Brevities on wandering thoughts
Money and wealth misconceptions. Many people think that money and wealth are identical terms. They mean different things. Wealth consists of goods that one can utilise; money consists of coins, banknotes or bank deposits. It is only a shadow or measure of wealth. You cannot utilise it in the manner you can utilise goods.
Imagine one man on island has a bag of maize weighing 50 kilogrammes, a bag of beans weighing five kilogrammes and a K100 banknote.
Another man has K1 million banknotes, a bag of maize weighing five kilogrammes and a bag of beans weighing one kilogramme.
On the deserted island, which of the two is richer than the other? I do not know what your answer is but I feel without doubt it is the man with the 50 kilogramme bag of maize. He will be able to live on it longer than the one with K1 million but only five kilogramme of maize. If you have the maize but not the money, you have something to eat and survive on. If you have piles of banknotes but not maize, you will starve. Goods are real wealth; money is only a reflection of wealth.
To attain higher standards of living, we have to achieve bigger harvests of maize and not bigger quantities of money. Our standards of living in Malawi are low not because we do not have billions of kwacha but because we do not have billions of maize baskets. We must produce more crops, breed more cattle and other domestic animals, more rice, more fruits and vegetables, and build more and better houses. These constitute real wealth. The late Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda used to say “work hard in the field my people”. He was not saying the government will print more notes, hand them to you and you will be better off.
Let us be good not at demanding our rights but also at performing on our duties. This is the road to national prosperity. Certain disasters come to a nation unexpectedly such as earthquakes while others cast long shadows before they occur.
The possible collapse of our tobacco industry has been known and talked about for more than two decades. If one day our tobacco farmers go to the market and find no buyer even at a giveaway price, it will not be one of the national tragedies that come out of the blue.
Things are not working well in Malawi because we are not so organised so as to get things done. There is no concerted action on forestalling the consequences of the total ban or boycott of our tobacco exports. There are politicians who in their quest for popularity keep on telling tobacco farmers that there is a brighter future for them.
Time and time again someone has said the Malawi economy must be diversified both at the primary and secondary levels. No one has said there is no need for this but in the way things are being handled, it appears as if some people do not see any urgency. This is procrastination, the thief of time.
We ought to proceed as follows:
First, develop substitute crops for tobacco. We understand that there is a huge market for pulses in India. How durable is that market? Are we organised to supply the maximum? Malawi does not have unique soils. Pulses can do well in neighbouring countries. We are in competition with others.
Second, find new uses for tobacco. If only God would give us a George Washington Carver who discovered hundreds of uses of the peanut and thereby boosted the economy of the southern states of the United States. Can tobacco be used as a fertliser or a source of medicine?
The great American inverter Thomas Alva Edison advised the would-be inverter to occasionally retire into solitude and imagine what can be done. There are people who will casually dismiss the idea of discovering in tobacco chemicals which could be the bases of a drug for diseases like cancer and HIV and Aids. But motivation writers tell us that what a person can imagine they can achieve. The flight to the moon, talking machines and televisions started with imagination in someone’s head and all the wise laughed at that person as a lunatic.
It is unfortunate that in Malawi, our scientists do not seem to have developed ambitions that scientists in Europe and America have; that is to become inventors or innovators. We have known cases where someone who is doing well as a scientist transfers to an administrative job or goes into politics where he sees the luhlaza grass as greener. The state has a duty to give incentives to scientists to stick to their field. Their success in research and development can redeem this country from perpetual poverty.
Criticism and ingratitude. Those who are aspiring for high offices should not forget that where there is honey, there are stings. Sometimes people in top positions are criticised for things that they have not done or things which are beyond human control.
Relentless critics of people in power many times have proved incompetent when they ascend into a similar office. In British politics, the best example was that of Charles James Fox whom the king had to dismiss abruptly when it was discovered he received a bribe, a vice which in opposition he had been attacking relentlessly.
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