How many Malawians spend sleepless hours agonising not only about the poverty of our nations, but also its failure to make steady progress towards higher living standards? Possibly not the majority of us.
Maybe our economic difficulties are due to the fact that geographically, Malawi is not only small but also landlocked. But then look at Rwanda, it is smaller and is farther from the sea. The media keep letting us know that Rwanda has become a favourite destination for foreign direct investment and is growing fast. So, what does Rwanda have that Malawi does not have?
Some people will say Paul Kagame is a better leader and president than the presidents Malawi has been producing during the multi-party era. It has been said a people get the type of leadership they deserve. Unlike the governors who were sent by the colonial office to rule us, these leaders have emerged from our ranks, they are our choice. If we have been making wrong choices, we have only ourselves to blame.
It is true that some charismatic leaders have been the main force behind a country’s economic development. Behind the development of Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, we can identify the leadership qualities of Lee Kuan Yew and Chiang Kai-Shek. But look at Japan, I can recall at least three quarters of the presidents of United States and prime ministers of United Kingdom since World War II, but I cannot recall one tenth of Japan’s prime ministers during the same period. This is because every three or five years, Japan has been having a new prime minister yet during that period, economically Japan forged ahead and until recently dominated world markets. The culture of the nation matter as much as the calibre of leadership.
Kitu kinache kuuma kiko nguoni mwako, the thing that is biting you is right there and is your garment, thus says a Swahili speaking adage. When we point our fingers at our leaders, we notice three fingers point at us. For the slow growth of the Malawi economy we, the elite of the nation, are as much to blame as our leaders. Our culture may not be conducive to economic dynamism. Self-analysis is called for here.
Four decades ago, I stopped at a cluster of shops near Loudon Mission in Mzimba District. Nearby stood two boys and a girl. One of the boys started proposing the girl, while his companion was urging the girl to accept him. “Those who accept a boy’s proposal,” said the girl, “take into account what he can offer besides love, for a example, a young man may be operating a store.”
The friend of the wooer said: “Aha, my friend you must have a shop. Let us go and steal somebody’s money as others have done and then open a shop.”
Earlier, I had read a short story in the Drum magazine by a Ghanaian. A woman was recruiting an orphan girl for life in a brothel. “Do you see those market women prospering? They were first here before they started business.”
In these anecdotes, we see the mindset that says to become rich, commit a crime or live a corrupt life. It is this disease of the mind that is behind the Cashgate scandals and the corruption in various forms that has ruined and is ruining our country. It must be curtailed. People in top echelons rob the government apparently without scruples as court testimonies during the Cashgate highlight. Malawians will not achieve a good deal of development by merely reforming institutions. We must reform ourselves as well.
Money is indispensible. Without it you have, instead, hunger, diseases and poverty. But lust is the cancer of our nation and is retarding development. One or two persons may become wealthy through dishonesty. But when people, especially members of the elite engage in illicit dealings, a country rots. Malawi is rotting.
A nation progresses where leaders facilitate an atmosphere that is conducive to self-realisation. For most of the time since independence, Malawi has enjoyed a measure of law and order. It is said necessity is the mother of invention. Has the elite of the nation seen any type of necessity existing in the country? Perhaps it has, but there has been no inventiveness. Individuals, innovators and inventors like Richard Arkwright, Josiah Wedgewood, James Watt, George Stephenson and others were responsible for Britain’s industrial revolution.
The wealth of the United States was created by the invention of Thomas Alva Edison, the Wrights brothers and Henry Ford down to the inventors of computers and mobile phones.
It is said by some people that the age of individual inventors, research and development is gone and that potential inventors must work in groups such as government or company laboratories. This implies that to make headway in contributing to development, the State must support geniuses.
It is said that the reforms the President has initiated are a continuing process. This is welcome. But if reforms are going to be drastic, teams comprising reformers must be multi-talented. We should not hesitate to ask the United Nations (UN) to assist us by assigning experts they know to complement ours. n