An industry can be simply defined as a number of companies producing identical and/or complementary goods or services for a targeted group of customers within an economy.
Basically, the importance of industry (or commerce) for a country is multifold; it produces goods and/or services that satisfy the needs and wants of the people, it brings in money for the producing companies, it creates employment for the economy, it positively contributes to the standard of living of the citizenry, and so on.
Steven Rosenberg, in his article on BBC titled Luhansk: The Ukrainian City Where Lenin Still Stands, quotes one Alexei, a pro-government shop attendant in Ukraine—a country currently in civil unrest following their administration’s pulling out of an economic pact with the European Union—defending his suggestion of dividing Ukraine into two parts (the eastern part, where he lives, and the rioting western part) by saying: “We will be fine here in the East. We’ve got all the industry, we’ve got all the coal.”
Basically, Alexei’s statement highlights the magic of industry or commerce for any particular nation; it gives the ones owning and running it (the entrepreneurs, the beneficiaries) some say in the governing of their countries.
Now, the begging question is: How much of the industry do we, as ordinary Malawians, own and run here?
First, it has to be acknowledged here that it is generally felt that commerce can be used as a tool for negotiating our desires with our leaders.
This follows the idea that the individuals owning or actively involved in the running of industries in their nations cultivate some power and influence for themselves. Some of these entrepreneurs, the well-meaning ones, even go a step further by using their power to influence government policies for the betterment of their fellow citizens. One can safely call this phenomenon governing through industry.
At this point, however, one would ask: Can this happen here in Malawi? Well, yes it can. It should! Don’t we have a classic model to learn from in our fellow African, the Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote?
Because of his status in the industry (he owns and runs a good number of them), this decorated entrepreneur sits on the board of the Governing Council of Nigeria, contributing to the policies that affect the well-being of his fellow citizens. Is he a politician? No, he is a business captain!
Therefore, we will be making a big mistake if we just sit down and let foreigners run over 90 percent of our industries (do they have Malawi’s best interests at heart?), or if we let politicians run our industries (won’t we be giving them absolute power, power to abuse?). This has been the case so far, unfortunately.
Second, it has to be highlighted here that it is generally felt that the bigger the industry is in a country, the easier it gets for governments to be responsible.
Adding flesh to the point above, one Michael Ngwira, a seasoned player in the energy sector, always states that most of the challenges that we (the citizens of the Third World) encounter emanate from the fact that our governments are bigger than our commerce.
In simple terms, this assertion means that compared to our industries, our governments have been the bigger suppliers and buyers of goods and services, the bigger business partners for foreign investors and the bigger employers for the citizenry. In these scenarios, unfortunately, governments are in control of the resources with little or no responsibility at all, as demonstrated in the last two decades.
Now, the question might be: If our commerce was to be bigger than our government(s), would we be having sufficient drugs in our hospitals, timely salaries for our civil servants, and prudent management of public finances? Well, why not?
One would argue that we have paid a blind eye to the power of industry. It is about time that we, ordinary Malawians, build mighty industries, and enjoy the influence that comes with such.
—The author, who works in the energy sector, is writing in his private capacity.