The book ‘Unnatural Natural of Science’, speaking about gimmicky theories by lay people, notes that such theories are often associated with “a tendency to adapt and modify the theory too hastily in relation to the way people live…” and thus, many conclusions are influenced by emotional content of the data.
For some time now, the Vice President of the Republic of Malawi has been crisscrossing the country preaching what he calls “Mindset Change”. It is difficult to really understand what mindset change he is talking about and how. He sheds some light on this theory in one of his lectures where he said, “… we [Malawians] need to have a firm belief that Malawi cannot be rated as a poor country forever. We need to believe that we can change the status quo through persistent and adaptive effort. We can transform our country from prosperity to poverty”.
As far as the VP is concerned, Malawi is poor because of the mindset of its citizens. As usual, politicians tend to place blame on ordinary citizens for their country’s failure. A careful analysis of some basic questions will, however, show that the blame for underdevelopment of a country like Malawi lies elsewhere.
If you look at countries that have successfully moved themselves from poverty to affluence, you tend to see one underlining factor – strong leadership that guides the country with vision and does not tolerate corruption or mediocrity at the top. That has been the story of Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, and Thailand. The story is rarely about ordinary citizens’ passion or mindset.
When it comes to developing or advancing a nation, leaders have much more responsibilities than ordinary citizens. Bill Clinton once said that while he now has an opportunity to pursue problems, he is passionate about, he misses the power he had in his presidency to provide big solutions to many problems at once. Heads of state have much more power to change society for good than all the citizens of their countries. It, therefore, follows that any so-called mindset change should really be preached to those at the top.
Is it not ironic that the VP, the preacher of the ‘mindset change religion’ himself, harbors a lot of archaic mindsets? Just two days ago, he was at the airport seeing off President Chakwera on his way to Zambia. Why was the VP at the airport? He has always gone to the airport to either see off or welcome the president. A lot of resources are lost, and a lot of time wasted because of the VP itinerary. This whole VP office was created because people wanted somebody to actually be sitting in an office and working while the president is away.
Every time the VP hands a report to the president, a ceremony is organized with state media and government officials present. That is another mindset at the top that needs to change!
The VP has made himself an inspector of projects. He flies around the country inspecting and grading projects. He has taken upon himself the job of a Registered Civil Engineer. Why does he not leave these inspection tours to competent technocrats? This is another mindset that needs to change at the top!
Almost everybody is now familiar with the famous BBC Hardtalk interview. While everybody talked about how much the president stumbled, the story should really have been about two crucial things.
First, the story should have been about top-class journalism. Here was a journalist, Sarah Montague, who was very prepared. She starts by asking the president about nepotism – a subject she apparently had researched very well and reached a solid conclusion. When the president denies that he is nepotistic, the journalist takes him through a series of questions that inevitability led to the conclusion the president had already denied. Did you notice that the president did not explain what tasks his family members were doing in London? Well, because he knew he finally found himself in a trap he had not anticipated.
If we had reporters like Sarah Montague in Malawi, then perhaps you would not have the vice president running around with his gimmicky theories.
The second important story about the BBC Hardtalk interview was the cavalier attitude of the president toward nepotism. The president was genuinely surprised that the journalist took issue with the fact that he had so many family members working for his administration for a salary. Normalization of nepotism is another mindset that needs to change at the top!
The president is fond of lying to the public. He lied that he would change his cabinet in December last year, he didn’t. Earlier this year, he promised to change his cabinet within a month; he never did. He also promised to release report(s) he never did. Lying is another mindset that needs to change at the top!
Until the VP and his boss have their own ‘mindset change moments’, the VP is wasting everybody’s time.