Social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, were hot this past week. The controversy was about Malawi’s new well-wisher, Mr Anthony Charles Lynton Blair.
Tony Blair as he is better known, served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1997 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007.
It was revealed on social media and confirmed during by the State House that Tony Blair plus two other members of his Tony Blair Institute (TBI) were in Malawi to provide technical expertise to the Chakwera-led administration, for free.
To decrypt what “providing technical expertise to the Chakwera-led administration” is, a vacancy on TBI’s website flighted around mid-November 2020 is the only clue at hand.
From that advert for Country Head of TBI’s Malawi Project, President Lazarus Chakwera has identified a capacity gap either in himself or his team or probably both.
He, therefore, needs help “to strengthen his government’s capacity to implement his vision for development” as outlined in Tonse Manifestos.
Hence TBI comes in, supposedly to “support the Malawi Government to strengthen its delivery and implementation mechanisms”.
What exactly this entails is unclear.
Further, the advert uses words like “likely”, potentially” and “may”. These words, coming from a mother-tongue English speaker, speak volumes about the fact that the “project” is basically much ado about nothing.
“This is likely to include a delivery function in State House, but also potentially support other parts of the Presidency, e.g. communications, international affairs… It will need to be proximate to the President and always remain relevant to his key priorities. It will also need to identify and implement technological solutions to key Presidential priorities.
In addition to strengthening delivery in the Presidency, the project will seek to strengthen connections with other key ministries and agencies, both in the centre (the VP’s Office and the Ministries of Finance and Economic Planning) and key Ministries, e.g. Energy, Agriculture, Industry and Trade, the Malawi Investment and Trade Centre and the Ministries covering infrastructure.
Our Malawi team may extend to include advisors in these or other Ministries, depending on the sectoral priorities of the Presidency”.
As you can see from the above, it is not easy to grasp what this project will do without, oblivious of the adage that too many cooks spoil the broth, duplicating or replacing and frustrating already existing resources, structures and institutions.
In other words, Chakwera is creating parallel structures which will cause inefficiencies that will not help Malawi.
Take the third paragraph, for instance: “Our Malawi team may extend to include advisors in these or other Ministries…” In addition to the Vice President and Cabinet Ministers, do you know how many advisors President Chakwera has?
Chief Advisors (they are at par with Cabinet Ministers):
- Chancellor Kaferapanjira – Economy.
- Samson Lembani – Public policy and governance.
- Coleen Zamba – Sustainable Development Goals and International relations.
- Chris Chaima Banda – Strategy and manifesto implementation.
- Adamson Mkandawire – Rural transformation and development.
- Moses Kunkuyu – Chiefs and Rural Governance.
- Maxwell Thyolera – Parliamentary Affairs.
- Ephraim Chibvunde – Political Affairs.
- Overstone Kondowe – People Living with Albinism and Disability.
- Reverend Brian Kamwendo – Religious affairs.
- Sheikh Hashim Abbas – Religious affairs (deputy).
- Lucius Banda – Arts and youth.
These twelve, it appears, are far from enough. TBI might hire another regiment to thoroughly duplicate and compound matters.
Now let us dissect the second aspect of this puzzle, i.e. the “for free” bit.
According to Sean Kampondeni, TBI is so moved with our poverty that unlike the many other countries which paid USD17 million in 2018 for TBI’s services, Malawi will not pay a cent. Implying that the Country Head and his team will either work pro bono or get paid by some other well-wisher(s), on our behalf.
Whosoever believes this spin has obviously not read Milton Friedman’s “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”. In fact, we have been down this road before, and it ended in tears.
- Do you recall the British Govt going livid after late President Bingu wa Mutharika prioritised buying a presidential jet?
- Remember Mrs Joyce Banda refusing to use that jet, humbly hitchhiking at first until some well-wishers started chartering her a plane?
- Now, do you recollect that the jet Bingu bought vanished into thin air and we never got a tambala for it?
- Now think: when Mrs Joyce Banda was quizzed vis-à-vis the jet that grew wings, wasn’t her response that she bartered it to settle debts left by late Mutharika – only for her barter trade partners to end up being the same well-wishers who were chartering her planes? For free?
To add on to the folly of adults believing that something can be had for free, look at this Blair entanglement in this way:
- When people cried for technocrats in the cabinet, Chakwera assured us of his faith in his “family” cabinet.
- He further appointed that battery of advisors who cost taxpayers MK25.6 million (USD36, 994.21) a month.
Since we have a Cabinet and an expensive battery of advisors, why do we need another bunch of “free advisors” and Tony Blair?
You know what I think?
Firstly, we Malawians must accept that we hired a boy to do a man’s job. How else can one explain Chakwera’s lack of confidence in himself and his team?
Secondly and to make a bad situation worse, the boy we hired brought a knife to a gun fight. Hence this desperate move to reach for colonial help when there are thousands of Malawians with the capability, acumen and local context-relevant experience to turn Malawi‘s fortunes around.
Thirdly, Chakwera has demonstrated that he believes that Africans or to be blunt, Malawians, cannot develop themselves. Hence reaching out to an undisputed neo-colonialist.
Fourthly and a bit too late, Chakwera has realised that he hired incompetents as advisors and a bunch of freeloaders masquerading as ministers who he is powerless to fire.
He is too scared to fire the moochers and has hence opted to hire “mercenaries” to do the actual work.
Whatever the case, Malawi’s founding fathers namely late Kamuzu Banda, late Masauko Chipembere, late Orton Chirwa, late Kanyama Chiume and others must be turning in their graves. Late Robert Mugabe must be wondering: what the hell is the matter with this Malawi leader?
For the rest of us, one thing is clear: in the year 2020, over five decades after independence, mother Malawi has reverted to factory settings: Long live Nyasaland!
Very depressing stuff this is. Very.