Five hours before I started working on a script for this article, I was visited by a representative of one of the broadcasting stations. He asked me what I thought about the World Bank’s report that Malawi is the poorest country since it has the lowest gross domestic product (GDP). I told him I had not come across such as report.
I went on to say that the World Bank has some of the world’s greatest economists who collect data on every country in the world. Their publications are used by thousands of economists and policymakers. If what you tell me is correct information, I went on, all I can do is to regret. Hitherto, we have been told that Malawi is one of the 10 poorest countries in the world.
My interviewer then asked me what I thought should be done to improve the economic situation. I suggested a few things. This article is an elaboration of what I told the inquisitive young man.
In 1924, this country was visited by one of the most famous commission of enquiry in colonial days. It was the Phelps Stokes Commission on African Education in Eastern Africa. One of the commission’s members was Dr James Kwegyir Aggrey, who delivered speeches at the most important institutions of learning in Nyasaland (Malawi). His slogan was ‘only the best is good enough for Africa’.
The Phelps Stokes Commission was very much impressed with our ancestors. It observed that Nyasas were, in intelligence, among the best in Africa, but regretted that while they were using their intelligence to assist in the development of other countries, they were not given the opportunity to serve their own country.
The development of a country is primarily a function of its human resource, especially the type of elite it has. Why are the descendants of the much admired Nyasas of 90 years old failing to develop their country to the level of the most developed in Africa.
Intelligence has to be cultivated and applied correctly, otherwise, it is of more value than gold beneath ground. We must engage in national self-analysis to identify both our weaknesses and strengths. Here, let us first talk of culture and strategy.
What is culture? There is no universally accepted definition. However, many anthropologists begin by taking note of what Sir Edward Burnett Tylor, known as the father of anthropology, said in 1872. He saw culture as the complex whole, which include knowledge of society. In short, we can say culture is a material and non-material way of the life of a community or society.
As we move from one society to another, we can observe traits which make one culture different from another. One of the stigmas in our culture is inadequate altruism. We tend to be egocentric. At present, who does not know that our government is operating with very inadequate resources, but this is also the time the country is pestered with intermendable strikes. Truth must be faced: when an economy is not growing those segments of society that are able to force government to award them double or treble digit increments are having these increments at the expense of other segments of society. The old recommendation “live and let live” is worth heeding.
I remember with nostalgia the days when government of this country used to issue five-year indicative plans. That was within the first decade of our self-government and independence. We read the document and noted the projects for which the government was going to solicit donor funding and those which it expected the private sector to undertake.
During the current multiparty era, there is no clear cut strategic plan, which could guide whichever political party takes over the administration. This is a pity.
Most governments want to solve macro-economics comprised economic growth, employment (unemployment), price levels (inflation) and interest rates.
These equally important objectives of economic policy are seldom solved simultaneously. Our political parties, during election campaigns tend to be vague on the question of priority.
Many people would agree that economic growth and development constitute priority number one. Without economic growth and development, all talk about poverty alleviation is a mere bluff. Produce more cereals and pulses and there will be no famine. Produce more for export and more reserves will be earned and the national currency will appreciate bringing in cheaper imports.
Inflation has been described as too much money chasing too few goods. Some people think government should use its power to force traders to reduce prices. Command economies have been tried elsewhere and have done more harm than good. The best approach is to provide an environment where the private sector can produce or make in abundance. When more commodities or goods are brought on to the market, prices fall—the work of the invisible hand.
Economic growth follows investment. What stands in the way of optimum investment in Malawi? The political and social environment must be friendly to business. These criminals who are targeting guest businesspeople in this country are doing Malawi incalculable harm. Equally detestable are the vulture that converge on public funds and rob government of the wherewithal to provide public goods such as law and order, physical infrastructure.
Foreign direct investors cannot be attracted to this country unless they are adequately informed about its resources. Publicity should be given to tourism, mining, agriculture and other avenues of investment. n