By Fr Dr James Ngahy* M. Afr.
On October 5, 2020 President Lazarus Chakwera emphatically touted 35 things or aspects which he has achieved during his 100 days in office. Some citizens listened and reacted critically to his speech with mixed feelings and reactions.
Are the promises made during presidential campaigns being gradually fulfilled or they were simply ‘an opium or tranquilizer’ for the voters to discredit the former regime in order to hold that very presidential office by the Tonse Alliance? Some quarters have reacted that during his 100 days in office “the 35 things he has claimed to have achieved, most of them are more ceremonial than concrete outcomes of his campaign promises” (Golden Matonga, The Nation, 6 October 2020, p. 1).
In his speech, the President spoke convincingly on his effort to have a rule of law, good governance, fighting the ‘cancerous’ disease of corruption, entrenching a culture of servant leadership, improving accountability in government and gazetting of the Access to Information (ATI) Law. Of course, lots of it has been happening, although some people critique it as more of a ‘ceremonial adventure’ than concrete outcomes of his campaign promises (cf. Ibid.).
The different appointments to and of the different ministries and national institutions have not been wholly received without criticism of politicisation, nepotism and ethnicism. This is the tendency many Malawians and the international community have been disapproving and condemning in the past regimes.
So, what is the difference and where are we heading to? Apart from the 100 days of Chakwera’s regime, today Malawi is at the age of 56 years as an independent country. Does it say anything of human and country’s maturity? Can we as an open nation with a new and promising regime of Tonse Alliance learn something from others who had treaded the same way, but got liberated along the way because of genuine and authentic determination of their leadership?
Leadership, which proved that poverty, corruption, mismanagement of country’s resources is not a final destination, but rather condemnation! That, the so called ‘negative reality’ can be transformed into ‘positive reality’ of life. At 56, can we be proud to be Malawians in Malawi? With the lost hope and trust in the previous governments some reached a point of saying that, ‘the only hope we have is in God who never fails His children who hope in Him?’
But God does not work in vacuum; human beings, created in His image and likeness have to play their role accordingly. The Tonse Alliance supported by Malawians, institutions and organisations, has the task of restoring that lost trust for the sake of strengthening our national economy.
The case of Singapore and Tanzania
Singapore and Tanzania could be a learning experience to be imbibed. In fact, it is reported that the Tonse Alliance President is making some substantial tours to the neighbouring countries such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Tanzania. It is stated that, “The cooperation between Tanzania and Malawi has been cordial and strengthening each passing day. The two countries, which are both members of Southern Africa Development Community, have been cooperating in areas of politics, defence and security, economy and social aspects” (Ibid.).
This could be a study/learning tour since “Tanzania last year recorded an economic growth of seven percent, making the country one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.
Tanzania is the second largest economy middle-income status after Kenya” (Tanzania now a middle income, (https://www.google.com/search?q=tanzania+now+a+middle+income+country&rlz=1C1CHBD_enMW864MW873&oq=Tanzania+to+a+middle+&aqs=chrome.4.69i57j0l7.16937j0j1&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8).
This means that Tanzania’s Gross National Income (GNI) per capita has increased from $1,020 in 2018 to $1,080 in 2019, which exceeds the 2019 threshold of $1,036 for lower-middle income status. Therefore, Tanzania is currently classified as a lower-middle income country.
The upgrade for Tanzania is the product of the country’s strong economic performance of over 6% real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth on average for the past decade. Nothing else to this performance apart from the excellent leadership of President Dr. Joseph Magufuli. Can’t Malawi, the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’ make such performance? Is it impossible? The Tonse Alliance if determined can make it. ‘Yes, Malawi can!’
From ‘Third World to First’
Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew is credited with transforming the country, calling one volume of his memoirs, “From Third World to First” (cf. Singapore, https://www.cnc3.co.tt/new-national-watchwords-meritocracy-pragmatism-honesty). What is the ‘miraculous’ secret behind all this? Kishore Mahbubani, a Singaporean civil servant of Indian descent, a career diplomat and an academic, digs out the answer.
During his stint at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1971 to 2004, he served as Singapore’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and was President of the United Nations Security Council between January 2001 and May 2002. Three national watchwords come out clearly to the light, namely Meritocracy, Pragmatism and Honesty (MPH). These are the principles which restored trust of the citizens to the government and strengthened the economy tremendously within few decades.
The M stands for Meritocracy, which is practically giving jobs to the best people going against the ‘blood vein’ of nepotism, tribalism and ethnicism. In other words, Meritocracy means that the government authority selects the best people to run the country.
It is obvious that what brings many countries down, especially in the Third World, is that when it comes to selecting the Finance Minister or the Economics Minister, they will give their jobs to their brothers, their cousins, their uncles, their relatives, and not to the best people. Singapore did the exact opposite.
What is our reality here in Malawi especially in the President Chakwera’s first appointments? Are the ‘god-fathers’ who supported presidential election campaigns necessarily have to be among the leaders? Any true and sincere objectivity in the appointments?
In Singapore, jobs were given to the best people for a better performance. Agood example is the case of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. When he went to study in Cambridge University, he was the top student in the class if not in the university. In fact, his professors were so impressed that they wanted him to become a mathematician because they thought he would become a world-class mathematician.
And he went to study in another great university, the Harvard Kennedy School. And in that university, he was one of the few students to get an article published in a tier one economics journal. Very few students get their articles published in a tier one economics journal. So he’s incredibly brilliant.
Therefore, if the best man for the job is Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s son, then he should be selected, not on the basis of the fact that he is a relative, but from the basis that he is the best person for the job. Thus, meritocracy is the first pillar of Singapore’s secret formula. Is this the case for Malawi? Why is it that at 56 (since independence) those in power very often create their own ‘caucus race’?
The second pillar is P, which stands for Pragmatism. This is ‘the doctrine that practical consequences are the criteria of knowledge and meaning and value. It is the attribute of accepting the facts of life and favouring practically and literal truth’ (cf. Advanced English Dictionary). However, China’s leader, Mr. Deng Xiaoping, gives the term pragmatism a different tone as he once stated that, “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black, or a cat is white, if the cat catches mice, it is a good cat” (Black cat or white cat, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201808/02/WS5b728ae4a310add14f385b4a.html).
This is taken to mean that as long as the economy works, it is a good economy. He spoke these words long before the reform and opening-up of China’s economy, but they have become synonymous with that phenomenon. In the same way, it doesn’t matter what your ideology is, if it works in the positive sense of the term, you use it. Thus, Singapore was very pragmatic. It would take some policies that are capitalist and some that are socialist, and even mix them up. You’re not bound by any ideology.
For Tanzania, in 2015 President Dr Magufuli addressed the Parliament in these words, “Let us stand as one. Tanzania belongs to us all and we should put the interests of the country first,” (Magufuli, https://www.theafricareport.com/12725/is-magufulis-economic-nationalism-working/).
In his speech to the Malawian presidential convoy on September 7, 2020, in Dar es Salaam, Dr. Magufuli said, “Africans should stand on their own; stand and move together as brothers and sisters, and not depend on external directives which do not help us. As Africans in Africa we can move ahead, we can move far.”
The H which stands for Honesty is the hardest to achieve as it needs personal conviction for the sake of the nation. It stands against greedy and selfishness. It stands against negative principle of ‘I, Me and Myself.’ This is what has brought most Third World countries down. In fact, what has led to their failures in development has been corruption. This is a cancerous disease in the Third World countries. And of course, corruption goes hand in hand with lack of accountability.
Thus, when Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, became Prime Minister, he made it a point to punish, not the junior people, but the very senior people. For instance, a Deputy Minister went on holiday with his friend, a businessman. When he came back, he was arrested. Why? Simply because his friend, paid for all his expenses and that was counted as corruption; hanging around with the rich elite and leaving behind those in abject poverty? If the Deputy Minister is jailed who will then dare to ‘play-play around’ in terms of corruption?
Building a solid tax base
In Tanzania just few days after taking over office in late 2015, President Magufuli cancelled the symbolic independence day feast and directed all the funds budgeted for the event to be used to widen part of the highway notorious for gridlocks in the main city of Dar es Salaam, which has now become 8-lane highway. That was coupled with firing a number of government bigwigs in his anti-corruption crusade.
Dr. Magufuli is convinced that building a solid tax base remains a core job, the tough slog of good governance. Thus, no tax evasion. In Tanzania, similar to African peers, the tax-to-GDP ratio base is consistently in the low teens. Dr. Magufuli has delivered here. “The tax-to-GDP ratio has increased by about 1.5% of GDP since FY2014/15.” (Five things Tanzania’s President ‘Bulldozer’ Magufuli has banned, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-47334545).
All in all, Honesty factor is one critical reason why Singapore is one of the big economies in the world. Due honesty leadership and the love of the country, Tanzania has become a middle-income country in less than five years of Magufuli’s presidency. Can Meritocracy, Pragmatism and Honesty be a formula to be embraced for our beloved country Malawi at after almost 6 decades of our independence? Do we have the moral strength and the fortitude to do what is right in order to take our beloved country, the ‘the Warm Heart of Africa’ forward? Let Tonse Alliance Government take lead, and make history on this regard!
*Fr. Dr. Ngahy, M. Afr. is director of Centre for Social Concern in Lilongwe. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org