Welcome to 2020. This year is critical for two main reasons. For the first time in Malawi’s history, the Constitutional Court will rule if it is right to accept defaced election result sheets and the deliberate maladministration of elections. The country will know this year if indeed in our 25-year-old limping democracy every vote cast has really mattered and been counted. What the court will determine will form the basis or reference for future judgments; not only in this politically wretched country but also in other first-past-the-post jurisdictions, particularly in the so-called British Commonwealth, a grouping that has undemocratically been headed by one woman since its inception.
2020 is also a critical year because it marks 25 years since the Vision 2020 development policy document was crafted to serve as Malawi’s long-term national blueprint. Twenty five years ago, we, ageing Malawians, dreamed of being food secure by this year yet reviews indicate that over $1.1 trillion (approximately K800 trillion) have been poured into agriculture alone since 1995 but Malawi is as food insecure as it was in 1995. What went wrong? Where did the money go?
The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) once reported that 30 percent of our national budget is lost through corruption. How to tame corruption should be considered seriously as we draft Vision 2063.
Twenty-five years ago, we,retiring Malawians, desired to be middle-income by this year, 2020. The World Bank defines middle income countries (MICs) as those economies whose gross national income (GNI) per capita hovers between $1 026 and $12 475. Currently, Malawi’s GNI per capita is $360 (with 2011 as the highest at $490 GNI per capita). And over the 25 year period Malawi steadily slipped to become poorer than Sierra Leone, Liberia, South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Mozambique; African countries that had gone, and some still are going, through exogenously funded internecine wars.
What went wrong? We hear consultants engaged to review the Vision 2020 blamed the failure of the said vision on us being overambitious or unrealistic. Ignore the dubious consultants. Now listen carefully.
As our economist and corporate strategy expert friend, Professor James Kamwachale Khomba argues, like did Bingu wa Mutharika, lack of long-term (over) ambition, big dreams, blueprints is our problem. We need to be overambitious. A person, household, institution, country or continent that is not overambitious, like the Biblical birds of the air, sets itself very easy, low-esteem, shortrun, kabwere-mawa, goals. Innovation and creativity are muted. Countries that are overambitious succeed because they believe in their potential and for them, not even the sky is the limit. They plan for life 100 or 500 years from today.
While we were busy bewitching each other, Russians and Americans were conquering space weightlessness and flying cosmonauts or astronauts such that by 1969 the Americans landed a person on the surface of the moon. Since then the space exploration frenzy has intensified so much so that the Chinese, considered third world and poor 50 years ago, broke the record recently by being the first and only country to land a probe on the dark side of the moon. Ambition drives creativity and innovation. Lack of ambition drives society into poverty.
During the 2019 elections campaigns, presidential candidate Saulos Chilima said at a Nkhotakota rally that his dream was to introduce bullet trains in Malawi. But presidential candidate, Peter Arthur Mutharika, told the world at a different Nkhotakota rally that Chilima was childishly over-dreaming, overambitious and even lying because Malawi, with its perennial power outages, could not afford the introduction of bullet trains. Instead, he promised to continue with his realistic programmes, coal-powered electricity generation, Malata and Cement Subsidy, and the notoriously resource draining corruption-ridden Farm Input Subsidy (Fisp). And Malawians believed Peter Arthur Mutharika and he is now His Excellency the President.
Now you will appreciate why we cannot develop. We are what we invest in.
Kenya, which is just seven months older than Malawi, operates high-speed electric trains between Mombasa and Nairobi. By December 2019, Tanzania was due to launch daily high speed trains between Dar es Salaam and Morogoro and eventually Mwanza. That is what ambition leads to.
Malawi cannot even operate a diesel operated passenger train between its cities. That is what lack of ambition leads to.
One of the researchers and drafters of the now-discredited Vision 2020, a senior world renowned economist agrees with Professor Khomba that Vision 2020 failed not because the national long-term development blueprint was overambitious or did not have actionable implementation plans but because the politicians did not align their economic plans to the national vision.
As we prepare for Vision 2063, let’s first have a national dialogue involving development experts, economists, journalists, politicians, chiefs, faith leaders, witches and wizards on what stopped us from not implementing the Vision 2020. Let’s learn to listen to our collective self before we listen to those don’t-be-overambitions consultants that are nailing us into coffins of perpetual poverty.