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Malawi’s culture needs modification

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The year 1962 is a long time ago. Most current Malawians were not yet born. But I was there studying at the London School of Economics (LSE).One day, a visiting professor addressed our seminar on the future of Nyasaland and Mauritius. What he said has kept troubling me ever since.

Malawi then called Nyasaland and Mauritius were approaching independence from Britain. The colonial office in London was very anxious about their future because the two countries were not economically viable. It sent an economist called Dr Benedict to go and make a brief survey of their resources and then advise whether as independent countries they would be able to survive economically.

At that time, the Nyasaland government’s budget was being subsidised by the Federal Government to the tune of six million pounds. This was a lot of money those days, possibly it represented a third of the government budget. Mauritius was being subsidised by the British government. Dr Benedict told the seminar that both Nyasaland and Mauritius would be unable to survive except as pensioners of another country.

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Our tutor asked which of the two was a bit better than the other. Dr Benedict shook his head and said “Give me a third choice”. Though I was at the LSE as a student from Tanzania, I failed to restrain myself as Dr Benedict made derogatory remarks about Nyasaland and Dr Kamuzu Banda style of leadership.

A colleague of mine from Northern Nigeria joined me in questioning Dr Benedict’s assessments of the two countries. Today, if I met Dr Benedict, I would apologise for what I said because since independence Malawi has found it difficult to survive and develop without largesse from abroad. What about Mauritius?

In the African Business Magazine of December, 2016, page 70 we read “the World Bank’s Doing Business 2017 (sic) ranking rates the island nation as the best for enterprise in Africa. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that Mauritius financial sector is worth around $630 billion.

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Mauritius has no commodities such as oil, copper, diamonds but it is doing better despite the current recession in Africa than countries like Angola, Nigeria and Zambia whose commodity export prices have tumbled. One must read the whole article to appreciate the fact that the people of Mauritius have made success of their independence. Mauritius is to Africa what Singapore is to Asia. They have overcome the disadvantage of being small.

Most teachers of business administration will call you that a corporation’s most important asset or resources is its human resource, the quality of people it employs. Similarly, I dare say a country’s main resource is its human resource. Abundance of such natural resources as agricultural land, oil and minerals does not make a country grow rich if it does not have committed entrepreneurs, managers and competent civil servants.

If we Malawians are to accelerate the development of our country, we must be prepared to drop those aspects of our culture which contribute to our handicaps. The German sociologist Max Weber paid homage to the Protestant or Calvinist work ethic which he said had enabled minority communities to contribute more than proportionately to the industrialisation of Europe. But there are other minorities deserving our study.

Despite the Devil called Semi-Semitism wherever Jews have settled, they have been successful in business, education and literature. Among Nobel Prize laureattes both in Europe and America, we again and again read about men and women of the Jewish faith.

When Idi Amin chased Asian traders from Uganda, those who resettled in Britain set up successful businesses there. In a recent issue of The Economist, we read that Americans of Indian origin operate half the motels in the United States. Here in Malawi during colonial days, Indians set up successful stores, not only in towns but even in rural centres. When in the 1970’s, the government directed that Asian traders should leave rural trading centres and centred themselves to towns, Malawians bought shops in rural trading centres. President Banda’s nephew bought shops at the way from trading concentrate. Within a few years, that had been active rural trading centres deteriorated miserably. Is there a thing as a Hindu ethic which enables Asians to do very well in business wherever they settle?

The Phelps Stokes Commission which visited Malawi and which included Dr Aggrey of Africa wrote that in intelligence Nyasas were equal to the best in Africa. Why are the descendants of Nyasas failing to develop the resources of their country? A Greek philosopher used to say “know yourself”.

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