I am surprised that some of our Cabinet ministers are ‘surprised’ that some retail supermarkets in the country are stocking imported goods. Most shops in the country have over the years cultivated this habit of filling their shelves with imported products and we, the customers, have happily eaten from the palm of their hand by scrambling for these imported goods.
In this climate of liberalisation, there is really nothing wrong with having a variety of goods from where consumers can pick from. However, it becomes a whole different ball game if other countries regard our market as a dumping yard for sub-standard goods; a trend which we have ashamedly failed to police.
I am quite sure the Minister of Trade Sostein Gwengwe and his colleague at the Ministry of Agriculture, Lobin Lowe, have pretty much been around to notice the above and even the huge potential that our local companies possess in as far as manufacturing is concerned. I read in the week that the two ministers were cheesed off over the issue of imported products flooding our markets and yet entities such as National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (Nasfam) are adding value to some of the agricultural produce Malawi has to offer. In fact, I can vouche that Nasfam indeed has a great portfolio of products such as Nas Nuts (in no way is this a free advert) that can easily outmuscle imported brands.
But, then, one would ask: How much are the local companies doing in terms of cementing their brand presence on the market and beyond? You cannot be sulking when your friends who have invested in marketing and are implementing strategies towards expanding their market share start reaping the rewards.
As much as local consumers are being encouraged to tag along on the ‘Best Buy Malawi’ strategy (which by the way is also being implemented by other countries such as South Africa), the local companies should not fold their arms in the hope that the government will do the bidding for them. They have to roll up their sleeves and work a sweat until their brand rolls off on every tongue; just like the people behind Kombeza yoghurt have done (again, this is no free advert or endorsement). There should be no spirit of entitlement among our local enterprises.
But that is not to say the retail supermarkets (including some Foreign Direct Investors) are completely off the hook. The ministers are right to question the merit in having retailers import even perishables like vegetables, tomatoes, potatoes and fruits when our dear brothers and sisters in places such as Zalewa, Neno, Tsangano and Lizulu in Ntcheu, Bembeke in Dedza are producing such stuff round the clock and in abundance. In fact, some have gone a step further to bring value addition but it seems they cannot stand the heat against imported products. At this point, I entirely agree with the proposition that Capital Hill should now be prescribing what to and what not to import in as far as such products are concerned.
This brings us back to observations by Vice President Saulos Chilima the other day when he presented his lecture on mindset change. He pointed out that, somehow, we, as a people, are also to blame because we always seem to crave for things that are foreign at the expense of our locally produced goods which many of us deem inferior. It is high time we did away with this mentality.
When it is all said and done, the take-home message is that the Best Buy Malawi campaign that government embarked upon some years ago is not really paying much dividends either because those championing it are carrying out their activities as a ‘routine’ or are not pursuing it with a ‘business unusual’ approach. We certainly must review such programmes.
Again, whatever happened to the National Export Strategy (Nep)? This was a vehicle that was touted as the next best thing in as far as pushing the country’s agro-produce beyond the borders is concerned. Just like many other good documents that have been dumped on the shelves of Capital Hill, Nep has proved to be another white elephant unless somebody can prove me otherwise.
I digressed a bit; the issue today is about the desire by the Tonse-led administration, as alluded to by ministers Gwengwe and Lowe, to see more of our locally produced goods dominating the fridges and shelves as opposed to just having an entire catalogue of imported products. My small take is; we have heard this rhetoric before; the onus is on you, our honourable gentlemen, to see to it that what you desire is turned into reality; otherwise it might just prove to be more wasted breath.
Stephen Dakalira is a seasoned Journalist who works as Times Group’s Online and Digital Executive Editor. He is also the Assistant Editor of The Sunday Times Newspaper, and author of Full Circle column which appears in Malawi News; all of these under the Times Group stable.
He has previously worked in key positions for some of Malawi’s key media institutions such as Malawi News Agency, Capital FM Radio and Star Radio (Now Timveni Radio).