Capitalism and Africa

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In the current world, capitalism reigns supreme. Since the Soviet Union folded and China turned semi-capitalist, the centre of power is capitalist. The biggest economy and best financed military are those of the USA, which is a very capitalist country. On top of that, the capitalist companies have grown more and more trans-national, overpowering many states. Trans national companies like General Electric, Toyota and Royal Dutch Shell are bigger than many countries, and have much less liabilities. So their world wide power supersedes many governments, and certainly the government of many African States, which tend to have small economies, and less functional government structures than many western and Asian countries.

Capitalism can never be static, it needs to grow. (readers: if you need an explanation of this, I can give it, so give me feedback and I can write a blog entry on it). If capitalism does not grow, it quickly goes into crisis. We saw this in 1929 with the Great Depression. The crisis of 2008 was limited thanks to the Obama interventions in the economy.

If we look at the time period from the Great Depression, we see a steady overall growth of the capitalist world economy, save for some dips. This has gone through a number of stages. First in the 1930s President Roosevelt created growth with his “New Deal” policy, and other countries followed the example. Then the Second World War created growth. After that came the “economic miracle” of Germany, Japan and Italy. The losers of the war became the winners of peace. Other capitalist countries in western Europe benefited from the US Marshall plan, and grew their economies. During this time of steady growth, it was possible to improve the incomes of both the proletarian class and the capitalist class: the total amount of money grew, and each could get their share. Even African countries after independence did get some share of this wealth, think of the Kamuzu Banda years.

But around 1975 this stalled: the capitalist world economy of that time did not offer enough opportunities for the capitalist class to profitably invest their money. The proletarian class used their trade union power to prevent the capitalist class from pushing the cost of the crisis on the proletarians. The economy stalled.

The union power was broken in the 1980s by the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. They pushed many proletarians back into poverty. They created mass unemployment and worsened working conditions for the lower paid. For the capitalist class they created investment opportunities by selling off the government companies (“privatization”). In the UK the mines were closed causing mass unemployment, the railways and other State companies were sold off. In the US a start was made with the privatization of the army (“private military contractors”) and prisons (prison industrial complex). African countries were subjected to “Structural Adjustment Programs”, which meant selling off State wealth to capitalists. This lowered the quality of services the government offered the population (like jobs,  health care, education, policing). The poor were pushed into ever worse poverty, while the capitalist class amassed more and more wealth. Income inequality over the whole globe soared.

After most public wealth in developed countries as well as developing countries was sold off, capitalists were still looking for more investment opportunities, to reinvest the wealth they had extracted from the public (and public companies). Then the Soviet Union folded, and many investment opportunities came up in former communist countries. A bonanza of selling off government companies created a lot of wealth for the few rich, and a lot of poverty for the population.

When this bonanza was finished, the capitalist class had more wealth then ever to invest, and they kept looking for opportunities. These were created by the then GW Bush government in the US in the form of the “Global War On Terror” (GWOT). Iraq was a very wealthy country because of their large oil reserves, but the Saddam Hussein government did not allow western companies to tap off its wealth. The Bush government decided to invade Iraq to open up its economy for western companies, oil and otherwise. (Their pretext of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” has been proven to be a lie). Companies like (then Vice President) Cheney’s Halliburton received fabulously profitable government contracts to wage war in Iraq.

Now that the gust has gone out of the Iraq war, the capitalists are looking for more investment opportunities. There are few places in the world that have not been subjected to their greed. Iran is a candidate, and predictably President Trump is starting a quarrel with them. Otherwise, North Korea is not very attractive: heavily defended and a very small economy. So that leaves one continent: Africa.

The US are increasing their involvement with Africa by means of Africom, the US army’s presence in our continent. Is this a precursor of invasions like the one in Iraq? We may hope not…

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The Trans National State

We are at a new situation in the history of humanity. Never before has the world economy (and ecology) been as integrated as it is today. There is a trend that started many centuries ago, and that Malawi got involved in, in the 19th century, that the world is getting more and more integrated.

We have reached a new stage in this development, in that the nation state is less powerful than the international forces working on it. There have been international, and multi-national, companies for centuries. But never before have there been trans-national companies, that span the earth, and are no longer bound to any physical territory. There used to be Japanese Toyota, and American Levi’s. But these days, these companies span the earth. They may be registered in a specific country, usually they are registered in many countries with many subsidiaries in other countries. Profits are virtually moved from one jurisdiction to another to avoid taxes and other laws. The main office may not be I the country where the most important decisions are taken. A product no longer is fabricated in a country: the product development may be in several different countries, parts of the product are made in many different countries and assembled in different places on earth, none of which may have anything to do with the country of registration of the brand.

This has important implications for us as world citizens. A country’s government has very little say over the economy any longer. Transnational companies move over the earth with the ease of a number of digits on internet. Register here, register there, create a network of subsidiaries, dependent companies, outsource this and that, and in the end are little more than a virtual “brand” that is attached to a product manufactured by a myriad of subcontractors.

This network of transnational companies is ruled by a class of super rich: the Transnational Capitalist Class. (TCC). They have their informal networks, of which the World Economic Forum is probably the most widely known. They have their Trans National State (TNS) with its institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organisation and such. These organisations police the world, and impose their will on states. This undercuts democracy: the democratically elected officials of Nation States are subordinated to the whims of the Trans National State. This is not only happening in developing countries like Malawi. Also in Europe those states who do not conform to the wishes of the Transnational Capitalist Class are subordinated to disciplining by the Trans National State apparatus. Think of the sanctions the IMF imposed on Greece, Portugal, Spain and others.

Interestingly, the Transnational Capitalist Class has gotten only limited hold on Africa. The local ruling class of African nations have resisted the TNS to the point of collapsing their economies. Agreements with IMF, WTO and World Bank as well as transnational companies are broken and betrayed like nobody’s business. Think of the U$ 350,000,000 Escom deal. The deal is signed, the first trench of development money is transferred from Washington to Malawi. The money disappears in a web of non-administration. The next trench is never transferred, and Malawi goes back to business as usual.

The Trans National State leaves limited room to manoeuvre for national (democratically elected) state apparatuses. The choice seems to be limited to playing along and having economic development for the Trans National Capitalist Class and their local puppets, or to obstruct any level of development.

The alternative, popular democracy, with the population free to decide on their own interests, has been tried in several countries, but has always been obstructed by the Trans National State, and their state puppets, often the USA. Look at Nicaragua, Venezuela, Haiti, Chile: the USA has acted economically and militarily as puppets of the Trans National Capitalist Class, and overthrown popular democratic governments to the profit of the Transnational Capitalist Class. (see: WI Robinson, promoting polyarchy)

The enigma is: where do we want Malawi to go? Do we want to keep a neo-patrimonial corrupt type of government that systematically obstructs every type of development? Do we want the Transnational Capitalist Class to take over and suck our country dry of surplus value leaving us as proletarians, save for a small elite of TCC puppets? Or do we want to chance creating a popular democracy, and risk a TNS intervention?

The nature of the state

The state is an abstraction. It is not something you can touch or see, you can only see the effect of the state. All this makes the state difficult to define. Here I would like to follow the following definition: the state is a bundle of social relations used by the ruling class to rule over the population.

When we talk of the state often we are referring to the national state, in our case Malawi. But we can also define a transnational state: there are social relations used by the ruling class to rule over us transnationally. There is international law, there is military intervention, there are economic sanctions, there are transnational companies influencing our lives. All these are social relations used by the ruling class to rule over us.

This means that by definition the state (national or transnational) is controlled by the ruling class. A ruling class is never a homogenous group of people, it is always necessarily a coalition of different groups, that together exercise power. Such a coalition is called a historic bloc.

We should not overestimate the influence of the Malawian state. Malawi is a small country with a minuscule economy and ineffective governance. The ruling class in Malawi do not seem to be looking for the best ways to improve the state, the economy or the governance. It seems they are more busying themselves bickering amongst each other over the contents of the national kitty. How much can I extract in allowances, lucrative contracts or straight ahead cashgating?

This ineffective governance leaves a lot of space for the transnational state to influence our lives. A good example is the Malawi Seed Policy, which was co-authored by an employee of transnational seed company Monsanto, and formulated in such a way that it gives great advantage to transnational seed companies like Monsanto over local seed producers. The exploitation of Kayelekera Uranium Mine is another example.

We live in interesting times: at the moment in Malawi there is a power struggle happening between the political class, who control the repressive state apparatus (police, army, judiciary, jails etc) and the capitalist class, who control the private sector (as far as it is not controlled by politicians). These private sector capitalists have partly different interests than the political class. They have an interest in a neoliberal democracy, with rule of law, and especially strong property rights of both people and corporations. The political class has an interest in keeping the neopatrimonial power relations in place. Notice how the large majority of the population is disempowered.

The local capitalist class is trying to form a historic bloc, not with the local political class, but with the transnational capitalist class, which has a parallel interest in a neoliberal state. International donors for the large majority are funded by capitalist countries that will prosper with a transnational capitalist (neoliberal) order. So international donors are promoting this neoliberal order in Malawi as they do elsewhere. They fund projects like “rule of law” and privatization projects (like ESCOM). At the same time they need to deal with the national political class, which has an interest in collecting the funds from these projects, but not in the neoliberal content of the projects. We see, time after time, that project funds are taken and disappearing, which enriches the local corrupt people, and at the same time the content of the projects is being subverted. With ESCOM privatization this is clearly the case, and the second trench of the funds has never been transferred, because the first trench was disappeared with murky administration.

This creates huge chagrin in both the donors and the capitalist class (both national and transnational). These are the classes owning companies, like the newspapers. Consequently we see the newspapers fulminating against all this corruption. This to the chagrin of the political class, who lambast the media at every opportunity.

In all this the population is not represented, and our interests are overruled by the two classes making up the ruling class in Malawi.

Practically, what can we do to improve the situation, and get a real democracy, meaning rule of the people, rather than rule of the ruling class?

This is not an easy question to answer.

I propose that we start by the realization that the type of governance of a country is created by the type of economic relations in the country. (this follows the base-superstructure analysis of Karl Marx). That means we need to change the society in order to improve governance. We cannot expect improvement by simply replacing one ruler with the other: they are all from the same ruling class, and represent the same interest groups. We should disrupt the society, to make change at the level of the state possible. We cannot hope for improvement from either the local political class, or the transnational and national capitalist classes: they represent only the interests of small groups. We need to organize ourselves and disrupt the business-as-usual situation in the country.

Unfortunately the local political class has shown it is prepared to use deadly violence against any serious contender to its arbitrary power: the last time we contested the power was on 20 July 2011, and the result was a twenty fold murder of demonstrators by the repressive state apparatus, which was mobilized on behalf of the political class. We can be sure that, if we find a way of overpowering the police, the military will be called in with even more deadly violence.

A direct confrontation with the state is dangerous and can only be successful if we decide from our side that we are prepared to pay a heavy price in human lives as well as capital destruction. At the moment it seems action preparedness of the population is even lower than in 2011, when follow up demonstrations were cancelled in the light of the heavy death toll the political class inflicted upon us.

We should find other ways of disrupting the neopatrimonial order, to improve society. The Political philosopher Antonio Gramsci called this a “war of position”. This prepares for the final push in taking over the state, which he called the “war of maneuver”. This is done by cultural means: we need to educate our children, our fellow citizens (both Malawian and transnational) in the ways the ruling class are ruling over us, and engender a conscientization of the population to their plight, the real construction of the state and to devise ways of improving society and our lot. This article is one little step, I request support from all of you. Teach, talk in the bottle store, write articles and FB posts. Each in our personal situation should contribute to the improvement of our society.

 

Neo liberal Chilima

Neo liberalism is a worldwide ideology of social engineering. This means it is used by the rich in western countries to reshape our societies to their advantage: their profit motives.

The idea is that society does not exist, only individuals, who strive to enrich themselves. Neoliberals hold that the way to shape society is to make rules that will enable people to enrich themselves through the logic of the market: everything is for sale, and everything is worth only what is being paid for it. This means government should engage itself less and less in the public good as in health care and education, and limit itself to protecting private property and enforcing contracts. So less attention for education and health care as well as the environment, and more attention for the judicial system and patents, copyrights and financial instruments (the stock market, banking facilitation etc)

It holds that people will react to incentives, and that the trick is to create incentives that will make people act according to the logic of the “market” which means everything is seen only in terms of the money it generates.

Education should be paid for by private people (basically parents) and businesses who need certain skills. Health care should be financed privately basically the patient should pay the full price, if desired people can take insurance.

Neo liberals hold that this will create a society in which everyone can make enough money to pay for their needs including education and health care, and those who cannot are probably lazy and should not be facilitated at the cost of the tax payer.

In our current situation no one proposes to go this far immediately, but donors are pushing for a stepwise path in that direction. Public education is hollowed out, quality decreasing, while users fees are introduced, often disguised as a “school fund”. Private schools are growing and becoming more expensive. This means that children of rich parents will have a good life and children of poor parents are punished. According to neo liberal logic this is not the concern of the state, much less of the tax payer.

The same goes for health care: if you cannot afford an emergency you should buy private insurance. If you didn’t you deserve what comes to you.

Supposedly this organization of society creates the best, most efficient organization with the most wealth. That it creates inequality is only good: that will make people work harder to achieve wealth, and their hard work will create more wealth for everybody.

Neo liberals do not care that their story does not work out in reality, they keep pursuing the same agenda, with the consequence that the rich in the world are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. Inequality keeps rising, and the rich are doing well.

Here in Malawi there are signs of neo liberal logic taking hold. The consistent talk about the poor needing “entrepreneurship” as a solution to poverty is one example. Micro credit schemes keep being imposed, and nobody cares that they are not working. “Unbundling” and privatization of ESCoM is another example. It clearly has not improved the performace, but the US keep financing projects like these. The BWB got a lot of neo liberal input from the Dutch company VITIS or something, a few years ago. And the water situation has never been worse. The only thing that has become more effective is the speed of cutting us off when the BWB feels we have not paid enough. Otherwise prices have been going up and service has been deteriorating.

In the birth country of neo liberalism, the UK, Margareth Thatcher had privatized the railways, and the service has never been worse or more expensive. This shows that even there it does not work for the public good, only for the rich.

International agencies, especially the World Bank, IMF and WTO are implementing neo liberal reforms, backed by western (mostly US) money. They impose “development” programs on us, that push us in the direction where they want us to go. So far elites in African countries have been reluctant to go along, and a lot of this program has been disrupted. Here the IFMIS has never functioned, the privatization of ESCoM has been done in name, but not in practice and so on. Elites here in Africa have been using the neo liberal funds for their own purposes: allowance hunting at conferences and trips, and hiring their own companies to supply goods and services with a fat profit. But the state has not been reformed.

The Public Service Reform Program is also clearly a neo liberal approach: performance contracts with incentives have been the method. And it has been championed by vice president Chilima. This shows us that he is complicit in the agenda of international neo liberals in remaking our society into a “market’ place rather than a society for people. And we can expect him to keep going in that direction if we allow him.

Do we want to vote for this program?

THE PRESIDENTIAL CONVOY

 

The other day I watched the Presidential convoy pass by. It got me thinking. In the past there was quite a bit of criticism on the convoy, for the sole reason of waste of our national wealth (or tax payers’ money). Of course this criticism is fine, and reasonable. But it is not the only thing.

The question that kept me thinking is: why would a President feel the need to drive a convoy? What does it do for him?

After a lot of contemplation, the only thing I can think of (apart from disbursing allowances, which is a form of rent or wasteful spending) it is a display of power.

The President tells us: I am so powerful I can afford to stop you from moving about. I can stop all traffic, whether it contributes to the economy or not. Just because I am President. I have the power to waste tax payers’ money on something useless. It does not perform any other function than displaying my power and I make a lot of noise around it to make sure many people are impressed with the notion of my arbitrary power. My power is so arbitrary that I can and do infringe on your freedom of movement. So you better watch out! This arbitrary power could be directed at you. I place myself above the law: I do violate traffic regulations at will including speed limits. I use a bunch of manpower to keep the road free for my arbitrary power, even though these police officers would do better to keep the road safe and catch criminals. Don’t you mess with me, because I do not abide by the law, or by reason. I exercise my POWER!

Why would a President need to remind us of his power.  After all, we are the electorate that appointed him. We are his employer. We are the highest organ in the country. So why remind us, if we already know. The only answer can be that he is insecure about the power. That he feels a need to underscore it, and underscore it in such a vulgar and noisy way. The President is not sure we all know about his power, so he yells at the top of his vehicles horn and headlights: I HAVE THE POWER, DON’T MESS WITH ME!

This insecurity is not so bad. It actually is something we as a Liberation Movement can capitalize on. We can push him over the edge. He only feels the need to display his power because of his insecurity. Let’ help his insecurity a little with civil disobedience and other ways to undermine the corrupt power of the ruling class.

We are a poor nation at the moment. We have nothing to lose but our poverty and oppression. Citizens of Malawi, unite. Unite against oppression, vulgar displays of power, corruption and other extortion. Unite against the insecure ruler of a vulgar convoy.

DOMINATION-HEGEMONY

In everyday speak, the word “domination” denotes subjugation, or the exercise of absolute control by a state over an individual. On the other hand, “hegemony” denotes such notions as influence, patronage or leadership. Here we will use the two terms to analyze the structure of power of our neo patrimonial state.

The cohesion of this state springs from the spiritual and cultural supremacy it exercises through the manipulation of “civil society.” (with civil society, I do not mean CSOs alone, but the whole apparatus of the state outside government including churches, schools, trade unions, NGOs etc). By using socializing mechanisms such as the church, schools, the press and other institutions, the neo patrimonial state foists its own values and beliefs on society, thereby providing cultural direction. Its hegemony in this sense becomes rule by consent.

It works concurrently with supremacy of force, but lowers the need for its application. In contrast, domination is supremacy established by force and maintained by the state through military, political, judicial and penitentiary systems. In this sense, domination is the antithesis of hegemony.

The hegemony of the state rests in part on ultimate coercive power, but the currency of force is devalued if it must be constantly applied. If the government has to shoot 20 demonstrators every week (like they did on 20 July 2011) their legitimacy will be heavily undermined, both internally and externally. So a government strives to rule by consent, and to enforce habitual acquiescence to its authority. This makes legitimacy a requisite for the state.

Marx dismissed the peasantry contemptuously as “rural idiocy”. Here in Africa however the peasantry is the dominant class numerically, so we will need to find our power there. Frantz Fanon has addressed this issue in “Wretched of the Earth”.

BASE-SUPERSTRUCTURE

The “base” of the social order consists of the relations between people or between classes, which determines their various powers of control over the means of production (in a rural state like Malawi mostly land), distribution of goods and services, and exchange (money, bank accounts etc). It determines the actual level people operate at in society. Those who control the base constitute a ruling class and therefore exercise domination and hegemony over society.

On the other hand, the “superstructure” that rests upon the base encompasses all socializing mechanisms such as language, religion, education, law, ideology, mass media, trade unions, the army and the security apparatus. These mechanisms express, enforce and consolidate the relations of economic power pertaining to the base.

Various legal, political and cultural institutions are established in order to spread the values, beliefs and vested interests of the ruling class and hence maintain the status quo.

Fundamental change occurs in society only with the change in the base, i.e., with the transfer of control over the means of production and with it distribution and exchange. Administrative, legal and political changes that take place in the superstructure are superficial. They do not address the fundamental question of state power, which causes our country to be disfunctional.

Improvements will be possible only when the productive forces i.e., the workers (mostly small holder farmers) develop to the level at which existing productive relations can no longer contain them or impede their further growth. In the ensuing crisis, all oppressive institutions crumble and human liberation is made possible.

Contrary to what Karl Marx expected human liberation is not merely an inevitable consequence of the internal dynamics of capitalism. There are complex and concealed modes of class domination, which manifests itself in cultural hegemony. Because of this the base will not simply crumble, and even if it does, revolution will not simply occur.

THE POWER OF THE RULING CLASS

The power of the ruling class is not just limited to the economic base. It also manifests itself in the hegemony exercised from the superstructure, i.e., from the spiritual, ideological and cultural spheres that provide myth, consolidation and legitimacy to a given regime.

The values, beliefs, consumption patterns and habits of thought of the ruling class do penetrate the proletariat (small holder farmers). They rub off on the population, distort their vision and negatively affect their perception.

As a result, the task of human liberation cannot simply be considered inevitable, just because there is a crisis in the system. The population is being manipulated. The lack of critical consciousness cannot be lightly viewed.

Under our circumstances, people can hardly be expected to question their conditions and still less to reject the values of the ruling class. And no matter how abject their living conditions, they will not think of revolution.

If fundamental change is therefore to take place in society, rebellious seeds will have to be planted in a cultural soil that is prepared to accept them. The hegemony of the ruling class, i.e., the spiritual and cultural supremacy that it exercises by manipulating civil society, will have to be countered.

THE SOLUTION

To that end, more attention should be given to revolutionary organization in the realm of culture and education.

Discussion councils should be established to enhance the consciousness of the population to help promote their solidarity, to restrict the decision making capacity of the rulers and eventually to take over the administrative functions of the country.

When we come to feel our strength and to be conscious of our responsibility and our value, we will no longer suffer another man to impose his will on us and claim the right to control our actions and thoughts.

The sociology of knowledge is a form of critical consciousness. Its validity resides in its ideological function of intellectually organizing the experiences of the masses.

Ideologies cease to be viewed as intellectual processes mystifying social, but acquire true historical, psychological and sociological value. However, contrary to Marx’ expectations, the great revolutions of the 20th century did not take place in the industrialized countries, but in agrarian ones, such as 1917 Russia, 1949 China, and 1970s Viet Nam.

Indeed, in current day Malawi for instance, despite rampant inflation, mass unemployment and civil unrest, history’s chosen class—the proletariat,” has so far not promoted the revolutionary upsurge. If anything, it comes to terms with neo patrimonialism.

The general pattern of farmers’ resistance to hegemonic thought and institutions, and the fact that it is the farmers rather than the industrial proletariat, that has provided the major social base for successful revolutions in the 20th century, has shown the opportunities we find in Africa.

So unlike Marx, we recognize the revolutionary potential of the farmers’ class. But insofar as the passivity of the farmer goes, this was made possible because the fundamental question of hegemony was not properly addressed. We should end our obsession with the economic base and to pay more attention to the superstructure and to promote intellectual debates to enhance consciousness of the population.

INTELLECTUALS

In the one party era, undeveloped societies like African ones, where the level of consciousness is low and where people are ruled by coercion, fear and apathy, a coup d’état may have been appropriate. But in the culturally advanced 21st century where the workers willingly consent to existing arrangements, change presupposes a transformation of mass consciousness which can be effected through a protracted “war of positions,” in which intellectuals play a significant role. Traditional intellectuals do support the cultural hegemony of the ruling class. Even those coming from a proletarian background themselves tend to consent to the hegemony, and only see their intellectual achievement as a means of joining the bourgeoisie: personal advancement without solidarity with the masses. We need to create “organic” intellectuals from the proletariat (smallholder farmers) with a consciousness of the real construction of society and a solidarity with their own farmers’ class background, to effect real change in society: in the base.

There is no evidence that the consciousness of the traditional intellectuals is in the interest of the lower strata. In any case, revolution is about people. Its primary objective is to change society for the better.

Change is the result of the stimulus evoked by the friction of one group of ideas upon another. Thus, when members of the same group maintain different ideas with regard to the same subject in opposition, they necessarily evoke debate and discussion, thus enhancing consciousness.

We need to school, train, educate our proletariat from an early age, to enhance revolutionary consciousness, and make real lasting improvements in our country possible.

 

The system and our answer to it

Both the Daily Times and the Nation open today with a story of MK 145000000 graft (plus the mark up of the capitalist). Interestingly, both newspapers treat the story as an incident of people of bad conscience stealing our money. While there is truth to that, the stories both miss a more fundamental point: this type of behavior is so endemic in our ruling class (from both sides of the isle) that we can safely conclude there is more to it than that. It is systemic. The system is constructed in such a way that only people who misbehave float to the top. This of course does not relieve those people from their personal responsibility for the crimes they commit. But it does mean that replacing the people with other people is not going to solve the problem. They will only be replaced with people who float to the top in a system that floats the bad guys to the top.

In many African countries, government follows a neo-patrimonial logic. This means that power is personalised, and put to whatever use the person sees fit. This means subordinates are robbed of any rights. Everything becomes a favour that needs to be returned. Do I want my right? I have to return the favour to the police/court/judge/boss/employer/politician/other. And often that means paying up (CORRUPTION! BRIBE!) Otherwise it means returning the favour by voting for the power grabber. Or something else that keeps the corrupt person in power. Without such a patrimonial network, no one can rise to the top in Malawi (and many other African countries) On the other hand, the subordinate needs to make sure to have some patron who can help out in times of need (trouble with the law, bad harvest, school admissions, land, housing, you name it)

Apart from the obvious injustice of the system, it also paralyses society, because it rewards rent seeking, not production. This means the productivity of the Nation is low, and poverty is rife. To make the country more prosperous we need a system that rewards productivity, not theft (graft/corruption/allowance hunting/etc) To make the country more just we need a system that promotes equality (for the law and in economic matters).

We need to break the continuous cycle of neo-patrimonial injustice. That means we need to do more than just replace the people at the top of the food chain with other people at the top of the same food chain. That will only enrich other people at the cost of the population. We need to overthrow the system.

Attacking the power head on is dangerous. We found that out on 20 July 2011. We voiced our grievances, and the ruling class answered with 20 fold lethal violence. If push comes to shove the ruling class is not above 20 fold murder. So we need to look at other ways.

I propose that

  1. We stop respecting people in power: they are all corrupted, otherwise they would not have risen to power in the current system.
  2. We do not recognise the legitimacy of the ruling class: they themselves violate law and rule left right and centre. We can do the same, and we need to be careful to avoid punishment.
  3. We withdraw from governance at every opportunity. We do not involve the authorities where we can avoid them. We avoid the authorities where we can. We do not participate in rallies, fundraising dinners, tax schemes, business regulations, quasi democratic elections or other schemes of the ruling class. We organise ourselves, and we avoid involving authorities. Let them cook in their own juice.

Chilima 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 and (mass) 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. So a politician trying to project him/herself as a technocrat is only hiding political bias.

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 and for some time uranium). 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 and partly privatising ESCOM.

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 under performing) 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.

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.