Looking at the physical and social infrastructures he had built, Dr Hasting Kamuzu Banda boasted that he had transformed Malawi out of recognition. Physical infrastructures comprise tarmac roads from Bangula, Nsanje in the South to Karonga, in the North. Social infrastructure comprised secondary schools in every district, the University of Malawi and new referral hospital.
What did all this mean in respect of people’s lives? More than once Dr Banda proclaimed that it did not matter what his people, Malawians, lacked so long as they sleep in houses that did not leak, wore decent clothes and had enough food.
Presidents who came after Dr Banda say they have transformed the country if they repaired roads and bridges here and there, assisted 50 000 people to have houses with bricks and iron sheets. Anybody who had heard or read about the American psychologist Abraham Maslow would say all these constitute the basic human needs at the bottom of the ladder. What do other countries mean by economic transformation?
In a newsletter magazine of the Royal Economic Society dated January 2018, we read of what has happened in Hong Kong, Britain’s last Asian colony. A quotation will tell the story better.
“Sir John Cowperthwaite, who was deputy and actual finance minister for Hong Kong between 1951 and 1971, was enormously influenced by his study of (Adam) Smith, Cowperthwaite more than anyone laid the economic policy foundation that drove Hong Kong’s remarkable post-war economic growth..
In 1950s, Hong Kong (PPP adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) was around 30 percent that of its mother country, Britain. Now it has a GDP per capita that is 40 percent higher.
In two generations, Hong Kong has not only achieved the growth in living standards that Britain delivered between 1855 and today, but it has surpassed that to enjoy prosperity equal to that of the United States and Switzerland. And it is not just its wealth that has overtaken Britain so too has its longevity and education performance.
Well, fellow African not just fellow Malawians, let us give a thought to what the Chinese in mainland China, Taiwan and Singapore and Hong Kong have done. Most African countries have minerals, oil rich agricultural land, other natural resources more than these countries have. And yet in terms of growth, we are grossly outperformed. What is right with them and what is wrong with us?
To understand why some countries develop faster than others, we must analyse the quality of manpower, political leaders, entrepreneurs and the rank and file. These count more than the natural resource of a country in development economics.
How did Sir John Cowperthwaite lay the foundation of Hong Kong’s future prosperity? We are informed in the same article that his deep practical knowledge was intertwined with his understanding of economic theory. He believed in the insight of the classical economists of Smith Ricard and Mill, a laissez faire approach. But fundamentally he was pragmatic not an idealist.
The article concludes thus: “As economists, politicians and administrators search for ways to reignite economic growth, could it be that approach the combines more holistic theory with specific observation in language that is widely understood unfiltered by layer of business lobbyists and bureaucratic interest, will once more provide the richest seams as to what to do?”
Perhaps the above question has more to do with those developed countries which have lost their momentum such as Britain which in the 18th and 19th centuries was the world’s richest country; hence, its ability to build the largest empire in the modern world.
Besides sharpening our skills as entrepreneurs, administrators and workers we will have to decide on the appropriate economic theory and system to guide ours. Must we adopt chipetanomics, adumbrated in a booklet titled The Communist Manifesto by Professor Chinyamata Chipeta? At a later date and occasion I hope to discuss this new brand of economics which repudiates both socialism and capitalism.
For the time being, we should observe successful countries like Hong Kong, their education, the subject they teach, how they appoint executives and administrators, how they treat people with talent. Do they also practise pull him/her down as people do in the Republic of Abunturika? Simly prodding along saying business as usual won’t do, we must think, hatch ideas and try to implement them. To be the poorest country in the world is sad and bad. n