However, at the current rate of economic progress and governance systems, its sovereignty is being challenged by mediocrity in political leadership. The country has largely depended on foreign aid and yet seriously mismanaged it, since the adoption of multiparty democracy in 1994.
Under the stringent conditions of foreign donors and the country’s inability to meet them, Malawi’s economy remains in disarray. This validates the argument that 52 years after independence, the country’s sovereignty is still being colonised through its economic dependence. Even with many decades of those generous foreign financial aids, not much of social and economic development has been registered.
Bumpy and dusty roads in most parts of the country are some of the typical indicators that Malawi has not economically made much progress. Thambani in Mwanza is one of the areas in the country which is particularly hard to reach during the rainy season. It’s only 30 kilometres from Mwanza District Council, but due to the bad state of the road it takes a minimum of two hours to get there. In addition to the poor road network, the area lacks electricity, telephone services and other social infrastructures.
In some instances, even in the urban setting, cracked government buildings and sheer lack of public offices and sanitation facilities evidently define the retrogressive period of over five decades the country has been in self-rule. The example of Thambani is, therefore, a typical sign of abandonment and scandalous negligence by the government. This has been due to several factors resulting from political, social and economic missteps.
As for some human rights advocates, lack of citizen participation in public development project planning and implementation by decision and policy makers, has been a hangover effect from 31 years of one party regime which has menacingly imposed its development plans on the community, of course, for political leverages. Under the patriarch rule, the fear, conformity and a culture of submissiveness have relegated the citizens to the mere passive recipients of development projects.
Though Malawi adopted a democratic system of government in 1994, it has not fully embraced the principles which govern the true democracy. In order to make public services work for the poor people in Malawi, there was need for consensus through consultative forums that could direct citizen engagement for formulation and implementation of better public policies, consolidation of democracy, and achieving better development outcomes. Ordinary citizens should have been capable of participating in political processes by meaningfully engaging their elected representatives in routine public dialogues on development agendas prior to attending Parliament sessions. This could ensure that citizens’ rights under democratic principles are being respected and acknowledged.
Despite passing national budgets in the Parliament over the decades, there has neither been increased levels of investments delivered through a specific and transparent budget line open to public scrutiny, nor a broad participation by a wide range of sector stakeholders in the planning and monitoring of such budget allocations at national, district and community level.
Phalombe, for example, is home to over 330 021 people according to the Integrated Household Survey of 2010-2011; with its remote geographical location and susceptibility to flooding, it would only be justified that the district should have had its own district hospital. The district’s ever-growing population, however, has been relying on a private mission hospital, which is not affordable for most of the rural communities in the district. Instead, they largely rely on referral hospitals in the neighbouring districts.
In response to this health need, Civil Society Organizations and human rights activists have been advocating for the construction of a district hospital in Phalombe. However, records have laid facts bare that there have been budgetary allocations towards the construction of the hospital in the National Budget through parliament on several occasions. The first was in 1996 with an allocation of K300 million (equivalent to US$911,000) then. These funds were earmarked for the first phase of the hospital construction. There was another allocation of K500 million (about US$3 million) in the 2010/11 national budget. But on both occasions nothing materialised and there are no clear answers as to what happened to the funds allocated for the project. And no explanation can be made for the funds from the African Development Bank that was allocated for the Thyolo-Makwasa-Muona-Nsanje Road.
The quality of education has since the introduction of free primary education (FPE) in 1995 been far below standards. Given the lack of an overall policy framework and an analysis of the resource implications of embarking on this route, it is not surprising that even today, critics allege that the expansion of primary education has been at the expense of quality.
In the first year of FPE, enrolments increased by over 50 percent from 1.9 million in 1993/4 to about 3.2 million in 1994/5. Net enrolments prior to FPE had been 58 percent for girls, increased to 73 percent by 1996 and 58 percent for boys, but increased to 68 percent by 1996. Gross enrolments increased from 67.9 percent in 1990/1 to 158.1 percent in 1999/2000.
Such rapid enrolment increases challenged an already weak system that even before expansion had a pupil-teacher ratio of 70:1 with 13 percent of teachers being unqualified and an average of 100 pupils crowding existing classrooms. The biggest challenges were, not surprisingly, pressure on classroom facilities, insufficient teachers and an inadequate supply of instructional materials, all areas to which the development community responded, attempting to cater for shortfalls of the order of 38 000 new classrooms and at least 25,000 additional teachers.
Some of the measures introduced to cater for such shortfalls included the creation of the Malawi Integrated In-Service Teacher Education Project (MIITEP), designed to produce 18 000 teachers at a lower cost and in a much shorter time than the conventional full-time teacher training programmes, the building of associated teachers’ resource centres, engaging communities in school and construction of teachers houses and providing instructional materials.
Under these conditions, the girls are the most highly affected group facing a myriad of interrelated challenges in attaining quality education ranging from access in rural areas to protective and health constraints. In most rural households, parents are smallholder farmers and their income is limited. The direct costs of education such as uniform, books, and registration fees, mean that parents can rarely afford to educate all their children and paying for a son’s education rather than a daughter’s is seen a better investment since girls are expected to work at home and join their husbands’ families after marriage.
According to government figures, only 27 percent of girls complete primary education. Only half the girls aged 15-24 in Malawi are literate. Gender inequality is high with Malawi ranked 124 out of 148 countries on the 2012 UN Gender Inequality Index.
The most recent Malawi Economic Monitor (MEM) report by the World Bank has projected that Malawi’s economic slowdown to 2.6 percent owing to 2016 food shortages as a result of El Nino which has decreased crop production in most parts of the country. This, however, is sharp contrast to the optimistic predication 5.1 economic growth by the government.
Education for both girls and boys is a fundamental tool to hasten development and break the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition, hunger and poverty. But in the adversity of the looming hunger, this vicious cycle is ever becoming hard to break. Children cannot effectively learn when they are hungry. Paradoxically, while Malawians are starving, the country is endowed with fresh water which covers 21 percent of its territorial area of 118 480 km.
It has been apparent that farming seasons with droughts and adverse climatic conditions, have in most cases led to poor economic growth with either stagnated or reduced Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But the government has always been reactive to disasters such as floods rather than proactive.
According to 2014 World Bank report on employment titled The 2013 Malawi Labour Force, unemployment rate in Malawi is at 20 percent. High unemployment rate is a result of poor development of economic programmes combined with high levels of tolerance to corruption.
Malawi scored 31 points out of 100 on the 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International. Corruption Index in Malawi averaged 32.50 points from 1998 until 2015, reaching an all-time high of 41 points in 1999 and a record low of 27 points in 2006.