Last night was the end of one year and the beginning of another. The year 2016 is now gone.
As a nation, we faced numerous challenges in the year gone by. For the umpteenth time, Malawi was listed as the number one country on the planet, on the scale of poverty. Not very exciting news, to say the least.
We need to change the way we do things and the way we conceive our actions. As we enter 2017, we need to part ways with some of the ways in which we have, as a nation, conducted ourselves. All excess baggage needs to be jettisoned.
I am reminded of a story I once heard about a family that was tormented by ghosts. They secretly conceived a plan to relocate to a different house on the other side of their location, where they would live in a ghost-free environment. As they got busy packing, a family friend arrived and noticed the commotion. He asked: “Are you shifting?” Even before the man of the house said anything, one of the ghosts quickly responded and said: “Yes, we are moving house, we will be living at the opposite end of the location.”
We should not allow ghosts to shift with us into 2017. One of the giant ghosts that have haunted us for many years is looking down upon locally produced goods. We have an insatiable appetite for things exotic. As a sign of their affluence, many Malawians would indulge unwarranted braggadocio, and feel good to tell colleagues that their furniture and tiles are from China, their chandelier from India, their crockery and cutlery from Spain. They will be doing so while wearing a French-made shirt and an Italian tailored suit. Like the Pharisee that Jesus talked about, they will, in their hearts, be saying: “I am not like that worthless Malawian, whose shirt is made by a khonde tailor and whose furniture is bought from the Mchesi carpenters.”
The truth of the matter is that if we all adorned shirts made by our tailors and dressed our living rooms with locally made furniture, Malawi would not be as badly off economically as it is today. Mohandas Ghandi of India noticed that the only meaningful way for the Indian people to achieve some kind of sovereignty was if they stopped relying on imported goods. He asked Indian men to shun suits made in Manchester and wear Indian clothes instead. He walked around clad in an Indian wrapping cloth. He once organised a trip to the sea, where he and his followers would make their own salt. It must have sounded awkward to some Indians back then in the 1930s, but today India is making all types of merchandise, including a wide range of pharmaceutical drugs, printed goods and cars. I must hasten to add that India is a nuclear power, with local nuclear capability.
Another ghost that needs to be jettisoned is expecting instant benefits all the time. Not all projects will readily translate into instant results. Sometimes, and in fact many times, we need to have long-term plans. Someone said: “If your plans are for one year, plant rice; if they are for ten years, plant trees; but if they span a longer period than ten years, invest in your children’s education.” A serious parent will plan 16 years ahead for his/her children until they finish tertiary education. Generally speaking, Malawians lack the patience to plan for activities that span more than one year. Even big entities like Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) have faltered in this area. Year in, year out they grapple with the problem of receding water levels in the Shire River and Lake Malawi. They should by now have cast their eyes far beyond hydro power generation, and we would not have been in the mess that we are in now.
You sound crazy when you begin to plan beyond one year, but unless that is done, we will not rise from the economic abyss that we have sunk in. Russia is a world power today because once upon a time a guy called Joseph Stalin went crazy and implemented five-year plans for his country. n