Chieftaincy wrangles


The current chieftaincy wrangles over Gomani V show that we need to modernize our chieftaincy structures, to be in line with the countries needs in the 21st century. With a modern democracy in place, we cannot remain with 19th century chieftaincy governance.

All too often there are wrangles about chieftaincy. We need to be clear about the situation. We have to make difficult choices:

Either the chief are a historical curiosity, a symbol of a tribe and of Africanness. In that case they are not part of the modern governance structure, and will have no special powers over citizens. In this scenario the modern state will provide governance. Most developed countries with hereditary kings systems have chosen this option. For instance in Belgium and UK the king/Queen has very little if any formal powers, and only a ceremonial function. In this case chieftaincy wrangles will be obsolete, any person can be chief over anyone who recognizes the person as his or her chief, and no one will mind. In this construction, chiefs are not to be paid by the state, and it will be a volunteer occupation with no compensation beyond the idea of keeping tradition alive. Of course for this choice we will need a transition period in which the state builds up its structures to replace the tasks that chiefs are now performing like land policy. For the land we will need a register with clear rules of ownership. We will need more magistrates to take over these functions from chiefs. Of course voluntarily, people can respect the chief and ask for mediation. If one of the parties concerned in a dispute is not satisfied, they dispute can be taken to the magistrates court after mediation has failed to satisfy everybody.

The alternative is to incorporate the chiefs in the modern governance structure. First we will have to decide if chief is a political function or it is a section of the civil service. In case it is political, we will needs chiefs elections, so democracy is extended to this function. Or the chief will be part of the civil service. For modern governance we will have to separate the judiciary powers of the chief from the executive powers to satisfy the principle of the trias politica as formulated by Machiavelli. The trias politica is the separation of powers from legislature (parliament), executive (president and cabinet) and judiciary. It is essential to keep these powers separated to insure maximum checks and balances and prevent abuse of power. This means we have to make the chief part of the executive OR part of the judiciary, but never can the two be combined in one person or even institution.

If the chief is a political function, then he/she cannot have judiciary powers. Then the chief is part of the executive. The same goes for other duties: the judiciary must be completely separated from other, executive, branches of government.

In case the chief is part of the civil service, then the appointments must not be made in a hereditary way, but on merit, and chiefs will need to have minimum qualifications in the modern education system to be eligible for the function.

I realize that these are radical ideas, and that w will need time to modernize. But if we want to develop the country, we cannot afford to keep part of our governance system with outdated procedures that keep giving rise to wrangles because of unclear oral traditions that are interpreted differently by different people, usually to their own benefit.

Chose: chiefs are symbolic and important as symbols, OR chiefs are part of the modern African governance system and are treated as such. Not the unclear middle ground that keeps our communities undeveloped.


Malawi is in crisis: we have 2.8 million people at risk of starvation, our economy is in shambles, tariffs are going up like a hot air balloon, our hospitals have no drugs, nurses and teachers are rare, and the list goes on and on.

At the same time the Malawi delegation of 18 government officials and another 93 or so hangers-on, wives, friends, family are celebrating the UN annual meeting, other ways of wasting money are also explored. The Shire-Zambezi Technicolor dream refuses to eat up our taxes that could be used to save lives.

His Excellency, The State President, Ngwazi, Professor, Doctor, Bingu wa Mutharika had an idea, and without considering its feasibility he started throwing millions of US dollars towards it. He opened Nsanje Inland Port in a bizarre ceremony, with no ship, because no ship could reach the port: the Zambezi flows through Mozambique. Mozambique is a sovereign country and no ship can pass through without its permission.

One ship was ever licensed to dock in Nsanje Inland Port, but its license was revoked when it was caught smuggling from there. Since then the Port has been vandalized and not maintained, fair enough, since it’s never going to be used anyway.

The Zambezi is too shallow to accommodate commercial vessels, there is no harbor at the entry point into the Indian Ocean to transfer the cargo to ocean going vessels, and there is little to transport anyway. A useless waste of money.

Let’s stop throwing good money after bad; this port can never serve a useful function.

ALARM! Malawi going down the drain.

We have been one of the poorest countries for many years, but now we have officially been named the poorest in the world. This dubious honor necessitates a look at governance, as government is the only instance that can reverse the trend.

Look at the situation on the ground:

Nurses are not employed while we have only 1/3 of the nurses we need working.

Teachers have been unemployed for a year while we have only 2/3 of the teachers we need (according to Malawian standards, according to international standards we have less than half of what we need!) The ministry of education abolishes the JCE primary school exams, for reasons of finance, not any quality reasons.

We have a security breakdown, and our police are understaffed, under resourced, under trained, underfunded and overworked.

The president goes in a private jet with a bloated delegation of 111 (or 115 according to other sources) to New York. He relocated from the lavish Waldorf Astoria Hotel to the lavish Hilton Hotel.

It is clear that Malawi, after three years of freeze of budget support is slowly grinding down the slippery slope towards a failed state.

What can be done?

We need the donor support. Donors have made clear what their reasons for the freeze are: rampant corruption. The remedy is simple: our government needs to instill a vigilant anti corruption program. So far a few token arrests have been made, very few people prosecuted and even less convicted. While we all know that the corruption runs into the 10s of billions, perhaps hundreds of billions. But prevention is better than cure: we need to prevent corruption from happening now. This means we need to make haste with the new Public Finance Management System IFMIS>. And that is totally lacking: after more than 16 months in office, not even a new system has been procured, let alone implemented. And that rightfully shows donors that their money is not safe in the hands of the Malawian state: it can and will be stolen.

Donors have a problem at home: extreme right wing (racist) parties are on the rise, and these are opposing development support. Donor governments cannot afford to see their development money stolen, this will promote the cause of these extremists to stop development aid altogether. So donors are in no position to support the Malawi Budget unless vigorous measures have been implemented to stop the leakage of their donor support. And that means that the new IFMIS needs to be active and incorruptible. Until then, Malawi keeps muddling towards the ravine of a failed state.


It shows poor insight in governance to ask for support in feeding the nation and immediately afterwards flying off to New York with a reservation for the lavish Waldorf Astoria Hotel, which has been the symbol of conspicuous consumption since before Malawian independence. It shows the leader does not care about the population and it shows that the leader is not serious about donor independence, a target he set himself in five years.

Another bone of contention here is the secrecy surrounding the UN trip. IN a democracy, the electorate, which is also the tax payer, has a right to know. The right to know how their tax money is being used, and a right to know how they are being governed. This means the state should simply publish a list of every member of the 111 member delegation to the UN, and a description of their responsibilities and the tasks to be completed in New York, as well as a description of the funding agency for that particular member. This way we do not need to be kept in the dark, and the government can easily prove its claim that many are sponsored by other organizations and that the 111 people are all there to support the national interest.

Look at this from Nigeria:

A more fundamental worry: it seems that this type of luxury trip is being used to reward political support, or to buy the same. This has been a tried and tested method to rule in Malawi. Our system is rotten to the core, it shows. Power is not gotten because of merit and performance but by buying support at the tax payers cost, which is not what tax is supposed to be used for. This way the different members of the ruling class are enriching each other at the expense of the population and at the expense of development. We need to look behind the persons, and improve the whole system of governance.

Failed State?

Some years ago Malawi was prematurely labeled a failed state by some western private institution. Not very productive for us. For them it got them some publicity. But now we are going in a dangerous direction.

The tasks of the state are important, and necessary for a society to function. The most important ones are providing security (police, army, judicial system), health care (right to life) and education. Education is one of three pillars of the Human Development Index, which is internationally used to measure the performance of a country.

Now in Malawi, education is not doing well: less than 10% of our population even finishes primary education, let alone secondary and tertiary. Last year the ministry of education had the great idea of not employing 10,000 certified teachers, while there is an enormous shortage (in Malawi the average pupil to teacher ratio is 92, while we strive for 60, internationally 40 is seen as the maximum). Now they decided to do away with the JCE (Junior Certificate of Education). They come up with some rationale that it is not in demand, but what this means is that the last quality check is removed from our primary education. While we know that the quality is already below standard. This can only mean disaster. According to education expert Steve Sharra, this removal is not motivated by anything but a shortage of money.

We see the same thing happening in health care, where the government suddenly decided to reverse employment of the whole contingent of graduated nurses. Malawi has a nurse to population ration of 1 to 3000 while internationally one to 1000 is minimum. We need many more nurses, as anyone visiting our public hospitals will know. But they are not employed. (It remains to be seen if this decision is legal, the National Organization for Nurses and Midwifes should take government to court over this, as it is essentially illegal dismissal after they had been hired.)

In security, the third important task of our government we see an underfunded police organization, a wave of crime, both on the streets and on Capital Hill, and a judiciary that sometimes is not even capable of working for a shortage of stationary.

All this put together points in a worrying direction: government is not functioning the way it should. And this brings us back to the start of this story: how far are we from a failed state? Unfortunately it looks like we are getting closer and closer…

Pop vs. rights

Last week we could read that government was unpleasantly surprised by numbers that predict a Malawian population of 40 million by the year 2040 if we don’t change our ways. It is clear that with the current situation, the country cannot sustain that number of people: there simply is not enough arable land for so many people in an agricultural society/economy. Our schools will be overwhelmed by the number of learners, and the hospitals cannot cope now. Let alone when our population almost triples.

What is surprising, though, is that government is surprised. A few years ago similar numbers were published. Then it was under president Bingu wa Mutharika. His government decided that an average of 6 children per woman was too much to sustain, but that the Malawian culture does value big families so an average of 4 children per woman was seen as a good compromise. Strange enough: this was all, there was no policy formulated, and of course the population kept growing at similar rates as before. Which should surprise no one: if no policy is implemented, no change occurs.

The previous minister of health, Jean Kalilani, had made some remarks about the population growing too fast before, when Kamuzu Central Hospital was overwhelmed by the number of patients. Now she started a modest policy of family planning, and see: there is a little allocation for family planning in the drugs budget.

Another worrying factor is the population control approach: we cannot cope as a country, so we need to control our population. The rights of individual women are not mentioned, or considered. While that is the point of entry we should take. Women’s self determination should be the leading principle.

If we take that approach, we should educate men and women on the consequences of big families, on the consequences of a lack of child spacing, of the consequences of early pregnancies, of all that. From an individual point of view, the country is not the sole responsibility of the individual, and anyway, it is not possible to convince an individual to go against their personal interests in the interest of the country. (This is clearly demonstrated by Cashgate: the individuals committed crimes that illegally kept the country undeveloped, but they did so because they let their personal interests prevail over patriotism, the law, and ethics.)

What we need to do:

  1. Make the full range of family planning available continuously in all clinics. That is: pills, condoms both male and female, IUDs, vasectomy and tubal ligation, cervical caps with spermicides, abortion, injectables, and implants.
  2. A campaign on radio with clear information on the advantage of a small family ( better two well educated healthy children than five that are undernourished, undereducated, and in ill health.) and information on family planning.
  3. A clear correlation has been established between the level of education of a woman and the number of children she chooses to have, so we need to send our daughters to school. We need to protect them from predatory elder men, including teachers.
  4. Include family planning in the school curriculum for the age group earlier than our children become sexually active. Since this tends to be earlier than many adults like me like to admit, I propose to do it at 10 years old, and again at 11, so they will understand and remember well.
  5. We need a system of child friendly services: both untrained health care staff and untrained shop keepers can be judgmental and refuse to supply family planning to unmarried adolescents, with often disastrous consequences (early pregnancies, which can cause fistula, school drop out and stigma and discrimination, as well as STIs including HIV/Aids).

It is clear our government has no funds and no expertise to carry this out successfully, but it will be possible to interest donors in a programme like this.

One Size Fits All – World Bank

At the opening of the ICAM (Institute of Chartered Accountants) conference, World Bank Country Rep L Kullenberg predictably called for the government to reduce spending. The World Bank always advises ever government to reduce spending. That is their standard solution to every problem. They are neo-liberal, right wing capitalist puppets of the USA (who mostly funds the World Bank). The USA dictate the one-size-fits-all approach that was so clearly exposed by Joseph Stieglitz. The USA forget that their own government overspends, and that their agriculture is much stronger subsidized than any FISP ever could.

This is the same recipe that the World Bank has cooked up for every state since the 1980s. Structural Adjustment is their magic word, and the fact that this has failed so miserably (read Joseph Stieglitz again!) is only reason for the World Bank to advise more of the same disaster.

As a country we need to decide. In a democracy, the population is supposed to have the decisive say, through elections. Ideally, a democracy functions this way: a number of candidates clearly state in which way they think the country should go. Likeminded candidates join in parties, and the population has a clear choice: party one wants to dance to the tune of the World Bank, Party two wants to go in a socialist way, party three wants to keep everything more or less the same (conservatism, for this read Edmund Burke).

This is the case in the UK, where the main parties are liberal (small government), labour (government support for the poor) and conservative (keep things more or less the same, or reverse policies from previous labour governments). This is a clear choice and the electorate can decide. IN Malawi we don’t get this though. What we get is a lot of personality talk. But no one party comes out clear with alternatives for the government policy. You could think that UDF is a liberal party ( in principle) but about a year before the elections Muluzi Jr comes with a plan of government driven growth in a big construction project. Not liberal at all. Joyce Banda had come out with a plan for private sector lead growth, which is liberal, but her government did not implement anything in that direction. DPP promised subsidized iron sheets and more FISP, but they are not implementing that at all, just talk. And last year the FISP was such a mess that the impact was greatly reduced, mostly through incompetence and corruption.

This way we can never effectuate our democratic rights. We need clarity from our politicians, and clear ideas of their ideologies. Now government is not making any choices, which means we muddle along in the direction of a BIG disaster. With no donor support the government is too cash strapped to do much of anything, even meeting fixed cost is growing over their heads, and they are over borrowing, thus crowding out the private sector. What is being done about it? Even the FISP borrowed this year’s money last year, and used it up, so there is a gaping hole in the funding there. The responsible minister Chiyembekeza does not get any better than: Government has a plan, trust me. We will publish the plan some time soon. But he cannot say what is in the plan. Which could mean anything.

We, as electorate deserve better, but we are not insisting enough on better. If we vote for clear policies only, the politicians will have to follow. But so far we are voting as blind sheep. If we demonstrate for clear policies, like we did on 20 June 2011, the politicians will follow. They know they need votes, and if we are persistently demanding clear policies they will come through. If we keep on acting like everything is cool, the politicians will assume everything is cool and they will continue business-as-usual, which means Malawi remains the poorest country in the world, and we remain the poorest people in the world. Depressing thought.

Where are we in Malawi??

If we look at big political ideologies, we can distinguish two major types, socialism and capitalism. Communism has all but disappeared since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

In socialism (or left wing politics) the state is a big important institution that takes responsibility for the well being of the citizens. It provides a lot and to pay for this it raises taxes.

On the other hand in capitalism (or right wing politics) the state is small and restricts itself in its duties. In theory this would lead to much lower taxes for the inhabitants of the country. In practice the difference with socialist states is limited (both around 30%).

In a capitalist system the state limits itself to providing security and protecting private property, as well as exercising international policy. The state stays mostly out of economic policy, leaving the economy to the forces of demand and supply (sometimes named free market economy). View Post

Total capitalist economies generally fail as the state does nothing to help the economy run smooth. (for examples read “the Shock Doctrine” by Naomi Klein)

In a socialist system the state also provides health care, education, social security and a host of other services. The state has a big hand in the economy, and often a lot of industries are state owned, which means there is democratic control over the policies, and state enterprises are expected to serve the national interest as well as the interest of the enterprise. In Malawi MBC is a good example of a state enterprise, that is supposed to serve the interest of the population. (In practice it often serves the interest of the ruling party first and of its employees second, leaving the population a distant third).

Both systems have their advantages and disadvantages. Very cynically put: socialism leads to strangling over-regulation and bureaucracy, which is not good for economic growth. Capitalism leads to gross inequality, which is gross injustice. Or capitalism is good at creating wealth, but bad at just distribution of wealth. Socialism is good at just distribution of wealth but less good at creation of wealth.

In practice no state is wholly socialist or wholly capitalist, but states are somewhere on a continuum between the two extremes. The USA are mostly capitalist, the Nordic countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway) are much closer to socialism. China has an interesting new form, where the economy is mostly capitalist, though the government keeps a tight hold on big corporations and the banking system, while the political system is one-party communist. Many theorists hold that this can only be in transition and that a free market economy breeds the powers that will enforce a free democratic political system, analogous to the French revolution in the 18th century.

Where are we in Malawi??

In Malawi we get the worst of both systems: the government keeps raising our taxes and import levies are at an astronomical rate up to 125%. The government is by far the biggest player in the economy, keeping a tight hold on every company in the country, through awarding or withholding tenders, and through a corrupt and impenetrable regulatory system, that only the most experienced (and most expensive) lawyers can understand and maneuver their way through. That would be a socialist system if the corruption was dealt with. But does our government live up to the responsibility of a socialist government in taking care of the needs of the population?

In name the government does provide health care, but we see continuous complaints about quality and absence of essential drugs. Now a new hospital is opened in Nkhata Bay ( not financed by our own government but by the African Union) it is already clear that government is not going to finance it, so the proposal is to (partly) privatise it.

Which means government is only partly providing health care. Quality health care will only be available to the rich.

WE also read that government is raising tuition fees at Domasi College of Teaching with a whopping 12000%. That is making it 120 times more expensive. So clearly here government is not living up to the responsibilities of a socialist government either.

The ruling party must make choices: are they left wing socialist and do they provide for the population, or are they right wing capitalist and do they stay out of the economy? It does neither. We get the worst of both systems, which is a raw deal.

How do we increase our productivity?

There are many proposals, but none is giving the desired results. It seems we have to deal with a dragon with many heads here. We have to look into short and long term strategies in order to get the country to move.

I propose: short term, push on with the public service reform program. It is clear that a none-functioning corrupt public service is not creating a conducive environment for economic development. For now the implementation of the program has been below expectation. Renaming a number of PSs into directors but keeping them in the same position and salary scale does not translate into meaningful reform. It is only cosmetic.

A big problem is that we have policies, and often very good policies, in document form, but not being implemented. The feared implementation gap is a gaping ravine in Malawi. We need to reform the public service into a vibrant hard working organization that delivers services to the public. One problem is that every ambitious public servant tries to get to Capital Hill as early as possible in his/her career path, in order to move up. We need to reform the public service, so that we do not get all talented people producing paper plans at international or lakeside workshops. We need to get the ambitious and talented people to work in the districts to implement plans. So that we do not only have paper policies, but meaningful change on the ground. To get people to do this, we need to change the career path, in such a way that people who successfully implement policies make promotion faster than those who produce paper plans. We need to give promotion, and place highly qualified and paid people, not on Capital Hill, but close to the population, where the policies are given hands and feet, and made to walk the (paper) talk.

Secondly, we need to vigorously fight corruption. That will kill two birds with one stone:

Firstly we will stop the leakage of funds tapped by corruption, and we will get the corrupt types out of the public service, so the service delivers instead of being hampered by those people only looking for their own benefit instead of doing the job they were hired to do.

Secondly, it will bring back donor confidence and get donor funds streaming into the economy again. This will greatly empower government to deliver development.

For the long term, we need to overhaul our education system, so our children are being educated to a high degree. The other day I heard a South African teacher complaining she has 51 learners in one class, and she cannot do a quality job with more than 40. In Europe many countries even cut their class size to a maximum of 30 or lower. Here in Malawi we have an average (not maximum) of 92 learners per teacher. That makes a quality education impossible, and with a lowly educated population we cannot develop. We have a horrible primary education completion rate of less than 10 percent! This shows how the country cannot develop. The president started a good initiative with community colleges, but it is not enough by a long stretch. By the same token our universities are not good enough either. The University of Malawi ended second lowest of all universities in Africa (and African universities are the lowest rated in the world). (After some reconsidering they found a way to recalculate and move Unima up a few places, not by improving the quality of the education, but by a numbers trick). We need to improve our education system from Early Child Development to adult education and everything in between, to have a well educated capable population that can deliver quality life for their families, and development to the country.

Our money, our pride

Today we read in the newspaper that the FISP, the lifeline for poor farmers, is under pressure from the depreciation of the kwacha. Clearly, while a little bit of inflation is a good thing (2-4%) too much like we have now is a bad thing. It makes givernment programs and business deals unstable. As with everything in a capitalist economy, the value of the kwacha is set by the law of demand and supply. It works like this:

When you have 1000 bananas and no mango you get enough of eating banana and you would like mango, but you have none. If someone will offer you a mango, you’d be likely to want to give him 100 bananas for just on mango. Here there is a lot of supply of bananas but little supply of mangos, so the price of a mango is high, the price of a banana is low.

On the other hand: if you have 1000 mangos and no banana, you’d be willing to give 100 mangoes for just one banana. With high supply of mangoes and low supply of bananas, the price of a mango goes down, the price of a banana goes up.

The same happens with our currency: if a lot of people want to buy kwacha the price goes up, if a lot of people want to sell kwacha the price goes down.

Why does someone want to buy a kwacha? The answer is: if that person wants to buy something from Malawi which needs to be paid in kwacha. This may be tobacco, tea, or a work of art, anything. ON the other hand: when does someone want to sell kwacha? If that person wants to buy something from abroad which is paid in forex (often US dollars). This can be fuel, drugs, fertilizer or imported toothpicks, again: anything. So if we import a lot the rate of the kwacha goes down, if we export a lot the rate of the kwacha goes up.

A government can try to keep the rate of the currency up artificially, but as we have seen under His Excellency Ngwazi II Professor Doctor Bingu wa Mutharika, this creates shortages of forex, which translates into shortages of pretty much everything from fuel to drugs to fertilizer to sugar. Not a good situation for the country.

In a country like Malawi where very few people are rich, mostly essential goods are imported, only few luxury goods. So limiting import is not easy. It will be possible if we practice import substitution: products which are now imported may be manufactured in Malawi, and we do not need to import them. Even better is: create product for export, and we create a demand for kwacha, which will support the rate. Either way, we have to produce. And their lies the heart of the problem: we do not produce enough. We need to become more productive, to keep the rate of the kwacha stable.

There are many reasons for low productivity in Malawi: joblessness, inefficient agricultural and production practices, and above all: a bad business climate. This is the responsibility of the government, and it is not doing very well in that regard. We will look into that another time.