When Vision 2020 was being hatched between 1998 and 2000, it was envisioned that by 2020 Malawi would be a God-fearing nation, 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 a technologically driven middle-income economy. Where are we? EPHRAIM NYONDO begins to assess each variable.
The end, which every government seeks, is to see the nation—yes, its people—develop. Simply put, Malawi, too, should join the club of developed nations.
However—judging from Malawi’s continued stint at the foot of development ladder—it shows that the means, or the way, to that developed end is still a hard nut to crack.
Nevertheless, there has been an agreement—one sought from nations that developed—that long-term development plans, not short terms ones, are central to sustaining a nation’s development journey.
The development of the Vision 2020 was generally Malawi’s response to the importance of having a long-term development plan.
Its objective, of course, was ambitious. Apart from specific objectives embedded within, generally, the Vision 2020, on the development front, wants Malawi, by the year 2020, to be a ‘technologically driven middle-income economy’.
In 2012, the World Bank defined middle income countries as nations with a per-capita gross national income (GNI) of between $1 036 and $12 615.
The question, then, is: With the 2012 per capita GNI of $350, according to the UN data, can Malawi, in five years, acquire the ‘middle-income economy’ status?
To answer that question, one needs to look at how Malawi has fared in other specific objectives that, put together, build up to the sum of a ‘middle-income economy’.
Political economists often connect good governance to development. Chancellor College political science lecturer Dr Michael Jana argues that nations that are democratic cherish principles of transparency, accountability and holding leaders accountable. This, he adds, makes leaders to be less selfish, in the process, enacting policies that are developmental and in the interest of the people.
With such a theoretical understanding, framers of Vision 2020 saw that by 2020 Malawians would be united, secure and democratically mature with socioeconomic development spread to all parts of the country.
“Government will operate in an environment of transparency, accountability and rule of law. There will be effective participation of all citizens in the governing of the country coupled with clear separation of powers between the three branches of government: the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. The Government will operate according to the principle of merit in all public appointments,” reads the Vision 2020 document.
It adds that Malawians—fully recognising the fact that good governance is not only confined to the public sector, but also the private sector and civil society—will be fully aware of their civil and human rights as well as responsibilities and obligations to society.
“There will be protection of human rights and freedoms to internationally acceptable standards. The country will be led by foresighted leaders within the confines of a constitution that reflects the wishes, values and needs of the people. The country will achieve enhanced capabilities in political and strategic studies,” continues the document.
So will Malawi be democratically mature by 2020?
The Ibrahim Index on African Governance—arguably mostly reliable annual report card of how African governments are faring—gives a good measure for answering the question.
Its latest report sadly shows that, generally, good governance in Africa is stalling. The index results themselves, which take into account a variety of indicators ranging from corruption to rule-of-law and infrastructure to sanitation, are little changed on average from 2011. That in itself marks a big change.
In previous years, the index had shown steady improvements by most countries. More worrying are signs of reversal at the top of the list. Of the 10 countries ranked at the top, five have seen a decline in their governance scores since 2011.
Malawi has not been better—specifically. The index shows that Malawi is in “a slight decline in overall governance, prompted by deterioration in sustainable economic opportunity”.
“Even though Malawi demonstrates improvement in the other three categories, this is marginal. At the sub-category level, Malawi has made impressive gains in personal safety and rights, the third largest on the continent,” reads the report.
In conclusion, the report reads, “at the same time, Malawi’s declines in accountability and rural sector make it the most deteriorated country in Southern Africa in these two sub-categories”.
Professor of policy and governance at Chancellor College Blessings Chinsinga says the report is vindictive of what has always been wrong in Malawi.
He says over the years, on governance level, leaders have governed with impunity choosing to be worshipped than serving the people.
Being a country that hugely depends on natural resources, framers of Vision 2020, well aware of the threat of climate change, were spot on when they advanced that Malawians aspire to have sustainably managed natural resources and the environment for their countries’ development.
They proposed that this would be achieved through: ensuring well conserved and managed land; zero percent deforestation; availability of adequate and clean water resources; restored and well conserved biodiversity and ecosystems; low population growth; preventing air and noise pollution from becoming serious problems; contributing to global efforts to managing climate change and other global environmental issues; incorporating environmental considerations at all stages and enhancing the participation of the public in the planning and implementation of natural resource and environmental programmes.
So how is Malawi, with only five years to go, faring on environmental sustainability?
With increased population, as shown by the 2010 Malawi State of Environment and Outlook: Report Environment for Sustainable Economic Growth, Malawi is experiencing an increase on the pressure on natural resources—what more with a country where 84 percent of its population entirely depend on natural resources.
The report shows that such a pressure has led to large scale of human encroachment in forests, both reserved and unreserved, something which has complicated the problem of deforestation in the country.
“We have, because of deforestation, seen water levels in our major lakes and rivers shrinking—something which has complicated electricity and water generation in Malawi,” said Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining Bright Msaka recently.
He added that some rivers that were once perennial have dried up and droughts have become a usual phenomenon.
What Msaka advances could not be far from the truth if one takes into account how, over the years, Malawi has seen the complete destruction of two of Malawi’s major forests namely Dzalanyama and Chikangawa.
Reports indicate that the 99 000 hectare Dzalanyama Forest Reserve—one of Malawi largest reserves which was protected in 1911 and gazetted in 1922—has, just in the past 10 years, suffered the worst encroachment by charcoal producers in history. Research indicates that, at the rate of its destruction, the reserve, if nothing is done to reverse it, would be extinct in the next nine years. Imagine!
This is nothing different from Chikangawa, Malawi’s and Africa’s largest human-made forest reserve in Mzimba. In the past seven years, the forest has had its canopy shaved off with a historical relentless abandon. Reports shows that half of the forest is gone without corresponding measures of reforestation.
The case of the destruction of these forest reserves coupled with continuous flooding and drought activities, which are a direct result of Malawi’s failure to sustainably manage its environment, bears the testimony of a dream of environmental sustainability shattered.
In fact, Chancellor College environmental expert Professor Sosten Chiotha recently sent a strong message home regarding the danger of the times Malawi has found itself in.
“If you put a frog in boiling water it jumps out immediately, but if you put the same frog in warm water it will remain there until it boils,” he said.
Simply put, Chiotha meant that because effects of climate change—which is a direct result of Malawi’s failure to sustainably manage its environment—are gradual, we could be fooled into thinking all is well when we are dying slowly.