Malawi: a game of cards

The world’s first self-driving taxi service was recently launched in Singapore. Here is an abridged version of how The Guardian (international) reported on this world-first.


A nuTonomy car vehicle. Photo-credit: Yong Teck Lim/AP.

“The world’s first “self-driving” taxi service has been launched in Singapore – albeit with a human backup driver and co-pilot on board for the time being.

While multiple companies, including Google and Volvo, have been testing self-driving cars on public roads for several years, nuTonomy said it would be the first to offer rides to the public, beating Uber, which plans to offer rides in autonomous cars in Pittsburgh, by a few weeks.

The service would start with six cars, growing to a dozen by the end of the year, said nuTonomy, adding that it aimed to have a fully self-driving taxi fleet in Singapore by 2018.

 Earlier this year the company won approval from Singapore’s government to test self-driving cars in one-north. NuTonomy has also announced a research partnership with Singapore’s Land Transport Authority.”

 You are wondering what this has anything to do with Malawi, right? Well, here goes….

In 1964, when we gained our independence, Singapore was still a colony. We were performing better than them. Naturally, therefore, we would have shrugged at the idea of being compared to this Asian country. Also, we would not have wanted anything to do with such a colony, a worse off people who did not have the dignity of independence.


People walk in the streets of Lilongwe. Photo-credit: AFP Photo / Stephane De Sakutin


If, on 6 July 1964 you had been told that come 28 August 2016, Singapore would be far ahead of Malawi to merit any meaningful comparison, you would have probably laughed out loud and dismissed this notion, with contempt too, perhaps.

Singapore gained independence in 1965, one year after us. At independence, the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) was USD974 million and ours was at USD230 million. Still, you could argue that Malawi was better off and manage to get away with it. In 2013, our GDP was USD3.7 billion. That is decent progress for a country that has enjoyed peace and stability, right? What more could have been possibly done within the first 50 years of independence to warrant a higher GDP? Nothing! The leadership has been all-knowing, wise and dynamic. And for that leadership value, a minimum of USD3 billion sounds about right, for sure.

Now – and I hope you’re sitting down as you read this – in 2013, the Singapore GDP read


Singapore. Photo-credit: Living in Singapore

USD300 billion! 300! That is one-hundred times more than what we could manage over the same period! In fact, statistics show that although we reached our highest point (USD5.6 billion) in 2011, we have been in constant decline since. If this trend continues, we are likely to reach the 1994 level (USD1.2 billion) in 2020. Between 2000 and 2013, our GDP just about doubled; Singapore’s trebled. How is that for some home-grown, all-knowing, wise and dynamic leadership?


To understand the Singapore success as one of today’s key financial and tourism service centres of the world, you have to go to their firebrand independence leader, Lee Kuan Yew. In his earliest speeches, he made very bold declarations and undertook to see them through.

“We, the people of Singapore have decided to run the affairs of Singapore…we have no future apart from your future…it is our duty to ensure that it’s a bright future,” he once declared.

In another speech: “This is the only country we have, we have nowhere else to go…If we allow [stupid decisions] to ruin the country, then I say we deserve to perish. It is your duty and mine to make sure that [Singapore] doesn’t perish.”

There have been warnings too: “Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in them, or give it up! This is not a game of cards, this is your life and mine!”

Serious planning, visible and tireless action, affirmation, learning and renewal of vision followed this rhetoric at specific periods. By the time Lee Kuan Yew left power, in 1991, Singapore had positioned itself to become one of the leading players in aerospace engineering, chemicals, clean energy, electronics, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, finance and automotive industries, among others.

This has made the country so competitive and has also transformed it into a major player in global trade. All of this despite Singapore having a population of just under six million people. By contrast, meanwhile, our population in Malawi is growing exponentially, against clear patterns of economic decline. Can we sustain these patterns without serious planning, foresight and radical action?

At the just-ended Rio Olympics, Singapore bagged its first-ever gold medal victory at the games. There’s no medal for guessing what our team returned with. Nothing!

Is it not time we evaluate what our return on the Independence investment really is? Or we should just accept that we was robbed and move on? Bola moyo?


Men pushed bicycles stacked with firewood out of the forest. Photo-credit: Joao Silva/ The New York Times.

Whatever the case, Malawi’s leaders – past and present – have repeatedly played a game of cards with our lives, and right now they are holding all the jokers!



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