Malawi is not gaining from democratic free and fair elections as a recipe for good governance and sustainable development. The 2014 Tripartite Elections which will coincide with Malawi’s 50 years of independence will be yet another opportunity for Malawians to reflect and make a decision that should reconstruct the foundation for good governance, economic growth and sustainable development.
Asbjorn Eidhammer, the Royal Norwegian Ambassador to Malawi, writing on My Turn, in The Nation of October 28 2013, said: “There are two questions about Malawi I have been asked to which I have not been able to give a satisfactory response: why is it that Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, while it has not, like most countries in that category, been through unrest, wars or any natural catastrophe to speak of?…”
Malawi is one of the few countries that has enjoyed peaceful democratic governance transitions since 1993 through either peaceful, free and fair elections or upholding its Constitution in most controversial circumstances such as upon presidents defecting from their political parties or the incumbent dying. For example, since 1994 Malawi has had four well-planned and peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections (PPE). In between these elections, we have had unplanned and unexpected political governance changes.
Firstly, was after the 2004 PPE when no one expected a new ruling party to emerge following the then president Bingu wa Mutharika’s resignation from the United Democratic Front (UDF) that had won the elections. This drastically changed the political landscape with its own drama ensuing. Secondly, is the most recent change of government in April 2012 that resulted from the sudden death of Mutharika.
However, while peace has characterised transitions and governance changes through free and fair elections, this has not translated into good governance that facilitates or leads to sustainable economic growth and sustainable development. Free and fair elections are an important element of good governance. Good governance is, among other factors, a pillar for sustainable development.
A number of different development programmes meant to either eradicate or reduce poverty and consequently improve Malawian’s social, economic and political lives have been planned and implemented. There are also more than a score of international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that have been working in Malawi for decades to end poverty. However, there has been little progress, if any at all, towards achieving the desired development goal and to end poverty.
Since 1964 until the early 1990s, Malawi implemented Development Policies (DevPol) aimed at fighting three enemies: poverty, disease and ignorance. The change to multiparty politics brought a paradigm shift to a poverty alleviation focus in national development policy. In 1994, a Poverty Alleviation Programme (PAP) was launched. However, the regime change of May 2004, along with the comprehensive Poverty Reduction Strategy Policy (PRSP) review, brought further policy changes which resulted into the introduction of a focus on economic growth, more precise definition of priorities and costing of development policy. This consequently gave birth to the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS).
The Democracy Consolidation Programme (DCP) Phase III October 2011 Evaluation Report, indicates that Malawi had made some progress towards the attainment of human development. However, there was no impact on poverty reduction and improvement of the quality of life. The country was ranked 160 out of 182 countries in 2009 and still remains one of the poorest in the world. The population is still largely fairly young and largely rural. Too many people still cannot read or write.
The 2006-2009 economic growth which was touted one of the fastest growing and second to that of Qatar failed to reduce poverty. Barely a year following this economic triumph, the country was hit hard by the worst economic crisis ever, characterised by unprecedented scarcity of forex and fuel.
This stubborn state of Malawi’s underdevelopment and poverty is thriving in the context of four democratic and peaceful elections and earlier peaceful transition from one party system of government to a multiparty democratic State. All these peaceful ‘transitions’ have, therefore, not translated into Malawi’s sustainable economic growth, let alone sustainable development. Malawi remains at the bottom of the poorest counties in the world even below most post-conflict countries in Africa.
The Malawi 2014 Tripartite Elections could be a turning point; breaking the cycle of deprivation, poverty and underdevelopment. These elections could fulfil their constructive roles that will foster good governance and be a recipe for economic growth and sustainable development. It is envisaged that the elections will provide new opportunities and inspiration for Malawians along aspects which affect the lives of the poor and vulnerable Malawians.
Firstly, the elections should make Malawians feel ‘empowered’ to embrace more capabilities and choices; increase their opportunity to participate in, or endorse, decision-making affecting their lives in order to increase their ability to exercise those choices free of hunger, want and deprivation.
Secondly, the elections should give voters a sense of belonging, personal fulfilment, well-being, purpose and meaning to enable them ‘cooperate’ with all other groups of the Malawian society towards a unified vision for a better Malawi. This is where voting along tribal, regional, religious and other affiliations must be avoided at all cost.
Thirdly, the electoral process should bring in the electorate, the Malawi citizens, the realisation of being equal players and participants in a democratic process and instil in them hope for the realisation of ‘equity’ in the Malawian society where all have equal access to education, health services, and other equally important social services.
Fourthly, the 2014 Tripartite Elections should give Malawians a sense of belief and purpose that by making a choice of a leader they also have safeguarded the well-being of Malawi’s future generations so that while we enjoy the fruits of democracy today we do not compromise the right of future generations to be free of poverty and deprivation and to exercise their basic capabilities.
Finally, these Elections should bring in Malawians a sense of ‘security’; free from threats, such as disease or repression and from sudden harmful disruptions in our lives particularly the security of our various livelihoods including jobs and agriculture or farming being the most predominant.
If allowed to play its constructive role, the May 20 Tripartite Elections will lay a foundation for workable good governance and sustainable development. There has been a national consensus that Malawi is not moving forward because of transformational leadership bankruptcy. With a credible choice of a credible leadership and government, we should be on the path to transformation: reducing poverty, ending inequality and thus achieving sustainable development.
This is because any credible government will realise that in order to transform Malawi, the elected leaders and government will need to deal with critical issues that affect the lives of the poor and vulnerable.
This could be done by empowering people in their communities as individuals, families and communities with knowledge, information, and help them access resources in order to increase their capabilities and choices which they can exercise to free themselves from hunger and deprivation; enhancing unity and sense of belonging among all Malawians through a unified vision in order for all of us to realise personal fulfilment, well-being and a sense of purpose and meaning.
There is also need to ensure equity not only in income but also in accessing social services; ensuring that current resources are used to invest resources for future generations so that they are free of poverty and deprivation and to exercise their basic capabilities. Finally, there is need to create and enhance a secure environment for all Malawians, particularly for livelihoods.
If the May elections will have to play the constructive role of good governance and laying a foundation for sustainable development beyond the elections at 50 years of independence, MEC and all stakeholders may wish to consider the following:
– Ensure the elections generate legitimacy through credible electoral processes that are near the ideal of free and fair, and through a well-considered voter registration; ensure the elections reflect the will of the people expressed in an environment that is free of intimidation, violence, coercion, fully participatory and enabling for the voters to exercise their right to vote.
– Allow a free and credible means through which various voting groups choose their representatives in presidential, parliamentary and local government elections. This means MEC should desist from being a political agency that disallows some candidates to contest and allows other to contest under the guise of laws.
– Ensure as a good elections referee that the campaign identifies which priority issues set as the electoral agenda mirrors community needs and not parroting of propaganda and name calling each other. Determine with effective and efficient logistical arrangements that individual voter’s voice will be heard on the polling day and through all other electoral processes. n