Hon. Folks, the World Bank has given a gloomy economic outlook of the year 2016. In addition, China, on whose back Africa rode to grow its economy, is sneezing. Your guess is as good as mine on what that means to Africa in general.
Folks in the Department of Economic Planning and Development will in due course give us an official report on the economic outlook.
The trend so far has been to paint a rosy picture at the presentation of the National Budget then make adjustments later on when IMF does a proper reality check.
Imagine, this year the 5.7 percent GDP projection in the budget has been adjusted to 2.8 percent, going 50 percent off the mark! I’ve been reminded that even the 2.8 percent is a mere estimate; the actual economic growth rate may be even lower.
There’s no denying our woes were aggravated by the double-whammy effect of prolonged drought and devastating floods of last season, which made 2.8 million of our people dependent on food hand-outs.
But the truth is that for some years now we’ve been a basket case. Despite huge investment of up to 10 percent of the budget in farm input subsidy programme (Fisp), Malawi has for the past three or four years been having up to 1.5 million people who could only survive on relief.
This year, El Nino is likely to adversely impact on agriculture. Your guess is as good as mine on its impact not just on food-crop production, but also on tobacco, the number one foreign exchange earner.
As we are bracing for harder times, let’s just pose and ponder: What is the cause of our suffering?
My take, once again, is that it’s mediocre leadership. Since the days of Kamuzu, our leaders have measured their successes by the roads, schools and other infrastructural projects undertaken with donor money. It’s a fact that up to 80 percent of the development budget is donor-funded.
Where our leaders, especially under the multi-party dispensation, have grossly failed is to champion change.
It’s amazing that now—more than 21 years into the multi-party era—we haven’t moved an inch forward on diversifying from tobacco even amid a growing global anti-tobacco campaign. It remains the main cash crop, a major employer and the number one foreign exchange earner!
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) campaign promise to promote the growing of legumes such as pigeon peas as extras to our export base—a good idea considering the rising demand for such crops in India and other countries in Asia, levels—remains a good idea with nothing to show for the anticipated serious campaign.
As if that is not enough, we are still using the hoe and always looking up the skies for rain, the basic type of farming we learned from the white missionaries in the 19th Century. We’ve not even graduated to a plough and the tractors and other farm equipment we got from India with a Parliament-approved loan are nowhere to be seen.
Egyptian peasant farmers have all their lives used irrigation farming. Irrigation is also fast becoming a part of life in many parts of Africa today, but here it remains a political talking point while our rivers and lakes are being desecrated with absolute abandon while our leaders are looking the other way, afraid of speaking to the voter the truth about environmental degradation.
It’s now generally agreed that most of Africa has made the most of the trillion dollars donors have pumped into the continent in the past 50 years and no longer need aid. These are countries better served by trade.
How about us in Malawi? Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) studies show that our gross national income has a 29 percent aid component, probably the highest on the whole continent.
Isn’t it nonsensical then that government should be talking about zero-aid budget when a mere donor withdrawal from budgetary support translates into huge public service cuts even in areas such as education, health and irrigation?
Or is zero-aid budget another phrase that is as empty as the 2015/16 economic projections?