Without a vision a nation is lost. A vision is a goal at the end of a route. Not only must there be an objective to achieve, but also the wherewithal.
The outgoing president of United States of America (USA) Barack Obama while on a visit to Africa was quoted as saying Africa needs strong institutions not the strong man. But I would say both strong institutions and the strong man are needed. A weak person would find it hard to ride and bride a strong horse similarly a weak president would find it hard to make the best use of strong institutions.
Strong people whom I admire in yester years were Margaret Thatcher of Britain and Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. They both took office when their countries were faced with acute economic problems. They were guided by clear visions and were surrounded by technocrats and Cabinet ministers who shared their visions, were willing to share the burden of taking their countries to new economic heights. They achieved the goals and left office with legacies for their successors.
Currently, we may admire two men of vision: Paul Kagame of Rwanda and John Magufuli of Tanzania. Media reports indicate that Rwanda and Tanzania are currently achieving high growth rates while in most African countries stagnation and decline are the norm.
To attain specific goals, there must be strong leaders. Presidents must be leaders; they must have an ambition to leave a mark on history. When economies grow, there is what Joseph Schumpeter called Creative Destruction. To introduce new products and services you must give up some of the products and services you have been providing, which contribute less and unless they are weeded, they will be a source of collapse for the whole enterprise or economy.
A vision must be accompanied by innovations of products, services and organisation. New wine in old bottles causes the old bottles to break. New ideas in outdated institutions cannot bear good fruit.
In The Daily Times of November 9 2016, there is a brief report on one year’s achievement of Rais (president) Magufuli of Tanzania. He assumed office with determination to run his administration in such a manner that visionary results could be attained. He made sudden visits to ministries to check on civil servants’ work habit. He found that some of them had not yet reported for work. He made drastic cuts in government expenditure. On independence anniversary, there were no celebrations; instead people had to do some cleaning work. In one year, he travelled abroad only three times.
Because he had turned the economy around, his popularity rates have gone beyond 99 percent. Of course, he has been criticised by some people. Where there are reforms, there are losers and winners. When you introduce new institutions those who were benefiting from the old ones now lose unless they are able to adjust to the new situations.
Some media have had to close because they were too radical and destructive with their programmes. There is a limit to everything in life, be it freedom of expression or of worship. Those who use these freedoms to thwart the freedoms of other people must be bridled.
Has Malawi got institutions that would give the economic agenda extra dynamism? We had twice held conferences at which foreign investors have made promises. What has followed? Must we hold a third or fourth investors’ forum before we take stock of the outcomes?
The great Dr James Kweguir Aggrey (1875-1927) used to say to fellow Africans who said they did not have anyone to back up their ambition: “Make use of what you have to get what you want”.
More can be achieved with the resources of the country if only we can sort them out and find uses for them. In 1990s or thereabouts, during the regime of the United Democratic Front (UDF), a certain European lady advised the Ministry of Agriculture to organise starter packs and hand it to selected farmers. The result was a bumper crop. Use had been made of existing resources. Innovation means using differently what you have already been using.
Time is running out, poverty has been around with us for too long because of rent seekers who through lobbying extract out of the nation and the State wealth without contributing extra services. Diligent workers should be rewarded, lazy ones should not. As one way of making Malawians work harder, I would appeal to President Peter Mutharika to discontinue the practice of giving holidays to civil servants after Christmas. The practice was started to bribe civil servants into voting for the party in power. If you take this advice, you may displease some civil servants, but in Tanzania Rais Magufuli’s drastic reforms have won him the popularity of the common citizens. n