Our culture is rich in inspired wisdom. Take for example the one saying that goes “chipande chathelele chikoma nkuyenderana”, extoling and encouraging the virtues and pursuit for reciprocity and translating that life is a two-way traffic.
In recent times, the Malawi kwacha has precipitously depreciated against major currencies of the West. With this depreciation, Malawians are full of anxiety about what tomorrow will bring in terms of skyrocketing prices of every item that has to be paid for to maintain their physical, emotional and spiritual being, especially now that we live in a world of no free lunches where some modern spiritual establishments charge exorbitantly even to pray for the sick and the departed.
While it is a fact that every Malawian of adulthood and sizeable literacy must know the reasons why our currency is so weak and perpetually depreciates against the major currencies of the world, it takes a real life encounter with the people and the institutions that are in the trenches and deal on a day-to-day basis with the sadness that Malawi is a one-way traffic destination when it comes to issues of international trade. For that is the reason, unless and until all the juices and grains of ingenuity are put to work to find a way of turning Malawi around from a “predominantly importing to a progressively exporting nation” to borrow from late president Bingu wa Mutharika (peace be upon him) Malawi will remain a sad economic story with a weak kwacha. The disparity between its imports and exports is too wide.
My moment of reality came on September 3 2015 during an orientation for Airport Development Limited (ADL) board members when we were taken on a tour of Air Cargo Limited. I was shaken and shocked by what I learnt. Air Cargo is in partnership with Emirates. At Air Cargo, we were first taken on a tour of the exports floors of their warehouses. They were but empty, save for a few cartons of semi-precious stones which were said to be not from Malawi, but beyond the borders. Every Tuesday, a Boeing 777 flight with a capacity of 103 metric tonnes arrives at Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) directly from United Arab Emirates (UAE) with an average of 80 metric tonnes of cargo. It takes off from KIA with an average of 2.5 metric tonnes only. If that does not break our hearts as Malawians, here is more: instead of flying direct back to UAE, it hopes via Entebbe in Uganda to pick fish from Lake Victoria and then another stopover in Nairobi to pick fresh produce, namely vegetables, fruits and flowers.
Now, here is Malawi a country with one of the best delicacies in its fish, including Chambo, Ncheni, Batala, Kampango, Usipa, Ndunduma, Mpasa, Kadyakolo and Ntchira (now rare to almost extinct) just 100 kilometres away in Salima and we fail to harvest fish, whether be it from the wild in the lake or cultivated in captivity in cages but for the Lord’s sake we must have ample fish for export from lake because that is our God given mgodi, but then it may appear that is rocket science to Malawians because we seem so abundantly depleted of creativity, initiative and innovation but hugely endowed with the appetite to pursue academic qualifications just for nothing but to the sake of pimping up our Curriculum Vitae (CV), resulting in a country with so many Masters and PhDs in agriculture but still a hungry nation because of inadequate rains when in perpetuity lake Malawi exports billions of litres of water to the Indian Ocean. We are a disgraceful disappointment Malawi, collectively.
In addition to the fish, Malawi has abundant arable and fertile land within and around KIA which could be used to grow fresh produce enough to fill Boeing 777 every day with vegetables and fruits destined for the Middle East and flowers destined for Amsterdam in Europe. That is how other African countries have built their economies over and above tourism.
So, sometimes one sits and wonders that “what if for the past 20 years or so we had only taken a decent fraction from things like the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp), which basically feeds into the highly unresponsive maize and the emotionally controversial tobacco and had dedicated some of those billions of kwacha investing in creating a high-value commodities export-led sector around the international airports like what Kenya earlier on and Ethiopia in recent times have done.