From a distance, international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and development partners, hate inequality.
They say, in various studies and vast publications which they fund, inequality is a development threat to Malawi. They tell us—through expensive newspaper adverts and high panel television discussions—that the gap between the rich, who are in minority, and the poor, the majority, continue to widen. They, appearing quite concerned, fear that if this gap is not dealt with today, the fight against poverty will sound like a bark at the moon.
Well, I agree with them.
However, despite their concern about our inequality, I feel international NGOs and development partners, through their policies, are one of the many institutions that fuel inequality in Malawi.
Full board is one such policy. By full board, I mean a travel arrangement where the financier meets all your costs—from transportation, meals and accommodation.
I argue that full board arrangements trap money within the spectrum of the rich; it halts any opportunity for big monies which international NGOs have to trickle to the poor. You see, the problem of inequality, as Oxfam told us in that report, is not necessarily a product of lack of resources; rather it is a problem of resource distribution. The rich have deliberately created structures to ensure that they keep resources to themselves. This explains why the only one percent controls all the wealth in Malawi.
I know some of you are wondering, saying: What has this to do with full board?
Let me illustrate what I mean. Imagine, an international NGO wants to train journalists in effective human rights reporting for five days. As such, they have invited 42 journalists across the country and the meeting will be held at one of the expensive resorts in Mangochi.
We all know journalists are among the least paid professionals in Malawi and, again, most of them come from struggling families. Granted, two issues are critical, here, regarding how the 42 journalists, as human beings, can help fight poverty in Malawi and bridge inequality.
One, they have a chain of extended families they support; and two, they live and subsist in areas where most of the poor live.
Now, if the international NGO pays each journalist directly to meet his or her own transport, meal and accommodation costs, it means so much to bridging inequality. The money, for someone from Blantyre, would be close to either K180 000 using an average UN rate—to mean, money close K 7.5 million will be circulating around Mangochi.
You see, no sensible person would blow K180 000 on just expenses; you would choose to cut cost by subsisting on less expensive services. I am I lying?
We would all choose a reasonable lodge—that, again, means that lodge has been helped, the money has begun to trickle to the ground. You would, when going back home, buy some fish and some crafts along the way—again, the money continues to trickle to the ground. You would go to a cheaper bar and restaurant—further, trickling the money. You would go to kaunjika and spot a blouse or a shirt, in the process, trickling down the money.
To mean, after five days, perhaps half of K7.5 million will have been left in Mangochi. The rest, again, will be trickled down by helping relations, minibus drivers, grocery owners, tomato sellers and etc. I am sure by the end of K7.5 million, a lot of lives could have benefited.
With full board, the NGO will have paid more than K10 million to their fellow rich, in the process, keeping the money with the spectrum of the rich. n