Thursday, October 29, 2009

The QUOTA fallacy and access to high education in Malawi

President WA Mutharika has come out in the open and expressed the view that a quota system is necessary for selecting students into the University including other public training institutions. He argues that the current system favours the Northern region and it is causing discontent in the other regions. Bingu argues further that statistics show that civil service is dominated by people from the North particularly the so called super scale positions. This has caused a serious debate in various fora. I disagree with the president and I reckon his thoughts are simply matters of opinion and not fact because there are lots of factual errors. The key issue, again in my opinion is that there is a structural problem with education policy and the quota solution is no different from the “ARVs” that deal with opportunistic infections! We need a remedy not something that is nothing but dealing with a symptom.

For example, if the president was economic with the truth, he could have gone to look at the number of principal secretaries in the civil service, or chief executives in parastatals or even our senior diplomats. He could also have shown how the so called discontent is being expressed. Who is expressing the discontent? In what manner has it been shown? I feel this is illusionary and does not reflect the mind of an average Malawian. The quota has rekindled the tribal instincts and hatred associated with the Kamuzu era that Malawians gallantly fought against. Following this debate, unfortunately, it come to be a North against the rest of the country, is a sad development for Malawi in the 21 st Century. The May 2009 elections gave us a big opportunity to demystify the regional pattern of voting and it’s an opportunity that the President should help unify our country. Some scholarly articles by the World Bank Economist like Easterly and Levine show ample evidence that countries within Africa with huge ethnic fragmentation often experience low levels of economic development. Ethnic fragmentation often leads to development choices that do not reflect the general public good but unjustified expensive policy decisions that cater a favoured constituency.

Bingu has shown his leadership credentials by defying the IMF and World wisdom of fiscal restraint by embarking on massive agriculture subsidy. I don’t care who is responsible for it. I am just being mindful of JZU claiming the same but I look at the results. Favourable weather plus affordable fertilisers have made Malawi food sufficient and exporter. Bingu argued that Bakili Muluzi’s starter park was not enough. Bingu has put in place such as sound policy that has seen the country enjoy food self sufficiency plus many international accolades on the green revolution. But this story is enough and I think he can use the same logic to apply on education. Which donor would go against him and Malawi per se if we went “green revolution on education’? The quota is just a quick fix whose costs are huge given the ethnic interpretation and the basis that the president, inadvertently exposed in his expression.

What would do if was Bingu to be consistent with agricultural policy? Firstly I would realise that Malawi gave me a mandate to rule overwhelmingly and therefore pursue policies that are in the benefits of the entire nation. I would also realise that it is difficult to ascertain someons' district of origin in 2009 Malawi where intermarriages are rampant. I would take full cognisance of the fact the ministry of education pursued a policy of district of residence given the integrated nature of our society in the modern time. Similarly, I would realise that urban schools are more favoured that the rural ones. Consequently I would embark on a big “green revolution” in education. This would see government build more Universities, if not expand capacity of the existing ones. It would also expand the capacity of technical colleges and allied institutions that can accommodate our youth who cannot make it into the University. This would be complemented by an attractive remuneration regime that is conducive to retaining qualified staff with special privileges to those that work in the rural areas.

Consequently, I would swallow some pride and realise that the “quota” and its variant as in the so called equity access to high learning, is a fire fighting technique in a country whose constitution condemns discrimination of any form (section 20) and guarantees the right to education by all citizens as in section 21. The framers went on board to craft our supreme law to ensure fairness and justice and the “quota” theory stands in sharp contrast to what citizens of this country decided long time ago. It’s not too late to rethink

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Malawi Economic Growth. Who benefits?

When Bakili Muluzi started going around the country with match boxes, iron sheets and bars of maluwa soap to argue against high economic growth pundits condemned him. Their argument being that he had little understanding of inflation. Others argued Muluzi could have also gone to the rallies showcasing 50kg bags of fertiliser given “cheaper prices” apparently due to the fertiliser subsidy. True but cheap reasoning all together. Its all at tax payers expense. Better call it voodoo economics. However, a certain level of sense is apparent particularly if one clearly articulates the limits of economic growth.
Malawi’s economic growth has been touted as a success story by the international community. That such a hungry and least developed country is a second fastest growing economy in the world is thrilling. Not only does it make most of us think great of our country and its future but possibly with anticipation of an environment awash with opportunities.
Is it real? Probably yes but with some heavy headed doubting Thomases. Questions still abound whether our growth is pro-poor and henceforth barefeet Malawians in Thundubike (Mzimba), Mwalasi (Machinga) or Makiyoni (Salima) can collaborate this much touted high growth rates. This is where politicians like Muluzi often come in and display merchandise using chicken economics to gain political mileage. But behind such reasoning, there is a genuine and hidden story that puts in question whether economic growth as measured by change in GDP results in improved quality of life.
Amid this high level of growth, generated by maize production our vulnerabilities have been exposed. Maize has not generated any revenue as most of it is just consumed by households and not traded across the border in a manner that boosts the foreign reserves of the country. Why is our import cover perpetually under 2 months? Reports of hunger last year were rife and government had to swallow its pride and ban maize exports. Such decisions were made in a fast growing economy putting in doubt the efficacy of growth generated through a what i term a maize subsidy. Would a high growth economy ban exports? I have my founded doubts.
Turn to the obituary pages of daily papers and see the many young faces that have prematurely gone. Their ages average under 35. And then get into a car or a bus and drive on the main roads linking the cities and the likelihood of bumping into a truck fishing hazards carrying a dead body are high. Apparently, this is if you live in the cities but in the rural areas the trend is the same except that they carry the dead bodies in an ox-cart. Does this story link up well with a fast growing economy? Its a health crisis? An emergency case in Ntchenachena, Chididi and Mposa are a death sentence though the economy is growing.
Their is a health and education crisis in this country. Rich folks go to those elite facilities to access health services and education for their families. I am not being jealousy wish for the riches. Over 80 per cent of Malawi’s population lives in rural areas whose health centres are often manned by an enrolled nurse without adequate medication. Distances to such facilities plus the state of rural roads complicate the situation. I am not being sadistic but to say that health services are equally bad as education especially in the rural areas. Unfortunately, this is where the majority of our people live and resigned to a life that offers no hope and future.
Global poverty according to the World Bank is due to China’s reducing hardship through pr0-poor growth. Similar trends have happened in other parts of South East Asia such as Malaysia and South Korea. Setting the pace to development is targeting the majority of the population that is poor. This would perhaps work in Malawi.
Such a story does not end here as my critics will obviously argue that the tergetted inputs subsidy is one such approach. Not sure whether this is correct given the major anomalies. I will not dwell on this one. But to any reader of economic development, human capital is an indispensable source of growth as it offers those with a good education to better opportunities. By human capital I mean a workforce that is well educated.
Malawi’s high growth is coming with unskilled farmers who rely on a fertiliser subsdsiy and the mercy of rains using a wooden hoe since the Iron Age. What else part from farming will a typical peasant do? The education is limited, life is hopeless and we keep on reproducing as evidenced in the ballooning population growth rate of 2.6 percent. Yet despite such warnings, Malawi has four government owned Technical Collegs of Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Soche and Salima plus a few others belong to the churches. Where will all these young people go to? Most of them are getting driving licenses in the hope of becoming minibus drivers via the “touting or callboy” channel. Two public universities with an annual intake of under 2000 for over 15,000 eligible young people. What is the role of education planning?

Somehow, I have a belief that our growth is not pro-poor and the majority of the folks are missing out. There is no need for evidence but I can cite the rise in social ills as a major indicator of the limited benefits of our high economic growth. Go around orphanages and see the number of children with both parents still living dumped there. Recent waves of violent crime in the country are a vivid smoke of unequitable growth. Incidences of rising prostitution and other violent sex offences tell it all. Congestion in prisons due to increasing criminal convicts bares testimony about lack of opportunities that economic growth is supposed to bring. When times increasingly get tough people resort to unorthodox coping mechanisms.
Not sounding very circumstantial in the case I build, there are enough pieces of meat to question the limits that economic growth can achieve. Providing high quality education and health services to the poorest plus a general enabling environment principles of equity thrive makes economic growth meaningful. At the rate we are going, a majority is being left behind. Yes they need fertiliser but they need to have a good education and health including equitable access to public services. Economic growth to me does not guarantee success if the majority of a vulnerable population are left behind. Otherwise we will still various versions of Bakili Muluzi going around with a few merchandise preaching voodoo economics.

Bingus Cabinet

How big should a cabinet be? A question not properly answered given that cabinets are often presidential prerogatives. Similarly, there is no rule about the number of advisors the presidency should have. Bingu Wa Muntharika after his massive win hired a “lean” 43 sized cabinet that confounded critics in a matter of ways. The size has been considered huge and the faces astounded many given Bingu’s new name “unpredictable”.
I ponder on the question of what a cabinet does. In principle a cabinet formulates policy that line ministries implement under the leadership of the elected president. Before we become overlay critical of the current cabinet it is good to consider the achievements of the previous one.
The Malawi economy has grown tremendously since 2005. Without pointing at the sources of growth, I would speculate that there was a cabinet that “crafted policies” pro-growth. I can draw critics on this one because there are lots of exogenous factors. Malawi committed itself to budgetary reforms evidenced by reduced fiscal deficits, good rains, debt relief and general confidence of the international community. To add it all Malawi had a president who was very much in tune with global politics and a finance minister who was hands on and knew exactly what to do.
Enter phase two of Bingu’s presidency. A massive change in the cabinet composition. Out goes Mussa. Phoya, Katsonga and Lipenga. Folks that stood the storm orchestrated by Bakili Muluzi and JZU with blazing horns of Nga Mtafu, Clement Stambuli and many others. Then another influx of MPs with enviable credentials. Goodall Gondwe shifts to Local government, Chaponda education, Kaliati to Gender etc. Other notable surprises include Ken Kandodo into finance, Mwanza into housing and on a lesser note Billy Kaunda pulls his own surprise.
With all these changes, one has a genuine reason to question the size of a cabinet. While it is a presidential prerogative, cabinet is run on tax payers’ money. Perhaps Bingu is being pragmatic and hiring a team that can help him realise a dream of an export led growth Malawi. We will judge him by 2014. I have always wondered whether cabinet ministers really perform. In the post 1994, Malawi, I reckon that a cabinet minister can only perform if there is a lot of political will and support from the president. Remember the 10 point Chikaonda? What about freeze sometime in Muluzi’s regime amid serious governance issues? The late night threatening calls to Chikaonda wisdom thinking about not hosting a SADC summit? I think the same applies to Goodall Gondwe. He has performed simply because Bingu gave him the support. The same Goodall Gondwe was Chief Economic advisor to Bakili Muluzi.
To coin it all we perhaps do not lots of ministers because the President basically does most of the things. Most ministers are all over familiarising themselves on those costly tours. Nonetheless, I believe Bingu will render support to the folks hired into his cabinet otherwise there might be just baggage on the tax payer. Unfortunately, the reality of a political system is that there is need to balance up genuine needs of the country and political interests given a turbulent parliament Bingu experienced. We just need to keep our eyes open to not sleep on the train and ensure that elected public officials are accountable.
When are the local government elections?

Friday, February 6, 2009

May 2009, More of the Same

All presidential aspirants are now known with one them of spending sleepless nights. The madness of section 83(3) will be known in a matter of days. While to some, this section is vague, I for one beg to differ. With limited comprehension of the queens language, my judgement is simple. Let the experts make the judgement anayway. I am an avid disciple of David Ricardo after all. Anyway this is not the subject but I thought it would a nice prelude to the campaign as events unfold. Nothing is going to change in MAY, 2009. The rich will continue milking the can read Carl Marx’s Des Capitol if you like.

For the first time in Malawi politics, presidential candidates have found it so difficult to choose their running mates as they try to come up with winning formulae. In 1999, Gwanda felt this need and opted for Chihana to get a Northern vote. He was main contender to the throne but failed. In 2004, it was not a big issue but come now, a major issue indeed. JZU had to choose a running mate at the 11th hour after his preferred candidate, so it is said, was not supported by the Nkhoma Synod. I am not sure of the veracity of the claims as reported by The Nation though. BJ kept telling different stories. Bingu reminded the media that the constitution empowers a candidate to choose their running mate. Very true, but one could also sense how tough it became for him. Bakili, at BCA and his team, were not immune to the syndrome and had been cracking their brains so much despite the unfriendly cumulonimbus cloud that s83(3) has become. Nyondo and Loveness Gondwe had no problems but the jokes that the other independent candidates gave the process some Malawian humor, often apparent in such events. From not having mobile phone airtime to lack ok MK500,000, Chawawa , Mayuni and Kumwenda gave the race the attention it deserves anyway.

But why has the running mate issue been so hot? I for one do not believe that the political landscape in this country has changed. It still remains a polarised society beset by regionalism and tribalism. I still believe that we need a big revolution and change of the mindset to move this country forward. Unfortunately, come May 19, we will be trying to choose a better devil. The solutions that running mates have come up with are symbolic of complex tribal games as they try to outplay each other. Even chess greats like Casparav would marvel at how the guys are playing the game. Some pundits think, that JZU/BJ is UDF plan B. If this is true, my interpretation is that UDF is trying to get into the Lomwe belt and punish Bingu. Bingu comes up with a counter strategy in my opinion. Knowing that the Eastern Yao belt is predominantly UDF and DPP has made it difficult to penetrate, he picks Joyce Banda to capture the Yao vote probably in what I would call moderate Zomba. On the other hand, the religion game is fun too. Bakili makes sure he partners a Christian, not be seen favouring moslems . However, I see that Bakili is being naive as this is playing to the advantage of JZU while JZU is also playing the loosing political blindness associated with most people quenching for public office. It is so complicated game to simple solutions. Me thinks is not an election in the word of democracy but a fight that pits three main tribes of this country in a dirty political game. Malawi is the ultimate looser unfortunately.

The dilemma that the presidential candidates have faced in choosing their running mates plus the strategies beneath them, are no solution to women who die while giving birth. They don’t bring children from poor households to go to a secondary school or be able to pay fees as a parallel student at the University. I does not build tech schools where our youth can learn a trade and contribute to economic development. Clever and crafty as the presidential candidates have been in proving wrong the tabloids, it does not solve the perennial problem of electricity black outs that keep away the much needed foreign direct investment to create jobs for thousands of jobless youth. Whichever mate they come up and the reasons for doing so, it does not answer the perennial problem of poverty diseases like cholera, malnutrition and does not make more doctors and nurses to people who cannot afford Mwaiwathu and the politicians popular clinic, Garden City. It surely does not stop a middle class Malawian to hire a guard just to protect their battered second hand Toyota Collora while asleep in the night. Yes, I mean, the running mate game does not solve the water crisis and does not stop us from sharing water with goats, cows, dogs and chickens.

Come May 2009, its more of the same. We can keep hoping until the entire crop goes and maybe a new cadre of leaders with the heart of the country comes up. I could have liked any of the presidential candidate come up and say, from May 19, power cuts or something like that. Something upon which they can be factually judged. But alas!! its nothing of this sort. The folks are just playing some crazy games of nepotism to get political power while we work our asses out to the benefit of their pockets.

Come May 2009, expect more of the same. Whether one devil is better than the other, the fact is, the devil rebelled from God. The one who said you should not commit adultery also commanded not to steal.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Should we retain Bingu or elect another guy?

The election fever is fast sweeping the country. This promises to be a tough election but nonetheless, the real winner will be democracy as we face this strenous test.

I have not made up my mind on who i will cast my vote for. But I ask one question!!Should Malawians retain Bingu or opt for a new leader? What are the stark diffrences that have prevailed in the three different regimes? Are there any ideoloigical diffrences in how the leaders tackle the issues that affect us most or we are still blinded in the agrarian brain of tribes?

For me, I think for me, I would opt for a leader that takes Malawi to greater heights and nurtures the hardworking spirit that is often stifled by politicians who often are afraid to see an average Malawina rise for fear of being challenged. I dont want to see a leader in office whose version of development is having food on the table, a good house and clothes....this is all crap because this is just the bottom of a niche....these to me are just basic needs all i should say reuirements for a body or a living thing to function!!!

Come May 19, I would cast a vote for a folk that empowers the middle class, who often drive an economy..someone who will put in policies that encourage us to invest and participate in economic activities,,,,not a giving us a loan to buy a Dubai mini.bus, but real stuff..joint ventires with global businesses, someone who can put in measures to expand access to tertially education and let young people leran diffrent trades and skills....not someone who thinks life means growing maize or country has ever developed by growing crops....its crap i say!!!!or i repeat. That we need to have well to do Malawians not because one store from the other but equitable distribution to economic opportunity enhanced through all avenues that allow people to be is key though.....someone who can put in deliberate initiatives to make Malawi a vibrant business destination...modern financial system....not those crazy ques you see at ATMs, diverse telecommunication and transport friendly laws, a parliment well committed to legislative functions instead of kindergattern cheap brothel like politiking!!!

Back to my question!!!Should we retain Bingu? Or perhaps opt for others? Who is best placed to deal with these tough issues that remain critical to improving the welfare of our people, our country...The Land of Mudfish as some crazy mate wants ne to belive. We dont have such fish in Mzimba Hora but somewhere in Lake Kazuni and Kaulimi on Nyika Plateau....

I dont have have answers but help me decide who to vote for. Ur help will be apprecaited so much but no rewards!!Remember the Corrupt Practices Act pounces on weak fish like me.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The May 2009 Election!!!Key Issues for the patriot

Its gonna be the fourth multiparty election since we first elected Bakili Muluzi in 1994. The outcome from this election has a strong bearing on the direction of Malawi and its future. We go into this election still faced with many challenges despite colourful promises that politicians dangle into minds.
Our state of poverty needs no reminding but often politicians ignore the approaches that we need to take to address. Come May 2009, most Malawians do not have access to safe, portable water. Access to basic health services with most rural health centres without basic drugs for the most common infections. A proportionate number of women still deliver babies in dangerous circumstances without the help of a medical practitioner. Drugs and medical supplies, despite a lot of funds allocated in the national budget are not accessible to the people that need them. The funds allocated to training of nurses has not been adequate amid a massive brain drain.
Education, so say they say is key to success. A productive and well trained workforce is fundamental to achieving development, progress and economic development. Our recent wave of growth, in earnest, has come from “subsistence farming” that does not create value often done by peasant farmers. Skills continue to lack for sectors that are associated with a country making progress like technology based industries. The base of education is skewed against the rural children that have one or two teachers catering for eight classes yet their counterparts in the city have so many teachers. The Universities, despite cries of funding, have, since 1994 or perhaps even since the establishment lacked the creativity and move with the times to contribute to national development. What are the philosophies and approaches various political competitors in the forthcoming elections have on education. I have not heard much so far. Lots of our young, are not making it to the University and there is a corresponding lack of investment in apprentices. How do you expect the CCAP and Catholic churches to provide this service. The question is why has governments since 1994 not invested much in technical colleges so that our young people can acquire trade skills and contribute alot to national development.
Well, in my opinion, I think government since 1994 have not been doing enough to provide an enabling environment for national progress and development. An enabling environment is investing in education, health, infrastructure and crafting laws that are friendly to business instead of wasting time on cheap politicking of the Section 65 mania. Perhaps, I would without hesitation say the current regime has made some strides on infrastructure development particularly roads amid a very hostile political environment. The Mozambique power interconnection Bill however, is an example of how politicians can go far to flex their muscles and power their egos at the expense of national development and progress!!! Its been an example of a major setback in infrastructure development.
And finally, I still see an opposition whose core objective is to remove a ruling party from government...that done, its mission accomplished!!!That diverging political organisations exist, should not entail plundering national resources and repositioning our country towards poverty reduction and improving the standards of living for our people who again will be used as pawns in the political mafia game in May 2009.