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 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.


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”.


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 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.


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.


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.



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.


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.

Our ruling class!

Our ruling class often try to depict themselves as the defenders of Malawian interests against international intrusion. Think of Bingu, who deported tobacco bosses (disaster for tobacco farmers and our whole economy) and the British envoy (disaster for our development funding). At the same time he praised the Chinese as “true friends of Malawi for letting him get away with violations of our constitutional rights.

On the other hand some critics of our ruling class paint them as traitors of our national interests and surrendering to international powers. Think of how Joyce Banda’s devaluation of the kwacha and free market reforms have been criticized.

These views are incomplete. They do not give our ruling class the credit and criticism they deserve. Our ruling class are a group with a lot of agency, thanks to their privileged powerful positions in government, politics, civil service and business world (often the same people concurrently). They act in their own personal interest as many people do. They reform to enhance their personal power and wealth. In the Malawian context this often means violating our laws, rule of law, constitution, human rights and basic decency. Because they have successfully personalized authority, they can get away with all this. And elections here tend to be vote buying contests, rigging contests, regionalized voting, in short: neo patrimonialism.

I am not stating this is totally different in developed countries: we see that Trump is trying to install a similar kind of rule in the USA. He appoints his family in high positions, tries to shield his allies from the law, fires an FBI director who does not pledge personal loyalty to the President, tries to build personal relationships with attorney generals in states where he has business interests (instead of professional, distant relationships).

The key difference in development is that in developed countries the powerful ruling class has an interest in keeping the capitalist system working, which results in capitalist democracy with a rule of law that favours the rich and big companies in its regulatory framework. So there the system is rigged in favour of the capitalist, in our country it is rigged in the neo patrimonial direction, which means that wealth-power is not won by means of capitalist business, but by connections that allow one access to tax money, bribes from international companies, and development funds (mostly from international donors).

This means that in our country the current ruling class has an interest in keeping the capitalist system dysfunctional, because a well run capitalist system would empower the middle class, which would grow exponentially in both size and wealth. It would create a new ruling class, with a new hegemony (both cultural, repressive and ideological). The current ruling class does not have the skills to function in that type of society (they came to float to the top on other skills) so they protect their privileged position by sabotaging the private sector.

On the other hand the few big entrepreneurs we have would benefit from such a system. So the owners of private news media (radio, tv, newspapers) who are rich capitalists have  an interest in moving to a capitalist system like western countries have. This is reflected in the news and opinions covered in the news media: they are usually in favour of rule of law: capitalism with its agents like IMF, World Bank, capitalist donor countries and trans national corporations.

This model would improve the position of the middle class and capitalists, it would have little to offer for the mass of the population. With a patrimonial leader you can try to negotiate. With a capitalist this is futile unless you are also in a position of power. So the mass of the population votes for (neo) patrimonial rulers, rather than the agents of capitalism. This by lack of a good alternative.

I would propose that a credible social democratic party would have a lot to offer to the mass population: both economic growth (means more and better paying work) and social security. It would fly in the face of both neo patrimonial powers (the current Malawian ruling class) and capitalists (the transnational corporations like BAT and other tobacco buyers, Monsanto and others). Both these historic blocks are powerful, the neo patrimonials in Malawi, and the transnational corporations internationally.

It remains to be seen if it is possible to build a historic block of the mass population with social democratic intellectuals, to create a hegemony of the type of country that will benefit its population, rather than a small ruling class and/or transnational capitalists.


Reading the political commentaries over the weeks, now we have elections coming up, I get the impression that our political journalists and commentators are missing the point.

They tend to report on politics as if it were a game of bao. Mutharika makes this move, Chilima does that. Kaliwo makes a move, Chakwera answers. And when the semi finals have been played the winners will be pitched against each other and we get to see who wins. Now with bao that’s all there is to it. But in politics it tends to be a bit different: politicians are hired by the electorate to rnt he country. The way they do that makes a big difference in the life of the population. This is different than a game of bao, where the whole point is: who wins? In politics the game is: which way is the country going to go.

  • Are we going to open up with the African Free Trade Agreement? If yes, in what way?
  • Are we going to subsidise fertilizer and/or housing? If yes, how?
  • Are we going to liberalise the economy further, or are we going to close it back up?
  • Are we going to offer resistance against state capture by tobacco companies, or are we keeping on serving them as our masters?
  • Are we going to develop our own seed policy or are we again leaving it to Monsanto to write it in their interest (as opposed to our interest)?
  • How are we dealing wit corruption? Top down strengthening of the ACB and FIU (how?)? Or bottom up empowering of the population (how?)? Or adjusting the regulatory framework to make it more resistant against corruption (how?)? Curbing Presidential powers (how?)? Enacting the Acc3ess to Information Act? Or all five?
  • Are we going to clamp down on NGOs and donors, or are we going to liberalise that part of our economy?
  • Are we going to go along with donors imposing neo-liberal policies on us (like Atupele’s land policy law, and the splitting up and privatization of Escom) or are we going to develop our own direction? And if yes, which one?
  • How are we dealing with the mess in health care? Education? Business climate?
  • Are we going to privatise more government tasks? (ike MSB, Escom, Press Trust etc)?

It seems none of our political journalists and commentators ask these questions. But they seem to me to be the ones that matter, the ones that will affect our lives. Rather than who wins the internal power struggle in one party or another. That I do not care for one little bit, if it is only about the power and not about the direction of the country.

Who is the dunderhead here? Me?

From colonisation to globalisation: a history of state capture by the tobacco industry in Malawi

Julia Smith & Kelley Lee

To cite this article: Julia Smith & Kelley Lee (2018): From colonisation to globalisation: a history of state capture by the tobacco industry in Malawi, Review of African Political Economy, DOI: 10.1080/03056244.2018.1431213


Malawi, the world’s most tobacco-dependent country, has long defended the tobacco industry as essential to its economy. The impoverished living conditions of tobacco farmers, however, raise questions about the true benefits accruing to the country. While the government and industry often blame public health advocates for declining leaf prices, and thus lower returns to farmers, this article scrutinises these claims from a historical perspective. It argues that a context of state capture has characterised Malawi’s tobacco industry, originating with colonisation and evolving since to become increasingly entrenched. The analysis is divided into four periods: colonial (1890s–1964); national (1964–1981); liberalisation (1981–2004) and accelerated globalisation (2004 to present). Each period demonstrates how industry interests influenced government institutions and policies in ways that increased dependence on a crop that only benefits a minority of Malawians. Today, a transnational elite prospers at the expense of local growers.

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