Question and answers about the economy

These are hard times. No question about that. At the very time we see food prices scraping the sky; we learn that a large textile firm has retrenched hundreds of its employees. Without monthly pay, how will they cope with the inflationary food prices?

Way back in the 1950s, the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan told his people: “You never had it so good. The economy was doing well, jobs were multiplying.”

In Malawi, what we hear is lamentation: “We never had it, it is so bad.” For the young generation, this sounds true, but for older ones and those that know our economic history, this is not the only occasion when our country has plunged into the slough of despond.

Now and again, a member of the public or representative of a media has phoned me or just pitched up at my office with the question, how can Malawi get out of this desperate situation?

There is no sure answer to this question which can provide a panacea for our economic ills. We can perhaps arrive at practical ideas if we reorganised ourselves for success. This present economic situation resembles the political situation in Nysasaland before Dr H Kamuzu Banda returned from his 43-year sojourn abroad. The need for self government and independence was widely felt; people with the stamina to make the necessary sacrifices were all over the country, other essentials for success did not exist. Someone who could combine those resources and achieve what was desired was absent.

Someone asked me if Malawi can ever become a better country since for so long it has been classified as one of the poorest in the world. I reminded him that during the colonial days, the British regarded Nyasas as among the best of their African employees and soldiers. They had hired Malawians in expanding their empire in Africa and later used them in the defence of their empire in east Africa and south east Africa. We were an asset to the British Empire. The British know how to organise us.

If we are to succeed in turning the economy around, we must generate within ourselves self-esteem and self confidence. Let occasions when we have achieved something great be a source of hope and dismiss inferiority complexes. Biographies and histories tell us that even great generals like Julius Ceasar, Napoleon, Shaka and Wellington lost battles before they won wars. If we make up our minds to succeed and make the necessary sacrifices, we will succeed.

Let the confidence and determination which enabled Mwawi Kumwenda earn the world title of athlete of the year 2015 inspire us all individuals, groups and the nation. Let us get organised for victory over famine and poverty.

The reforms which are being made in the public service should include transforming the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development to super ministry of economic affairs, headed by the vice-president. It should be staffed by technocrats who will not be removed at the whim and caprice of someone so long as they perform.

Let us revive the principle of indicative planning. Our recurrent problems are famine, perpetual food insecurity, galloping inflation, depreciation of the kwacha. We must diagnose the causes of these macro-economic problems; decide which one to tackle first, bearing in mind that we do not have the resources for combating all of them simultaneously.

Let us adopt the method known as management by objectives (MBO) and some sort of brain-storming by inviting ideas and suggestions.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs, if it is formed, would be the repository of the ideas where the practical suggestions would be sorted out and the bad ones discarded. Specific individuals should be designated for this task. We have failed to accomplish much in projects of irrigations, tourism, conquest of famine because we have not made use of MBO. There have been no individuals specifically charged with implementing resolutions.

Who should be blamed for the poverty prevailing in the country? Those who are in politics often point fingers at their predecessors; others castigate those who are currently in office. They do not include themselves among the culprits because they believe you must be holding a high political or public (civil service) office to make an impact on the economy.

This is not so. I have in front of me a highly praised book titled They Made America by Harold Evans and two other authors. He lists and profiles names of about 45 individuals who, through their innovation and inventions, made the United States great and prosperous. He includes names of Eli Whitney for cotton ginning; Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company; the Wright Brothers; Wilbert and Orville and Thomas Elva Edison.

 

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