Talking Blues: The best things in life are free

Our Malawi society can be categorized in several ways.

We could break it into urban and rural people, the educated and the uneducated, the young and the old, etc.

These are simplistic categorizations because in between each two are shades of grey deepened by overlaps.

There are also some ‘black holes’ where regardless of the categorization, some people would fit neither category.

For our purposes today, this is of little consequence because the only important thing to note is that each group thrives or suffers differently here in Malawi and each group has a role to play.

Let’s start with the uneducated versus the educated.

Among those who claim to be erudite here in Malawi are economists. Last week, from 19 to 20 November 2020 to be specific, they converged in Mangochi for their Annual Economic Conference.

Vice-President Saulos Chilima, opening the conference, challenged them to cultivate and nurture new sources of economic growth.

Chilima noted that our dependence on agriculture exposes us to the vagaries of agricultural fortune or misfortunes and that this is quite a precarious situation to be in because what passes for “agriculture” in Malawi is mostly rain-dependent and; as you very well know, we have yet to find a way for taming rain.

This, Chilima lamented, is unsustainable.

He then proceeded to outline various interventions, programmes, and initiatives – in a word – the wish list the government is pondering to give life unto our ever-ailing economy.

There were other speakers too. Most contributions however basically repackaged the common sense that even those of us not schooled in ‘economics’ know are essential to turning our fortunes but which – for some unfathomable reason – those very ‘economists’ – when given a chance – do not implement.

Back to our classifications, we have also discussed looking at our society as comprising the old and the young.

While we – the seniors – are responsible for what we don’t have, e.g. national wealth worth writing home about and what we have, i.e. bad politics, a sick economy, destructive behaviours like corruption, national deficiency in the spirit of being our brother’s keepers; the youth are the future of our country.

That Malawi has a youthful population is not even a matter of debate. The youth are the majority, and in democracy, you would think that would count for something not so?

Sadly, that’s not the case.

The youth in Malawi face diverse colossal challenges. They are:

• prey for politicians seeking office;
• disproportionately ravaged by HIV and all manner of sexually transmitted diseases;
• devastated by teenage parenthood and
• ill-equipped for the adult world where untold poverty awaits them in a land where opportunities are few and far between and when they exist, they are buried deep in nepotism, cronyism and corruption.

For girls, multiply the above by at least three then add vulnerability to rape.

Having touched on the educated, i.e. economists and the youth; let’s borrow a leaf from “Dr” Namadingo and do a ‘reggae mash-up’ of these two.

In theory, economists are supposed to build the bridge for the youths to crossover from poverty to prosperity or at a minimum, to some sort of dignified livelihoods.

Now let’s cogitate:

• Has this happened? No.
• Is this likely to happen? No.
• Under what circumstances can this happen?

Back to Mangochi we go. Among the speakers who touched a chord at the ECAMA indaba is Dr Ronald Mangani and his “Quest for a Pragmatic Economic Management Framework in Malawi”.

I highly recommend that you get and read this paper because I do not have enough space to do it justice here. Disclaimer said, best as I can, let me summarise.

Mangani posited that incentive structures shape what people eventually become. Here in Malawi, he argued, the prevailing incentive structure is “designed to weaken the weak and strengthen the strong”.

He went further and explored the elusive Holy Grail called “economic independence”. Economic independence, Mangani said, is a prerequisite for and a prelude to pragmatic economic management and resilient development. Meaning that if we are to thrive as a nation, we – Malawians – must drive the economic agenda.

He concluded by identifying leadership, status quo, and human resources as the culprits holding us back.

As per my caveat, what I have attempted to do here is to summarise Dr Mangani’s proposed solution(s) to a riddle that has dogged and continues to harass us from the pre-independence era to date.

You know what?

In my opinion, the current government would be doing everyone – especially the youths – a great injustice by ignoring Dr Mangani and the triad of Leadership, Status quo and Human resources.

Look here, starting with Human Resources, this is where the untapped resource I have mentioned in the earlier paragraphs comes in.

Instead of losing sleep over MPs constituency office complexes, we should be ideating how to convert the youth mass – currently underutilized – into a demographic dividend.

Still on this triad, the status quo is a no brainer.

I will dare call a spade a spade here to drive this point home. Rewind the clock to 2019. Do you remember how passionate President Chakwera was about the state of affairs? The lack of opportunities for all? Corruption? How everything – in his view on our behalf – was topsy-turvy and needed “transformation” via the Chakwera Hi-5?

Now, contrast the Chakwera of a year ago to the Chakwera of today. Today’s Chakwera exhibits a zero sense of urgency to dismantle the culture, systems and behaviours that were responsible for our woes.

The status quo has eaten “fire”, and Chakwera is happily pursuing the same counterproductive incentive structure designed to weaken the weak and strengthen the strong.

Need I elaborate on Dr Mangani’s third factor, i.e. leadership? Not necessary because on the status quo, I killed two birds with one stone.

Chakwera has four years and 6 months on his clock. In his shoes, I would cancel all appointments scheduled for next week and have a long chat with Dr Mangani, among others.

After all, didn’t Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson serenade us that the best things in life – like Dr Ronald Mangani’s advice – are free?

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