Fellow Malawians, we live in a small, landlocked country which, globally speaking, is barely visible and hardly audible.
You think I am lying? Just visit any country overseas and introduce yourself as a Malawian. Be assured that out of 10 people you will introduce yourself to, only one or two will have a slight idea of Malawi. The world out there barely knows us.
You see, Malawi government can be known by hundred other governments across the world. But in a capitalist economy, governments do not run businesses.
It is people-yes, the rich barons like Nigerian Aliko Dangote and US millionaire William Buffet-that runs business.
To mean, if Malawi wants to lure foreign investments, it needs to consistently advertise itself to more people across the world, not governments.
There could be many ways Malawi can do that. Last year, we had an investment forum which attracted many investors across the globe. We also had President Peter Mutharika attending an investment forum in the UK.
However, I believe that hosting an investment forum, where you have hundreds trooping in the country, could be a bit expensive and, again, fail to reach out to thousand others. So too when you have a President visiting a distant nation to sell Malawi to investors. The problem is that other investors could take our President’s word with pinch of salt because we live a global world where people barely trust what comes from politician’s mouths.
This, now, is where you need to engage a respected, private international media outlet to tell your story. Over the past three years, we have seen sporadic featuring of Malawi’s investment fortunes on US television network, CNN. That was great.
It is the same vein that I found government’s move to engage Business Outlook, a UK public relation firm, to tell Malawi’s story in the Time magazine.
Fellow Malawians, Time is not your average magazine. It is a US weekly news magazine published in New York and founded in 1923. Its European edition, formerly known as Time Atlantic, is published in London and also covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America.
An Asian edition, Time Asia, is based in Hong Kong. The South Pacific edition, which covers Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, is based in Sydney, Australia.
It has the world’s largest circulation for a weekly news magazine, and has a readership of 25 million, 20 million of which are based in the United States. As of 2012, it has a circulation of 3.3 million and as of 2014, its circulation rose to 3 286 467.
To mean, if Time publishes a positive story about Malawi as an investment destination, we should be assured of not less than two million people accessing it instantly.
That, to me, is the cheapest, fastest and trusted means of selling your country to a wider world. That is why I did not whine over the news that government will spend K295 million to pay Business Outlook for public relations stories they run in Time magazine.
We are in financial problems, I agree. But I don’t believe it makes sense to stop spending some money on selling our country to investors just because we are struggling financially. It is one retrogressive and irrational argument made out of anger not analysis.
The paradox of it all is that Malawi is in this economic mess because we have, over the years, failed to build our economy. One way Malawi can build its economy is by courting investors. Courting investors is not cheap process. But because we need it, we cannot continue shying away from it.
We live in global village where capital has no boundary. We need to get it, too, to create jobs, generate forex and build our economy.
That is why I, somehow, support government’s Time deal. I am using the word ‘somehow’ because somewhere government is acting fishy about it.
One, why did they have to bypass the Office of the Director of Public Procurement (ODPP)? Surely, procedure was flouted here and, I am sure, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) will zero in.
Two, conflicting information from the same government machinery over this deal is making the whole thing suspicious. Director of information Bright Molande says it was Business Outlook that engaged government for the publications of the stories in Time. Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe contends, saying it was government which approached Business Outlook.
Who, then, should we believe?
As earlier said, I support the deal. But I believe it is a good deal than can be explained with one voice by government officials and, again, procurement procedures must be followed. Happy Sunday. n