I was delighted to learn that the Executive had taken it upon themselves to promote the buying of Malawian products by Malawians. I applaud the Executive for taking this stand. This is what I have been advocating for some time, and all along I have been wondering if anybody was listening.
It pains me each time I walk into a supermarket to find that practically all the merchandise is from abroad. True, our supermarkets are usually well stocked, but you do need to sift through an endless list of items to find a Malawian product.
It is one thing to have well stocked supermarkets; it is another to have a healthy economy. A healthy economy is one which ensures equitable distribution of resources among the population. One person produces product A, another produces product B; they both sell their products to third parties and obtain cash by means of which the producer of A is able to access product B and the producer of B manages to acquire product A. At a simplified level, that is how a healthy economy should operate. If, for some reason, the third parties decide to shun products A and B and instead get equivalent products from abroad, the local producers will be reduced to mere spectators in the economy.
An economy where the majority of the players are turned into spectators is one that is on a rollercoaster to disaster. Among the symptoms that manifest in such an economy are uncompetitive exchange rates, depreciation of the currency, reduced buying power, and dwindling living standards.
To try and cushion the devastating effects of a depreciating currency, authorities may impose an artificial exchange rate. This does not work. I visited Zimbabwe a number of times when their currency was the fastest depreciating currency in the world. The Zimbabwean Government did everything it could to keep the exchange rate at a respectable level. All the banks were required to transact at the ‘official rate’. The black market had its own rate, which bore no resemblance to the official rate. As it turned out, hardly anybody changed their foreign money in the banks. The black market thrived. In fact, the black market rate was closer to the real rate than was the official rate. Eventually, the government accepted the reality and abandoned the local currency. Today, transactions in Zimbabwe take place in US dollar and South African rand.
I am sure we do not want our country to take the Zimbabwe route. One important way to prevent this from happening is to ensure that the majority of the people are players in the economy. If we buy local products in preference to imported ones, we will go a long way towards achieving this. If we shun local products, the symptoms described above will quickly set in, with disastrous effects.
There are a number of challenges to implementing the ‘Buy Malawian’ policy. Among them are pricing and quality. One of the major reasons locally produced goods are pricy is because of the duty on the imported raw materials. In some of my previous articles I attempted to draw the attention of readers to the scenario where a printer imports paper and is charged duty on it. The pricing of any books the printer produces from the imported paper will carry the duty element. If the buyer of books, on the other hand, decides to get them produced abroad, they will land here duty-free and will, therefore, be cheaper than the locally produced ones. Only government can resolve this problem.
The quality of local goods will initially be compromised, but with experience, if Malawians keep buying, the quality will improve.
What is perhaps the greatest challenge to the ‘Buy Malawian’ policy is people’s attitude. A good number of Malawians regard the buying of imported products as a sign of their privileged position in society. They will brag about having bought floor tiles from China, or crockery from France, or household fittings from Dubai, or dresses from the USA or furniture from I-don’t- know-where. To move a Malawian from such a mentality and instil in them a more patriotic one is next to impossible. But take it or leave it, this country will never develop if this mentality persists.
I urge you, the reader, to search within your attitudes. Are you patriotic enough to make a commitment to buying local products despite unfavourable pricing or quality? n