Since Malawi has become poorer what are we missing? If this question is addressed to many people, we shall receive varied answers according to each respondent’s interest. For me, it is the variety of newspapers and magazines that I miss most.
I look with nostalgia to the years from about 1964 to mid-1980s. We could visit The Times bookshop in Victoria Avenue in Blantyre and the Malawi Book Service at Ginnery Corner and find there quality newspapers from Britain, United States and India.
From Britain, you would see The Observer, The Times, Guardian, The Economist and Financial Times. From US, there was Scientific American Nature, Time Magazine, Newsweek and New York Times. For a person earning a middle manager’s salary, all these were affordable.
It was possible those days to be well-informed about what was happening or had been discovered in other countries. To read nothing besides national or local publication is to be blindfolded. Malawi is part of the global village. Its fortunes depend on what is happening elsewhere as much as on what is happening locally.
There is general consensus that people of Malawi do not read much once they have left school or college. Whether this accusation refers to university dons and students as well, I do not know.
You cannot be sure if you are tall or short except in comparison with other people.
President Peter Mutharika has angered some sector in the academic circles for alleging that they are not doing much research. I think the academia has over-reacted. Mutharika is their comrade in arms. He has taught in several renowned universities in the United States, Britain and elsewhere. He is well qualified to compare the amount of research going on in quality universities abroad and what is taking place in Malawi universities. If our university dons do not have easy and regular access to foreign scientific publications, they many well feel they are doing a lot only to be surprised that on the league of African universities ours are rated the least impressive just as in economic terms Malawi is no longer just one of the poorest but perhaps the poorest.
Defending the status quo won’t help Malawi. We must be talking of improvements. Government officials and the academia should meet and agree on what matters deserve research. The research must be to do with identified problems of the country in health, agriculture and international trade, for example.
We cannot afford, at the moment, to engage in the type of research that will tell us why a fish that is grey in water turns blue when brought out of water. If our institutions of higher learning gain reputation as research centres they might obtain funding from great foundations of the world, especially in the US.
Countries that are doing very well economically have well staffed and funded research and development centres. Those who comment on others work should not take offence when others comment on their work.
A spokesperson of the Civil Servants Trade Union (CSTU) has warned government of a nationwide strike of civil servants, including teachers and health workers if government does not implement the promise it had made about salary hike.
Does the spokesperson realise that such action will not hurt just the political side of government consisting of the President and Cabinet?
The main victims will be ordinary people and ultimately civil servants themselves. If doctors and nurses go on strike, patients will be dying in hospitals some of whom might be relatives of civil servants, when teachers go on strike children will be denied learning some of whom will be relatives of civil servants.
The trouble with adversarial types of trade unions is that they mistake selfishness for self-interest. They are complaining of inadequate pay but are they aware there are university graduates who are unable to get jobs two years or more after graduating? Government has responsibility not only towards those it has employed, but also those who are looking for jobs. Part of the limited budget should be allocated to job creation. A large army of the unemployed can disturb everybody’s peace of mind, including that of the civil servants themselves.
Industrial agreements ought to be made subject to the law of contraction doctrine known as force majeure. This says each side will be bound to fulfil its obligations if nothing frustrates it. Suppose you promise to sell someone your bull and show it to him. Just a day before he is due to collect the bull, a lion enters the kraal and kills the bull, would it be reasonable for that person to insist that you should give him the bull you had shown and nothing else?
This has been a very difficult year for the government because of matters of the force majeure type; flush floods and xenophobia in South Africa have cost government millions.