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Malawi Investment Forum: time to write our story well

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It is said, ‘If you write your story so well, they will read it twice’.

The second Malawi International Investment Forum expected on 10th and 11th October at the Bingu International Conference Centre in Lilongwe is a global opportunity that Malawi has availed for itself once again to write its stories about investments and tourism.

If Malawi had not succeeded to write its stories in the past, here is a second chance and maybe the last.

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Malawi like Rwanda, Ethiopia and Kenya, currently Africa’s top destination for overseas investors, has more good stories and ideas to tell the world. The trick is to put it so well.

You can have a good story but badly written.

And has Malawi already forgotten how former president Bingu wa Mutharika laid good plans to attract investors in the mining and even agro-processing industries? How Bingu talked in very nice language about putting the highest priority in diversifying the economy through the establishment of the ‘Integrated Cotton Textile Industry’.

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“I plan to persuade local and foreign investors to invest in several cotton processing industrial subsets industrial processes…,” he said.

The ‘Integrated Cotton Textile Industry’ was designed to include the subsets industries in cotton ginning, spinning, weaving, fabric and garment manufacturing.

“I am sure Malawians will agree with that the introduction of the integrated cotton textiles industry, will, through forward and backward linkages with other industries, enable our country to create thousands of new jobs for our people” Bingu said.

That was a brilliant idea for Malawi economy; an example of a story well thought of but written badly.

It was a badly written story because now we do not have a vibrant ‘Integrated Cotton Textiles Industry’, years after its dream. Maybe the answer is we did not have the opportunity such as what the investment forum offers us; to write our story well to the potential investors in the cotton industry.

But the forthcoming forum provides such opportunities. Under the theme “Small Partnerships for Private Sector-led Industrialisation”, the forum aims at developing new business opportunities with regional and international businesses in the following clusters: agriculture and agro-processing; tourism and services (education, creative arts); manufacturing; infrastructure (transport, water, commercial and residential real estate, industrial estates); energy and mining; and financial services.

The forum is expected to host 500 private sector delegates from Malawi, Africa and the rest of the world. Bankable projects and business opportunities will be presented and discussed.

Government is putting aside about 15 strategic public projects which it will announce for take-off at the forum. The forum is expected to sign a minimum of 20 private sector deals.

Such forums are not a new phenomenon in Africa. Countries with booming economies have used international forums to woe investors. Here we look at three African countries that are reaping benefits from such meetings, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Kenya.

Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa is talking a good story from the hosting of investment international fora.

In March 2015, for example, a Chinese company, Shaoxing Mina Textile, invested $15 million in Ethiopia’s textile industry while Jiangsu Lianfa Textile invested $500 million.

“Ethiopia is actually trying to build ties with all major importers and investors that can help its economy grow. And it is growing. It all started from the investment forums such as the second that Malawi is holding.

And what do Malawi learn from Ethiopia?

That China is ready not only to give soft loans but also to invest richly here. We just have to write our story better.

Rwanda, one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, never misses the trick of international forums.

An opportunity just arose recently when it hosted the World Economic Forum in its capital Kigali. Rwanda played its cards so well. The 1,200 international delegates attending the forum were ferried along the immaculate, landscaped main road from Kigali Airport to an array of hotels, observing along the way new hotels and offices under construction, orderly traffic and litter-free streets.

One report says that, at the entrance to the custom-built tented conference, the country displayed banners outlining the country’s achievements. One read: “Rwanda: 2nd easiest place to business in Africa”. This was in reference to Rwanda’s ranking on World Bank Doing Business 2016 report.

Another read: “Register your business in six hours”.

That kind of selling Rwanda was not just window dressing for the high-profile event but its story is well written and woven with facts of economic success as outlined in its long-term development strategy entitled “Vision 2020”.

This strategy seeks to transform Rwanda from a low-income agriculture0based economy to a knowledge-based economy with a middle-income country status by 2020.

One of the core areas Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame is focusing on to attract investors is improving the energy sector.

Kagame plans to triple his country’s current electricity generation capacity within three years.

Tourism has become the main generator of Rwanda’s foreign exchange.

But whereas Malawi dusted the papers where it wrote its “Vision 2020”, Rwanda is keeping its papers, returning to them now and often to see where it is failing.

Maybe it will happen the same way in Lilongwe. Delegates will be ferried in the city to admire the sprawling infrastructure defining the capital. Hey! The only difference, will be, a litter-free Kigali- the cleanest city in Africa, will be replaced by a litter-infested Lilongwe.

Kenya is also seriously in the same business like Rwanda. Just in the year gone, Kenya hosted the country’s first-ever ICT Innovation Forum, now slated to become an annual event.

In this respect, Kenya’s Ministry of ICT and its ICT authority, jointly announced the launch of the ‘Enterprise Kenya’ initiative, in a bid to promote foreign investments as well as local entrepreneurship.

On this, the Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, has set the target of investing 50 start-ups through the Enterprise Kenya project. This has already started bearing fruits. Foreign investors are flocking to Kenya’s capital Nairobi to open up various enterprises.

Maybe it is this optimism drawn from the success of international forums that these countries that is giving Joseph Mwanamveka, Minister of Trade and Industry, sleepless nights in preparing for a successful forum.

President Peter Mutharika, come October 10, 2016, must be a happy man to hold this kind of international forum. It will be fulfilling his brother’s dream that saw tourism in direct link with attracting foreign investments.

“The tourism industry has a huge economic potential. The government embarked on a programme to develop the sector. It is my government belief that the public/private investment partnerships will remain the most sustainable way of developing the sector. We aim to offer the tourism packages to both local and foreign tourists by promoting the cultural heritage,” Bingu said.

Indeed, it is those that come with a small travelling bag to visit our mountains and lakes that return to stay with heavy industries carried not in their bags.

If the inaugural investment forum had no measured success, we can only hope Mwanamveka this time will play other cards. If Malawi fails this time to write its story, the investors will not read it twice. They will come and go. The story written well, they will come to invest in Malawi.

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