On 27 April 2011, it was confirmed that the British High Commissioner to Malawi, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet, had been expelled from Malawi because the President, Bingu wa Mutharika, was displeased with a report he had sent to Britain highlighting the Malawian President's increasingly dictatorial style.
In retaliation, the British Government has asked Malawi's Acting High Commissioner in Britain, Flossie Gomile Chidyaonga and her dependents to leave.
I knew this news was the beginning of worse things to come and all Malawians are really scared for the country: some rumours have it that Britain will stop all aid to Malawi within the next six months. The only people that stand to lose out are the innocent poor. So that you can grasp how desperate the situation is, below are some of Malawi's development stats:
In his second term, even his supporters have disputed many of his decisions: he purchased a $13.3m jet (supposedly a Government asset) which itself led to a reduction in aid from Britain and other countries (see below graph), the ensuing lack of forex has led to severe fuel shortages, press freedom has been curtailed, he spent $2 - 4m in 2010 on wedding celebrations for his second marriage (the first wife died of cancer in May 2007), he spent money that the country could ill afford on changing the national flag, despite national protest. With another three years left to his term, I wonder what else we can expect.
Bingu has bitten the hand that feeds us but I hope that Britain can see beyond the despot's actions to the needs of the destitute people that he is supposed to represent.
Channel 4's Dispatches programme last night gave some insights into the pressures facing nurses and doctors in severely short-staffed hospitals that have even more cuts to look forward to. Some parts were very tough to watch: one elderly lady dreaded eating because the nurse feeding her was so rushed off her feet that she made her swallow faster than she could handle, hurting her in the process; another wet herself several times before someone could attend to her. The key problem was that there simply weren't enough health professionals to handle the volume of patients.
The reality we face is that UK Government debt has shot up sharply since 2007, when the credit crunch hit. The Maastricht Treaty, which was signed in 1992 and was one of the key milestones in forming a single monetary union in the EU set the ideal level of national-debt-to-GDP as less than or equal to 60% and an optimal deficit-to-GDP ratio of 3% or under. Gordon Brown went further and set in place a self-imposed limit of debt:GDP of 40%, the so-called "Golden Rule". All these rules have since been blown out the water.
The deficit to GDP ratio stands at 10.2% (Office of National Statistics, ONS, website) and debt to GDP is just shy of 80% according to the ONS or in the region of 150% using Timetric's methodology (graph below)! If Britain's financial position is not brought under control we could face a ratings downgraded, thereby increasing our cost of funding (amongst many things) and making an already bad situation a lot, lot worse.
I will not opine on where the cuts should come from but one observation from the Dispatches documentary that struck a chord with me is the limited amount of family involvement that I saw. If we cannot avoid the pending cuts to the NHS, could family be more involved so as to alleviate the current pressures on health staff?
I will use my own country as an example. In Malawi, the hospitals are not only full of patients but also carers. Nurses and doctors are primarily involved in diagnosing, prescribing and monitoring patients and a member of the family takes care of feeding, bathing and minute-by-minute care for the patient. Whenever someone has to go to hospital one of the first questions asked is, "who will be there with them?" Family will even sleep at the hospital, under the bed or on a chair to ensure someone is always waiting on the patient.
Of course, many in Britain cannot afford to have a relative to hand 24/7 but I think there could be a part solution within the Malawi model. Perhaps, a template could be drawn up outlining all the ways in which family could get involved with patient care, ways that would not get in the way of nurse and doctors, then on a case-by-case basis doctors and nurses can determine what services relatives will take care of versus what the doctors/nurses will do. This information can form part of the notes kept for the patient. Currently, the duty to ensure patients are fed and bathed falls on nurses and other hospital staff but this is not really a task that one has to qualify for, if close family (and even friends) can commit time they could take care of such things.
The problem we would likely come up against is that a) "health and safety" (don't even get me started on that one) and b) no one wants to make such a commitment, most people claim not to have even enough time for themselves let alone time to help out with sick relatives and friends. Perhaps it's time to take stock of how individualistic society has become and roll back.
“Investment Banker”; it is now 100 years since the establishment of International Women’s Day in 1911. Yet say these two words to anybody and almost invariably the image of a Caucasian man in a stiff suit pops into their mind. But views are changing and they’re changing fast.
In partnership with HSBC, Women in Banking and Finance organised a networking event and workshop on "How to achieve Career-Family success" led by Christine Brown-Quinn, Founder of The Female Capitalistä and author of “Step Aside Superwoman! Career & Family is for Any Woman”. It was enlightening – Christine gave us some of the latest statistics on the progress that women have made in the working world and some of the hurdles we still face. For instance, in five years, 70% of GPs in the UK will be women.
The session was highly interactive. We discussed solutions that can enable the achievement of that perennially desired, hard-to-achieve optimal balance between giving
100% to work and giving 100% to home as well as the pervasive benefits a working mum brings to her family, her children, her colleagues and indeed society at large.
I went to the seminar planning to leave early but changed my mind within thirty minutes. This event was the perfect ground for building connections as it included people from different banks and indeed some from different industries. Oddly enough, I managed to catch up with a Managing Director (one of the very few female MDs on the trading floor) who sits two rows away from me in my bank but whom I have never had a chance to converse with properly. I received some extremely useful career advice in the process. She mentioned that when she started out the senior women were all “trying to be men”. They never spoke of their personal experience or their life outside of work for that matter. They also maintained a tough, unapproachable exterior. As a Gen-Y, I have probably taken some of the freedoms we now enjoy for granted. Nowadays being womanly is completely compatible with being an intelligent, go-getting investment banker and Wibf is successfully managing a platform for like-challenged women to meet, share their experiences and improve their personal and professional skills.
Although the event focussed on women, I thought men who are interested in the issues that women face (anyone with a sister, daughter, niece or a wife) would also be in attendance. However, only one man was in the room. Indeed much of the information on achieving a work/life balance is applicable across the board regardless of gender. Now more than ever, given the increase in the number of fathers that state that they wish to spend more time with their families. Going forward, it is up to us to encourage the boys to come along – as Sylvana Caloni (Manager of the Personal Excellence Programme and Vice President Wibf) rightly pointed out, we have to do this together.
Above all, one thing stood out for me. It was the enthusiastic, can-do attitude that permeated through the room. At the end of the day, it was all about maintaining a positive attitude.
The son of a wealthy African man fell gravely ill. The doctors in his country couldn't figure out what was wrong with him so it became necessary for the son to be sent to a richer African country for a diagnosis. The rich man had more than enough money for this course of action, nonetheless, he thought it wasn't fair for him to endure the full burden of the cost. He asked one of his daughters to take care of the expense. This daughter was in a quality job with a fine income so she could afford to help out, however, she had a lot less money than her father. When her father asked her for this favour, she agreed. He lied that he didn't have any money, as was his habit. She rationalised that the father had spent a lot of money bringing the children up and hence it was important for her to give something back.
When I first encountered the scenario above, I also thought it was kind of fair that the daughter help out with hospital bills. However, I think my initial reasoning of it being "fair" was entirely misguided. Why is this?
If we start from the view point that for every action there is a consequence, I believe it should follow that the proponent of the action needs to bear full responsibility for that action. To put it more specifically, if someone chooses to have children, then they should be prepared to live with the child that comes, they are morally obligated to look after that child in sickness and in health regardless of how old the child is. The daughter in the above example played no role whatsoever in the number of children her parents chose to have. That decision was solely made by her parents. It would logically follow therefore that having made that decision her parents would accept all the corollaries. The daughter was not in any way obligated to do anything.
This conclusion, although logical is emotionally dissatisfying. People get an emotional uplift from helping other people, it makes them feel good about themselves. Given this fact, it would follow that the daughter may feel morally obligated. As she loves her brother and as she believes the world is a better place with her brother in it, then it is likely that she would want to make at least a partial contribution to his hospital bills.
Taking a step back, what is the point of all this? I think the whole situation above made me think more deeply about reproduction in Africa and the untenable birth rates. Many Africans have many more children than they can afford because they do not expect to take full responsibility for them. The above example is a clear proof of one of Gary Becker's theories of the family “ children as investments.
Becker had three main theories concerning why people have children: consumption (people have children because they like them in themselves), production (people have children because they need them to take over the house work or the family business) and investment (people have children because they want them to look after them in their old age). Becker went further to state that because parents cannot legally bind children to take care of them, they effectively resort to manipulation by making them feel guilty or duty bound. The parent may in fact not even realise that this is what they are doing.
In conclusion, if African parents fully acknowledged that the responsibility of having a child would fall squarely at their feet, it is likely that they would have fewer offspring. Indeed, in the developed world, the existence of social benefit systems that place a good portion of the burden of reproduction on the Government, people with low aspirations for their children have more children. The more aspirational who for instance want to give their children a private education, have fewer children because they know the Government will not bear the brunt of that.
By Heather Katsonga-Woodward
I'm always thinking, debating, considering and revising my views - some of those deliberations will be shared right here.