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This economy cannot be transformed by slogans!

President Peter Mutharika laid to rest the rumours of his “right” temporary paralysis in his October 21 press conference convened at Kamuzu Palace. As usual, the talk in town was not about the substance of the issues but the rather newsloganin town, “robust”. It has now become fashionable to put the word “robust” in front of any noun. Similarly, I am not going to focus on the substance of what was said, debated, asked or answered. I will dwell on the silent issues from the press conference. The things that were not said but observed and how they demonstrate the lack of innovation we have as a nation.

In April 2016, Malawi launched the Buy Malawi Strategy (BMS) in a bid to promote locally produced goods and services. In order to demonstrate commitment to the strategy, there was an assertion that Malawians were encouraged to wear locally manufactured clothes of Fridays. In fact, I have observed that the President is clearly leading by example if one goes by the attire that he put on during the press conference. A few more people also put on what we can call Malawian attire. It is common knowledge that buying locally has countless positive effects.

In that spirit, I was impressed when I saw a number of items with the Malawi flag being sold at the airport in Blantyre. I purchased a few caps with the Malawi flag and was congratulating myself on contributing to the best buy Malawi craze. It was only three days later when I looked inside the caps and saw the label “Made in China”. This made me speculate on the attire that the President worn during the press conference. Was the material produced in Malawi? Have we come to the point that as long as the clothes are tailored but not made in Malawi, we are happy? As long as the product has the name Malawi on it, we seem to be happy whether it was manufactured in Malawi or not. Does it mean we are buying Malawian if we wear shirts or shorts with traditional colours even if those clothes are manufactured in abroad? Not every African fabric is made in Malawi!

I also remember that in the launch of the Buy Malawi Strategy, the President outlined a number of measures to kick-start the transformation. One of those measures included the directive that all public procuring entities will buy at least 30 percent of their goods and services from Malawi-based enterprises. Beyond the words, has there been an effort to follow up and report on the progress on this initiative. I am sure that no one is following up on that directive. Similarly, he alluded to the fact that commercial banks should emphasise lending money to enterprises that produce goods and services locally rather than only emphasising enterprises that import finished products for re-sell. Unfortunately for the banks, the production of goods and services locally does not get into the equation when deciding whether to approve a loan or not. Currently, there is no evidence of any policy instrument or any incentive for banks to start prioritising the granting of credit to those that want to produce goods and services in Malawi.

The Buy Malawi Strategy is properly implemented has the potential to propel the economy to the desired 5.1 percent growth assumption for this financial year. The problem we have is that those in authority are not keen to restore and increase the productive capacities of manufacturing in Malawi. Infrastructure rehabilitation and improvement is normally carried out in piecemeal fashion and investment in new technologies and diversification of economy from reliance in tobacco, sugar and tea is nonexistent. What Malawi needs are real institutional and non-institutional reforms that should lay the foundation necessary for the country to produce goods and services and not cosmetic reforms.

As a nation, we must return to the basics. Leaders must lead by example. They must show the nation that they mean business to carry all along economic rebuild project. It is not about slogans but matching words with measurable actions. We simply have to produce local. Industries have to source local raw materials. We should build up facilities to process our exportable produce and sell in the international market at higher price. Why is Malawi still exporting tobacco leaf? Raw groundnuts and soya beans? Soya beans and groundnuts should have been turned into semi-finished products so that those who cannot afford meat purchase soya meat made in Malawi not India. This country produces enough maize when the weather is favourable and yet all our cornflakes in the shops are imported.

Since this economy is agricultural-based, perhaps the starting point to a sustainable Buy Malawi Strategy should be the identification of out-of-the-box innovative technology options that would add significant value for smallholder farmers in agriculture, encourage mass local manufacturing and processing of raw materials by reducing inefficiencies in the value chains, especially the harvest and post-harvest value chain elements. It is time to match our words with action! This economy cannot be transformed by slogans!

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