“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.
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.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :