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Collective resilience

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With Lorraine Lusinje:

Sometimes people only satisfy their immediate needs. This is usually due to lack of money or investments or resources, cleading to having no sustainable channel of meeting long-term needs.

In Malawi, we have a sizeable fraction of the population that functions this way because they sincerely do not have other options. We also have a fraction of the population that has means of sustainable livelihood and investment but they have a hand-to-mouth mentality and function in that way.

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For example, it is a common trend to see people that have come to Malawi seeking solace from their conflict-laden countries. They come with nothing. They start from scratch. They invest. They remain resilient and prudent while growing a sustainable business. Within a year or two, you will find the same people accumulating wealth and assets. Within five years, their livelihoods will indicate massive improvements and the business will flourish. At the same time, they would have managed to mark a name for themselves due to consistency in the business. The consistency makes them more reliable.

This is possible because a resilient mentality is ingrained in their way of life from birth.

We need to move away from short-term mentality. It is the same mentality that leads us to be constantly begging for resources but never devising a sustainable way to ensure that we no longer move around with begging bowls. It is the same mentality that leads us to feel entitled to only being receivers but we have a load of excuses and grievances to provide in case assistance is needed.

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For instance, our education system has, for a long time, provided access to loans for ‘needy’ students. Over the years, the definition of a needy student has become controversial as even those that can afford to pay schools fees are our accessing ‘free’ education because they feel entitled to ‘free money’. However, when this is being done, the mentality remains immediate consumption. It does not register in the minds of most that what is being given to them is actually a loan that should be repaid.

Recently, most companies had to come in to assist the university system recover some loans by attaching the deductions to the salaries of staff. This was compulsory. And it had to be done this way because most beneficiaries lacked the willpower to refund the money. Of course, for most the concern was also the hand-to-mouth tendencies of most of our systems in the country. The question was: will the refunded money really serve its intended purpose?

It was a good argument but beside the point. When one considers that the ultimate responsibility was refunding loans that had seen you through your university education and managing that obligation before becoming a self appointed auditor on other people’s obligations in a similar vein, the rest was secondary.

Our agricultural system is also affected by this attitude, worse because the country heavily relies on agriculture from many aspects. Systems have been put in place to ensure that farmers make more profits from their farm proceeds but these are frustrated because people are accustomed to hand-to-mouth methods of offloading the proceeds. A farmer would rather receive K500 today for a commodity he would have sold at K1,000 in two weeks. Not surprisingly, farmers keep breaking even instead of making actual profits and investments. Consequently, the country is not developing at the rate it has potential to.

Aligning back to the gist of today’s musings, our education system, our agricultural system, our health system and many other systems in the country would function more sustainably if we removed the hand-to-mouth attitude from our mindsets. Our plans and processes should have tangents to them that address sustainability and nurture a sense of responsibility, reciprocation and investment in the country at large.

Our entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprises and innovators will take this country to greater heights if they are not influenced by this mentality but choose sustainability when growing their businesses. Maybe, this way, we can actually get off those global rankings we grumble about because we loathe being associated with them. Malawi is a country with a load of potential. We just need to make sure the resilient and sustainable attitudes tick in the veins of the citizenry.

I rest my case.

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