Afrobarometerâ€”an African-led network of survey researchers and analystsâ€”last Friday released the second part of the Malawi R5 survey which measures public attitudes toward democracy and governance, among others. One key area the survey dwelt on was on how the Joyce Banda government is handling the economy. Ephraim Nyondo speaks with Joseph Chunga, lecturer of political science at Chancellor College, and also one of the researchers involved in the survey.
Â Why should people trust Afrobarometer?
The Afrobarometer (AB) is a comparative series of public opinion surveys that measure public attitudes toward democracy, governance, the economy, leadership, identity, and other related issues. It is an independent, non-partisan, African-based network of researchers. The first round of surveys took place in 1999-2001 in 12 countries.Â The network is now conducting â€œRound 5â€ surveys in up to 35 countries during 2011-2012. Through face-to face interviews with 2 400 adult Malawiansâ€”equal number of men and womenâ€”randomly selected across the country, our survey is quite representative.
What are key findings regarding popular perceptionsâ€™ of the countryâ€™s economy?
One in two think the country is going in the wrong direction. Over 7/10 feel the countryâ€™s economic conditions are bad. The feeling is strongest in cities (80 percent). However, generally people are optimistic about the countryâ€™s economic conditions. The present is considered bad but better than previous and women and the young (36 percent each) are the most optimistic. The future is considered better than the present and the North and Centre (52 percent) and the educated (51percent) are the most optimistic.
Is that all?
No. Cash income poverty is the most endemic as over 75 percent regardless of age group, location, education and sex experienced it; 62 percent reported having no cash-bringing job. Food poverty was more prevalent among the least educated (59 percent). The problem of access to health care cuts across education levels, age groups and sex but varies by regionâ€”North (71 percent), Centre (66 percent) and South (54 percent).
How are people rating Joyce Bandaâ€™s handling of the economy?
The majority think that government is doing well in ensuring availability of fuel (59 percent) and managing the economy (52 percent). Highest approval ratings came from cities and the North. The least approval rating was on controlling inflation (55 percent). Most Malawians (73 percent), again, think that government is likely to solve the problems in the next five years.
Â Do the results of the survey vary according to different divides of respondents?Â
While there are no differences in the assessment by sex, age group and education level, differences are in terms of location and region. The most optimistic were citizens in the North (80 percent said likely as opposed to 73 percent for the Centre and 69 percent for the South). The most pessimistic were city dwellers (36 percent said unlikely as opposed to 19 percent for both towns and rural areas).
Â There appears to be considerable support for the Joyce Banda administration from the North. Does this suggest JB stronghold is the region? What does this mean for JBâ€™s political career?
This could be because the Peopleâ€™s Party (PP) has more support in the North than the other two regions. In this survey, 51 percent of the respondents in the North indicated that they are attached to PP while in the Central and Southern Region PP only commands 27 percent and 21 percent, respectively.
In terms of prospects for President Joyce Banda and the PP, it shows that she is yet to take control of the hearts and minds of Malawians. If you consider demographics, the North has the least of populations among the three regions which mean that having 51 percent support of the North is actually insignificant at national level.
Â Taking from the overall survey results, and how the PP administration has run the economy so far, what is your overall assessment?
As you note from the findings, most Malawians are saying the country is heading the wrong direction, and that they are worse off than they were last year. On performance, government needs to improve in several areas. From the results, people are positive on how the government has dealt with the fuel crisis and forex shortage. However, inflation, the gap between the rich and the poor, and poverty are the top three areas in which government has failed. Overall, there is a lot to be done.
Â What does that means for President Bandaâ€™s political future?
In view of this performance assessment, I would argue that she has a population that is far from being hostile but at the same time expecting her to deliver. The management of the fuel availability and pricing will play a critical role in how people will judge her because this is one area that her government has a positive rating but also it has wide reaching effects. The management of rising prices will make or break her, especially considering that her decision to devalue the kwacha will always be considered the driving force behind the prices trend.
Any last comment?
Just to emphasise that as Malawians are struggling, the leadership should demonstrate that it is living in the same Malawi. When leaders are calling on people to endure the economic hardship, it will not make sense if they continue spending, including on needless travels.
More importantly, this is not time to deceive ourselves that the economy is on the right track. It is time to make things right. It is not time to point fingers at previous leaders. It is time to take responsibility and rescue the economy. After all, that is why we have the leaders in those positions of power.