Imagine this: A boy aged 16 and a 14 year old girl living in the rural areas of Malawi, fall in love. A few things happen in secret, and nine months later, their secret is fully revealed at a free government hospital, where the young lady becomes a mother and drops out of primary school. The boy now turned father, goes only as far as form two. He has about half an acre of land where he grows some maize, and thanks to almost free, heavily subsidized farm inputs, he can produce maize to last the family at least seven months. He doesn’t have to worry about the shortfall because there are plenty of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), who will come to their rescue with free donations.
Six years down the line, their daughter starts free primary school where she is fed free porridge, so the father doesn’t have to work any harder to provide the porridge at home. The young couple has two more children, one aged 3, and another just a year old. Of course, the mother is expecting their fourth child. They don’t pay anything for the health services for their three children. They drink free water from a borehole which was a donation from a local NGOs. Each time they go to the market, they cross a bridge which was donated as a campaign project by their local Member of Parliament (MP).
Last week, they were at a funeral of a relation, whose coffin came completely free from the MP. This week, they are attending some training on modern farming methods, fully sponsored by an international NGO, and it is a cash boost to the family because they are receiving daily allowances. Another NGO two months ago, came to construct pit latrines at the school where their child goes to, again, another free donation to their village.
From a battery operated radio, their most prized asset,comes a message, “mukachokakuchimbudzi, sambanimmanja. Uthengawuukukufikanindithandizolochokeraku USAID” (wash your hands after using the toilet – this message is brought to you with financial support from USAID). It is now 7pm and the Chichewa new bulletin announces that His Excellence the State President has just signed a grant worth MK215bn HIV/Aidsfrom the Global Fund, more free medications on the way, Hallelujah! And more great news: The government of China has approved some loans and grants worth MK855bn for various projects in the country, including the purchase furniture for some government offices.
The scenario above, has been repeatingitself for at least five decades. Over 80% of the population was born in, or has access to free health services. Primary education is free, they walk on free roads, and receive free food whenever they don’t produce enough. Thanks to democracy, they have politicians who compete to outdo each other on offering freebies, be it a cow, goats, cement bags,a few iron sheets or even coffins.
Then picture this: A leader shares a dream – “We must become a producing and an exporting nation”. The people look at the leader blankly, wondering, “Why the hell must we be produce and export? We have almost everything we want for free here, get lost!” Fearing he or she will lose their votes, the leader goes around the world to ask for more freebies and crippling loans from economically developed governments whose citizens have been taught the need for hard work and taking personal responsibility for their lives.
Getting to the roots of our poverty, economic malaise and hopelessness will demand that we sober up and realize that with each freebie,we are developing a lazy, irresponsible and handout-addicted society. It’s time we hold an open and frank discussion as a nation, realizing that 51 years of freebies and more debts has bred more poverty and economic misery. We need to realize that we have successfully created a dependent society that believes it is entitled to donations and freebies. With business as usual, we are on a runaway train to the abyss of more poverty, hunger, pain and suffering.
The real reform that will transform this nation economically is mindset transformation. We must realize that until we make radical and painful changes, we might as well accept that we will forever be labelled “one of the poorest nations on earth”.
Economic “breakthrough” cannot be a list of debts and grants from China or anywhere else. We must be ashamed to be a beggar nation and resolve to work our way out of poverty .As President Paul Kagame of Rwanda advises: “There has to come a time when we rely on ourselves. Never forget that no one owes us anything. We must work for it. Why should citizens of other nations be responsible for us?”
- The author is president of Economist Association of Malawi and writes in his individual capacity