Our own culture!

We are getting commercialised.

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

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 Look at his outfits: the 3 piece suits and the hat were even then outdated English. That is what he brought us, together with outdated Victorian ideas about sex: long skirts, and dance camps.

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


Think about it for a second.

Taste the feeling!

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

Taste the feeling!

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

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

“Taste the feeling!”

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

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

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

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

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


Open vs closed


In the  past I have written quite a bit about political ideologies. I have used the traditional left-right spectrum, which explains a lot about politics. But there is another issue that also plays a role and that seems to win in importance over the past few years: the open-closed spectrum.

Open systems are systems that interact with their surroundings. For instance a living organism is an open system that needs to find food, air, water and that leaves behind poo. On the other hand the solar system can be seen as a more or less closed system, where the energy from the sun provides the food for organisms. There is little communication with anything outside. The last time that life on earth was severely changed by anything from outside the solar system was 62 million years ago, when a huge comet crashed in what is now Mexico, and changed the climate on such a scale that the dinosaurs died out, and made space for the birds and mammals to take over the earth.

In politics open systems are those that strive to communicate a lot with the world outside the polity, usually the country. They want people, capital, goods, ideas, culture etc to travel relatively unhindered from one place to the other. Closed systems put up more barriers for this, such as import levies, censorship, visa restrictions, restrictions on import and export of capital.open-closed.png

Proponents of open systems feel that a closed system is very limited in what it can achieve, and that influences from abroad, as well as exports to other countries are beneficial for the community as a whole. Proponents of closed systems feel that a lot of bad things are coming from abroad and that contacts need to be restricted. Criminals are often cited as coming from abroad, or evil cultural ideas. The foreigners are the ones exploiting us, that type of thinking. Donald Trump, a populist neo conservative, is clearly a proponent of a more closed political system in the US: he tries install a Muslim ban, limits development aid, treats other countries in a hostile way, and calls them shitholes. He called the NATO obsolete, stopped the Transpacific Partnership, wants to recall the NAFTA agreement etc.

Obama on the other hand is a neo liberal, which means he is also right wing, but much more open to the rest of the world. He negotiated the Trans Pacific Partnership, and made a deal with Iran, that Trump now is trying to get rid of. He supported other countries, with development funds and other support.

The differences in open and closed do not run parallel with the lift-right spectrum: there are left wing proponents of open and of closed systems, while there are also right wing proponents of both systems. (Trump is a right wing populist proponent of a closed system, Obama is a right wing intellectual proponent of an open system)

If we look at Malawi, we see that the differences in policy that the different parties are offering are very limited, much more limited than in developed democracies. They all are conservatives, which means they are authoritarian, right wing and closed. Heavy import levies, export restrictions, expensive and difficult to obtain visa and work permits, strong restrictions on international monetary transactions. They are all mostly the same. This does not offer much hope for the elections. We have little to choose. The policies are not different enough to change the course of the country, we can only choose for one person or another. This leads to personality politics instead of a real content choice for us. Parties should offer more precise policy differences, and should stay with their manifesto after elections: we see now the the DPP is violating its own manifesto in many ways: ATI law, limiting presidential powers, malata, even its parade horse FISP is in disarray.

Malawi would be better off, and the democracy served, if political parties would have more clearly defined ideologies, both in terms of left-right and in terms of open-closed. Than the electorate has a choice of which direction they want the country to go.


False consciousness


12c19-tumblr_lt4eahprsr1qlx2j3o1_5001Because of the low quality of governance, there is a lot of suffering in Malawi. A lot of people are discontent with their fate, and rightfully so. A few people at the top of the income pyramid are living opulent lifestyles and the rest of the country lives in poverty. This creates rage with the people who have been wronged.

Look at our daily lives: prices are rising, incomes are not keeping up, electricity and water are haphazard while the price is pushed through the roof, police at roadblocks are demanding bribes instead of protecting us, and if you want to get anything done at a government institution you need to wait forever, push forever, and often pay a bribe on top of the regular fees, which are being pushed up a lot. The FISP is in disarray, the cost of telephone and internet is sky high, the courts are slow at best and mostly dysfunctional. Hospitals go without drugs, a lot of the hospital infrastructure is falling apart, staff is de-motivated. There is too much to mention it all.

34e2edi.jpgAll this affects our lives, and it adds up to a difficult life at best and death at worst. This creates rage in the population. Rage about inequality, rage about injustice, rage about a bad situation. The ruling class gets into a danger zone if all this rage is being directed at them (where it belongs). However the rage is real and cannot be suppressed forever. It needs to be expressed somehow. This creates an issue for the ruling class. But they manage: direct the rage somewhere else, and the “other” will suffer, not the ruling class.

While the ruling class is sucking the life out of society, we get exposed to a myth about the blood suckers. The rage is being directed at the weak, in this case several people were being lynched. Or the rage is directed at the homosexuals (who do not do anybody any harm) or the foreigners (the westerners are supposed to promote homosexuality, the Ethiopians are criminals, the Ruandans are offering unfair competition to our small scale business people, as are the Chinese, the Indians, whether Indian or Malawian Indian, are exploiting us). And after all that, we are blamed ourselves for our failure: we need to be “entrepreneurial”, we need to set up our own businesses, in a climate where no one below the ruling class can afford to pay a reasonable price for our goods and services. (and the ruling class go on a shopping trip to Dubai or Jo’burg, where the import levies have not reached the draconian levels of Malawi). So the failure of our economy is blamed on the little people, not on the ruling class who are in a position to take macroeconomic decisions. Not on the bank director who charges exorbitant fees for all banking transactions, and simply unaffordable interest rates. Not on the Minister of public works who keeps our infrastructure in disarray. Not on the Minister of finance who causes runaway inflation. No, we are told to be scared of the blood suckers and the homosexuals.

There is a pattern here: the more the country gets into trouble, the more a scape goat is sought and found. This does not solve our bad situation. However it solves the issue of our rage for the ruling class: we get angry at the “other” and the ruling class can go on exploiting our society, eating up our sweat, stealing our tax, extorting bribes and raising fees left, centre and right.

This is called: false consciousness. We are conscious of our bad situation, but we are not capable of making the correct analysis of where is issue is at. We fight against gayism, or foreigners. But that is not why our society is undeveloped. It is undeveloped because we do not target the ruling class. The people who steal our money. We are being divided: activists and MPs let themselves be compromised and offered lucrative jobs and contracts, or accept bribes from government. We cannot rely on this CSO level. We need to organize our selves. We need to get things done from the bottom, work together in solidarity. We need to make the correct analysis, and see why our country does not offer us good jobs, good economy, good prospects and opportunities. We are conscious of the problems, now we need to get rid of the “false consciousness” that directs our rage in the wrong direction. We need to get class conscious, where we are conscious of the reason of our misery, and we can do something about it.

Cultural hegemony

Malawi is in perenniunderstanding-the-concept-of-cultural-hegemony-with-examplesal state of crisis. Widespread poverty, dysfunctional services like health care, economy, security, infrastructure, the list goes on and on. This situation is disadvantageous for the large majority of the population. But there is a group of people who profiteer from the poverty of the majority. Those people need to keep the situation as it is, to maintain their advantageous position, against the interest of the large majority. The truth of the matter is, that these people are exactly the people who have the power to improve the country. It is the ruling class who has an interest in keeping us oppressed, and keeping us poor. (Even the working middle class is paid much lower wages here than in developed countries for comparable work). These powerful people need to reproduce the system as it is: old people die, new technologies are introduced, young people enter the job market every day. This creates development of one kind or another: positive or negative, everything flows (panta rei). So to keep things as they are, the ruling class cannot sit back and enjoy their opulent lifestyle. Against the continuous renewal of society, they need to actively intervene to keep their advantageous position. They need to keep on teaching people the mores of the current order, to keep their advantageous position stable.

On the one hand they use physical repression, through the police, justice system, prisons and in last instance the army. But this is expensive both in money and in other resources. So it is more advantageous for them to get us to cooperate with their interests, against our own interests.

The way to so this is: They infuse us with an ideology in which the current state of affairs (them rich and powerful, us poor and dis-empowered)  is presented as the natural state of affairs, and beneficial for all. They come up with standards like “respect for authority”, “democracy”, “justice”, “development project”, “national interest” and more. These are implicitly used in the media, official speeches, school curriculum, books, you name it. It works stronger when these standards are not explicitly explained, but simply taken for granted. It is not that in every article on social deviance, the journalist tells us we have to obey the law. It is simply expected of us, that we despise those who do not conform to the current order.

This is called cultural hegemony.

How can they control all these writers, presenters, preachers, fathers and others who control us in these Ideological State apparatuses? The powerful people in the State control education. Even private schools have to train for the national exams according to the national curriculum. This is full of ideology, for the status quo, which is to the advantage of the current ruling class. Then all middle level functionaries have been indoctrinated with the ruling class doctrine of obedience, and the expectation that the State is benevolent for all. A journalist can get worked up over a case of corruption. But the journalist has learned to expect the state to be in principle benevolent, and advantageous for all. So that the criminal who steals our tax money is seen as an aberration. And the Justice who keeps the poor on remand, and lets the rich off after bribing or getting bail is seen as an aberration. But the whole set up of the State is never questioned. In school, in the media, from the sermon we learn to not question these underlying issues. We learn to see abuse of power as an incident. But when you look at our society you see that this abuse is not an incident, it is systemic. The whole set up of our society is full of systemic abuse of power, violence! Economic violence where hard working people are kept in abject poverty. Physical (and deadly!) violence when we protested in 2011. Mental violence, when we are being exposed to censored development materials, and propaganda in the media. We are being oppressed by a few rich old men (and even fewer rich old women). The majority of the population is female. The majority of the population is young. The majority of the population is poor. The majority of the population is dis-empowered. But if you check our media, you see an overwhelming majority of rich old powerful men representing our nation. This shows how also the media are complicit in holding our society back, and letting us be arbitrarily ruled by these rich old powerful men (and very few women).

The Repressive State Apparatus and the Ideological State Apparatus

There are people in power, using that power for a privileged lifestyle and as a goal in itself. Secondly there is a majority with much less power, in a non-enviable position. The people in power have an interest in keeping things the way they are, while one would suppose that the people with less power, and consequently less wealth, would want to change the set-up so they get their fair share, and have a dignified exisitence. Also a change in society to make us more productive would increase the whole cake for everybody. That seems beneficial for all, but That is not necessarily the case. The privileged now have a lot of power. Making society more productive would require limitations to that power, and the people who spent a career gaining power are not likely to give it up voluntarily.


They can exercise their power with physical violence, and they make sure they have the means to do so. For this they have the Repressive State Apparatuses (RSA here does not mean Republic of South Africa, but Repressive State Apparatus). There are the police, the army, the justice system, prisons. In name these would serve the interests of society but in practice they serve the ruling class. The police are used to kill dissidents like Robert Chasowa and the demonstrators in 2011. The justice system keeps the poor on remand for unlimited time, and the rich buy themselves out with bail or bribes.

This physical repression however is expensive and can only go so far. It is much cheaper and more effective to keep the population in control without the exercise of physical power. For this the ruling class uses the Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs). These are the media, the school, the church and such. They keep the population in line by indoctrinating them with the norms and values of the ruling class. Of course the government (personified by the President) has control over public media and public schools. Even private media and private schools are owned by the rich: a poor person cannot afford to start a newspaper or television station. The state controls the content of exams, which controls the content of lessons in schools. So the ruling class has control over all these institutions. They use this control to adjust our mindset to their advantage.

Probably the most effective ISA is the education system. Here we learn at a young age, when our minds are still easy to mold into the shape useful for the ruling class. In school we learn skills useful for the ruling class: if we can calculate we can do their administration for them. If we can write we can spread the ruling class ideology in newspapers. If we can operate electronics we can spread ruling class ideology via radio and television. But there is another dimension, which is more useful for the ruling class: in school we learn to obey the powerful. We are punished with low grades or sometimes even physical violence if we don’t do as we are told. We learn to not question authority, to not investigate why we are in such an un-enviable position. We learn that we need to do as we are told, that it is our own problem that we live in such bad conditions, and that (no matter how bad the economy) we need to start a business if we do not have an income. And we learn that we get fired for asking questions. Our school system conditions us for the interests of the ruling class.

We need to change that. We need a school system that stimulates our imagination, that encourages independent thinking, that teaches us to question: why do others have power over us? Why do some have so much and do so many have so little? What is patriotism? Why does someone have the power to tell me what to do? Why does someone have the power to order his Police to shoot at us with live ammo? Why can we vote only for ruling class candidates? Why are we represented so badly? Why should we be represented by rich old men, instead of ruling ourselves?

We need education for critical consciousness. There are methods for this available.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

We could do it if we chose. But what we do is walk in line to stay out of trouble. Consequently we do not develop, we stay with the same situation: a ruling class that steals our hard earned money, places itself above the law, does not represent the population and lives an opulent lifestyle. And a population that for the most part lives in abject poverty. That is not the way our life should be and we should teach our upcoming generation to ask the hard questions, and to draw the consequences. To be patriotic, which is not afraid to stand up and say the truth. Not afraid to organize. Not afraid to protest. Not afraid to question the status quo that is good only for the ruling class: the rich, the powerful, the privileged.


Democracy and education

We need to improve the quality of our democracy. Unfortunately it is unlikely we can achieve this overnight. We need a population that is equipped to be critical of leadership, and capable of organizing resistance against unjust rulers. We Africans used to have these types organisation before they were violently suppressed by slave trader, colonizer and one party regime.

Democracy goes beyond the ballot box. In a democracy we have the right of expression and the right of assembly. We have a right (and a duty)to organize against an unjust ruler, also when elected in free and fair elections (which our rulers are not: elections here may be called free by some, but no one can hold that they are fair).

To be critical of leadership, our population needs to be equipped with the right skills: critical thinking and a just suspicion against power and the violence that power is built on. Fear of the powerful is a bad quality for a population. We need to equip our children with the means to be critical of any authority, and the skills to evaluate the performance of the powerful. Also they need the skills to organize against unjust rulers.

To make this a wide spread quality among the population, the education system seems the best vehicle for building these skills in the population. The way to do this is called “critical pedagogy”. The pedagogy both builds critical thinking skills, and is critical of old fashioned methods of rote memorization that still are wide spread in our education system, even in Teacher Training Colleges.

Teachers need to be equipped with skills to teach higher order thinking skills (HOTS) in their students, from the first day on, starting in kindergarten, and going all the way up to PHD level. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higher-order_thinking

Methods to do this are available and can even be downloaded for free. A classic (that was revered by the ANC in the struggle against Apartheid) is called Pedagogy of the Oppressed, written by Paulo Freire from Brazil.


He is not from the West, so he knows about neo colonialism and post colonialism from the same side as we do.

We need to reorganize our education system and adjust our exam system for this. That means that exams should not test for memorization of facts. This is an outdated type of exam that does not help our students function well in the 21st century. Exam questions should be open and address HOTS, rather than facts. Our teachers should be educated to teach self organization, creative thinking, critical thinking. This means students should not be made to listen to endless lectures, but asked to perform tasks like investigating, research, cooperation in student groups, discussions with reporting. They should be asked to access critical texts, and compare different viewpoints on issues. They should be made familiar with diversity (gender, race, class, sexual orientation, religion etc) at a young age.  Then, by researching by themselves and in groups, and reporting to class, they inform each other as well as the teacher.

Knowledge is not a neutral object that can be passed from an all-knowing teacher to an un-knowing student, it is a social phenomenon that is constructed in cooperation and dialectics. Our African culture is a great background for this type of learning, where we can actually outperform Western students, who have been raised on individualism and top-down models of society. We, from the day we were born, have learned to work communally, and to cooperate for the good of the collective. This same culture should be harnassed in our education system, to improve student performance, the skills of our work force and the critical thinking that makes our democracy function optimally.

Malawian history: a tragedy in slow motion.

In 1964 we were excited: we got independence, and we were going to throw of the yoke of the colonizer’s oppression. Little did we realize: the British colonizer was being replaced with a stooge, a man who had spent most of his life in the West, the US but more recently in England. He had taken over the Victorian values of the colonizer. Look at his clothes: the three piece suits and the hat were totally outdated in England by that time. Look at the clothing he imposed on us: long skirts for women, and covering up. This was not Malawian or even African, it was Victorian British. Just when the British were throwing off this old fashioned morality of prudishness combined with sexual molestation (in Britain as much as here in the dance camps). Like the large majority of the first generation of post-independence African rulers, Kamuzu did not reform the state. The same oppressive institutions were unleashed on us as under the colonial rule.

The purpose of the post-colonial state is to serve the interests of the former colonizer, who needed cheap raw materials for his industry. And Kamuzu delivered for the former colonial power, mostly tobacco but also tea, coffee, ground nuts sugar and other agricultural produce. The ruling class lived in corrupt opulence at the cost of the population, who were kept uneducated and in abject poverty. In exchange for political support during the cold war, and cheap tobacco, Kamuzu got the backing of the former colonial state, which allowed him to murder democracy, and oppress the population with his thugs, the “Young Pioneers”.

We suffered under the double oppression of both political rights (democracy, freedom of expression and other political rights were heavily oppressed) as well as economic rights. We were kept poor and uneducated so we did not have the means to revolt against his (and the colonial masters’) oppression.

By the time the cold war was over, the early 90s, Kamuzu did no longer serve the interests of the colonial master, so he was no longer given their support. We got nominal democracy, but only insofar as this served the interests of the colonial master. The ruling elite stayed the same: Bingu and Muluzi had been in the government machine under Kamuzu and they followed the same policies.

Cheap labour gave cheap raw materials for the colonial masters and kept the population poor. Muluzi made primary education free, but made sure the quality suffered so much the population still did not have enough development in the thinking to revolt. Muluzi served the colonial masters by privatizing, which by then was the fashion for the ruling class to enrich itself at the cost of the population. (It took about ten year for the neo liberal fashion of Margaret Thatcher to reach Malawi). David Harvey calls this accumulation by dispossession.

The first term of Bingu brought some relief for the population: he had dumped the UDF which had sponsored him into power, so he had less interests to serve, and he could afford to do something for the population which was subsidizing agricultural inputs. The ruling class allowed this for one term, but he clearly felt the need to turn 180 degrees right after his reelection, and made sure that all gains were erased and the population suffered under corruption and oppression (bad laws and such). And when we exercised our constitutional right to assembly and expression, Bingu unleashed his fire power on us and had 20 unarmed demonstrators killed.

Nothing much has changed since then: the post-colonial state still serves the interests of the ruling class via a neo patrimonial set up: the rulers place themselves above the law, and democracy is no more than an election between different groups of ruling class thugs.

The neo patrimonial set up is this: the population has no recourse to the law when they have been done wrong. All they can do is beg for mercy or a favour. Favours are dished out only on condition of political support for the ruler in question, and the population remains dependent on the favours. The judiciary and the legislative are dependent on the executive, who are dependent on the President. There is an enormous personal power vested in the President, who appoints people in all key positions (head of police, head of ACB, head of judiciary, and a whole host of heads of para statals and such). This ensures that the President does not have to answer to the law, and shields his favorite friends from the law also. We do not even have the right to know: the President illegally stopped implementation of the Access to Information law!

On the other hand, the poor have no way to exercise their judicial rights: they can be on remand for unlimited time, when their file is kept away because they have no funds to bribe anyone to retrieve it.

The state sells cheap tobacco and other raw materials to the colonial masters, and there is constant bickering between international capitalists and the local ruling class over the amount stolen in the process. The local ruling class wants to take as big a chunk as possible, the international capitalists want everything for themselves. When the elephants fight, the grass is being trampled upon.

The set up of the post colonial state serves the ruling class and their international backers, it oppresses the population. The ruling class knows very well that a well educated and reasonably wealthy population is not in need of continuous favours, which would blow the bottom from under the neo patrimonial power they are imposing on us. So they make sure the funding for education is being lowered every year and that the economy does not take off (corruption, red tape, inefficiency, excessive import and export levies and restrictions, excessive regulation). This way they keep us poor and dependent on their favours, legal or illegal.

This creates a situation of a pressure cooker, with the pressure mounting and mounting, with no release valve. The ruling class (political elite, closely allied business community and top civil servants) does not allow the least relief from economic hardships for the population: on the contrary, they keep the inequality going up (see the GNIN coefficient). This means in practice that they get richer and we get poorer. This way, the top-down state (the ruling class)  loses its ability to contain the justified rage of the population.

Before this explosion happens we need to change the state, form a state that serves at least a little of the needs of the population, for it to keep some semblance of legitimacy. Currently the State is quickly losing its legitimacy: it imposes taxes on us, exposes us to continuous extortion of bribes and delivers no meaningful services in return.

We need to deconstruct the neo patrimonial logic that keeps us oppressed, and demand a change towards a meaningful democracy. A form of the state that serves us all, and not only the foreign capitalists and their local henchmen.

Egenco/Escom/MERA going overboard!

The latest coordinated actions of Escom and MERA make clear where we stand as a nation: lost to the powers of the neo patrimonial rulers.

In the neo patrimonial set up we enjoy in Malawi, there is no such thing as rights for the population. There is only power, and if one is lucky an exchange of a favor for reciprocal support of the power holder’s power base. For instance if you want a license for a business, for which you are entitled you pay the person who is already employed (and paid) to issue it to you. This pay is used to support the position, sometimes people higher up the chain need to be paid off in exchange for protection against the law, which is needed because of the corrupt practices. So those higher up the chain accumulate a lot of little corrupt monies, but are forced to stop any anti corruption actions for fear of losing their power base. For politicians it is a continuous game of give (to the voters) and take (from the national coffers or elsewhere). This balancing act takes a lot of skill, time and energy to keep going. If you go overboard you are dumped like the clique around Joyce Banda. If you do not accumulate enough you cannot support your power base.

With all this time invested in a complex balancing act, where the personal monies, the favors to the power base and the fear of the law need to be kept in equilibrium, there is precious little time, energy and expertise left to do anything like good governance, insofar as this would be possible when accumulating the funds for supporting a power base.

In the neo patrimonial set up, everyone in a position of power is licensed to abuse the power for the accumulation of wealth and more power. If the rural population is to survive, it is to exchange its votes for the means to survive.

Holding power in a neo patrimonial set up tends to be costly: the power is derived from the support of a section of the population and this support must be bought time and time again with favors. This amounts to quite a bit of money or other abuse of power, and this money can only be accumulated by abuse of ones position. Corruption, allowance hunting, kick backs, lucrative contracts, all these are needed to be able to support the base of one’s power: the persons own section of the population.

We do not have a right to electricity, a situation that is emphasized every day by the non-electrified rural areas. Electricity is a gift for which you must also pay and pay through the nose. The current act of bad governance (if we can speak of governance) of Escom building a coal fired power plant and then on top of that buying diesel generators is a clear example. The business sense is nowhere to be found, but since there is no capitalist situation (in spite of the involvement of the Millennium Challenge Corporation!) business sense does not matter.

All this type of shaving monies of any position of power was bad enough when the donors where providing the funds for the rulers to steal. But they have become weary under pressure of their own voters, who (understandably) do not want to see their tax money wasted on corrupt rich rulers in countries like Malawi. So now the ruling class has to get the money to support both a power base and a luxurious life style elsewhere and that elsewhere is from our taxes and electricity money.

Everybody can see that the quick and sure way to solve the electricity issue is interconnection with Mozambique, and in the medium term (one to two years) solar and wind. This requires no import of fuel and that means no continuous stream of hard currency out of the country. It is free once installed, and it is environmentally friendly. But this is too much for the neo patrimonial rulers in Egenco, MERA, Escom and Capital Hill.

For the record: American capitalist thinkers think like this:

When there is competition on the electricity market between IPPs (Independent Power Producers) and Egenco, then Escom will buy from those who can deliver the best and cheapes electricity so the profit margin of Escom is maximized. What these capitalist thinkers do not reckon with is the patrimonial network: the rulers derive their position from the support of the power base of many middle men (and a few women) who need to support their power base with favors. So these supporters are being given positions where they can accumulate enough monies to support a power base with favors, which translates into the votes the politician needs. Some of these positions are high up in Egenco, Escom and MERA. So these people are conniving against the population: if we are poor enough we need to keep begging for favors, which will be granted in exchange for support. If we are making money in a healthy economy we do not need to ask for favors, we can support ourselves, and that pulls the rug out under the power base of the current crop of rulers.

So their sword cuts to birds on both sides: it accumulates them corrupt monies, which are used for a luxurious life style and the favors for the power base, and they prevent the economy from taking off, so we are kept dependent on favors from the powerful. This keeps their power base intact and with it the position to violate the law and keep accumulating monies.


The Escom and the President

Everyone agrees: the electricity situation is dire.

His Excellency  President Mutharika wants to be seen to do something about it, and he does exactly the opposite of what he should be doing. He storms a meeting personally, and transfers the CEO personally.

This shows how the thinking in the State House is warped towards a neo-patrimonial attitude: the President does not seek for systemic improvement, he seeks to be seen doing something personally.

The problem is exactly that: the President has too much power in one person. This facilitates corruption, nepotism, blackmail and inefficiency. What the President should be doing is: curbing Presidential powers. So the power is spread more widely. The power should be spread downwards to the population. This can be done with accountability, separation of powers and information.

The President should give up the power he has over the judiciary, over the Parliament, over para-statals. He should not be the person to transfer the CEO (if the CEO is corrupt or unqualified, she should be fired, not transferred). He should not be the one to appoint the chief justice, he should not be the one to appoint the CEOs of any para-statals.

He should implement the Access To Information Act. He assented to it, and then illegally decided to not implement it. Again: this is overstepping presidential powers, and the presidential powers are too much the way it is. Access to information will increase accountability, which in turn will improve efficiency and fight corruption.

Where is the private members bill?

Recently Parliament requested the President to curb his powers as written in the DPP manifesto. This is not happening and we can all guess why it’s not happening. But what these Parliamentarians refuse to see: they have the power of a private members bill: Parliamentarians can initiate laws by themselves, they do not need to wait for the executive to come up with something. Parliament is called legislative for a reason: it means Parliament decides on laws, with or without the executive.

The President should limit powers, not overstep powers.


the set up of our Malawian government

The issue with the Malawian government structures is not so much the issue of competence. The people in power (not necessarily President Arthur Peter Mutharika) have the competence of rising to power in the current set up, which is neo patrimonial. The issue is the paradigm of power in Malawi and in wider African settings. (In other countries they have their own issues as is shown by the rise to power of Trump, Brexit, lack of democracy in Asian Tigers etc)

In Malawi one does not rise to power through competence in governance issues but through competence in maintaining a patrimonial network that can deliver elections (maybe free in Malawi but definitely not fair). The power does not rest with the President per se, the President is dependent on many people around him to deliver the elections.

The power brokers are not busy delivering good governance. Good governance does not deliver power so good governance people do not rise in the hierarchy. Those with a powerful patrimonial network rise to power.

I estimate that APM does not yield very much power and that the real power behind him has shown this to him early on with the money stolen from NAC to buy journalists and again stolen by his courtships.

So the politicians are busying themselves on the one hand with a show that resembles governance, but on the other with maintaining their networks. This is done by (legally or illegally) handing out favours, by buying loyalty (with corrupt money) by using power indiscriminately and illegally. If a person is powerful, the law means nothing. If a person is powerless the law does not protect them. So it is all about personal connections, not about rule of law or about being right or wrong or being legal or illegal. This illegal power yielding is essential to maintain the patrimonial order we live in.

People getting to power in this system, whether Mutharika, Chakwera, Muluzi, Banda or anyone else can only behave like this, or otherwise they lose power. The task of the press is not to analyze the power struggles within the system. Other people within the current system cannot deliver good governance because their power relies on illegal actions, which is necessarily bad governance.

The press and political commentators should not analyze the current power struggles within the systemic ruling class, they should analyze the system itself, and offer alternatives.

This is not easy, because the most viable alternative in the world in the early 21st century appears to be an American neo-liberal system which is bad for the poor (look at the fate of the poor in the richest nation in the world the USA). This liberal capitalist “democracy” does not deliver for the poor. Only the rich (dollar millionaires) get to be in powerful positions and they use these positions to maintain the interests of the rich, in the UAS as much as in Malawi. Only their the interests of the ruling class in the UAS are different than in Malawi; in the US they benefit from a capitalist system that functions to enrich the rich. In Malawi the rich are enriched by a neo liberal system that does not promote capitalist production.

In both cases rent seeking is very profitable. IN Malawi this takes the form of corruption, theft and such. In the US it takes the form of financialization of everything (for this read David Harvey: a brief history of neo liberalism). This financialization of everything with accumulation by dispossession is not productive: it redirects money from the poor and middle classes to the rich. This is parallel to the Malawian model and preshows the downfall of American capitalism to the Chinese productivity. (Chinese productivity has its own rent seeking behavior: the over use of the environment has produced unacceptable levels of pollution, the extortion of surplus value from the poor uneducated workers is creating large scale human suffering. The poor are not in a position to do much about it: when they organize in trade unions and such, the production moves to the next area of China where workers are not organized yet.)

In Malawi we need a deeper analysis of the system: if President after President goes wrong in the same way, we can safely conclude that it is not because of the person, that things go wrong. The persons have been replaced many times. It is a system around them that promotes the wrong people with the wrong behavior to powerful positions. It is the less changing upper civil servants’ class that can afford to push the politicians around. The politicians, from a civil servants point of view, are a passing incident, while the top people in the civil service stay around for government after government. Combined with the poor quality of politicians, who often busy themselves with self enrichment, and who can only get to power by maintaining a patrimonial network, the expertise of civil servants in governance (good or bad) and the actual subject of the policy (be it agriculture, education, health care or anything else) is so much more than the expertise of the politicians who float to the top on a patrimonial network, rather than on expertise and governance quality, that the politicians are being overruled by the civil service time after time. And many of them happily: if they can enrich themselves and throw enough crumbs at their patrimonial networks, they can be in power long enough to ensure a more than comfortable lifestyle, for the rest of their lives and for many people around them.

The challenge with this type of governance is the perverse incentive of self enrichment and enrichment of a personal network: it is only rent seeking, not production of wealth. For as long as the donor were happy to finance this type of thievery, there was no real problem for the ruling class. But now the donors are facing pressure from their home base to be accountable for the results of their finance, the cogwheels come to a creaking halt.

Unfortunately the ruling class is capable of pushing the brunt downwards and the population is being blood sucked by its own ruling class.

The top-down structure of Malawian culture inhibits any real criticism of the ruling class. When we did that, 20 unarmed demonstrators were mercilessly murdered by the State’s gunmen. So the population has no alternative to projecting its misfortune on magical powers, and directing its rage to the powerless: people get lynched for witchcraft or bloodsucking allegations. The ruling class can be happy that the unavoidable rage of the population is not directed against it, but at the powerless.

We need a press that is capable of making this type of analysis of the society and that is capable of exposing the mechanisms that prevent our society from becoming productive enough to secure a humane existence for all citizens, rich or poor, powerful or powerless, male or female, black African, or Indian Malawian, or Chinese Malawian, straight or gay, Muslim or Christian, tall or short, northerner or southerner, educated or uneducated. Everyone in our society has a right to a good existence.