Wandering thoughts on Malawi economy

 

The long awaited National  Planning Commission has at least been established with well-qualified members. Ideas from the public should be solicited or welcomed. If the commission operates effectively, it can be instrumental in the genuine transformation of the Malawi economy.

If the plans of the commission are to bear fruit, there must be a ministry or institution that will bear responsibility for scrutinising the recommendations and getting some implemented. There are many historical instances where economic plans are made, distributed and then buried in shelves because bureaucrats give top and exclusive priority to routine and short-term programmes.

Countries which in the past half century have undergone genuine transformation had to borrow a good deal from the technology and ideas of other countries. The countries are Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea and the People’s Republic of China. They have innovated and invented thereafter. But first, they borrowed and bought.

Malawi has stagnated economically because the idea of borrowing from the successful ones has not been pursued. We have men and women who have graduated there and abroad and then we have been prodding along. Of course our leaders since the first president have been claiming to have transformed Malawi beyond recognition. This is canvassing for votes and must be understood as such.

We can say someone is tall or short only if he stands besides other people not by himself. Malawi is either highly developed or still poor when compared with other countries which started at the same level about 50 years ago.

In 1962, the British colonial office sent an economist to Nyasaland and Mauritius to study their economic prospects once they were granted independence. That economist Dr Benedict advised the British Government that both Nyasaland (Malawi) and Mauritius would have to be pensioners of other countries because they were incapable of supporting themselves.

Since then, Mauritius has become a middle-income country owning some of the biggest banks in Africa with very low levels of unemployment. During that same time, we are being told Malawi has degenerated from one of the poorest 10 to the poorest or second to the poorest. We must be willing to learn from others how they achieved visible transformation.

One of the first things that the National Planning Commission should do is to visit the countries known as Tigers of the Far East and learn about how the counterpart institution are organised, how recommendations are implemented and to whom they report. Hopefully, the commission enjoys the non-partisan support and its staff is not subject to the spoils of office practice. They must be permanent or semi-permanents depending on the performance.

Supporting budding genius inventors.

On Monday, February 5 2018, The Nation published a story about the British High Commission Holly Tett presenting an award by Queen Elizabeth II to a young man in Mzimba Corled Nkosi who developed a hydroelectric power plant from scrap metal.

This is evidence that Malawi has potential investors. About five years ago, the media informed us of a young man who had built a broadcasting station in Mulanje. The authorities reacted by imposing a fine of K50 000 on him. Two or three years later, we learnt of another young prodigal called William Kamkwamba in Kasungu who had harnessed a windmill. It was through the publication of his life and invention by an American that most of us learned about him. As far as I know, the young man received no official recognition within this country. As for Nkosi, the recognition has come from Britain.

It is high time that authorities in Malawi started giving practical encouragement to young and not so young talented persons. The future development and prosperity can come from such people if given optimum encouragement. It is investors and innovators that laid the foundation of what we now call developed countries. We have a Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. How does it encourage latent geniuses of Malawi?

Balanced development

The provision of private universities has been at such a rate that now it is likely to have over produced graduates. If we do not take timely measures tomorrow, we will wake up to find our graduates are working as watchman or waiter because there are no suitable jobs for them.

The National Planning Commission or the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development should make a deeper study of what other countries do with the problem of excess graduates. Most of the private universities are simply duplicating each other. They do not create Kamkwamba or Nkosis.

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