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.