The newspaper today:
- Embassy funds stolen
- 1.5 bn drugs stolen
- Admarc owes Zambia 1.2bn
- PIL angers MPs
- President at Ngoni party
- Kanyika mine in court
- Mob kills freed convict
This is just one random day. It is clear that Malawi is dysfunctional. This is not a few of the wrong people in the wrong place, it is a systemic issue, that cannot be rooted out with incidental solutions. We need a systemic solution, which means we need to get to the root cause of the issue.
This country is organized around the collection of allowances, kick-backs, bribes and lucrative contracts. This at the expense of getting the job done. It goes for the government sector as well as the NGO and private sector. It is all over. Until we clear this issue, the country will never develop (if we even knew how to define development!).
What is going on in Malawi is a system of neo patrimonialism. Where in the old days of the village community a patrimonial system of personalized government may have worked, the combination of patrimonialism with a modern state in a mass society creates a toxic mix, which poisons society. Officials of any kind (government, NGO or private sector) are not placed according to merit, but according to loyalty to the person placed above them. In return they command loyalty from above, often in the form of impunity when committing corruption, theft or other criminal behavior. The result is that the country is not organized on getting the job done (in any field) but on collecting allowances, bribes, lucrative contracts, or simply stealing resources.
In the older days we were kept afloat by donors in form of budget support. This did not develop the country (if we even knew how to define development!) but it kept us from total collapse. Now the donors are fed up with seeing their money stolen by the elite of functionaries, and they stopped budget support. The country is dysfunctional to the level that we are moving closer and closer to the abyss, with no savior in sight.
This cannot be stopped by simply placing another person on the Presidential Throne. We all know that the MCP functioned according to this logic for 30 years. The system is very resilient against reform: the people on the top are benefiting. The people on the bottom (the small holder farmer) have adapted, and learned how to play the system to a small degree. They cannot afford to gamble with any change, because any change may mean starvation. They need to keep supporting the patron who supports them (a little) as clients.
The (small) middle class is being sacrificed: they see how a more functional capitalist system would give then many more opportunities for growth, and for development (if we only knew how to define development!). But their numbers are too small to make the difference at the ballot box.
Chilima tried to change things a little bit with the Public Sector Reform Program. He was sidelined (as vice presidents tend to be) and the conservative factions that benefit from the system managed to stop any improvement in functionality. (Clearly Seodi White is not on the side of far reaching reforms.)
Here we see how a very capable man (Chilima) is sidelined by the perpetrators of the dysfunctional system. It shows how reforms of any reach are going to be difficult because many powerful people in the dysfunctional system are ganging up against any improvement, which may impede on their power and wealth. Remember that many top civil servants have built up a life and habit of spending on corruption, kick-backs, bribes and lucrative government contracts. The same goes for a lot of middle cadre in the private sector and NGO sector.
Reform will require very deep cuts and big changes in organization, staffing, and control systems. These are going to be blocked by the powers that be.
Unfortunately I do not have a solution for overcoming these hurdles. Anybody out there have any ideas?