The Africa of today engenders both pessimism and optimism. The agonies that create pessimism are civil wars, lawlessness that amount to civil wars as well as incurable diseases.
As a result of the random partition of Africa, some ethnic groups were split into several imperial domains. Since independence, these now belong to different nations while some have accepted the colonial boundaries as fait accompli, others have not.
Some ethnic groups formerly hostile to each other were forced to belong to the same country. They have not yet accepted their common nationality. Instead, they have taken up arms to fight for what they regard as domination by foreigners, black though they are.
Civil wars retard development not only in the countries of origin but also neighbouring ones as well. These days tourism continues to decline in Kenya not because of the election that took place in 2007, but because of the lawlessness that has tormented Somalia for nearly three decades. Tourists hesitate to go to Kenya because of incursions of Somalia’s Al-shabab. In West Africa, Nigeria’s Boko Haram is now kidnapping personalities in neighbouring countries.
As if these were not afflictions enough for Africa, the dreaded disease called Aids has found an ally in Ebola, which is also said to be incurable and is spreading in a mysterious manner. It sees nurses treating Ebola patients at risk of catching the disease more than nurses treating Aids patients.
Some people have been making false alarms about the advent of the Ebola into Malawi. They are inviting us to come in the manner boys in Aesop’s fables who were making false alarms about wolves, for a day came that was accompanied by wolves.
The spread of HIV and Aids could have been slowed down but for the cavalier policy of the then Ministry of Health and the hypocrisy of faith leaders.
When the nation learned that a new disease called HIV and Aids had been identified in other countries and might be on the way to Malawi, the Ministry of Health issued a statement advising the public not to be scared, saying the real killer disease was malaria.
When at last the disease was diagnosed in Malawi, faith leaders stood up in pulpits, preached against the use of condoms, saying they would encourage promiscuity, yet promiscuity had been growing in Africa since urbanisation started and young men and women began to despise superstitions which had been instrumental in preventing immoral habits.
Enough about the afflictions. The annual conference report of the Royal Economic Society (British) discussed one of the most surprising (transitions)—the improving economic prospects of Africa.
Among other unexpected (one and perhaps unlikely) developments in recent economic news is the rather impressive growth performance of African economies from the 1990s back to rates last seen during the optimistic 1960s and 1970s.
Some of the discussants dismissed the African boom as likely to be short-lived because it is said to be commodity based. If prices of the commodities in international markets tumble, the growth rate might decelerate.
Paul Collier of Oxford, a well-known authority on economics of Africa, argued that for Africa to succeed, it does not need only its resources assets, but to build the capacity as well. It must invest in investing; develop the institutions and know-how to take advantage of its advantages.
One of the participants, John Sutton, examined the prospects for African industry. The continent’s governments were advised to focus on building a proper foundation. Though Africa has manufacturing potential, according to Sutton, much of it is not particularly productive, neither is it linked to global supply chains and markets.
Africa needs foreign direct investment, a good deal of it, and begin building its industrial capabilities. Fortunately, it was further noted that multi-national corporations are for the first time taking a hard look at the opportunities presented by Africa, south of Sahara.
Africa’s prospects have brightened but then Africa is vast. Has Malawi some prospects? We have learned of late that all Malawi’s neighbours are doing much better. Who among us has taken note of this, and what are we doing about it?
The problem in our multiparty system is that when one regime departs, the succeeding one wants to start afresh. Lack of continuity means knowledge and experience are not given chance to grow.
Time and time I have written on this page that Malawi should be better organised for development. I do not think making the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development subordinated to the Ministry of Finance is strategic enough. Let us study the models of those countries that have overcome the problems which continue to frustrate us. We have been talking for too long. Now let us act and produce results.