On the way to 2014 – telling it like it is

“Malawians are afraid of their future, they are afraid that they can’t feed their families. They are afraid that they can’t get their ARVs or transport their crops to the market or power their factories, schools and hospitals….And some are even afraid to have a conversation and that is a worrisome situation to be in.” – The United States Ambassador to Malawi Jeanine Jackson on Capital FM`s Straight Talk.

Malawi – a nation in a precarious position

Malawi is facing a multitude of challenges. Whilst Malawi is struggling, there has cropped up an added complication in the form of a global economic meltdown. Even the donors, it seems, are broke so where can we turn to?

The good news is that after Civil Society and Private Sector pressure, today, even Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Cabinet Ministers agree, though not in so many words, that the Mutharika Administration is the main culprit.

Chikaonda: Mediocrity

The DPP government opted to live in a fairytale even when the situation was getting more precarious by the day. They were, among other things, busy; shifting the sun from the upper part to the middle part of the national flag under the misguided delusion that Malawi had finally made it.

Our leadership counted chickens before the eggs had hatched and the result is that right now, to put it mildly: we do not know which tree to grab, hence we are clutching at straws.

Malawi – where we came from

Like it or not, accept it or reject it, Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda did lay some sort of foundation. His policies left Malawi some sort of a foothold on the global market. We were dependent on aid yes, but an agro-based export base was being cultivated.

From 1964 onwards, substantial investments were made in the tea, cotton, coffee, soya, exotic fish, sugar and the now not so reliable tobacco industries. Under the one party dictatorship, Malawi was acknowledged or beginning to be known as a ranking exporter of these commodities.

Dr. H. K. Banda, in all fairness, could not have been expected to stack piles and piles of US Dollars for latter day Malawi to benefit from, no. Even if he had managed this superhuman feat, very little if any, would have survived the lost decade that superseded his fall from power.

By the lost decade, I mean the 1994-2004 yellow decade of myopic economic vision, that was worsened by corruption and non-existent fiscal prudence.

Malawi – what we have been doing

Sadly, that lost decade, judging by what we have witnessed so far, is now being followed by yet another decade of corruption, misplaced priorities, plunder, dictatorship, nepotism and praise-singing. In fact, we have not gone back to square one, we have gone several squares squares back, hence the fear alluded to by the Ambassador.

While what we did in the yellow decade was to sit back and relax – after all big papa had done it all for us and all we had is to grab, grab and repossess from him; under the current regime, typical of a government led by opportunists, we went for the low hanging fruits and have stopped there.

Maize, maize and more maize for the masses. Keep their belles full and they should forever be grateful. We have gone to the extent of exporting and donating this commodity around, making a loud noise as we went about it. We can even afford to gift Comrade Bob Mugabe a cool US$20 million!

Becoming a self-feeding nation is good, but it is not good enough. Just as man shall not live by bread alone, a country’s economy cannot be fueled by maize alone – and this sort of shallow thinking is the root cause of the perennial forex deficiency.

After achieving the maize dream – which is not a new feat – it was the story, year after year of the one party rule when rains did not fail; why the “economic engineer” did not set a higher target – for example replacing tobacco as our major export earner with another crop or something else – only his blue eyed praise-singers can tell us.

A neutral observer could not be faulted for construing that the economic engineer who has failed to live up to his billing is actually a vision-less low-aiming chap, and an economic pussy cat to boot (to borrow the words of Davis Katsonga) who easily gets satisfied with what Dr Mathews Chikaonda calls mediocrity.

Malawi’s expectations of a genuine economic engineer

After Bakili Muluzi, Malawi needed someone who would have set higher goals for the nation. A visionary leader who would have, among other things, identified a sustainable commodity or better still commodities to feed Malawi’s foreign exchange reserves and growth and not only our bellies.

Unfortunately, what we ended up with is a character with an extra large ego and a huge appetite for consuming foreign exchange reserves. Need I cite examples? The shattered tri-maybach dream, a luxurious jet, long unexplained long holidays abroad when our tourism officials are encouraging us to patronize our hotels, extensive external travels complete with a battalion of his idiots that make the voyages of discovery dwarf in comparison are just the tip of the iceberg.

What Malawi needs now (skip this if you hate details, wherein lies the devil)

Rwanda´s Paul Kagame, acknowledging the fact that wisdom to run a country cannot be exclusive to one man (mutu umodzi siwusenza denga in Chichewa), engaged Michael Eugene Porter, the Bishop William Lawrence University Professor at Harvard Business School and a leading authority on company strategy and the competitiveness of nations and regions to study the case of Rwanda and suggest the way forward. To date, the eminent professor is a member of Rwanda’s President Advisory Council (PAC).

Without going into the boring details (which are available on the web if you care to google  Rwanda and this professor’s name); the thrust of Michael Porter`s theories is that the global market place is a daunting place and to excel on it as a nation, a nation must assess itself in the context of the determinants of competitiveness at two levels: macro and micro.

While each one of us has a role to play at the micro level, the state is the convener on the macro level. In this regard, the state must create and sustain an enabling macroeconomic environment in political, legal, and social context.

To create and foster a sustainable macro-environment, government must devolve the process of economic development from a top-down approach to a collaborative process involving government at multiple levels, the private sector, universities, research institutions, and business associations.

After this process, the government should facilitate creation of clusters that can provide a framework for organizing the implementation of public policy and public investments towards economic development. It should define the roles of each cluster, align them with economic policy, and lo, you have the framework of a nation’s competitive agenda.

Since in this age and time, competitiveness cannot be achieved only by reducing weaknesses, focus must be building on existing and potential strengths.

To put this in plain language, instead of wasting our time massaging aged egos, we need to do an honest SWOT Analysis and assess Malawi’s competitive advantage with a view to coming up with ways and means of changing her status from a net importer to a net exporter. Fullstop.

Without being overly pedantic, I would urge you to google any data bank: World Bank, IMF, CIA or UN resources; compare Rwanda and Malawi from 2004 to date and bear in mind that not too long ago Rwanda was under civil strife, while Malawi has always enjoyed peace. You can come then to your own conclusion.

Road to 2014 – Lies, lies and damn lies

Against this background, on road to 2014, Mrs Joyce Banda, Mr John Tembo, Mr Atupele Muluzi, and Prof Peter Mutharika have weighed in. No-one, none of them, has so far dropped a hint that they are the “high aimer” that Malawi urgently requires.

They will nevertheless between now and 2014, be haranguing the masses with a lot of crap, “I will do this and I will do that”.

Unless one of them proposes a national vigil where we can, together, evaluate our worth as a nation, do some introspection, assess our competitive advantage on the global market and unless they can map out how they will preside over this process and steer the nation towards what needed to be done years back, all their campaign talk will be lies, lies and damned lies.

My advice to these contenders, if they cannot go along these lines or even better this, they are better off telling us what sort of mansions and mausoleums they will construct once elected. We will still vote for them to deal with them when our time comes.

Conclusion

When I can help it, I strive not to sign-off with a message of doom, so I will focus on the positives. Malawi has not been totally deserted yet. It has some bona fide investors, who despite the challenging environment, are hanging on. These can help in the process above. These brave investors should be given space to do their business.

To be blunt, the DPP government and its mafia should not harass them as it desperately tries to raise funds for the 2014 Campaign, construction of DPP national offices, DPP functions through threats and intimidation.

As a nation we have more to lose. The investors can take their capital elsewhere – where there are fewer or no electricity blackouts. And where a ready and steady availability of fuel is the norm and not the exception as is the case in Malawi under the current regime.

Am sure DPP functionaries would not want to wake up one day to find that the sun has crept back to the upper crest of the national flag, where it belongs, and so be warned.

I rest my case.

 

*Wise One from the East

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