What set England, and eventually the entire British Isles, apart from the rest of the countries in the world, turning them into a world power is the industrial revolution of the late 18th century and early 19th century.
The textile industry was one of the earliest to undergo this revolution.
Using new spinning methods powered by water, tonnes of cotton were consumed to make cloth. Britain, as most people will appreciate, is too cold to grow cotton. All the cotton was consequently imported from places such Africa and South America.
The poor farmer grew his cotton in Africa, exported it to England for peanuts, then had to buy expensive clothes made from his cotton.
This trend has continued to this day. I remember the proliferation of catalogues by means of which Malawians could order all manner of garments from Manchester and other English cities in the 1970s through to the 1980s.
Farmers grow tobacco in Malawi, sell it at prices set by the buyer, then it gets exported as a raw commodity to Europe or Asia or the Americas, where it is processed into cigarettes. Some of those cigarettes come back here and are sold at prices set not by the buyer this time round, but by the vendor.
Sometime last year, I found myself at Dedza border post where I saw a number of trucks queuing to cross the border. Some of those trucks were loaded with timber. A colleague told me the time was, in all likelihood, going to China.
Raw timber g e t s exported from here to China, where it is converted to sofa sets, among other goods.
Malawians travel to China to import sofa sets made from their own timber and while they are at it, jobs are created in China, forex is generated for China while the majority of Malawians continue to live in abject poverty.
Somehow, our priorities are totally wrong, and we do not even seem to notice it, much less do something about it.
The least we can do is to stop the irresponsible importation of goods that can be made locally from local materials.
What would be even more useful would be to encourage manufacturing of goods locally.
If you went to a trade show and you find one person with lots of raw cotton and the other with cell phones, where would you expect to find a long queue? Your guess is as good as mine, I am sure.
What distinguishes cotton from cell phones is that the former is a raw commodity while the latter is a commodity to which much value has been added. Buyers simply do not care about raw commodities. That is why they would have the audacity to buy such commodities at prices they dictated, not the seller.
Who is supposed to set prices between the buyer and the seller? If I go to any supermarket, I will find that the seller has already determined prices that the goods will be sold at.
A s l o n g a s w e continue to rely on raw commodities, others will take advantage of us by giving us unreasonable terms in trade. We need to graduate into adding value to commodities and selling items over which we have control in terms of pricing.
Achieving this requires us to do two things, namely to develop a culture that encourages and respects manufacturing and to refrain from irresponsibly importing of things that can be produced locally.
I once visited Trieste, a city in northern Italy and was surprised to find so many Fiat Unos in the streets. You hardly see a Japanese car there. I was surprised because Fiat Uno is not a particularly prestigious car. There are many cars in the world that would easily outclass the Uno in terms of prestige.
But the Italians still prefer the Uno to the other makes because it is their own. That is called patriotism.
We do not need to search very deeply within our contemporary culture to discover that we have a great deficiency of patriotism in Malawi. n