In the past week or so, Malawi has been a beehive of activity, reminiscent of a theatre crammed with amateur clowns eager to impress but lacking the finesse to make anyone laugh.As a result, despite the look-busy-Jesus-is-coming mode, most, if not all the business, has been the usual type. In two words: mediocrity galore.
The dramas on show have ranged from a cleric defying Caesar’s decree by forbidding synod employees from partaking Eid-ul-Fitr public holiday, to auto-pilot People’s Party (PP) ensemble weighing in the league of parties fighting for a trophy to go to the horde that expels the highest number of legislators in the quest for intra-party autocracy.
To crown this as a week of clowns, the President deemed it necessary to charter a plane to Ethiopia to perform the ‘national’ duty of accepting an honorary degree, which according to State propaganda machinery, will benefit us all.
As I write, I am all ears, waiting for yet another press release from Madame Patricia Kaliati to confirm our fears that the needless hullaballoo surrounding this degree is tacit admission that contrary to expectations, President Peter Mutharika’s law professorship has failed to benefit Malawi and hence, as part of the “reforms” in progress, the big man is looking for fresh certifications and awards.
If this honorary degree is worth chartering a plane for, then on return, the good old Professor should persuade Hon. Lucius Banda to retrieve his from wherever he dumped it, so that Malawi can also benefit from his dumped honorary degree.
Anyway, let us leave honorary degrees where Lucius dumps them and focus on things that can pump forex into our reserves.
While His Excellency was busy chasing accolades, I was impressed by one minister ’s energy and positivity about Malawi’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) misfortunes. Hon. Joseph Mwanamvekha, Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism, has been very busy.
His current task is preparing for the second Malawi Investment Forum (MIF) slated for October.
He sounded so upbeat about attracting investors, assuring us that the “country stands to reap even more rewards from this year’s investment forum” because his ministry has received “overwhelming response from big investors across Europe and America”.
To lend credence to his optimism, the Malawi High Commission in London, it was reported, has already started mobilising business delegations from the United Kingdom to attend the event. And with Brexit very much on the cards, this is the way for Malawi to go.
We should, at any cost, make the European Union’s loss our gain.
And this is why listening t o Mwanamvekha’s coloured dream, I said to myself, this must be the patriotism, diligence and integrity that the President loves to wax lyrical about.
Feeling positively affected and infected by Mwanamvekha’s optimism, I said to hell with talking blues week in, week out, let me roll up my sleeves and join the jamboree.
But just as I was about to jump in, my eyes strayed to the week’s headlines from our major dailies. Let me give you the whole picture.
There is a story of a manufacturing company that, after a period of dwindling sales volumes and posting losses, decided to recruit a marketing manager.
Management made this decision under the impression that sales had gone down largely because the company did not have a marketing manager. Hence, a marketing guru was duly poached from elsewhere and a spirited marketing campaign was launched.
Days turned into weeks and months into a year; but sales figures simply refused to go up.
Perplexed, the management decided to commission a full research into why, despite a top marketer and an aggressive market ing campaign, the company’s fortunes remained stagnant.
The result of the study? Wait awhile, let us scrutinise our Malawi for the answers.
Just last year, Malawi hosted an investment forum that attracted, we are still being told, investment pledges of over US$1.5 billion. But as we approach the next forum, no-one has informed us how much of those pledges materialised.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is like the company I have described above. Instead of asking ourselves where we are and what happened to the over $1.5 billion investment pledges we got last year, here we are, organising yet another talking shop.
Just like that company that believed that it was marketing that was needed urgently to turn the sales around, Mwanamvekha and company believe the issue is that foreign investors do not know Malawi.
They are wrong.
When you think about it, the underlying issue is not necessarily investor awareness or lack thereof. It is about the product we are selling.
To quote Jeff Bezos: “Your brand is formed primarily, not by what your company says about itself, but by what the company does.” And what does our company, Malawi, do? Or to put it more succinctly, why is it true that no amount of investor forums will bring us the much needed FDIs?
For starters, energy and the endemic intermittent power generation and supply.
Few months from the rainy season, electricity generation is already down by 43 percent. One does not need to be a prophet to predict that while the investment forum is going on in October, a good portion of Malawians will be enjoying power outages, rationing, loadsheding and blackouts.
Which serious investor would invest in a country that lacks a steady power supply?
Secondly, there is the cancer called corruption. I have met investors who went elsewhere with their money after being asked to drill a borehole in a minister’s constituency to secure an operating licence.
Now, if an investor were to come and assume that all this talk of integrity is real and therefore refuse to palm-oil influential politicians, they would get frustrated and disappear with their money.
In parallel, Mutharika ought to start walking the talk on integrity by asking the ministers mentioned in the K577 billion Cashgate to resign or better still chop them. As long as they hang around him, those ministers are suicide bombers of any drive intended to encourage FDI.
Instead of going to the airport to wave the President off and in, Mwanamvekha and company should focus their energies in safeguarding the already existing investors like Malawi Mangoes and others that had to shed off 1,000 jobs in the past 12 months due to the extended period of macroeconomic instability characterised by high interest and inflation rates.
Being an economist and a former corporate executive, Mwanamvekha should know by now that attracting FDIs is too big a task to be left to investment forums.