Cultural hegemony in our beautiful Malawi

Cultural hegemony is the domination of a society by the ruling class, by means of ideas, rather than brute force. Of course the ruling class has access to the lethal violence of the state machinery as we witnessed on 20 July 2011. But most of the time they dominate us in a more subtle way. The ruling class has access to the media. The political class to the public media, and the capitalist class to the private media. Private media can only exist because of advertising (sales of newspapers cover only part of the production cost, and private electronic media are totally dependent on advertising). That means they need to satisfy the needs of the advertiser. Also private media are owned (and thus controlled) by rich people: if you are poor you simply do not have the means to start a media house. So it is the rich and powerful who control the media. Quite naturally, the messages they disseminate in the media they control are those that reflect their values and opinions. This way we get fed the ruling class ideology of society. All discussions and differences included, there are background values that are never questioned and always amplified from all sides of the media spectrum. Not because those values are universal or inevitable, but because they reflect the ideas and interests of the ruling class, the rich and powerful, who control the media. In schools it is much the same: the political class dominates the government schools, the rich dominate the private schools. Here the same concepts are being disseminated.

One such concept is “development”. No matter who is speaking, the word development isimage001 used for positive connotations. Very conveniently for those using it, the word is only defined in the vaguest of terms. It can mean education, infrastructure, economic growth, well being, health care, food security, you name it. But rarely is anyone questioning the meaning of the concept. So it is used for almost anything, when someone needs positive connotations. Because it can mean almost anything it becomes almost meaningless. But because of the frequent repetition of the term, it seems logical and rational. However, a meaningless term cannot be used to communicate meaning. It is only used to communicate a slogan.

The concept “development” hinges on the “development model”. This world view states that countries need to take a number of steps from “un-developed” to “developed”. “Developed” countries supposedly have taken these steps in the past, “un-developed” countries need to take those same steps in order to become “developed”. But if we look at the way “developed” countries achieved their “development”, we see that those same steps are not available to us at all: the first country to industrialise (if we take that standard for “developed”) was the UK. They used colonies like us to finance their development: we provided cheap raw materials, often forced to sell far below market price. These cheap materials were shipped to the UK where they were manufactured into products, which were shipped back to the colonies and sold at high prices, so the manufacturer would make a big profit. We provided both the raw materials to make and the markets to sell the products. They “developed” at our cost, and we did not “develop”. We financed their “development”. We currently do not own colonies that we can abuse to finance our development, so that road is not open to us. Even so, this outdated model is used day in day out in the dominant discourse to provide positive messaging. And we see the results: we are not “developing” in any meaningful sense. (This is explained by the World Systems Model, which is much more modern and adequate than the Development Model.)

World-wide, there is another dominant discourse. It is slightly different (in “developed” countries the world “development” has other connotations). There it is the neo-liberal world-view that has become “common sense”. The neo-liberal buzz word is “freedom”. Neo-liberal means: Privatisation, marketisation, commodification. More private companies, less statal companies and para statal companies. This idea is only very partially implemented, though.

While US President Trump is a strong proponent of market capitalism, he has greatly expanded government spending, especially on defence (about US 52billion rise!), which channels lots of tax money to the private companies that supply the army. (this is called the military-industrial complex, and it has great influence on US government spending, which explains why US governments are so keen on making war: it supplies profits for the military-industrial complex). This dominant language is promoted by international organisations like the IMF, World Bank, USAID, MCC and other (American Government funded) organisations. These organisations are pushing neo-liberal policies on the recipients of their funds: the privatisation of (part of) Escom is a clear example.

Another example of neo-liberal policy is the new land bill that Atupele Muluzi brought in. It privatises the land. Land that used to be held in common by the community is now being divided up between people, and made personal property. The UK followed a similar policy in the 18th century. This brought more wealth for the rich and more poverty for the poor: it increased inequality. We can expect the same to happen in Malawi. Some people will out of poverty have to sell their land or use it as collateral for a loan. If their harvest is not sufficient to pay back, they will lose their land, and with it their means of livelihood. So this will create a class of landless peasants, the poorest in any society. Policies like this in India have led to terrible epidemics of suicide among the poor farmers in years with bad weather. It is quite possible the same will happen in Malawi as a consequence of Muluzi’s neo-liberal policy.

Our private media, which are organised in a capitalist way and mostly funded by capitalist advertising, promote neo-liberal policies as well, especially in the capitalist minded business sections. The public media are more stuck in the one party ideas of government-led development (like the failed government owned sugar factory in Salima and the crumbling Nsanje Inland Port).

Both models, development and neo-liberalism, exclude the biggest part of the population from the nation’s wealth. Small holder farmers make up 85% of Malawi’s population, but they make only very meagre incomes. The policies followed so far by governments since independence in 1964 have not improved their situation. Even worse: at the start of multi-party in Malawi in 1994 the per capita GDP (which is a measure of the wealth of the people) was lower than in 1964 at independence. And in 2014, after 20 years of multi-party the per capita GDP is lower than it was in 1994. The current models of policies do not lead to improvement of the people’s wellbeing. This means we need to look to radically different policies to improve the situation of the majority, the hegemonic models have not worked for us.

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