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Collaborative Development in Malawi, Phase II

Updated: Jan 21, 2020

According to Professor Peter Mutharika, a.k.a. President of Malawi, quality of life in 2018 Malawi is measured by the number of Malawians sitting behind a steering wheel. The type of cars, their physical health, nor the means by which many have been acquired feature as important indicators. It seems not to matter that the persons behind the wheel will have their children spend another day skipping science lab because he has not lived up to providing electricity to the schools they go. Mr. Mutharika will soon aim to convince us all he returned to Malawi when all we could do was account for the wear-and-tear of our God-given heels, and that only he was able to save us from such inequity. As things change in Malawi, so do they seem to revolve around the same foolishness Kamuzu Banda preached: those shocking bare bottoms that assailed him at Chileka Airport in 1958.

While the obsession with symbolisms remains one of Mr. Mutharika’s passions as we move towards 2019, the detached reality of a better quality of life is the lingering question on our minds as Malawians. The doom and gloom has established itself in the daily routine. And despair has infiltrated the minds of the sane and corrupted the souls of our institutions. Individuals have grasped the art of coping with inadequate governance, corruption and harsh working and natural environments. At about 17 million souls to feed, clothe, educate and put to work, our excellence at human multiplication is not helping our case. But as Mr. Mutharika would see it, one would rather be behind the windscreen of a squeaky Toyota Corolla.

Faced with an honesty challenge, everyday Malawians – drivers and involuntary pedestrians alike – are quick to confess the anguish that engulfs the nation. The misery has made its way to relinquishing the warm heartedness that defined us once. However, in the midst of so much agony are numerous opportunities that only await discovery.

So, here is what this website would like to share with Malawians as we start a critical year in our political cycle. Like every other year, 2018 started with many of us tying our aspirations for greater success to resolutions of different shapes and sizes. Close to the heart, we frequently vow to adhere to these resolutions with mind, body and spirit. Yet, as a nation, we lack the wisdom to coalesce around a handful of resolutions that will bring success to the collective.

It is from this point that we depart. We need to cultivate possibilities in the good that awaits. We must nurture the inheritance of a culture that has rallied our forefathers and foremothers behind Ubuntu, a collective responsibility that unites all manner of diversity in our small, complex nation. First and foremost, common sense Economics. This demands that we should create vibrancy in our economy to unleash opportunities for innovation and knowledge of our own surrounding. This requires to deliberately move to establish enough opportunities for a critical mass of Malawians who will generate these opportunities for many others. If Mr. Mutharika’s government is uninterested in creating this, there should be other ways in which private citizens can, an end to which government would inevitably follow.

The platform on which such collaborative development/advancement works is the ideology of mass production that thrives on scale economies, employment generation, and market provision at a price low enough so that more people can afford the basics of life. With collaboration, capital becomes affordable, and division of labour feeds off individual comparative advantages. These need only the ability to organize and combine these skill sets in a way that they realize a desired outcome. There are excess human resources to do this, from the thousands of youngsters that graduate college without guarantees for employment to the underemployed, to the retirees whose talents wither in the face of opportunity.

Realizing the bounty of in-country demand for basic amenities as food, shelter, clothing (the three dimensions in Dr. Banda’s impression of a decent life) is an imperative for every productive Malawian, not just Capital Hill. While these three are the necessary steps to inspire clarity of individual action that could stir development, in a 21st century world, we need to be more ambitious than Dr. Banda. Two of the most important drivers of change, above the three, are innovation and enterprise so the products of our work can reach a wider spectrum of the population. But seeing foreign opportunities will also be important for enterprise, let alone foreign exchange. Let us put this in some perspective. During Zimbabwe’s glory days, Malawi imported eggs and tomatoes from Zimbabwe more cheaply than to produce them by itself. Now, Zimbabwe in the shadows for more than 10 years, Malawi has failed to teach itself to produce for the Zimbabwe market, except for that one-off $120 million maize deal Bingu wa Mutharika orchestrated in the mid-2000s. Even then, the older Mutharika did not collect on the deal.

Collaborative development need not be costly, particularly as it is not new to us. Recall the rice and sugarcane schemes Dr. Banda established during his rule. But it must be daring. And should harbor a new perspective than we have had.

Consider Malawi’s largest economic sector, agriculture. An important dimension to advancement must be to challenge the development notions of subsistence agriculture, half-hectare family farms (structurally different from family-owned non-agriculture enterprises), and, to a great extent, micro-managed farms as the bedrock of economic development through agriculture. So far, these have borne a losing formula for Malawi’s development, no matter how much chuma chili mnthaka (wealth is in our soils) and the billions of donor dollars that have been pumped in through improved seeds, fertilizers and other technologies. We need not shy away from recognizing the damage caused by these large agricultural development finances towards micro-farms. But a careful examination of chuma chili mnthaka, in light of collaborative development, should imply a reorganization of farms while ensuring people’s ownership, use and control of the land they work remain secure and enforceable by the land laws passed in 2016 (seven-out-of-ten land laws believed by this website to be relevant to agriculture). Land consolidation under collaborative arrangements guarantee the benefit of more people and might halt the current trends where the middle and upper economic classes are purchasing large portions of rural farmland from poor and desperate families (more on this will follow in a future issue).

This website believes more collaboration beyond NASFAM will change Malawi. Firstly, agriculture is one of the few sectors that can combine skilled and unskilled labour, and so ensures easy redistribution of income. Under collaboration, mechanization and the installation of secondary and tertiary agricultural industries will be easier in crops usually considered consumption crops like maize, beans and horticultural species. Secondly, collaborative arrangements are more likely to finance local economic development by introducing investments in sectors other than agriculture where local interests are focused, such as the financing of early child development centers in remote areas. Thirdly, a triangulation of agricultural actors across the sector’s tiers of industry reveals the capacity to collaborate in the hierarchy of agronomical activities. It will be in the interest of agro-produce marketers, for example, to facilitate extension services, inputs and technologies for farming cooperatives so that quality and standards are maintained.

It is crucial that government leads agricultural reform. But we know of the myopia that overwhelms Mr. Mutharika’s government just like past regimes. Their conditional commitment that happens only if the lining of their pockets is curved out of currency is an impediment to any progress fathomed for the greater good. Despite this, our can-do attitude to improving our livelihoods through cooperation, innovation and enterprise in agriculture and other industries will render the bargaining chip that we require to turn Mr. Mutharika’s focus off steering wheels of consumables.

We can create our own dynamism, if our demeanor to action is strengthened and if Mr. Mutharika’s inspiration comes short. Which it habitually does. Collaborative development will be one of the ways to achieve this. We must embrace it in running transport companies, lakeside resorts, apartment buildings, and not just in agriculture. Let us collect ourselves, if electricity is what we must produce. If we can demonstrate change in our difficult, and sometimes impossible conditions, perhaps someday, Mr. Mutharika’s government will be enthused to provide the support that will develop our country in the coming year-and-a-half.

Most importantly, let us believe that we can!


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