Undeveloped, under-developed or developing?

Countries have been stratified into different classes depending on their level of development. Some are developed countries, others are undeveloped countries and yet others least developed countries. Malawi has consistently been fitted into the last group.

Rather than talking in terms of ‘undeveloped’ or ‘under-developed’ countries I find it more encouraging to talk in terms of “developing” countries.

To declare a country as undeveloped is to seal its fate.  It is like saying: “This is fait accompli—the fate of such and such a country is decided and settled; nobody can change that status.” I have problems with this kind of thinking. Development, in my view, should not be considered as an event but a process. It can stagnate, it can indeed retrogress but it can also move forward depending on the actions of the players in the economy. Nothing is cast in stone.

So the term ‘developing countries’ entails a situation where a country is on a path to economic progress. It is not there yet but it cannot and should be precluded from getting there someday. We live in a dynamic world where thing are fluid and we cannot create permanent compartments.

We can draw valuable lessons from football, where league standings change season to season. In the 1980s Liverpool looked like it was an invincible team. With players Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, John Barnes, Bruce Grobbellaar and others they held sway in the English first division league (today called premier league) and looked like no team would displace them at the helm of English football. At that time, teams such as Stoke City and Leicester City, were in the lower league. Today, 30 or so years later, the league title rotates among Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United [and, I beg your pardon, even Leicester City]. In the 1988-89 season, Chelsea, Manchester City, Watford, Stoke City and Leicester City were all in the second division.

Economic development is bit like football, and so is technological development. Greece’s economy is now in the ICU, yes the Greece of Socrates and Plato and Alexander the Great. These great giants would be turning in their graves if they learn about the current status of the Greek economy. Things do change. When these people lived, Tanzania did not exist. In 2018, the economy of Greece is expected to grow at 1.9 percent while that of Tanzania is projected to grow at 7 percent. Greece is a developed country and currently in retreat while Tanzania is developing. It is anybody’s guess where the two countries will be 50 years from now.

We may be at the rock bottom of technological development now, but that should not mean that is where we belong, God forbid! True, we do not manufacture vehicles or planes; we are not participating in space exploration, and the list goes. But the same can be said about the Japan of two hundred years ago. When Europe and America began to industrialise Japan observed with keen interest and learnt what they could have learnt. They later unleashed their technological prowess and literally took the world by the storm. If you stand by the roadside in Malawi today and observe vehicles driving past, you will be amazed to see how many of them will be Japanese—Toyotas, Nissans, Mazdas, Mitsubishis, Hondas and so on.

Japan has not always been like that. All they have done is allow an industrial culture develop and flourish among them. They may have unlearned certain things in the process but they realised that development was a process, a journey to some receding destination. They knew that how far they travelled towards that destination depended more on their actions than on the pronouncements of others.

We should not let the international community define to us what we are or what we are likely to be. We should define our own destination and work towards it. Vision 2020 was a good start. It stated, among other things that by the year 2020 Malawi would be a manufacturing led, middle income country. However, the population was not made to rally behind the lofty vision. Hardly anything was done to prepare us for that destination. The William Kamkwambas, the Felix Kambwiris, the Rachel Sibandes and the Corled Nkosis  achieved varying degrees of technological exploits, acting in isolation, but as a country we did not so much as take notice. Today, William Kamkwamba is better known outside Malawi than within.

Let us search within Malawi to identify talent that needs to be nurtured so that when it blooms it can take us to a desired destination, technologically and economically.

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