Tuesday, 22 October 2013

investing in Young Graduates in Malawi

My visit to Malawi was to participate in training unemployed young graduates from the various Universities in Malawi. The training was organised by T4EE, a new Malawian owned NGO, which is dedicated to imparting skills to graduates to make them employable and become entrepreneurs. I spent 3 days with a group of 60 young graduates helping them to see why entrepreneurship, not "tenderpreneurship" is the greatest career they can consider. As a person in diaspora and having gained some experience around the world, I was excited to offer my time to support these young graduates.

Over the years, there has been a debate regarding the deterioration in the depth and quality of our graduates. I cannot say with 100% confidence regarding the depth and quality of those graduating from our Universities. What, however I can say with certainty is that the 60 that I worked with were very impressive, engaging and hungry for success. Obviously by far, sharper than the politicians we have around us. What was however very obvious was that they are starved of information in general, most of which could easily be found on the Internet. Well, Internet is still a luxury in Malawi in my view, if one is to assess accessibility and cost. By the way, Rwanda has just rolled out free Wi Fi for all as they view Internet as key development infrastructure for the country:


What Rwanda has rolled out is the first step of a plan to provide Wi-Fi coverage to all schools and public buildings, markets, bus stations and hotels in the city and, in the long-term, to the entire country. In June this year, Rwanda government engaged a South Korea's KT Corp to build a 4G network that the Government wants delivered to 95% of the country, up from the estimated 10% who currently have 3G access.

I am not aware of any Malawi plans regarding Internet access for all.

Our young graduates are not only starved of information, but they also need tremendous mentorship and coaching. It was fascinating to note that some of the young graduates had already been doing "some business" whilst in campus. There were many creative minds within the group. For example, one girl started a fast food near her home because every day she saw multitude of people walking past their home. All she saw in her mind was money "walking away". She then started a computer school as her home was surrounded by schools that offered no classes in computing. One young journalists is keen to write and publish books and documentaries of Malawian rural life. One graduate engineer is in the process of establishing a small business that will be maintaining medical equipment. Another graduate by the end of programme had already established a consultancy firm to support many project ideas discussed during the training.

Their dreams die because Malawi does not have a system where we nurture these young entrepreneurs. I was happy to note that successful entrepreneurs like Tom Mpinganjira, Thomas Banda Nkosi (Steers) and many others offered their time to speak to the young graduates. I hope they will play a role of coaching and mentoring those young graduates who are determined to live their dreams.

There is also no level playing field to enable these graduates compete. With no easy access to capital as well as expensive capital, how do they compete with "TenderPreneurs" in Capital Hill who have easy access to "Government cash-cows"? Of course it is very unwise for a new young graduate to build his business on borrowed money from Banks because their businesses will fail. This is where we need "angel investors" who can invest in the ideas of these young graduates. There are a lot of Malawian successful business persons who can part with K500, 000 to K5 million as "risk capital" in young dynamic graduates with brilliant innovative ideas.

I have a conviction that we need to believe in our youth and they may not be as street-wise as our generation, but they are the future of the growing Malawi.

T4EE which stands for "Training for Entrepreneurship and Employability" is a good initiative which should be supported by Universities and Corporate Malawi. It is my hope that T4EE will in the near future target students whilst still in the University or even secondary schools to build this awareness and confidence in the young people

Thursday, 10 October 2013

On President Joyce Banda's Pending Cabinet

JB finds herself in a very awkward situation. 7 months before an election she is found in a situation whereby she has to make tough decisions, some of which might cost her the election. If she has seen the light, she must be cursing herself for not taking this decision when she had a better opportunity.

The Cabinet has been dissolved. Good riddance. The Cabinet commanded very little respect internally or abroad. The performance of the Minister of Finance without doubt has been the main talking point. On rating of 1-5 he definitely scores a 0! Not only has he messed up the Treasury, he has been clueless as to what is going on in the economy. A typical case was when the IMF chief was in Malawi. The Minister of Finance was grinning at the top table and was not in charge of his own show. His statement that day and thereafter clearly showed he reads and understands nothing.

As a person, he is a PhD and with reasonable experience and thus his brain is still useful to Malawi Government and PP. Definitely not in the Treasury.

The Cabinet has the likes of Uladi Mussa, some Zulu and many "our time to eat" personalities. No apologies, they simply have to go.

The question we should pose is; Do we really need a Cabinet between now and elections? What really is the value they will add to our democracy and development? Perhaps all efforts should be the re-aligning and strengthening of the civil service and other organs of Government. If it's a constitutional requirement, them let's have 5 -10 Ministers for example. I don't believe that Government business will in any way be affected.

Of course I am aware that the appointment of Cabinet is important during an election because it ensures that those loyal are rewarded and they have easy access to tax payers money for campaign. But my gut feeling is that the Cabinet is a drain on our resources and having no cabinet or a skeleton Cabinet would be the greatest thing JB would have ever done even if she was not elected come May 2014

Monday, 15 April 2013

Dr Lazarus Chakwela and "Tambala Wakuda"

The announcement that Rev Dr Lazarus Chakwela will contest for the hot seat of Presidency of the once mighty Malawi Congress Party has generated debate and interest. Perhaps its because a seemingly credible candidate has expressed interest to enter a field that is not for those with weaker hearts.  If MCP elects Dr Chakwela as its torch bearer, they will have secured a "credible" candidate with less known skeletons and perhaps who has some proven integrity in his social and professional life.

The unanswered question is whether Dr Chakwela is running as a preferred Hon. John Tembo's candidate. This means JT bowing out of active political life in view of the restrictions imposed by the MCP constitution.

Assuming the above is true and Chakwela is elected, what will make people either "kukwela" or not "kukwela"  Chakwela"?  The first will be people's perception regarding the "behind the scene" role of Hon John Tembo and whether MCP is really a changed party. I think they are a changed party but in life perception matters. The second will be the support he will get from within the party especially from the losing  losing candidates.  The third will be his organisation abilities, soberness, tactics and calibre of the new look MCP team that he will be available for his campaign.

In his fight for Malawi Presidency, Dr. Chakwela will certainly need coalition partners and this is where it will start getting tricky. UDF's Atupele Muluzi strongly believes he is strong candidate based on crowds he has pulled so far during his change agenda tours. I however doubt that he can be elected as President of Malawi in 2014 if UDF goes to the polls as a single entity. The most likely coalition partner of UDF would be a depleted DPP. Depending on how the case against Peter and his Midnight Six Disciples shape up,  DPP are likely to disintegrate if the case goes against them. UDF would thus jump on the chance perhaps giving the likely DPP President a breathing space to rebuild.

The love-hate relationship of UDF and DPP may however create a situation where a coalition is impossible. This may just give room to MCP to invite DPP to be their bed-partner.

The remaining smaller parties will be scrambling for remnants and their leaders will push the followers to join whichever coalition that offers a likely better future.

Here is the last question to ponder. As most politicians lie and play dirty games with electorate, will Rev Dr. Lazarus Chakwela throw away his collar and join the bandwagon?

One thing Pastors turned politician fail to learn quickly is that unlike in Church where you are not questioned on what you preach as you derive authority from the Almighty through the Bible, in politics you are questioned and challenged every second of your life.

I can only hope that Dr Chakwela understands this. Let us wish him well as his Journey continues

Monday, 25 February 2013

Wati@50: Chihoro Tiny Loud Village

Not many villages in Malawi can write my story. I truly thank God that he decided that I should be born of Chihoro village. God has favoured and blessed us in so many ways including making me reach 50 YEARS today.

Let me tell you my story. Thanks to my Dad, who has managed to compile and recorded our family tree. I can only get as far as back as GURAMPHANGWE. He was my Great Great Great Grandfather a couple of generations ago. Guramphangwe came from Kasenga village near Thochi in Rumphi district. He had two wives: Nyamweso and Nyabonda Nyambale Nyausisya from Ngwelu. The simplified family tree is above:

My great grandfather, Peter Katimu Mgonera had 10 Children and 49 grandchildren. When Dr Robert Laws moved Livingstonia mission from Bandawe to Khondowe, his faithful servant was a Tonga man from Dwambazi called Ulaya Chirwa (my maternal great-grandfather, who was considered royal). My grandfather, William Chiswakhata was brave enough and married the daughter of Ulaya Chirwa, Kamana Esther Kanthunkhako. The children were Mjura; Ian Orison (Boma), Austin Chuma, Peter, Rumbani, Zero and Sekanayo.

I follow the Guramphangwe-Mjura-Nkhanyankhanya–Mgonera- Chiswakhata-Mjura path. I am the son of Mjura and my mother Donas Msichili. The Msichili clan originally from Chamaima village in Nkhata Bay, Malawi settled in Twapia, Ndola Zambia where my mum was born and raised. I have a large family in Zambia which I consider home (not second home).

To cut the long story short, this Chihoro family tree has roots and branches in all the districts in Malawi and beyond. The Chihoro clan has married and been married by all the known and unknown tribes in Malawi. One of the descendants of Chihoro was even known as MuChewa Mchawe!

The descendants of this tiny but loud Chihoro village are scattered all over the world as Pastors, Entrepreneurs, farmers, Doctors, Lawyers, Economists, Accountants, Mechanics, Drunkards, Unemployed, Uneducated, Politicians, Bankers, Journalists, Engineers, Agriculturalists, subsistence farmers etc. We basically have been privileged and blessed to be involved in all facets of the society.

We were also privileged that God in his wisdom led Dr Robert Laws to open the Livingstonia mission at Khondowe. I was thus born with a “silver spoon” – so to speak as we have always had electricity and piped water in our village since I was born. I learnt “English” table manners at the dining table of my grand-parents. My grand- mother, (Nyaluwanga) who called me “Bimbizali” baked the most wonderful and delicious scones.

As I celebrate Wati@50, I want to thank God for his mercies and countless blessings. I thank him for giving me life; success in life, prayerful parents, supportive family, wonderful wife, bubbly bundles of joy (children), caring friends and a loud and loving Chihoro clan and its Associate of over 200 known Uncles, Aunties, brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews and nieces, grandchildren.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Contract with Malawians: A reflection

Honouring Contracts and enforcement is lacking across the breadth of the Malawi society. We have not respect for contracts. It starts from Plot No. 1 where President after President fails to honour their side of the contract. They sign a contract for 5 years to defend the constitution and to be a servant of Malawians. Within days of signing the contract all hell breaks loose. A similar pattern is adopted by Ministers, Members of Parliament, Judiciary, public servants and the whole society including "themu-themus" (house workers) follow the leaders in dishonouring their side of the contracts. Shall we call it "organised chaos" to quote one Goli Mwanza? Maybe as citizens we have to take the lead and show how we can honour our side of the contract. Now that there is some wage adjustment in the civil service, let the civil servants honour their side of the contract. Deliver and increase your productivity. Malawi public sector productivity is one of the lowest in the world. Yes I don't have scientific evidence but from education results, health delivery and public services, we surely must be competing at the bottom. Here is the deal, come Election Day, those that don't honour their side of the contract, should be booted out. The challenge is that not all consumers are civil servants. What about the millions that are not part of the famous 60 percent and thus continue to struggle with everyday life? We can only assume that since there is a little bit more money in hands of civil servants, they will be able to spend more and thus give the economy a stimulant. We can assume that the so called Economic Recovery Plan will take care of the rest and get us back on track. Of course the reality is that this is plain psychological. Malawi's economy is in bad shape and there is "organised chaos" among those that are trying to implement the Economic Recovery Plan. They have a contract with Malawians, but they don't intend to honour that contract because simply it is not in their nature and they don't care

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Neglecting Mapila Village

I knew Mai a Ganizani around 1987. Every time I travelled from Lilongwe to Blantyre and back, the favourite stopping place to buy vegetables, potatoes and tomatoes was Mapira village. This is the market situated after Lizulu as you drive from Lilongwe to Blantyre. After I bought my first car in 1990, I started visiting Mapila village quite often and introduced my family to Mai a Ganizani. She was my “customer” and I was her “customer”. Ganizani was probably less than a year old. Mai a Ganizani even arranged for us a nanny called Dorothy who cared for our daughter Vinjeru before she returned to Mapila village. Shopping at Mapila village was basic. Products were laid on papers, plastics, leaves, mats, baskets or in basins. Cars would pull by and the sellers (majority are women) would recognize their “customer” and unless you were new, they would either let you go to your “customer” (vendor) or they would in unison call out like, “ Amai a Ganizani, a customer anu abwela”. (Mother of Ganizani, your client is here) Between 1990 and 2001, I was a regular visitor of the market in Mapila village. It’s amazing that I never ever saw a water-tap, toilet, shade, storage place, shelves or market structures. This was a market of “Dog eat Dog”. Despite Principal Secretaries, Ministers, Chief Executives, (me included as I was CEO for MIPA), donors, Members of Parliament and senior officials planning Malawi’s development always shopped at the market; there was no one who cared or noticed as to whether women in Mapila village were moving up the development ladder. No one noticed the lack of infrastructure or the potential that existed to upgrade these women (and sellers) and the community of Mapila village
22 years later, (January 2013) I visited the market at Mapila village. What has changed is that Mai a Ganizani has lost all her teeth, Ganizani is married and has kids, Dorothy has 2 kids, Ganizani and his 5 siblings are all in the same vending business selling vegetables, tomatoes, potatoes at the same market, Dorothy sells Chinese cabbage and “mpilu” at the same market. I remember in 2005, Dorothy had the same yellow basin selling Mpilu at the market. I wished I had bought the mpilu and the basin. When I arrived at the market on January 2, Mai a Ganizani pleaded with me, “A Mkandawire, chonde mukandigulira mano, tawonani mano onse anapita”. (Mr. Mkandawire, please go buy me new teeth. See I lost all my teeth). What has not changed is that the women sell the same, type, quality, quantities of vegetables, from same size of baskets. They sell their products on the dusty or muddy ground. There are no shelves, no shades, no toilets, no storage space, and no cooler rooms. Twenty years ago, Mai a Ganizani was selling one basket of tomatoes in 2-3 weeks. She sells same amount if not less. In other words, twenty years later, these are still subsistence vendors. I asked the women whether their Member of Parliament has ever visited. “Yes, during campaign”, they said. I would be surprised if the market at Mapila village has ever been on the MP’s agenda. My view is that the market (and the women) at Mapila village needs support. The women in Mapila village work hard and they have potential to supply their organic vegetables and beautiful tomatoes to the middle class and supermarkets in Lilongwe. They need to be supported by being organized into a co-operative and assisted with infrastructure and access to markets. Given an opportunity, within 6 months I can turn Mapila village market into an admirable market worthy stopping and shopping and more importantly turn these women entrepreneurs into a force to reckon with in supply of vegetables. Women in Mapila village, like women at Jenda, Njuli, Bwengu, Zalewa/Mwanza junction don’t need hand-outs. They need support to make them viable. This is why we elect politicians – But as we have discovered, not in Malawi. Who will take on this challenge?

Monday, 21 January 2013

Processing of Driving Licenses in Malawi: A lost SME Business Opportunity

In December 2012, I spent a total of 7 hours (in two days) in Malawi simply trying to renew my expired Driver’s License. Assuming my salary was K1 million a month, the 7 hours of idleness, sharing groundnuts and jokes with “dobadobas” translates into a K40,000 (£75) which would be counted as a loss to an employer. Multiply this loss with the number of people experiencing such inefficiencies every day! It will give you an idea of how much our economy is losing. Then add similar inefficiencies in banks, passport office, courts, other Government service offices, supermarkets, churches, funerals, etc! A basic review of the processes that take place at the Road Traffic Office, one wonders why the Government even talks about championing promotion of small and medium enterprises, when an opportunity to create small businesses is wasted by such high level Government centralization. The love for centralization in Malawi of simple processes has created a healthy breeding ground for corruption which at the Road Traffic has translated into the “dobadoba industry”. I am informed that the “dobadobas” that I called “local consultants” form part of a complex “processing chain” involving the Road Traffic employees. The employees who process the paper work connive with the “dobadobas” and the fees clients pay to dobadobas are shared with the Government employees. The only reason this rotten system is not changing is that all high level persons, (Ministers, MPs, Judges, Principal Secretaries, political party officials etc.) use a parallel system to have their licenses renewed. As the drama unfolded when I was processing my license, I relayed my experience on Facebook. What struck me off was the level of tolerance that we Malawians have towards mediocre. I was advised to abandon the plebeians and go to the “headquarters” of Road Traffic. Someone wrote, “Wati, You are a senior official at the Commonwealth Secretariat and you were once Chief Executive of MIPA. Go to the Head office and they will process your papers faster”. I refused, not because I did not want the luxury, but because there were a lot of people who were not in my privileged position who were going to queue up for more than 5 hours and they had equally important things to do. Having arrived at Road Traffic Office at about 07.50am, I got my “Temporary License” at 12.45pm with the help of a Dobadoba who I paid K3, 000. I am sure this was duly shared with his masters. Apart from the fact that it is silly for whole Government to have only one camera for processing licenses, there is no need for Government to hold a monopoly on the processing of driving licenses. Here is a free consultancy on how the system could be improved and in the process creating a number of formalized small businesses (not vendors). 1. The application/renewal forms should be put online and/or collected from any Government department, post office or bank at a fee; 2. Government should encourage on-line applications; (this will create jobs for internet cafes, studios etc.). Those renewing licenses can make a payment at a post office or bank and the receipt number for payment will be appended on the online application. 3. The Government should give specifications for photographs required and small businesses will open up studios to supply the photos – including electronic copies (based on the specs). 4. The printing of the licenses should be contracted out to several companies that will operate as licensed agents; 5. The processing of a renewal should not take more than 5 days and once you have submitted application online and paid, a confirmation number can be used as proof of renewal as you await your license; By undertaking these simple steps, there will be no need for anyone to go to offices of road traffic at all and we will have broken the corruption cartel that has been formed. Please let us not hear you have formed a Committee to review this. Just do it. Down with Dobadobas and their masters.