How do you encourage a person who is at the bottom of the good life to move ahead and improve himself? By disparaging the efforts he is making, do you encourage him to make better efforts, or do you demoralise him or her that he or she sees no alternative, but guilt?
What do you say to a country that is one of the poorest in the world? Do you say it has no chance of surviving except as another country’s pensioner?
Some of the greatest contributors to civilisation were at one time dismissed as too dull to teach. Perhaps the best known of these is Thomas Alva Edison, the inventor of the electric lamp, the talking machine and many more. Some countries that were described as basket cases are now among the most prosperous. In the African Business magazine of January 2013, editor Anver Versi was told by Charles Robertson that: “In the late 1960s, all the indicators pointed to Burma (now Myanmar) as the success story while Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia were riven by deadly ethnic violence and civil strife. Today, Singapore is 59 times richer than Myanmar and perhaps the most successful country in the world.”
The article in the African Business from which the above quotation is extracted is headed ‘Why Africa will rule the 21st century’. The authors of a newly published book, The Fastest Billion, The story behind Africa’s economic revolution’ predict that over the next four decades, come 2050, the African continent’s gross domestic product (GDP) will be equal the combined GDP of the US and the European Union (EU).
This refers to Africa that stretches from Cape to Cairo and Zanzibar to Dakar. What about south of Sahara? In the foreword, Nigeria’s Minister of Finance Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala says: “Just as sub-Saharan Africa has suffered through its despots and destitutions, so the seedlings of transformation have pushed through the African soil. As an increasing number of economists, investors and financial policy workers have realised, sub-Saharan Africa has emerged from its own malaise into a dawn that promises growth to rival, if not surpass that recorded by Asian Tigers over the past two decades.”
One’s tongue waters to read this. It is as if one is already seated at a banquet. Will Malawi be one of the star performers in the Africa that is prophetically depicted? The authors warn, however, that in that Utopian type of Africa, some countries will remain poor performers. In which category will Malawi be? What does it take to free a country from the dragon of poverty?
Who are the authors of The Fastest Billion? The lead author, Robertson, has already been introduced. The rest also seem to be non-Africans judging by their names. But two of them are African women; one is Nothando Ndebele, apparently a Nguni, another judging by her smiling photograph and name, one would think she is from Mhuju in Rumphi. She is Yvonne Mhango and she is quoted as saying: “More wealth has been created in Africa in the past 10 years than at any point in its history.” Is this true of Malawi also, mama Nyauhango?
Historians and economists have tried, but have not found a theory of why some countries that were once powerful and rich decline and fall while those which were devastated and dirt-poor prosper.
All policy makers and economists must pay as much attention to economic history as they pay economic theory. Histories of recently industrialised countries such as Mauritius and Tigers of the Far East deserve closer study by small countries such as Malawi. Why? The diminutive size of a country is often assumed to be incompatible with its growing in wealth, wisdom and science. But there is Taiwan, there is Singapore and there is Mauritius.
Malawi too can make its way to the First World row of developing countries. But to do so, there must be more than wishful thinking, more field or factory work than platform politics. There must be inventors, innovators, business tycoons, there must be good governance, no rent-seeker; talent and genius must be nurtured, the jealous and bad-mouthed should be banished. There must be a revolution in the whole way of life and culture.