Two weeks ago, a young man who said was a freelance journalist telephoned my secretary to find out if he could come and interview me. I told my secretary to tell him that I could not see him that time because I was doing some urgent work.
Two hours later, he telephoned again and received the same answer. An hour later, my secretary told me that the man who had been telephoning was in the reception room and he would like to interview me.
Naturally, I was not amused. I do not welcome people who want to impose their priorities on me. All the same, I told my secretary that I would give the intruder only five minutes because I had my own urgent business to do and finish.
The zealous journalist asked me why Malawi was economically lagging behind other African countries and what should be done to accelerate its development. I doubt if there are many people who can, in five minutes, give a comprehensive answer to the problems of Malawi. I dare say not even in one hour. It is like trying to explain why people get sick and then die. Illness is caused by a variety of factors.
Similarly, the economic backwardness of Malawi is due to man-made factors. I told my interviewer that one reason Malawi is poorer than its neighbours is that it does not have the minerals that the neighbours do have, but that there are other reasons.
Currently, I am reading the autobiography of Kofi Annan, the first black African to hold the post of secretary general of the United Nations (UN). In one of the chapters he says at the time of independence in 1957, Ghana’s gross domestic product (GDP) was higher than that of Malaysia, but that at present, the GDP of Malaysia is 13 times bigger than that of Ghana. Why? Is it because Ghana suffered several coups while Malaysia did not? Was it because the people of Malaysia were better educated than the Ghanaians? Not very likely.
Of all the African countries that gained independence from British and French, Ghana has produced the largest number of university graduates. Malawi produced its first PhD after gaining independence in 1964. It is on record that students from the Gold Coast (Ghana) were attending universities in Britain and Germany as far back as the 18th century. One student called Anthony Amu got a PhD at a German university during the 18th century.
Education is a major factor in the development of a nation. The higher and more relevant the education is, the better. Two decades ago, I read a book titled ‘What they do not teach you at Harvard Business School’, in which the author pointed out the other things you have to do in the field even after you have taken impeccable qualifications at the colleges or schools.
If Malawi is to grow faster, several things not just one must be done. First of all, we must adopt a development friendly culture. As I worked on the draft of this article, I read on the front page of The Nation of Thursday June 18 2015 ‘MPs go awol’ that MPs pocket allowances without attending plenary session.
Members of Parliament (MPs) are supposed to be part of the elite of any country and the prime movers of progress and development. Whatever reasons, the absentees can give; it is obvious their sense of duty is low. What message are they sending to civil servants? One reason Malawi is doing poorly in a variety of fields is that among its educated people, too many do not know how to use their education, many lack civil consciousness.
The change that takes place in a country begins with the change in the people’s culture or some of them. A group of people in Europe recognised by Max Weber as having a special work ethic led industrialisation both in Europe and North America.
In colleges and senior secondary schools, libraries should stock books on motivation and biographies of great achievers. In these books, students will be acquainted with what it takes to be a success. Introduction to these motivations can be gleaned in pamphlets like ‘What achievers teach about success’, which is on sale in some Blantyre bookshops.
Unless Africans changes, their mindset, they will not transform Africa from poverty to opulence. The present GDP growth rates which ranged from five to nine percent do not mean that now Africa has taken off. In the Far East and China, double digit growth rates repeated themselves over a period of more than 20 years before those countries attained the level of development and standards of living that have surprised the world.
The June 2015 issue of African Business has a supplement on the relationship between Singapore and Africa.