Whether it is by design or not, Malawi has not been a favourite destination for investors compared to other countries in the region. This is what might have prompted President Peter Mutharika’s government to hold a Malawi Investment Forum (MIF) in Lilongwe last month. Believed to be the first of its kind, the forum created a lot of hype. The media was awash with stories of bragging government officials because of striking so many business deals with foreign investors. Obviously, most Malawians are taking it cautiously as they await results for the deals before they can join in the euphoria.
It is a known fact that the starting point in promoting investment must be that government should create a conducive environment. This should be followed by proper marketing of the country. In fact, selling Malawi should go beyond mere slogganing Malawi as The Warm Heart of Africa, or talking about Chambo fish, which is now just a shadow of its original taste.
First and foremost, government should realise that the country has a lot of problems which must be solved before any meaningful investor can show up. Unfortunately, Malawi seems to be the home of very depressing statistics which can hardly be denied. Recently, the World Bank was quoted in Nyasa Times reporting that Malawi’s national per capita income is $250 (K112 500). This is one of the lowest in the world, so they said. This is just adding fuel to fire as Malawi is already ranked as the poorest country in the world. It is no use trying to split hairs to prove otherwise. Instead, government should just put things in order. Water and electricity must be sorted out as soon as possible so that supplies are reliable. People and their property must be protected instead of authorities just complaining about how sophisticated thieves have become. All loose ends must be tied up for the sake of attracting investors.
It is appreciated that government held the investment forum. But what might not be appreciated are some lapses of lack of seriousness. This was more evident during the forum dinner at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe on June 29. This would have been an opportunity for business captains to exchange ideas and information in a relaxed atmosphere. Unfortunately, the dinner was more of a political function than anything else. There were some hero worshiping speeches, political praise songs and dances which had nothing to do with the investment forum. For goodness’ sake, songs like, Ayamba kale kunjenjemera by Sendera sisters was not fit for that function. As the camera went round, most of guests’ faces looked blank in response to the dances. If this was to promote tourism, government should think again.
What is mind-boggling in this country is that even tourism, which is one of the most straight forward businesses, is failing. Just imagine, most of the common hotel chains such as Holiday Inn, Hotel Intercontinental and others are in almost every country in Africa except Malawi. Here, authorities waste a lot of time talking about the beauty of Lake Malawi. This is useless if there is no affordable hotel accommodation and the lake and the access roads remain impassable. Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe is not as beautiful as Lake Malawi, but there are countless hotels around Lake Kariba and these hotels are fully booked throughout the year.
The tourism industry in Malawi will remain pathetic as long as government thinks to advertise Malawi is to just go to trade fairs and hang a gulewamkulu mask, display a few spice bottles and stack up a few outdated brochures at the Malawi stand in South Africa or China. With all due respect, the Malawi stand is usually the worst at international trade fairs.
When marketing Malawi, the government should put politics aside. Let those Malawians with expertise take charge. Malawi needs to be effectively marketed.