As we approached the 50th anniversary of our independence, a number of media practitioners expressed or sought views on the failures and achievements of Malawi during the half century just gone by.
The consensus was that Malawi had underperformed in economics and social development. Some inquisitive people then asked what then must we do so that during the next 50 years Malawi should achieve optimum development. Admittedly, Malawi started its independence with more resources than some of the countries which have outpaced it on the development race.
The 50th anniversary of our independence is now behind us. Are we still asking the same question and are we receiving the same answers?
Whoever in Malawi holds a position of responsibility for the development of this country should spare us time to read the supplementary issue of the African Business magazine dated August/September 2014 headed on the front cover ‘Singapore-Africa’ Business Summit 2014.
We learn that the tiny island State has the per capita income of $61 000 and that is richest non resource-based in the world. We learn moreover that the 20th century great English writer W. Somerset Maugham upon visiting Singapore described the island as the most squalid in the world and the ethnic Chinese Malays Indians and a few Europeans who made up the population were constantly at each other’s throat.
Malawi is constantly being categorised as one of the poorest countries in Africa. An economist from one of the British universities who has specialised in monitoring economic development in Africa has painted a gloomy picture for Malawi’s future. We need not be demoralised by prophets of doom.
The famous Swedish economist, Gunnar Myrdal, winner of the Noble Prize has written despondently about the countries of the Far East which are now becoming the economic axis of the world.
How did Singapore raise itself from the depths of misery to glaring opulence? Answers are given in the magazine issue cited above. A few extracts will do for those who really care about the misery and plight of Malawi.
First, we learn that Singapore success has been built on its human capital and on the systems and process it has developed. In elaboration we are told.
“It (success) has been built on discipline on long-term detailed planning and will carry through the plans on the absolute intolerance of corruption. It has been built on law and order and total respect for contracts and agreements. It has been built on knowledge of how the world works its own strengths and weaknesses and how to make the most of everything.”
The paragraph ends with the words that the things stated above can be replicated at least in some measure. The heading of this article include imitation and innovation is confirmed by Antoine Van Agtnael in his book ‘The Emerging Market Century’. On page 120 he writes “Initiation is not only the sincerest form of flattery, but a key short cut to the economic success was the game in Taiwan. As was true for the United State in the 19th century, Japan in the early 20th century and the Asian Tigers and China today, successful imitation has too often been conducted by the mean of flagrant violation of industrial property rights.
No conscientious economic philosopher would coerce his country’s businesspeople to violate the property rights of other businesspeople even if the latter are foreigners. But economic histories, past and present, point to imitation as the first step for a company or country to take and make a breakthrough.
The trouble with our leaders is that in the past they have not done must to acquaint themselves with what was being done in countries others were talking or writing about. A country that won’t imitate will stagnate and that which imitates will find it easier to innovate and move forward.
Much is being said about having more scientists and engineers, well said, but these wonderful people will require the backing of institutions which are well managed by those who have qualified in humanities and social science.
We must have well stocked libraries with relevant books and journals. All officials and politicians should be enthused to read veraciously. This is the age of knowledge. To be ignorant is to be incompetent. n