It would be easy, and even understandable to expect and forgive the Tonse Alliance partners, and especially the new government of Dr Lazarus Chakwera and Dr Saulosi Chilima to first have a party before getting down to the business of governing. But in my opinion, these two leaders have set the bar so high that I am entitled to expect something more extraordinary than that.
The emphatic victory achieved by Dr Chakwera, over and above being a statement from Malawians of their strong disapproval of Peter Mutharika and the DPP regime; it is more importantly a strong expression of their expectations and hopes in the new administration. It is an expression of the belief that the promises that these leaders made constitute their dreams of a new Malawi.
Although conventional wisdom holds that politicians can’t be trusted to keep their promises, decades of research across numerous advanced democracies shows that the opposite can be true. In truth, political parties, as long as they are guided not by personal interests or the interests of the few, but rather guided by a strong desire to improve the lives of their people can reliably carry out the bulk of their campaign pledges, especially in majoritarian systems like the one we have in Malawi.
This is therefore now the time for President Chakwera to get to work and begin to meet the expectations of Malawians. The idea that politicians are insincere about their campaign pledges has ran deeply in the minds of Malawians and was underlined by the failure of Peter Mutharika to deliver on any of the promises that he made in 2014.
Malawians would like to believe that in Chakwera and Chilima, the country has now turned a corner.
For Dr Chakwera and Dr Chilima, there is no time to party. The country is in a mess and the election was essentially just a job interview. Now is the time to roll up the sleeves and begin to deal with the issues that have beleaguered the country.
For instance, Malawi needs investors to be coming into the country, not running away from it. To do that, certain very important aspects of our economy need to be set right. Those that have followed the story of Malawi’s fall from grace know that as a matter of fact, since the dawn of the democratic dispensation in 1994 there has been an exodus from Malawi of many companies that were considered investors. Investors like BP, PEW, Stagecoach, and others all closed shop because they realised that this once promising country was declining fast. They found that on top of collapsing infrastructure and worsening corruption, they were also failing to externalise their profits due to lack of forex.
Others like renowned tea companies Naming’omba tea estates (Chris Barlow) and Comforzi tea estates all sold their investments and fled due to poor economic infrastructure.
It seems to me that although the staple discussion of Malawians is politics, many that talk politics and promote this political candidate or that political party all have high personal expectations, but quite simply do not really know what they should expect and demand from their favourite politicians if they want political gains to translate into economic profits for Malawi.
There are three main factors that are critical for attracting foreign investment: 1) political stability, 2) infrastructure and 3) a viable market.
Most investments in Malawi have failed because of poor infrastructure especially when compared to other Sub- Sahara African Countries. In addition to the three important factors mentioned above, telecommunications, road networks and road conditions, utilities (water, electricity and gas) and public service delivery, which encompasses efficiency, transparency and accountability and a corruption free environment, are also very crucial.
Many investors that have been excited by the beauty of Malawi quickly turn their back on the idea of investing here when they discover that the investment climate quite simply does not exist.
Let me tell you what I know from my experience working in the government.
In 2010,investor X wanted to put up a state-of-the-art golf course at Cape Maclear, including a five-star hotel and a massive tourism development. The aim was to use the Lake Malawi National Park, which is a UNESCO international Heritage feature, to attract international golfers and tourists. The investment failed because the government could not guarantee or commit to the provision of reliable of electricity, and dependable telecommunication facilities.
Also, in 2010, investor Y wanted to put up state of the art fish farms in Mangochi and Chikwawa for exports. The investment would earn Malawi the much-needed forex and provide hundreds of jobs in the lower shire region. The investment failed because ESCOM could not deliver electricity at the capacity the company wanted to operate. Telecommunication facilities were also found wanting. The company lamented the absence of high-speed internet, and Malawi’s exorbitant phone charges, being one of the most expensive in the Sub-Sahara region, made the investment nonviable.
In 2008, Investor Z wanted to put up a two-lane motorway from Chitipa to Nsanje. The investor would put toll charges for a number of years and then donate the motorway to the government after that period. The investor pulled out due to corruption and needless bureaucratic bumbling.
In 2011, Investor L was determined to put up a clothing factory in Mpemba. These would be top-branded designs for the export market, again earning the government the much-needed forex. Once again, the much-excited investor fled and started negotiating with the government of neighbouring Zambia when he discovered that electricity in Malawi was too unreliable, and if he were to use standby generators for all the time there would be no electricity, then the venture would no longer be viable.
All these are true stories.
It is therefore important for this new administration to focus on working to improve the country, otherwise, all those campaign promises will remain simply wet dreams in the minds of politicians with no real profits or gains for the Malawian masses.
From the 1960s to the 1980, first president Hastings Kamuzu Banda did his best to lay the foundations for an infrastructure that could foster development through foreign investment. Malawi has a public service delivery system that was working efficiently. There was a reliable airline; railway transportation system and roads were being built. Electricity was sufficient for the population and the economic state of the nation at the time.
These were the foundations upon which subsequent leaders needed to build upon to continue maintaining an investment environment attractive to foreign investors. Instead, what we saw was a steady and almost deliberate demolition of the foundations that Kamuzu laid only for them to be replaced by greed and corruption, with each leader looking to make sure they had a private tarmac road leading to their private mansion after leaving office.
Investment infrastructural elements that are very poor in Malawi are in many cases stronger and better in neighbouring countries. Basic things like 24-hour availability of Electricity, and water, reliable telecommunication systems, reliable road networks, availability of forex for investors to be able to import raw materials, and solid public security in to assure investors that their investment is safe are all better in Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia.
Before getting lost in the euphoria of electoral victory, I believe it is important to focus on working for the country rather than wallowing in victory. Instead of spending wasting time kicking the already dead horse that is Mutharika and the DPP, I suggest we focus on the future, and on building the infrastructure that the country’s development desperately needs.
Congratulations to Dr Chakwera and Dr Chilima for the well-deserved victory!