Between June 29 and 30 2015, Malawi played host to men and women clad in designer suits who intermingled at the Bingu International Convention Centre (Bicc) complex talking investment.
Touted as the first such initiative on home soil, the Malawi Investment Forum (MIF) was successfully hosted courtesy of the Malawi Government through the Malawi Investment and Trade Centre (Mitc).
From the communiqué issued at the end of the MIF, it was encouraging to learn that three known deals had been quantified, promising about $1.1 billion in potential investments. Now, that was no mean feat.
There were about 130 potential foreign investors from 30 countries, including the United Kingdom (UK), China, USA, South Africa, Brazil and Kuwait.
Investment platforms provide countries a window to promote potential areas of investment. They also facilitate dialogue among businesses-local and international-to, where possible, deals, including mergers, partnerships and joint ventures are made.
From the June MIF, we learnt that more potential deals were yet to be finalised.
In my article soon after the MIF, I stated that it is one thing to promote investment opportunities and “strike” potential deals and a different ball game altogether to make the deals a reality.
Experience is a good teacher, so they say. And past experiences here at home have not been pleasant when it comes to business deals. The trend has been that soon after such platforms-locally and abroad-there is excitement about “sealed” deals. Thereafter, when the dust settles, there is dead silence.
I note that MIF is set to open yet another window for investors this month.
Before we get excited with the second forum, I feel it would be better for the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism as well as Mitc to take stock of what happened after the June 2015 MIF. I know some investments are complex and cannot be finalised in under 12 months, but I believe the period is long enough to see some progress.
During last year’s MIF, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) secretary general Sindiso Ngwenya ably wooed investors, saying: “To investors, I say, Malawi is an oasis of peace and I know investors want to invest where there is peace.”
Malawi is in dire need of foreign direct investment (FDI) which is key to creating new jobs, growing the economy and beefing up government revenue through payment of various taxes.
Through my earlier article, I suggested formation of a task force comprising professionals-not political bootlickers-from institutions such as Mitc and the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) to track progress on potential deals. Such a task force would then develop a check-list and, whenever there are developments, update the nation.
MIF is a good initiative, but, it should not be one of the many talking shops we have in this country.
While courting the investors, it is also important for authorities to be working on improving the challenges that frustrate investors from putting their money in Malawi. Currently, the country is facing supply challenges of electricity and water, for example, which are critical to investments. There are also disputes over land allocated to or acquired by some investors. I hope the Land-related Bills the President signed into law will help resolve such wrangles.
Malawians have talked enough, at 52 years of independence, it is time to act.
Wishing participants to the next MIF successful and practical business deals. n