By Chisala, Maxwell L.
At the risk of appearing unpatriotic for second-guessing the country’s serious long-term development blueprint for moving the country from a ‘low-income’ country to a fully ‘industrialized upper middle-income’ country (currently, no country in Africa enjoys this status!), I have sought to inject some measure of realism in Vision 2063 by raising insightful doubts. What mix of policy initiatives and country endowments (physical and human capital) could ready a subsistence economy for full industrialization? And, on close scrutiny, how much can the country confidently rely on just the collective burning-desire to industrialize to power, catalyze and re-awaken the Malawian ethos of ‘hard-work, disciplined servant-ship and honest reward’ that transformed a pre-independence primitive economy into a post-independence ‘mini-tiger’ economy to elevate this colored-odd dream into reality?
A country in the throngs of full industrialization experiences a significant transformation of its economy to enable it produce a diversified and complex export basket: from producing simple goods requiring fewer (or simpler) production capabilities to increased production of goods of high sophistication (produced by only a few countries using sophisticated productive systems) and effecting massive transfers of resources from lower-productivity activities to higher-productivity activities which allow new and old resources to be exploited to achieve an economy with growth-rates much higher than the global average and much higher than the past (and the future!).
We need to be very clear and realistic about the task ahead but also candidly acknowledge our deficiencies and shortcomings that have left a majority of the citizenry wallowing in economic misery and a larger section of the countryside virtually untouched by any semblance of development fifty plus years after independence. For decades, we seemed stuck in a mere-subsistence existence (economy) with an income level and technological level that choked any aspiration to non-subsistence prosperity. And then the country’s leadership had a road-to-Damascus Vision! It is imperative Malawians understand the challenges Vision 2063 entails.
Every mere-subsistence economy has needed a decade or more of extremely high economic growth to transition to a non-subsistence economy and even more time to ignite a diversification and industrialization process of its productive system to accelerate migration from the mere-subsistence existence. To transform Malawi into a wealthy and self-reliant industrialized ‘upper middle-income country’ by the year 2063, as desired, our export basket will need to be drastically diversified and dominated by high-income goods. We would need to produce high-quality goods with elastic demand in world markets and export these in large enough quantities.
What is the current situation? Our public sector economy (a major component of the national economy) is heavily weighed down by institutional weaknesses──pervasive corruption and a corrosive “business-as-usual” wastefulness. Corruption negatively impacts the proper functioning of an economy by undercutting competition and diminishing the attractiveness of productive entrepreneurship and innovation (corruption is the sand grains and not the greasing or oil in the wheels of an economic system). A corrupted economy is a hindrance to economic performance and will remain the most serious drag on Vision 2063 unless and until the law vanquishes the enablers.
Thus far, scant attention has been paid to developing effective strategies for seriously curbing the twin evils of corruption and “business-as-usual” wastefulness that have bedeviled our mere-subsistence existence (economy) and are similarly fated to render the Malawi 2063 dream still-born and a pipedream. We should seriously consider investing on the front end to permanently close opportunities for corruption while making corrupt behavior(s) extremely unappealing. For the long-term, though, developing a culture of respect for the rule of the law, compliance with the law and high ethics in every sector of the national economy would go a long way in entrenching a ‘going beyond “business-as-usual” to “business un-usual” ethos’. But we also need an effective strategy for ensuring, safeguarding, and guaranteeing a vigorous and independent application of the anti-corruption and anti-wastefulness regime.
Where is the requisite ‘sweat and sacrifice’ in the Vision? Our national budget is perennially encumbered by all manner of open-ended subsidies and freebies that have become cesspools of corruption. Subsidies and freebies must be subjected to detailed scrutiny (a rigorous cost-benefit analysis) and implement only programmes that promote pioneering productive entrepreneurship and innovation.
In short, unless we first transition to dutiful citizens of a functioning democracy, our public sector adopts an incorruptible “business un-usual” ethos and our all-too-often self-serving People’s House internalizes its responsibilities in a functioning democracy and faithfully discharges them, the dream will be much harder to achieve.
We dared our leaders to dream──an out-sized dream entailing an over-sized challenge, to be sure──it would be an act of inconceivable betrayal of our collective responsibility to not actualize the dream.
Contribution by: Chisala, Maxwell L.
Short Bio: I am a native of the beautiful island of Likoma (Malawi) with unmatched passion for writing on critical issues affecting the legal, social, and economic development trajectory of the country I love (Malawi).