National overhaul key to the riddle

We are told that peace is the indispensable foundation of economic development. We have enjoyed peace since 1959 when the governors of Nyasaland declared a State of emergency and went about arresting about 2 000 people to restore law and order.

We are told a country that has plenty of natural resources such as good soils and wholesome climate is deplorable provided its people have the energy, intelligence, education and motivation to work.

Apparently both natural and human resources are available in Malawi. So, why is our country chronically one of the poorest in the world? And how do we cure that chronic poverty?

When a patient is suffering from a chronic disease, a doctor prescribes the most effective remedy that he knows such as surgical operation and amputation of the diseased organ. These are drastic remedies. The economic disease of Malawi can only be removed if the most effective remedy is identified and applied. To identify the remedy, it may require consultation with a specialist, a more experienced expert.

The key to accelerated development is overhauling the national and political structure. We must undertake epoch-making reforms. Economic histories of Asian countries give us valuable clues.

The first Asian country to catch up industrially with the West, Europeans and North Americas was Japan. This happened after the Meiji Reslovation in 1867 and resignation of the last shogun. The new regime while continuing to keep at bay European imperialists, decided to learn from the West those things which had made it powerful.

The emperor brought in French teachers and sent Japanese students abroad to study Western science and technology.

A century later, Japan’s prosperity had overtaken most European countries; its economy was the second largest in the world.

Japan ceded that status about 10 years ago or so to the People’s Republic of China. This was because China also underwent drastic reforms. Chairman Mao Xedong had viewed the capitalist world as evil, to be kept at arm’s length in case they contaminated his communist regime. The policies he pursued kept China an underdeveloped country despite its many centuries of civilisation and inventiveness.

In 1976, Mao died. The leader who took over decided to make a drastic break with the chairman’s economic philosophy. Leader Deng Xiaoping was heard saying: “It does not matter if a cat is white or black so long as it catches the mice.”

He was understood to mean he would embrace any economic system provided it led to the prosperity and development of China.

The reformed communist system now started borrowing from the capitalists system, joining its organisation such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO). China opened its market to foreign traders and investors in exchange for similar gesture by Western countries. Now China has the biggest foreign reserves and is said to have overtaken the United States by becoming the largest economy in the world.

South Korea and Taiwan undertook drastic reforms before they industrialised. Those who have listened to advisers from Japan have benefited. On the Opinion and Analysis page of the Weekend Nation dated March 17 2018, Japanese ambassador and plenipotentiary Okumura Yoshifumi is quoted as saying that African countries must start thinking seriously about how to get rid of the obstacles of development they encounter and that good leadership is necessary.

People, who personally benefit from a political and economic system, cannot think seriously about reforming its defects. This is the reason why the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leadership which initiated civil service reforms has resisted tooth and nail electoral reforms; they see themselves as losing their privileges if the reforms go through. But so long as such drastic reforms are resisted, the privileged few will continue reaping what the current set-up gives them while the people at large live under grinding poverty. Is this good?

It is said that people get the kind of leadership they deserve. At the beginning of the restored multi-party era we used to read placards, “I would rather vote for a thief (from my own tribe or region) than a leader from tribe.

Have you people who advocated electoral reforms accepted defeat? The country needs the leadership that can identify the obstacles in Malawi’s development. This leadership cannot be put in place where the electoral systems allows tribalism and regionalism to hold away. n

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