Gems from China, Botswana


Can Malawi learn anything from China and Botswana? On one side is the largest country in the world in terms of population with 5 000 years of civilisation. On the other hand is a country ninth the size of Malawi in terms of population though much bigger geographically. From the article that appeared in The Economist of March 10 2018, both countries offer lessons for Malawi.

We often read articles about the People’s Republic of China written by Western experts or journalists. The one I am referring to titled How China Made It is by director of China Institute of Fudan University. His name is Zhang Weiwei.

“Chin’s dramatic rise in recent decades has taken many Western observers by surprise,” thus begins Mr Weiwei’s article. “Those who forecast a pessimistic future of the country have turned out to be wrong.”

Weiwei goes to say that China is now the world’s largest economy in terms of purchasing power. China has undergone an economic revolution at a speed unprecedented in world history. What is the secret behind this success?

It all began with the reforms started in 1978 by Deng Xiaoping who was guided by Chinese philosophy of seeking truth from facts. Deng is even better known for saying: “It does not matter if the cat is white or black so long as it catches the mice.”

Improving people’s livelihoods is the Chinese political governance. The initial reforms took place in the countryside where most people reside. Now small and medium-sized enterprises account for more than half of the Chinese industries output. In turn, these firms have paved the way for the rapid expansion of China’s manufacturing industries and foreign trade.

What is China’s modus operandi? China has tried to combine the strength of the markets invisible hand with the visible hand of State intervention to correct market failures.

“This originates from a Confucians tradition of a benevolent strong State supported by meritocracy at every level,” says Weiwei. I have added the italics because in some African countries meritocracy takes a back seat and people wonder that their economics do not achieve continuous growth.

When the British government decided to bring reforms into the civil service in the second half of the 19th century, it borrowed from China the idea of conducting examination in the civil service instead of hiring and promoting on the basis of patronage or favourtism, nepotism and other non merit criteria which need to be rooted out wherever they are found.

Weiwei says good governance should be a matter of judgement by the people. The hallowed dichotomy of democracy versus autocracy is meaningless judged by how many democracies are poorly governed. That China’s success is due to its authoritarian rule, Weiwei disputes that.

He pointed out that such regimes are found in Africa, Latin American and Asia, but have not brought about the development that China has attained.

Recently, China has become another drastic reform at the political level by abolishing the two-term rule for presidents. Some commentators in the West and here in Malawi have predicted a return to the Mao type of life presidency. Since China is a one political party State, this possibility cannot be dismissed. China has known 2 000 years of continuous unity which other great civilisations in Asia, Africa and Europe have failed to achieve.

At the time, Botswana got its independence in 1966, it was one of the poorest countries in the world. It had only seven kilometres tarmac road and a capital Gaboron that amounted to little more than a railway station. Now, its capital income is among the highest in Africa. One is tempted to say that it is because it has the second largest diamond resources in the world with a population of two million, just about that of Lilongwe.

Plentiful minerals have brought troubles to some countries. The political instabilities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) started in 1960 when foreigners supported Moise Tshombe declaration of Katanga’s independence; Sierra Leone’s diamonds have brought sorrows because of foreign interlopers.

Basically, since it got its independence Botswana has been fortunate to have honest presidents who have put national interest above self-interest. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has regularly ranked Botswana near the top.

The President of Botswana will soon step down having completed his two terms. The people have gifted him cattle, goats and company shares which will enable him to live in comfort. No grudge against wealth earned openly. n


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