Written by: Ian Khonje

For each country to develop and grow its Gross Domestic Product, it must become a net exporter and producer with a vibrant local production industry. The development of many countries today can be attributed to this key factor. The likes of Singapore, Japan, and China have embraced the production of homegrown products. In recent years, Malawi has taken several initiatives to spark the development of such an industrious and productive sector. This is the Buy Malawi Strategy and Buy Malawi Campaign, but just how effective has the Buy Malawi Campaign been, and how viable and sustainable is it?

Malawi launched the Buy Malawi Strategy (BMS) in a bid to promote locally produced goods and services. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) supported the development and launch of the strategy in collaboration with the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the private sector. The Buy Malawi Campaign Strategy is a revised edition of what was developed in November 2009 following a Presidential directive for the formal launch of a programme aimed at driving consumption of locally produced goods. The essence of the Buy Malawi Campaign is to encourage the consumption of locally produced goods and services. Despite it being well planned and thought out, the Buy Malawi Campaign did not manage to achieve its intended objectives due to changes in policies, lack of consistency in implementation, limited authority of the implementing institutions and to some extent, lack of capacity by the private sector. This then led to the re-evaluation and formation of a new Buy Malawi Strategy in 2016. During the initiation of the strategy, the former president of Malawi, H.E. Arthur Peter Mutharika, said:

“People will not buy from you simply because you are Malawian but because your products are of high quality and your prices are reasonable to compete on the global market.” The then President said this stressing that Malawians deserve quality products too.

He emphasized the need to improve our products and production to be able to be competitive both locally and internationally.

During the launch, the former President outlined some measures to boost the local industry. Among the measures, the President mentioned, as a way of kicking off implementation of the strategy, “all public procuring entities will buy at least 30% of their goods and services from Malawi based enterprises; the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development will prioritize allocation of land to enterprise and investors that intend to manufacture goods and provide services on our land; commercial banks to put emphasis on lending money to enterprises that produce goods and services locally rather than only emphasizing on enterprises that import finished products for re-sell". The President also urged the hospitality industry to set aside a day when they will be serving local dishes. He also declared the start of Malawi day.

The first measure is to strengthen the procurement sector of Malawi.

Without a doubt, Government is the largest buyer in Malawi. Therefore, the bulk of the imports actually go to the Government. Some are directly for Government offices, while other purchases will be for the public through subsidies and social services. In addition, to the three Ministries that the 2009 Buy Malawi Campaign identified as leading buyers, the security agencies, police and military also procure substantial quantities including products that are locally available such as foodstuffs and uniforms. 

Public procurement in Malawi is managed by the Office of the Director of Public Procurement (ODPP). This office came out very strongly in support of the Buy Malawi Campaign. They sent out circulars to guide implementation. The tender procedures should be such that not only do they confer preference on local suppliers/contractors, but should also encourage competition among them. That will be achieved by having tendering categories that reserve certain categories only for locals. These could be for procurements/contracts of up to a certain amount. To accelerate skills development, technology transfer and capital mobilization, there could also be preferences accorded to joint ventures with local firms.

This is where vast opportunities for entrepreneurs, creatives and businesses lie. The ability for the skills and talents of these groupings to be able to grow their capacity and meet the demand for local goods that has been initially created by the government. It becomes very important as it will set entrepreneurs and businesses up for exponential growth because government expenditures are always large and effective.

The second and most important measure is correct marketing, branding and exceptional quality.

The message of promoting locally produced goods and services must be succinctly communicated to the right audience who comprise the government, private sector, development partners and the civil society (including academia), all of whom are involved in regular purchasing. A clear distinction should be made when reaching out to each group to ensure that the correct appeal is conveyed i.e. the message to each community should be specific to the role that group can play in the Buy Malawi Campaign. Inevitably, there will be issues that cut across all potential buyers. The reasons for the campaign also require emphasis. All grounds should be stated; economic, patriotism, social responsibility and moral obligations are important. It is necessary for all to understand why the call to buy locally produced goods. The value proposition should be well presented. The methods used to drive the campaign should be carefully selected to have maximum impact. In promoting Malawian-produced goods, the image of the country is important and therefore national image promotion must be complimentary to the Campaign. This is even more important as the Campaign is also intended to be a platform for export development.

The fact that the Buy Malawi Campaign bears a lot of problems means that there are a lot of opportunities, the greatest of which lies in the ability of entrepreneurs and creatives to create ways of branding, packaging and marketing the products at the international level and quality, therefore, creating a vibrant secondary economy and industry.

It will also be important that moving forward we are able to view the Buy Malawi Strategy as a call to excellence rather than patriotism because patriotism has proven to be unsustainable and inefficient. A number of African countries have made the shift in mindsets and have seen very different amazing results. This will ensure its sustainability.

A great example is Nigeria and the MADE IN NIGERIA GOODS campaign. The idea of MADE IN NIGERIA GOODS (MING) is not a bigoted or superficial show of patriotism; rather, it focuses on a national partnership to develop the kind of collective commerce pattern that would most positively impact our National Development.

In our drive towards a diversified and sustainable economy, it is cardinal for Malawi, just like Nigeria, to build internal structures that will establish it as an Independent commercial hub wherein our position will be strengthened in the course of International collaborations and our negotiation powers leveraged by a culture of homegrown technical expertise.

The strategy should be sustainable. Reaching a situation where the Strategy can run on its own without outside support can be achieved with careful planning and organisation. Some proposals on how to arrive at that stage are as follows:

CREDIBILITY OF MANAGEMENT: Purposeful implementation with constant monitoring and evaluation. In the 2009 BMC the Task Force faded. In some of the institutions and programmes under MoIT, some boards do not meet. On issues of financial accounting, some reports are never made while in others, some issues are either not reported on or expenditures fully authenticated. The bottom line is accountability. This is the reason why a proposal was made to employ a professional secretariat.

TRAINING ON SPECIFIC ISSUES: The core objective of the training will be to strengthen MSMEs’ entrepreneurship skills to enhance their competitiveness, leading to increased sales in domestic, regional, and international markets. Specifically, the training will facilitate participating SMEs to develop or implement: effective management practices, integrate performance information, develop robust stewardship and accountability systems, access to market, and more readily available access to finance.

DEVELOP FUNDRAISING MECHANISMS such as Levy, Sale of promotional items, and Donations- training sponsorships, vehicles, office space, office equipment, staff secondment or salary support.

Our ability to understand and embrace the ideas and plans with exceptional execution will definitely bring the intended results and being able to identify the loopholes and problems with the right solutions is a great chance for entrepreneurs, business persons and creatives all over Malawi.