There was a time when groups such as the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) used to rail, almost every day, against macroeconomic instability—volatile exchange rates, high inflation and interest rates and wide budget deficits—as major factors affecting private sector development, economic growth and attraction of foreign direct investment (FDI).
Unreliable water and electricity supply, unending red tape and high transportation costs owing to the country’s landlocked nature, among other encumbrances, also made the list of major constraints to doing business in Malawi and attracting investment.
MCCCI still worries about these bottlenecks and will continue to do so for a long time given that the medium to long term outlook on all these challenges remains bleak.
But now the private sector will have to add at the top of the list homeland insecurity as the greatest emerging threat to doing business and the country’s efforts to attract FDI. Yet, of late, the Ministry of Industry and Trade as well as the Malawi Investment Trade Centre (MITC) have gone out of their way and all over the world to attract FDI.
They had an investors conference in London that was followed by arguably the biggest investor indaba in Lilongwe last year where global business players and financiers were brought together to look at Malawi up close, and probably, even personal so that they should put it on the list of their must come investment destinations.
The ministry has even developed an investment compendium in which a list of bankable projects was developed and is being marketed for potential investment in such sectors as energy, manufacturing and agriculture.
But with the free-for-all criminal activities across the country, which investors would be willing to come to Malawi?
The case of the multi-billion railway line developed by Vale is a particularly depressing one.
There, suspected criminals are attacking trains on the railway line from Moatize to the Indian Ocean port of Nacala in Mozambique through Malawi mostly to siphon diesel from trains.
The line also passes through Chikwawa, Blantyre Rural, Balaka and Machinga districts.
In a sign of how sick we are becoming as a country, hundreds of villagers along the railway line have literally turned train hijacking and theft of diesel on the locomotives their way of life and ‘formal’ source of income with law enforcement agencies just looking on—and lying about it!
Has our cultural fabric been eroded so much that traditional leaders and other political leaders such as members of Parliament (MPs) and councillors can sit back and watch members of their communities stealing with such abandon?
Has government become so hopeless that it can watch as its corporate citizens lose millions of kwacha everyday to village thugs? Is this the confirmation we have been waiting for that we are a banana republic? I mean, how different are our village thugs from the pirates in the failed Somali state that terrorise maritime activities through hijacking of ships and kidnapping?
Where is the Malawi Police Service (MPS) any way? Is Malawi now Iraq or Afghanistan where companies have to assemble private armies to protect their investments?
I mean, government is busy trying to invite foreigners into our energy sector. What will stop the now emboldened villagers who see government as weak on security, from prising out solar panels and wind harnessing equipment that could be planted across the country’s landscape by the investors we are courting?
If, for example, an Israeli firm comes to invest in the country’s irrigation farming, what will stop our villagers from stealing irrigation pipes and other equipment?
Government left this cancer for too long and now it is spreading so fast it cannot be controlled. For how long have Malawi Telecommunications Limited (MTL) and other mobile companies been complaining of vandalism of their communication infrastructure such as cables?
For how long has Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) asked for help to combat the rising vandalism of its transformers and other transmission and distribution equipment?
With the lawlessness happening in this country, one wonders whether we have a government in place or we are in a jungle where anyone can determine the rules!
If government is not careful, homeland insecurity could become the biggest threat to the country’s economic growth and development.
And that will be unforgivable.