Hon Folks, the Malawi Vision 2020, a developmental framework reflecting the long-term aspirations of Malawians mooted some 20 years ago, reads in synopsis:
“By the year 2020, Malawi as a God-fearing nation will be secure, democratically mature, environmentally sustainable, self-reliant with equal opportunities for and active participation by all, having social services, vibrant cultural and religious values and being technologically driven middle-income economy.”
The year 2020 is only some six months away. The question is: what’ll be there to show for it?
The question becomes pertinent now as Malawians prepare to elect their next President, parliamentary representatives and councillors in the May 21 Tripartite Elections. Why?
From the beginning, it was acknowledged that successful implementation of our long-term development plan hinged on having a shared vision and visionary leadership to lead the people in undertaking various activities that culminate in the realisation of the shared goal on the other hand.
All the leaders we’ve had since the advent of the multiparty government–Bakili Muluzi (1991—2004), Bingu wa Mutharika (2004-2012), Joyce Banda (2012-2014) and now Arthur Peter Mutharika have laid claim to providing the much-needed visionary leadership. They’ve also, with the support of their spin-doctors, rated their performances very highly.
I submit that if what we’ve had so far can be described as visionary leadership, then we can test that by looking at progress on key variables in the Vision 2020. The leadership of Paul Kagame in Rwanda may be far from being perfect but the world acknowledges that it’s visionary.
Proof of that: since he took over the land-locked country in the year 2000, the economy of Rwanda, has grown consistently by more than 7 percent a year. Yet Rwanda, like Malawi, is a land-locked country with few resources and the majority of its working population is tied to subsistent agriculture. Again, while Malawi depends primarily on tobacco farming, Rwanda banks on coffee which constitutes up to 80 percent of its exports.
The mooting of our Vision 2020 attests to the fact that economic growth is possible. The vision envisaged a transformed Malawi from poverty to a middle income economy by the end of next year. Instead of growing, our economy has retrogressed and now we are the third poorest country by GDP per capita in the world!
The first five years under Bingu wa Mutharika saw the economy growing by an average of over 7 percent per year. Clearly that was not by fluke. Bingu’s minority government professed averse to graft (zero tolerance for corruption policy), controlled expenditure, and introduced Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) which resulted in achieving food security albeit in the short term.
Such pragmatism was buoyed up by massive aid inflows and the cancellation in 2006 of $2.9 billion debt the government owed to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Historians will judge if Bingu was visionary. Suffice it to say the style of leadership he displayed in his first five-year tenure of office endeared him to many Malawians, culminating in his landslide victory of the 2009 presidential race in which he garnered over 66 percent of the votes.
However, bad governance made him lose the goodwill in his short second term (2009 to April 5, 2012 when he died of cardiac arrest) and Malawi is yet to recover from the mess his so-called Zero-Deficit Budget created which saw economic growth plummeting to a 1.4 percent in the fiscal year he died!
Now it’s the population, not economy, growing exponentially. In the past decade it grew by 30 percent and is projected to double in the next 20 years. Yet the economy remains largely tobacco-based and has just stabilised. We are yet to see the economy growing at the desirable growth rate of above 6 percent. By implication, we are sharing poverty!
Ironically, the highly connected people in government have teamed up with unscrupulous business persons to amass wealth by draining billions from public coffers through corruption of Cashgate propositions and fraud. The plunder is done at the expense of law-abiding citizens who pay taxes through the nose only to get deteriorating public services in return—shortage of drugs and food for patients in hospitals, shortage of teachers and learning materials in schools, potholed roads across the country, shortage of law-enforcers, etc.
Still the big question of next year remains: what’ll be there to show for the Vision 2020 when it matures? I guess the answer will be hard to get by if only because the government just avoids taking stock of the Vision 2020 to avoid exposing mediocrity.