Vice-President Saulos Chilima on Saturday addressed the world famous university Cambridge to warp up his private visit to the United Kingdom and was hailed by the President of the Cambridge University African Caribbean Society Toni Fola - Alide for delivering an "inspiring and insightful" speech.
Chilima delivered a keynote speech at the Motherland Conference organised by the Cambridge Aftican - Caribbean Society.
"I am encouraged that while you are learning at a prestigious university here in the United Kingdom, you have not forgotten where you come from," Chilima told the students.
He said Africa and the Caribbean share a lot in common.
"We were colonies of European countries and we have participated as one bloc in preferential trading regime offered by the European Union (EU). Together with countries in the Pacific region, we are popularly called the Group of 77 countries or G77 in short," he said.
Chilima said Africa and the Caribbean too remain "under-developed despite several years of self-rule, large volume of development aid and several trade preferences."
Said Chilima: "Our under-development cannot be blamed on someone other than ourselves. Most countries in Africa and the Caribbean are endowed with abundant natural resources yet poverty and under-development remain pervasive. "
He argued on barriers to development in Africa and the Caribbean, saying the reasons border on quality of leadership, supremacy of governance institutions and systems over personalities and existence of functional democratic spaces that allow people to demand for accountability.
Chilima said renowned scholars have made varied arguments on the role of governance in Africam citing Professor Jeffrey Sachs and his associates who argue that the specific characteristics of Africa in terms of low population density, vast areas, poor infrastructure and the prevalence of difficult diseases makes many of the conventional governance arguments irrelevant.
" They argue that what Africa requires, is a 'big push' in terms of massive investment in infrastructure and disease control before attention to governance can deliver any results," he said.
Chilima, however, noted that Sachs' argument is challenged by Kaufmann et al. who advance that while the general argument for a big push in Africa can be supported, governance capabilities are required to implement the big push.
"Despite many countries embracing democracy and having elections regularly, cases of mismanagement of public funds, corruption and clinging on to power by presidents remain common in Africa. Transparency International estimates that corruption in Africa siphons off 20 to 30 percent of finances earmarked for basic services," he pointed out.
He gave an eample of Botswana, saying the governance institutions they have resemble what obtains in other countries including Malawi but the level of practical commitment from people in power varies and explains differences in level of development.
"On the contrast, Malawi got independence in 1964. At the time of independence, she had a per capita income of US$49 and 29 university graduates. The per capita income grew to US$62 by 1966 and today per capita income is only US$226 according to the World Bank.
"While Malawi has no diamond like Botswana, it still has natural resources that if properly exploited would improve her economy and people's lives."
Chilima, however, said while Malawi has governance institutions like Botswana has, such as Anti-Corruption Bureau, National Audit Office, Ombudsman, Parliamentary Committees and Accountant General, she fairs badly on Corruption Perception Index (CPI) while Botswana is among the least corrupt economies according to its CPI.
"It is tempting to conclude that the level of practical commitment from people in power is what explains the development of Botswana and under-development of Malawi," said Chilima.
Chilima said Africa recognises the role of good governance in fostering development. The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) facilitates peer review of member states on governance dubbed African Peer Review Mechanism.
"The role of strong and visionary leadership cannot be over emphasised. Africa and the Caribbean can learn from successful East Asian countries and the People's Republic of China. Singapore's per capita income grew from US$550 in 1965 when she was delinked from Malaysia to US$55= ,000 by 2015. One cannot discuss the story of Singapore's success without attributing to astute leadership of late Lee Kuan Yew.
"But strong leadership has a cost. One has to forget the self and focus on what is good for the nation. In societies already marred with corruption, nepotism and politics of patronage which Médard has termed neo-patrimonialism and fragmented polities, the personal and family sacrifice can be substantial.
Impunity has beneficiaries who, numerically small as they may be, wield enormous economic power and would strive to maintain status quo. This explains why in many natural resource rich countries, conflicts are not uncommon, autocratic leaders remain in power yet majority of the ordinary people continue to wallow in poverty," Chilima pointed out;
He said despite the resistance that change will always face, "change must happen."
Speaking about his profile, Chilima said in 2014, he left private sector employment as chief executive of Airtel Malawi to join frontline politics.
"I was well aware that politics in Malawi as it is in many African countries is rightly perceived to be dirty, not for smart minds and too risky. These are indeed the realities of politics where I come from.
"Nonetheless, other than these characteristics being repellent, they attracted me because I knew I had a job to do. If I want clean politics, if I want politics to be a leadership career of choice and if I want smart brains to get involved in active politics, I must be part of the change agenda. So I joined politics to contribute to desired change," he said attracting hand clapping from the students.
However, Chilima said it has been a "daunting" task.
He said : "Dismantling the establishment is not easy but is possible. I have spoken against corruption knowing the potential consequences. I have had to break political tradition that when one is part of government, one must put interest of their political organisation first before interest of the general public. Tradition that dictates that dirty practices must be hidden under the carpet. I have spoken out to the dismay of many."
He continued: "This personal sacrifice has not been short of gains. It has energised many, it has revived hope that change in Malawi is possible and the beneficiaries of impunity have begun to reflect on their actions. "
Chilima challenged the students to be agents of change in their respective countries.
"A better Africa and the Caribbean is possible and it begins with you. Opportunities in Africa are enormous. Nearly all industrialised countries are turning to Africa. There is EU-Africa summit. There is China-Africa summit. There is France-Africa summit and many others. This level of interest shown by developed economies is evidence of the potential Africa has," said Chilima.
He also provided data , saying the 2017 World Investment Report of the UNCTAD shows that Foreign Direct Investment in Africa amounted to US$42 billion.
"The FDI inflow signals the huge potential to do business in Africa and the FDI outflows indicate the potential of Africa to be a global player," he said.
"When you complete your studies, return to the Motherland and be part of force for good. No one will transform Africa and the Caribbean apart from ourselves. You are the leaders of today and claim your rightful space. The transformation of our Motherland lies on our collective shoulders. Let history not judge us hashly for failing to seize the opportunity to make a difference," he concluded.
Commenting on the speech delivered by Chilima, the President of the Cambridge University African Caribbean Society Toni Fola - Alide said: "The speech was inspiring and insightful and gave concrete views on how Africa needs to go. It also placed responsibility for everybody to develop Africa. Young people have to step up to develop the future."
Alide said Chilima came across as "sincere, gracious and passionate" about ideals and values on democracy, accountability and good governance.