Africans: Think Outside the Box!

Published on 19th June 2007

I have never been to China but a number of colleagues who recently visited it told me wonderful stories. “China is highly developed” they said and, “the cities in China are very clean. The people are extremely hard working and disciplined.” They added that the Chinese have developed rapidly in their own way.


I have often heard the phrase “Thinking Outside the Box” in academic and corporate discourse. It refers to looking at a problem from a new perspective and coming up with creative and innovative ways to solve it. It involves challenging certain assumptions that one holds dear and charting a completely different course.


The Shire - Zambezi Waterway Project is an example of creative and innovative thinking. Being a landlocked country, when the waterway project and the port in Nsanje are completed, Malawi will no longer be landlocked but have direct access to the Indian Ocean. This project will facilitate the country’s imports and exports. Admittedly this alone will not solve all our problems; but it will be a powerful asset to the nation and is bound to change a large part of its socio-economic dynamics. The fundamental thing is that some individual(s) thought about it and if well managed, it is added value to the country's economic landscape.


A couple of years ago, I used to raise broilers for sale. As a civil servant, the proceeds from the poultry business used to make a lot of a difference in meeting household needs. After a few months of running the poultry business, I noticed that almost half my neighborhood had also invested in poultry. After a couple of months I switched to second hand clothes. The same trend set in. Within a short time half my neighborhood was awash with “kaunjika” sellers.


People copy what others do and live other people’s dreams! People ought to start looking inside for their own identity, answers, deep-seated passions, interests, skills, talents and gifts. We are all different. If properly harnessed, differences spawn the answers/ solutions to the persistent socio-economic problems that beset our Motherland.  


All of us have varying assumptions, ideas, beliefs, value systems and world views depending on our backgrounds, experiences, age and social status. We tend to be imprisoned by these perspectives to the extent that we feel reluctant to let go or consider alternative viewpoints. The basis for change and advancement is to challenge those basic assumptions and perspectives. All the inventions that we take for granted today are results of people who were not satisfied with their status quo. They dreamt something different and better, in the process bequeathing the world wonderful inventions.  


The answers to under-development, poverty, food security, unemployment, HIV/ Aids, corruption and crime can come about if we engage our creative and innovative thinking processes. If we continue carrying out business as usual, we will continue to reap the same meager results we have always had. In order to challenge the status quo and get better results, we have to confront reality, re-invent ourselves and think outside the box. We have to be focused towards the ultimate goal of developing Africa.


Crop production activities in Malawi are undertaken during the rainy season. We all prepare our fields and wait for rains to begin the production cycle. Elsewhere, by use of irrigation technologies, people are able to engage in agricultural production throughout the year even when it does not rain. Shire River drains Lake Malawi and traverses almost half the length of our country to discharge its fresh-water cargo into Zambezi River. In addition to Shire River, we have a lot more river systems in the country. Careful planning could harness the abundant water resources in the country for irrigation purposes. This strategy can help produce more food and other agricultural products. This way we can never, again, be a food insecure country.


Let us be passionate about our respective roles in the development of our continent, step back and ask ourselves: Is this the best way to do this job? Is there a way to cut costs? Is there a faster and more cost-effective way to achieve better results? Is there any way I can add more value to my job? Think outside the box!


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