Chjilima movement’s Technocrats?

 

Chilima is positioning himself as a Presidential candidate. And more than one among many: as a vice President he has gotten a lot of publicity. Mostly as the champion of the civil service reform, which was expertly blocked by the vested interests of the civil service, who were supported by the vested interests in DPP. The President, as usual, did nothing. Otherwise Chilima is known for starting out hyper-actively, but soon being forced into submission to the sluggish speed of our government apparatus (unless there are allowances or lucrative contracts to be had: that’s when our government officials start moving with cheetahish speed!).

But what does Chilima stand for in the area of policy choices. So far he seems to have projected himself as a “technocrat”. But what is a “technocrat”? Our civil service are supposed to be the technocrats, while the politicians are supposed to make the political decisions, based on the will of the people as expressed in elections, as well as the civil society in advocacy actions as well as demonstrations.

A politicians cannot be a technocrat: there are always decisions to be taken. If a person pretends to be technocratic, it does not mean anything in the area of neutrality or objectivity. A politician can never represent something like a “national interest”. A national interest needs to be defined, and the definition is always dependent on the political ideas of the person defining it.

The nation is not a homogenous group of people. The higher civil servants have a different interest from the lower placed ones, the bourgeoisie (or capitalists) have different interests than the neo-patrimonial politicians. The capitalists in the crony capitalist system have a different interest than the liberal ones. The development partners have a different interest from each other depending on the country or donor they represent. The smallholder farmer has a different interest than the commercial farmer. And so on, and so on.

Usually, those people trying to project a neutral or objective position are supporting a hegemonic power. Cultural hegemony is the phenomenon of a powerful group projecting their personal interests as neutral, logical, self evident, national, general, common sense and in the interest of all. A technocrat is nothing but a person pretending to represent the general interest, while there is no such thing as a general national interest; there are always choices to be made: do we want the money to go towards the smallholder farmer (fi an effective FISP) or do we want to secure the support of powerful groups (fi a corrupted FISP)? Do we want to support the bourgeoisie (fi with austerity policies, cutting down on government spending on health care and education, while strengthening the legal system)) or the population (fi with spending on health care, agricultural subsidies and education, while leaving the judicial system underfunded)?

Our newspapers represent the interests of their owners and funders (mostly advertisers and readers), which are the better off in Malawi. They cry out, week after week, against the corruption in the country. But they forget to mention what should replace the corrupt system. They seem to take for granted that you can cut out the corruption of the current neo-patrimonial system, and then end up in middle income heaven. Clearly: this is not possible. What needs to happen is a radical shift in power away from the neo-patrimonial rulers. That means some other group will take over power, and the group that does that is going to define the new cultural hegemony.

Donors represent mostly capitalist countries (US and western Europe) China is a special case: it has a hybrid system of communist government with capitalist economy, which results in different donor policies). They want a liberal capitalist democracy, that provides their economies with cheap raw materials (in the case of Malawi mostly tobacco but also tea, coffee and other agricultural products). So they want a capitalist economy with a strong judiciary and small, weak social programs. That is what they are trying to implement, see the US subsidy for splitting up ESCOM. So they want strong protection of property, including intellectual property like patents and copyrights. That way Monsanto can charge us every year for the seeds, rather than have local seed producers. That way the pharmaceutical industry can charge high, high prices for their products, fi ARTs for HIV/Aids patients. They want the IMF to be supreme in economic and financial matters, so the Malawian population pays high taxes for the loans taken by corrupt rulers, and receive bad services if any (education, health care, security). And don’t be fooled to think that it is the rich who pay taxes: the rich can bribe the MRA (which is consequently underperforming) but the small tobacco farmer is taxed highly high, while he is also victim of all kinds of corruption at the Auction, transport and what have you.

Now a “technocrat” may fight corruption. But is it is replaced with a liberal capitalist system, the masses are still in big trouble. So the masses may have good reason to not vote for Chilima, but prefer the current corrupt neo-patrimonial predators over the “technocratic” capitalist predators.

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Music

 

Much has been written about the quality of Malawian music. There seem to be two schools:

  • Malawian music is good, but the audience does not get it.
  • Malawian music is not good enough to compete with international music

I tend to favour the second view: the music scene in Malawi needs to grow up, before it equals international stars in quality.

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The circumstances for Malawian musicians are not favourable. There is no reason why the natural talent would not be there. But the opportunities for developing the talent are very limited. There is a reason the Malawian musician most successful internationally, Tay Grin, is from a rich family. The most successful local producer, I would say, is Tapps Bandawe, also from a good family. Both are successful in business, and music is only involved peripherally. Tay Grin runs diverse businesses, and Bandawe makes most money by maintaining in-house radio systems for the likes of Shoprite Mall and Peoples supermarkets. The income from performing or producing music is very limited.

Lucius Banda turned to politics to make money, rather than making money from his music directly.

Full time musicians like the Black Missionaries, who are at the top of the game in Malawi, do not make a good income. It is more of a life style choice than anything else.

Most students graduating from the Chancellor College music programme go into better paying positions than musician.

In western countries most musicians make less money than the average population with comparable education. Only very few reach the status of Rihanna or Michael Jackson. But lower income in a western country still affords many a middle class life style. Lower income in Malawi means suffering. One must be very motivated to keep on doing that, or lack alternatives. And there we are: most musicians of quality will pursue more comfortable life styles than those that are possible on music alone. They have to divert their attention away from music to make a living. Those that stay in the profession full-time are usually those that lack alternatives, and that means that usually they are not the best educated, most intellectual people. And these usually also lack a good professional music background.

In western countries, music education is very much available, up to university level, and western universities offer much higher quality than Malawian universities. Western musicians tend to be higher educated in both general subjects and in music than their Malawian counterparts. Those that learn music by ear are surrounded by quality musicians, producers, engineers, lyricist and such to learn from. They learn by making music with highly skilled musicians, by taking music lessons from highly educated musicians, from precisely copying records, from reading books on music related subjects like music theory, music practice, biographies of musicians. And by talking to highly skilled musicians. A young act, supporting an established act on tour gets to talk a lot while travelling long distances together, and this way a lot of experience is passed on. Also learning how an established professional works backstage is a valuable experience.

In Malawi, for the most part these experiences are not available due to a lack of highly skilled musicians.

Another handicap Malawian musicians need to overcome is the style of the education system. Because of lack of funding, the education system is confronted with large learning groups, sometimes over a hundred learners per teacher. This makes an individual approach nurturing creativity impossible, and the teacher has to resort to disciplining and emphasising memorisation, at the expense of individuality, which is essential for a successful musician (as well as any other artist).

All these hurdles put Malawian musicians at a disadvantage compared to musicians from many other countries. A multi pronged approach is needed to improve the quality of Malawian artists including musicians.

We need an overhaul of the education system with better, more contemporary teaching methods, made possible by sufficient funding and an overhaul of the Ministry of Education. (this will improve performance in many sectors where creativity is required, including business). We need exposure to international musicians, both for the audience and our musicians. The Musicians Union could fund trainings by international acts that visit Malawi. We need better pay for musicians. This cannot be left to the market, because the purchasing power of the population is low. We need active funding from government and development partners for infrastructure, like professional studios, concert venues and music schools. If these are funded, more of the revenue of concerts and recordings can go to the musicians, without government in international partners having to directly favour one act over the other. More music will be available to the population, which will improve their appreciation of quality. This will improve the pressure on musicians to create quality music. And that is what we all need.

 

Cultural hegemony

 

Cultural hegemony means that the dominant group (ruling class, the successful politicians, business people, rich, influential people) define the cadre of reference in which the mainstream thought is voiced. This represents the interests of this dominant group, but it is presented as common sense, and in the interest of all. The dominant group is in the position to impose this cadre of reference, because it controls the information that is being spread among the population. It starts in childhood, with school programmes, where our children are taught to obey the powerful (in this case teacher and head teacher) as well as mainstream definitions of development, justice, law and order and such. Often this is not done explicitly, because an implicit statement is stronger: it works on the subconscious of the information receiver.

Recently I came across a striking example of this:

In the Nation business section an article called “IMF trims Malawi’s growth forecast” the article starts with the sentence: “The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has trimmed the country’s GDP growth forecast for 2018 to four percent.” Nowhere in the article is the authority of the IMF as an expert organization in financial matters questioned. It is presented as a neutral piece of expertise.

I have noticed that this is consistently the case in the Malawian newspapers: they exhibit an unquestioning respect for the IMF opinions on our economy, and on their analysis of our socio economic policies, as well as their decisions on loans.

However the IMF is not in any way neutral, or in any way on the side of the Malawian population. It represents the interests of the western banks, that have loans outstanding in developing countries like Malawi.

In his well respected book “the conservative nanny state” author Dean Baker writes:

“the IMF has actively worked to reduce this risk [the risk a lender takes in return for the interest charged to the borrower]. It regularly threatens countries that consider defaulting on debts or restructuring them in ways that are less favorable to creditors. It seeks to act as an agent of a credit cartel, for both public and private creditors, ensuring that debts in the developing world will be repaid to the greatest extent possible.”

The IMF does not represent a neutral view of financial matters, it acts on the part of external banks and governments to exert payments from the Malawian tax payer, often at the cost of reducing financing for public services, such as our underfunded education and health systems.

The interesting point of this cultural hegemony is that nowhere does the journalist of the Nation business section state that the IMF is such a great and neutral expert. It is simply assumed. This means the message of their neutral and expert opinion sinks into the reader’s unconscious without being examined critically.

Except of course if the reader practices critical thinking, and challenges the hegemonic discourse.

Our ruling class!

Our ruling class often try to depict themselves as the defenders of Malawian interests against international intrusion. Think of Bingu, who deported tobacco bosses (disaster for tobacco farmers and our whole economy) and the British envoy (disaster for our development funding). At the same time he praised the Chinese as “true friends of Malawi for letting him get away with violations of our constitutional rights.

On the other hand some critics of our ruling class paint them as traitors of our national interests and surrendering to international powers. Think of how Joyce Banda’s devaluation of the kwacha and free market reforms have been criticized.

These views are incomplete. They do not give our ruling class the credit and criticism they deserve. Our ruling class are a group with a lot of agency, thanks to their privileged powerful positions in government, politics, civil service and business world (often the same people concurrently). They act in their own personal interest as many people do. They reform to enhance their personal power and wealth. In the Malawian context this often means violating our laws, rule of law, constitution, human rights and basic decency. Because they have successfully personalized authority, they can get away with all this. And elections here tend to be vote buying contests, rigging contests, regionalized voting, in short: neo patrimonialism.

I am not stating this is totally different in developed countries: we see that Trump is trying to install a similar kind of rule in the USA. He appoints his family in high positions, tries to shield his allies from the law, fires an FBI director who does not pledge personal loyalty to the President, tries to build personal relationships with attorney generals in states where he has business interests (instead of professional, distant relationships).

The key difference in development is that in developed countries the powerful ruling class has an interest in keeping the capitalist system working, which results in capitalist democracy with a rule of law that favours the rich and big companies in its regulatory framework. So there the system is rigged in favour of the capitalist, in our country it is rigged in the neo patrimonial direction, which means that wealth-power is not won by means of capitalist business, but by connections that allow one access to tax money, bribes from international companies, and development funds (mostly from international donors).

This means that in our country the current ruling class has an interest in keeping the capitalist system dysfunctional, because a well run capitalist system would empower the middle class, which would grow exponentially in both size and wealth. It would create a new ruling class, with a new hegemony (both cultural, repressive and ideological). The current ruling class does not have the skills to function in that type of society (they came to float to the top on other skills) so they protect their privileged position by sabotaging the private sector.

On the other hand the few big entrepreneurs we have would benefit from such a system. So the owners of private news media (radio, tv, newspapers) who are rich capitalists have  an interest in moving to a capitalist system like western countries have. This is reflected in the news and opinions covered in the news media: they are usually in favour of rule of law: capitalism with its agents like IMF, World Bank, capitalist donor countries and trans national corporations.

This model would improve the position of the middle class and capitalists, it would have little to offer for the mass of the population. With a patrimonial leader you can try to negotiate. With a capitalist this is futile unless you are also in a position of power. So the mass of the population votes for (neo) patrimonial rulers, rather than the agents of capitalism. This by lack of a good alternative.

I would propose that a credible social democratic party would have a lot to offer to the mass population: both economic growth (means more and better paying work) and social security. It would fly in the face of both neo patrimonial powers (the current Malawian ruling class) and capitalists (the transnational corporations like BAT and other tobacco buyers, Monsanto and others). Both these historic blocks are powerful, the neo patrimonials in Malawi, and the transnational corporations internationally.

It remains to be seen if it is possible to build a historic block of the mass population with social democratic intellectuals, to create a hegemony of the type of country that will benefit its population, rather than a small ruling class and/or transnational capitalists.

Dunderheads?

Reading the political commentaries over the weeks, now we have elections coming up, I get the impression that our political journalists and commentators are missing the point.

They tend to report on politics as if it were a game of bao. Mutharika makes this move, Chilima does that. Kaliwo makes a move, Chakwera answers. And when the semi finals have been played the winners will be pitched against each other and we get to see who wins. Now with bao that’s all there is to it. But in politics it tends to be a bit different: politicians are hired by the electorate to rnt he country. The way they do that makes a big difference in the life of the population. This is different than a game of bao, where the whole point is: who wins? In politics the game is: which way is the country going to go.

  • Are we going to open up with the African Free Trade Agreement? If yes, in what way?
  • Are we going to subsidise fertilizer and/or housing? If yes, how?
  • Are we going to liberalise the economy further, or are we going to close it back up?
  • Are we going to offer resistance against state capture by tobacco companies, or are we keeping on serving them as our masters?
  • Are we going to develop our own seed policy or are we again leaving it to Monsanto to write it in their interest (as opposed to our interest)?
  • How are we dealing wit corruption? Top down strengthening of the ACB and FIU (how?)? Or bottom up empowering of the population (how?)? Or adjusting the regulatory framework to make it more resistant against corruption (how?)? Curbing Presidential powers (how?)? Enacting the Acc3ess to Information Act? Or all five?
  • Are we going to clamp down on NGOs and donors, or are we going to liberalise that part of our economy?
  • Are we going to go along with donors imposing neo-liberal policies on us (like Atupele’s land policy law, and the splitting up and privatization of Escom) or are we going to develop our own direction? And if yes, which one?
  • How are we dealing with the mess in health care? Education? Business climate?
  • Are we going to privatise more government tasks? (ike MSB, Escom, Press Trust etc)?

It seems none of our political journalists and commentators ask these questions. But they seem to me to be the ones that matter, the ones that will affect our lives. Rather than who wins the internal power struggle in one party or another. That I do not care for one little bit, if it is only about the power and not about the direction of the country.

Who is the dunderhead here? Me?

From colonisation to globalisation: a history of state capture by the tobacco industry in Malawi

Julia Smith & Kelley Lee

To cite this article: Julia Smith & Kelley Lee (2018): From colonisation to globalisation: a history of state capture by the tobacco industry in Malawi, Review of African Political Economy, DOI: 10.1080/03056244.2018.1431213

ABSTRACT

Malawi, the world’s most tobacco-dependent country, has long defended the tobacco industry as essential to its economy. The impoverished living conditions of tobacco farmers, however, raise questions about the true benefits accruing to the country. While the government and industry often blame public health advocates for declining leaf prices, and thus lower returns to farmers, this article scrutinises these claims from a historical perspective. It argues that a context of state capture has characterised Malawi’s tobacco industry, originating with colonisation and evolving since to become increasingly entrenched. The analysis is divided into four periods: colonial (1890s–1964); national (1964–1981); liberalisation (1981–2004) and accelerated globalisation (2004 to present). Each period demonstrates how industry interests influenced government institutions and policies in ways that increased dependence on a crop that only benefits a minority of Malawians. Today, a transnational elite prospers at the expense of local growers.

Pages from From colonisation to globalisation a history of state capture by the tobacco industry in Malawi-2

Adbusting

A while ago I wrote a post about the moronisation of society that is being spread by advertising types. My example was Coca Cola, who do go pretty far with the slogan: “taste the feeling!” (You wonder why the slogan is not “smell the color!” or “hear the shape!”)

Of course I am not the first to address these issues. With a simple google search I found a whole host of others who had targetted Coca Cola. Check these images:

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Malawian politics

 

Growers are not doing well in Malawi, that much is clear.

This is not so much due to local policies, these were as poor under Dr. Banda as they are now. It was the international situation: during the Cold War, capitalist countries had an interest in keeping the proletariat satisfied. So they stabilised prices of raw commodities like tobacco. By the same token they had an interest in keeping their own dictators in place in African countries just like in Latin America and Asia. When the cold war ended in 1989, it took a few years for these dictators to disappear, but most African countries got nominal democracy in the following decade, even up to South Africa, where the apartheid government was no longer kept standing by the capitalist countries.

When the power of the Soviet Union started waning, in the 1980s western countries already started preying more and more on developing countries like Malawi (under Reagan and Thatcher). Via the World Bank and IMF they imposed Structural Adjustment Plans on us. These meant that the structure of the state was changed in that the state should provide less services to the population and more services to the international capitalists. So the funding for education and health care was diminished, while things like copyrights on trade-marks, patents and even plants and animals was strengthened to service the transnational companies. This translated in low quality education and health care and higher profits for capitalist companies. It was not that the Banda Era auction system was better for the growers, it was the stabilisation of prices internationally that made farmers better off in those days.

If we look at the current situation, we see not much hope for the Malawian proletariat (the small holder farmer). Our politicians do not show democratic thinking, because that is not the type of government that our economic system generates. Remember: the super structure (culture, values, ethics etc) of the society is built on the base (economic power relations). A society of small holder farmers does not produce democracy, it produces feudal systems with absolute rulers. Our ruling class behaves as absolute rulers because they are ruling over a feudal society.

Democracy is the type of government that is produced by a society where the bourgeoisie is the most powerful class in society. This was for a long time the case in Europe and to a lesser extend in the US. Over the past decades, since roughly 1980, this has been slowly changing to a situation where the super rich transnational capitalists have become more powerful. They have instituted political ideologies like neo-liberalism (which is very distinct from classic liberalism) and neo-conservatism (which is very distinct from classic conservatism). These are ideologies that service the needs of the super-rich transnational capitalists (each their own group. The neo-liberals service mostly the ict industry, while the neo-conservatives service mostly the military industrial complex)

Neo-conservatism is mostly in the US, Trump is a clear exponent of it. (Some may argue that the Russian President Putin is also a neo-conservative). Neo-liberalism is more international: Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Angela Merkel, and even Deng Xiao Ping are clear exponents of it.

Neo-liberalism is being introduced piece meal in Malawi. Privatising Escom into Egenco, strengthening copyrights on plants (Monsanto is raking in on this), lowering allocations to education and health care, as well as social safety nets, and services like the agricultural extension workers are clear neo-liberal measures. Also the privatisation of land by Atupele Muluzi, the boy of Bakili, is a clear neo-liberal measure.

Now the question is: why is such a large part of the Malawian population supportive of the feudal rulers, who disrespect the constitution, the courts, the electorate and you name it? I think that we should respect the population, and not attribute this to false consciousness. I think the population understands the situation quite well, even though they may not voice it as explicitly as I do.

The alternative everyone seems to be proposing to the current feudal situation is a western style (neo) liberal capitalist democracy. This would serve the middle class (bourgeoisie) very well. The newspaper journalists and the newspaper buyers are both part of this small bourgeoisie. So they voice this opinion. But the large majority of Malawians are small holder farmers. For them a (neo) liberal capitalist democracy would be at least as bad as the current feudal situation. So they do not vote liberal capitalists into power.

What is the alternative?

The way to win elections in any democracy (as in Malawi) is to win the most votes. This is in Malawi only possible by serving the small holder farmer. Currently the small holder farmer does not support liberal capitalism and for good reason. If we want to improve on Malawian governance we need a party that supports the small holder farmer (which is the Malawian proletariat). We need a party that explicitly serves their needs. This means no liberal capitalism, no feudal rulers, but social democratic measures. A lot of these are being proposed in Manifesto’s but never implemented because they do not serve the interests of the current (feudal) ruling class. How can we convince the proletariat that we are different and that we do serve the needs of the proletariat better than the crop of self serving feudal rulers that have ruled Malawi so far?

 

Advertising?!?

“I have read the ad and in my humble opinion, who the f*** is Kanye Mulenga?” – Beyonce Mulenga.

“In my opinion, who gives a s*** about the humble taste of this Kanye Mulenga?” – George Weah Mulenga.

“In my humble opinion, the lay out of the advertisement suggests that we are dealing with Kanye you-know-who. But that appears to be a falsehood.” – Theo Thomson Mulenga

” In my humble opinion, even if it were Kanye you-know-who, he may be a great MC but that don’t make him no expert on junk food. And junk food remain junk food, no matter who say it’ pure genius’.” Albert Einstein Mulenga

Our own culture!

We are getting commercialised.

We have been colonised for centuries, and that is not good. It is going on even today. It is cultural hegemony.

We were a peaceful society of farmers. Then the slave traders came and disturbed the peace. They were succeeded by the colonials, who exploited us. Then, when colonialism became too expensive the colonial masters sent us Dr Banda, who had been culturally assimilated in the UK society, where he had spent decades. Look at his outfits: the 3 piece suits and the hat were even then outdated English. That is what he brought us, together with outdated Victorian ideas about sex: long skirts, and dance camps.

When the cold war was over the colonial masters did away with Dr Banda, and replaced him with a form of democracy that keeps the power well in the hands of a few rich stooges of the transnational capitalists, to deliver cheap tobacco (and tea, coffee, sugar). But also the (neo) colonial masters (a lot of the power had shifted to the US and China by now) want markets for their products. Under Banda there was very little advertising because there was no capitalist economy. But now we are bombarded with advertising messages, to sell the third rate products we get from the west. We get bad films: Pirates of the Caribean, violence films, sexist stuff like the Beauty and the Beast, all contaminating the taste and thinking of the population. (Yes, also good films come out of Hollywood, I was very impressed with Spike Lee’s Chiraq) And then the sugary drinks that rot our teeth: Coca Cola needs heavy advertising, because the quality of the product is bad. So they advertise with:

TASTE THE FEELING!

Think about it for a second.

Taste the feeling!

It is a command, it is not information of any kind. Taste the feeling. We all know that you feel a feeling, and taste a flavour. But Coca Cola thinks it is a good idea to give us an impossible command.

Taste the feeling!

We have enough trouble mastering English, the language of the colonial master. But now Coca Cola comes up with this nonsense. It means nothing. But Coca Cola feels it is a good idea to bombard us with the message from huge billboards all over the place.

Thinking about it is useless. It means nothing and no matter how much you think, it remains nothing. So it discourages us from rethinking messages we get. It teaches us that thinking is useless, because you get nothing, no matter how long you think. Nonsense is nonsense, and it remains nonsense. We learn to not think. We learn to buy instead. The product, the logo, and a happy person drinking the product are provided on the billboard with the nonsensical slogan.

“Taste the feeling!”

This stupefies the population. We get exposed to ever increasing amounts of nonsense, which teaches us to treat language as meaningless. We cannot think, because thinking gives you nothing.

We get the bad things of Western Society. We get films that discourage thinking. If you think about Pirates of the C. you get nothing because the film is nothing. It is a spectacle to watch, the script is bad, and there is nothing to think about because the script writer only thought about spectacle to watch, not about sensible content.

We get treated to a meaningless spectacle. The west has been exposed to this for decades. In the 1960s already Guy Debord wrote ”the society of the spectacle” to warn. But western societies paid no heed, and they have gotten to the point of stupidity that they elect a President like Donald T. That is what happens when thinking is continuously undermined by nonsensical messages like “taste the feeling”. We get this stuff, the powers behind it are too well funded for us to stop. So let’s make sure we also get the good things from the west, like real democracy, thinking, good books (like society of the spectacle, No Logo, or Mythologies ), and not only the mindless nonsense.

Lets oppose the mindlessness by ridiculing the nonsensical advertising messages. By spreading real ideas, real thinking, real intellectualism. Let’s not use all our talents to create demand for sugary drinks, bad television and consumerist culture. Go for real life. Create good, intellectual and sometimes difficult content, that stimulates thinking. Do not go for the easy nonsense of “taste the feeling”. Write thick books, watch difficult movies, ask irritating questions. Criticise, and come up with alternatives. So that we do not get cut off from our real feelings by sugary drinks that need nonsense promotion. Do not “taste the feeling” of the foreign capitalistic Coca Cola.

Forget about the capitalist take-over, taste the taste of fresh produce, feel the feeling of your own feelings.