How do you develop a poor country? A plan is not enough

By Cedrick Ngalande

Mike Tyson the famed American boxer once said: “Everybody has a plan until he gets punched in the face”.

Since 1964, six men and one woman have come forward with plans to develop the nation.  The plans have ranged from Kamuzu’s ‘Gwero visions’ to Muluzi’s ‘Everybody will wear shoes in my government’; from Bingu’s ‘Dreaming in Color” to Chakwera’s ‘1 million jobs in 6 months and cheap fertilizer/subsidy for everybody’.

Past Presidents

Most of those plans have failed. As of today, Malawi has been independent for nearly 60 years and our greatest acclaim to fame is that we are one of the  poorest nations of the world.

So why, in spite of these plans,  have these six men and one woman failed to develop this country? Somehow, over the years we have come to believe that anybody can be a leader, as long as they have good intentions, are corruption-free and have a plan.

Consequently, we have not  put much thought into who we choose as president of the country. This is a big mistake. All the presidents Malawi has had were/are men and woman of good intentions and,  for most part, they did not set out to be corrupt. Yet most failed.

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It turns out that developing a poor country is a very difficult task. It takes more than just a good plan and good intentions. It is a hard and complicated  task. Best laid plans are often set aside for realities never foreseen. Running a country involves making decisions that entail a  complex set of trade-offs between interests of the powerful and the weak, both of which are necessary for the success of the nation. It is the ability to make these decisions that sets good leaders apart from the rest.

A good leader should react  to events decisively, effectively, and without prior thought or planning. Such ability can never be acquired through experience in government, civil service, industry  or even in academia. Rather,  it is a product of talent and unique life experience.

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Oftentimes, we see people who come along claiming that they can be good leaders because they have been leaders of churches, civil engineers, or maybe economists. And sometimes citizens are attempted to go along with such candidates. It almost always never ends well.

Leadership of a poor country requires more than just an experience to build roads or recital of the “supply and demand” curve.  After all, a president has numerous civil engineers and economists at his disposal at any time.

We do not have to look far back to another era for an example.  Candidate  Chakwera came on the scene with a “vast experience” in leading a well-known church at a national level. His deputy, Chilima, had experience in  running a small cell phone company.

Chakwera and Chilima

These two had a plan to develop the country beyond recognition in a short period of time.  Surprisingly,  their plans did not take into account a pandemic that was unfolding right in front of the eyes. And, yes, that same pandemic they did not plan for has  put them so much off course from their plans  that they are now on track to become the worst President/VP dual in the history of the country. The mediocrity of this dual is even more pronounced when compared to their predecessor’s sound,  steady and deliberate leadership.  

With his background in preaching, Dr. Chakwera believes a speech is an answer to everything. And so, when people demonstrated against his cabinet choice, his response was to give a speech falsely promising to evaluate and reshuffle his cabinet by December 2020.

When MANEB exams leaked the Primary School Leaving Certificate examination, Dr. Chakwera’s response was to give another speech. In just about 8 months, he has given so many of these speeches and appeared so many times on TV that one can easily mistake him for a primetime news reader.

Coronavirus alert

Of course, a speech can only take you so far, which is why it should not be surprising that when the pandemic hit, the country immediately went into disarray. As usual the president’s  instinct was to give yet another speech, this time announcing  a committee of the cabinet, comprised of no doctors, to evaluate anti COVID-19 strategies that real doctors including WHO have already devised. Confused yet?

Dr. Chakwera is a classic demonstration that not  everybody who thinks s/he should be president of the great nation of Malawi should be one. It is clear that the choice of 2020 was a terrible mistake.

Prior to Dr Chakwera, Professor Peter Mutharika had Malawi on a sure path to prosperity. Chakwera’s leadership has already set the country back many years. Another similar election mistake in 2025, could condemn this country to complete failure for many generations to come.

It is with this fear in mind that I have decided to start writing this column every Sunday to create a forum for a robust discussion of the direction our country should take in 2025.

I hope you join me every week.

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