In the African Business magazine of February 2013, the editor Anver Versi quotes the great scientist Albert Einstein as having said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Versi goes on to suggest there is this type of insanity in Africa, where despite the rhetoric about achieving food self-sufficiency, the continent remains food deficit. He attributes this to the fact that the majority of the farmers have not changed cultivation habits.
Those who have ears have heard what Einstein and Versi have said. No doubt, we Malawians have also heard, since we have ears. But the most important thing is to change the mindset and begin managing the economy of our country better and differently.
This is how the people of Singapore within a generation and a half took their country from the third world to the First World. There is still room enough in the First World to accommodate a new arrival from the Third World. Each country must prod itself upwards. How did Singapore do it?
That great achiever State ex-prime minister Lee Kuan Yew says “the other valuable asset we had was our people: hard-working thrifty, eager to learn. Although divided into several races, I believed a fair and even hand policy would get them to live peacefully together especially if such hardships as unemployment were shared equally, and not carried mainly by the minority groups.”
There are three points in this to relate to our case here: hardworking thrift, interracial and inter-ethnic justice. How do we Malawians fair on these virtues?
In volume 2 of History of Malawi ,the Phelps Stokes Commission on education in eastern Africa has been quoted as writing in 1924. “The type of native people are equal to the best in any part of Africa…of them it may be said, the other colonies they are serving, their own people they cannot serve.” This was in reference to Malawians at the time.
That observation was made about 90 years ago. How valid is it with us, descendants of the people the commission met and observed? It was common to hear employees in foreign countries saying they preferred a Nyasa as an employee, be he a cook or clerk. Nyasas were said to be exceptionally hardworking and honest. Is this still true about us?
I cannot boast of being a soccer fan, but I admire the game for two things. First, because it clearly reminds us that where there is team spirit, success is possible, where there is no cooperation between players and their captain, failure is inevitable. Secondly, the winning team and the losing team are not difficult to judge, the scores decide.
Whether a person is tall or short depends on whether he is among other people with whom we can compare him. Are Malawians as good football players as the best in Africa? Forget about that.
Some patriotic Malawians do not hesitate to affirm that Malawians are a hard-working people, perhaps they do not look beyond sub-Saharan Africa. When first president H. Kamuzu Banda and later president Bakili Muluzi visited Taiwan, they expressed amazement at the industriousness of the Taiwanese Chinese. Do we work as hard as the Chinese of Hong Kong, Singapore or the Peoples Republic of China? We operate in a global economy, our standards, whether industrial or educational must be close to the best of the world or else we will remain a Cinderella nation.
Prime minister Lee says his people virtues include thrift as a nation, are we frugal? While the economy is writhing with the thraldom of a recession, our honourable legislators are demanding allowances of petroleum worth hundreds of millions. They seem to take a “shauri yake” (it is up to her/him) attitude when the president asks where the money will come from.
In his autobiography, Lee Kuan Yew says, either voluntarily or by legislation the Singaporeans are able to save at least 20 percent of their earnings. When we begin doing this not only in Malawi but in the rest of Africa we will be economic lions to rival the economic tigers of the Far East.
The racial composition of Malawi is less complex than that of Singapore. But the effect that Lee took to make sure that burdens and bounties were shared equitably was a lesson to be emulated. No group whether racial, ethnic, religious or regional should be treated as a pariah. The civil wars we hear about in other parts of Africa are a result of discrimination.
If you compare photographs of people in Malawi attending either a political rally or church service in 1963, you cannot fail to notice that people today dress better, and look healthier. Many of them live in houses that do not leak as Dr H. Kamuzu Banda wished. Because of these changes over the past 50 years, we may draw the conclusion that Malawi has indeed developed beyond recognition, another phrase entertained by our first president. But once more, let us compare with what other countries have achieved.
In the autobiography, we learn that when Singapore started its independence its per capital income was 1000 dollars. Thirty years after, it had risen to 30 000 dollars. The per capita income had been growing at arithmetical progression of one thousand dollars annually.
—To be continued next week