In August this year, I read an article in US Time magazine about the bustling rise of Rwanda. Of course, we always expect international media to pitch their stories around poverty, disease, civil war and malnutrition whenever they report about Africa.
But this one was different—and inspiring too. It documented, with honesty, the silent rise of Rwanda: its bustling infrastructure, technology, security, discipline and fears too.
And the journalist even spent some chunk discussing how Rwanda has become the first African country to fill its Parliament with more women than men.
Frankly, I felt like I was reading Charles Dickens—too good to be true. Yet it was really true. Seriously.
Like Malawi, not Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), they do not have gold there. I am saying they do not even have prospects of having oil in Rwanda like it is the case here. They are a nation, not like Malawi, blessed with little.
Yet with very little, Paul Kagame, whom many accuse of being autocratic, is building a great nation from scraps of the 1994 genocide. Just consider this year’s year-on-year Comesa inflation figures released in October. Malawi—which has never experienced genocide, has the bustling lake, mineral deposits and large tracks of virgin fertile basins—has the second highest inflation in Comesa. It recorded 20.5 percent while Rwanda registered 5.6 percent.
Hindsight makes this inflation story even troubling. In late 90s, Rwanda used to borrow our plane, Air Malawi, for its travels. Guess what? Today, Rwanda has 16 aircraft and what do we have here? An Air Malawi sold to outsiders for inefficiency and the only old plane—is always grounded, always excuses.
Are we cursed?
Lately, I have been thinking a lot whether anything is fundamentally wrong with Malawi. Well, although I have not finally come to a conclusion, I have a strong feeling that there is something very wrong about our government.
Yes, I am supposed ‘to ask not what government should do for me, but what I should do for it’. But after asking what I should do for government and I do it—paying taxes, obeying laws, providing advice if need be—the buck stops at government.
It comes back to government not just to come up with sustainable development policies, but also to inspire everybody to participate in the implementation of such policies for the benefit of the nation.
Not only that.
For ‘poor nations’ such as Malawi, with an undeveloped private sector leaving government as the main source of business and market, it means the growth of ‘everything’ in the country depends on the nature of government.
That is why unknowns by virtue of being connected to government, find themselves billionaires overnight.
We also know of companies that, by virtue of being connected to government, rose so fast and built an economic empire and so fast they fell after being disconnected.
This is why statutory corporations such as the University of Malawi, Escom, water boards and Air Malawi, to mention a few, are failing to live up to the public expectation because they are always politicised.
All this adds up to one thing: in Malawi, government is a central player in the political game of the country’s development. Government, I would dare say, is the beginning and end of everything. It is too strong and it has all the resources at its disposal both to build and destroy.
This means if we have a wrong, irresponsible and irrational government, we are doomed. I guess that is the reason we appear doomed. Are we not?
Starting next month, we will be ‘celebrating’ (I guess we should be mourning years of self-misrule) 50 years of self-rule. But compared to how friends such as Rwanda and Mauritius have gone, do we really have anything to be proud of the half century of independence?
I am not being anti-democracy, but the challenge of leadership in Malawi faces, I have always said, cannot be solved by the ballot. The reason can be gauged from what I experienced when I went to a certain event somewhere in Mloza, Mulanje, a month ago. There was a large crowd. Asked to define what they need in a leader, their varying answers spoke one thing: the leader should come from their home.
In fact, one elderly woman, complaining about one of the candidates she claimed is not from the village, said: “Tonse kuno timakonda DPP, ndicho chipani chathu. Nanga nditonama? Koma khasala atibweretsera hatimufuna ife. Sititomuziwa. Amatokhala pa lendi. Munthuyunso ndiwodabwitsa. Ati mwendo wa nkhuku amatomwela tiyi? Angakhale musogoleri ameneyi? Muwawuze a boma amutenge munthu wawoyi. Sititomudziwatu ife”.
My Mloza experience taught me a great deal about why elections won’t solve the leadership problem in Malawi. Most of the people who vote—especially in the rural areas—vote for a person based on irrational issues that have nothing to do with leadership quality of the candidate and also national principles of development as enshrined in the Constitution.
Perhaps we need dictatorship? But we had that for 30 years and we know how little we achieved. Perhaps we should limit voting to a specific class—the way they did in UK during the industrial revolution. But this, again, in a world filled with clouds of human rights and justice is not feasible.
That is, as I have always said before, we need a strong citizenry championed by the enlightened. We need the middle class, university students and dons and civil society to come together and develop a strong voice against continued excess from government.
The Black Monday is too shy and elitist—something for smart boys. The challenge we face from Joyce Banda’s rather clueless government is too entrenched, complicated and multi-facetted to be awakened by men and women in black attire on Monday. We can do better—something more vigilant.
With rotten and dry and porous questions the likes of Nicholas Dausi are asking at Public Affairs Committee (PAC) hearing, do you think we will manage to get the gist of cashgate from intelligent technocrats such as Paul Mphwiyo?
Surely with leaders such as these—the one we have had since 1964, the one still in control of the civil service, of ruling and opposition parties and of parliamentary committees—we should not expect to have our story of rise being documented far. We will always be a case study of poverty, corruption, extravagance, clueless leadership and chronic disease.