By Kae Yanagisawa, Japan Ambassador To Malawi:
Three years have passed since I arrived in Malawi as Ambassador of Japan.
During the period, I had the privilege of meeting and interacting with brilliant women and men of different backgrounds and learned a lot from their insightful and inspiring views.
These interactions made my assignment in Malawi very exciting and fruitful.
Also interestingly, my previous assignments involved countries which were very different from the present-day Malawi: where freedom of speech, freedom of the media and freedom to criticise the government were a luxury and politicians who were duly elected by people were non-existent.
I imagine that Malawi under the one-party regime was somewhat similar to the countries I was familiar with.
However, to my astonishment, more than 95 percent of people that I interacted with, whether young or old and whether from the public or private sector lamented that Malawi has been regressing ever since the adoption of the multi-party system in 1994.
They regretted that the quality of education and health services as well as infrastructure has constantly been on the decline, while Malawians have lost the sense of self-reliance and the spirit of hard work.
As I reflect on all these discourses, some questions come to mind. Should Malawi choose either “dictatorship with development” or “democracy without development”? Are democracy and development mutually exclusive?
History tells us that countries which were guided by long-term visions and plans tended to grow fast. In this sense, frequent change in the government may not necessarily work in favour of long-term plans, and democracy accompanied by elections may have some shortcomings.
However, development is not just about aggregate growth. Among the many indices of development, one of the most crucial ones to me is “equal opportunity”.
A country where all people have equal opportunity in accessing education and economic activities irrespective of their locality; social status; gender; or disabilities will have better chances of achieving development.
In such a context, democracy may be more suited than other forms of government and is key to advancing national agendas.
Since the May 21 elections, Malawi has experienced political tension, instability and destruction for nearly six months.
Political analysts argue that the issue at hand is not just the electoral process and results but a manifestation of frustrations over the overall situation in Malawi, including the slow pace of development and life’s hardships.
While it is the legitimate right of the Malawian people to express their opinions, what is worrying is that the country is being divided.
Diversity in a society is a source of robust development, but divisions among the population are an enemy of development.
In my view, there are several conditions essential for a country to advance on a path of steady development.
First, a country should be united under a common and clear goal.
The goal should be such that all people can believe that if they work hard, the country will develop and their efforts are rewarded eventually.
For this to happen, relevant systems and institutions should be in place, which is the second condition.
It is exceedingly critical for people to trust in systems and institutions that will protect and/or punish people in an impartial and indiscriminate manner.
Thirdly, people should have a sense of responsibility for their own development. We often impress that leadership is essential for development. While this may be true, development is not something simply handed down by a leader for free.
The role of the leader and the government is to provide opportunities, but it is the responsibility of the people to utilise the opportunities and strive for the betterment of their own life.
As such, it was quite disappointing to repeatedly hear the phrase “this is Malawi”, or “Malawi will never change” even from well-educated people with strong analytical skills.
Never-the-less, it was always a breath of fresh air and momentous occasion to meet people who are motivated to improve their life and are committed to the betterment of the society with whatever resources they have.
As I have always stressed, Japan achieved its development based on the spirit of self-help.
For a long time, Japan acquired knowledge and skills from foreign countries including China, Korea, the United States and Europe over different periods of time.
Fortunately for Japan, there was no notion of donor or aid during that period and the Japanese people had no option but to work hard to translate acquired knowledge to fit into the context of Japan.
Based on these experiences, we highly value self-reliance. This is exactly what we place at the centre of our cooperation with Malawi.
Japan wants Malawi to be self-reliant and to be responsible for its own development.
Financial, technical and knowledge support should be used for this purpose and not to replace or substitute the responsibility of the Malawi government and people.
Many Malawians seem to believe that Malawi is resource poor, but actually, Malawi is rich in human resources.
These resources will be unleashed if proper systems are in place and all the people assume the role of making their society a better place to live in.
Therefore, as I complete my tour of duty, I look forward to seeing a Malawi that will be moving forward to robust development guided by a common goal in the not so distant future.
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