra tax revenue for the government and more utility bills for its struggling parastatals.

All these plans were abandoned around 2010/ 11 when Malawi economy nosedived, epitomised by dry fuel pumps, lack of foreign currency, constant electricity outages and frozen aid due the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s kamikaze economic policies and poor governance. This is why it is naïve to think that progress and prosperity can be detached from politics.

Any company, organisation or business venture needs healthy, educated and workers, it is the state that is entrusted with providing good health and education services. Businesses need reliable electricity, reliable communications infrastructure, good road networks etc. All these services are provided by the state. Where these services are patchy or absent entrepreneurship will struggle. This subject can take so many angles; this is one of them.

END NOTE: In their New Year messages leaders are fond of asking Malawians to be hardworking. There may yet be a similar message this year. The above is my alternative New Year message.

Happy New Year! Wishing you a prosperous 2015.

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Comment number 41, well written, point taken.

peter muthanyula
Look here Jimmy… you are spot on! But hey, as long as we depend on donors, we will never be innovative, hard-working, or anything else. It is not in Americas interest for Malawi to develop. It is not in the British, French, Germany, etc interest either. We need to understand the global political economy first, then we can make sensible gains. Malawi needs to make its priorities right, and stop dancing to the tunes of the donors. Check this: How many students graduate from Bunda collage every year? How many of them own farms or grow crops? Why don’t we… Read more »
Ngoma, Thomas, London
Ngoma, Thomas, London
The state of poverty Malawi finds itself in is not due to “Laziness”. Let me shed some light on this issue from a professional angle. Do not waste your time blaming one another. I will be a little bit technical (not too much) since we are in public debate here. The main reason Malawi is poor and it is struggling to get out of this poverty trap is because of lack of means of production and the obsession with demand side economics. The country is in a state of Malthusian economic stagnation state or as Richard Nelson has described it,… Read more »
Change me quick
Bingu said ‘ Malawi is not poor but the people are” TRUE. Which are these people? Did he mean alimi kumudzi? Nonse mukamalemba za lezinesi zanuzo you refer to us farmers. are you hard workers? Mukanena za umphawi, mmalawi, you point at us small farmers, are you employed workers rich people? Ntchito mukugwirayo itatha lero, can you sustain yourselves. Simubwera kumudzi inu kuzangofikira kufa ndi ulesiwo. Nyumbanso kumudzi mulibe kaya muzafikira pati. When we say we Malawians are lazy, it is all of us, Educated or not educated. Tonse lazy lazy lazy. Ma strike mukupangawo siulesi wokhawokhawo. If you had… Read more »
We Malawians lack innovativeness and we think just as the writer thinks. A lot of laziness and suffering from excusitis disease. People in big posts in Malawi die poor because they cant think of what to do with their money apart from chewing and moowing till the grass is over. Why emphasise on foreign investers when such people can do just that. Our towns look very outdated because we think it is governments duty to develop towns and cities by bringing in Malawi foreingers to build for us. Tulo amalawi. Wait a minute!!! should we keep on complaining about our… Read more »

zoona amalawi ndi alesi they want easy money thus all maka achinyamata amasikuano.

the fact is as much as government has contributed a lot to the poor economy of the nation, most Malawiain people are lazy full stop. malawians too lack leadership at all levels that can reinforce productive work ethic. The political situation in the countries just makes the already existing problem worse.Unfortunately Malawians dont even know that they are lazy coz the majority dont even know the other side of the coin, that pple in developed nations believe in work and that work and time managenement are crucial to development .Mavuto a ku malawi ndi osasimba kuti nkuyambira pati. malawi will… Read more »
All in all, let’s accept we are lazy people as Malawians. Hardworking spirit advocated by HE Kamuzu Banda ended during HE Muluzi. During Kamuzu, Malawian Currency to a US Dollare was 2 : 1 because he knew that Malawi could survive with intensive agriculture. Many estates used irrigation for Tobacco before the inset of rains, but 20 years down the line, there is no trace of irrigation in these estates. In other works, we are moving from bad to worse. During HE Kamuzu, there was no FISP but the country developed through agriculture because there were loans accessed by Farmers… Read more »

I agree with this treatise. It is not fair to call Malawi citizens lazy when the state does not provide the conducive environment to make them work with dedication.


The bottom line remains that we are indeed very lazy. There are more countries where its citizens are richer than their governments. Despite the governments weaknesses, as citizens we really need to adopt the hard working spirit like the Chinese.

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