Dear Your Excellency. As a preamble from the street, we send you greetings and good wishes for the New Year—a year we are all privileged to behold—2020. How time flies!
Now that, Your Excellency, have reached 2020, it pleases us to discuss a few things pertaining to year 2020. In fact, as you are reading this column from your magnificent BCA Hill residence, you are looking at a Malawi nation heavily battered and tattered by tenacious tentacles of poverty—a vice relentlessly gnawing at the majority of Malawians.
Yet, according to Vision 2020 you launched more than two decades ago, it was envisaged that this year Malawians would have become middle-income earners. Now instead of celebrating, our faces are downcast with sadness.
In case you’ve forgotten Your Excellency, here is an extract from Vision 2020: The National Long-Term Development Perspective for Malawi in black and white: “…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 a technologically driven middle-income economy.”
You see, the vision was a lofty concept conceived on a grand scale. The rationale behind it was impeccably sound and charming. “Malawians will have become a middle-class income generating people,” so went the dream.
Just two years after you hit the threshold of power, the country saw significant changes in many sectors—human rights institutions were established to strengthen governance and rule of law; trade was liberalised to a free economy which saw many commercial banks comeing into business; freedom of expression that came with the new Constitution saw the mushrooming of many radio stations and a national television; in short, freedoms that had disappeared in the night of dictatorship glowed in the light of democracy.
These milestones are credited to you by virtue of being the first multiparty president. However, the battle against poverty remained at the core of everything.
Thus, to aid the dream translate to reality, along the way, Malawi Poverty Reduction Strategic Paper was born. To add colour, Malawi Social Action Fund (Masaf) was introduced into the battle arena.
As for Masaf, everyone from the street has seen its positive contributions. In September 2000, you signed the Millennium Development Goals. Then, One Village One Product (Ovop) programme was rolled out in 2002. This was your last initiative before you handed over the mantle to your successor, the late Bingu wa Mutharika in 2004.
Sadly, by the time you left power, the nation was nowhere an inch towards achieving Vision 2020. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report said Malawi had become poorer than it was before in 1992.
This can be substantiated as the economy was in tatters, hunger was the order of the day, companies were closing in large numbers while greed, nepotism and immorality were eating deep into the fabric of society.
We can summarise your tenure of office between 1994 and 2004 using Charles Dickens’ famous lines in his novel titled A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.”
But, all was not lost as you rightly pointed out that you were the political engineer who came to liberate the nation from the grip of tyranny and that the nation needed an economic engineer in Bingu wa Mutharika.
In his inauguration speech on May 24 2004 at Kamuzu Stadium, your successor stunned the nation by saying Malawi is not a poor country, but it is the people that are poor. Bingu hit the ground running immediately. Later, he launched the Green Belt Initiative to revolutionise the agriculture sector, the country’s economic backbone.
Just like yourself, his job to transform the country economically was cut out for him and he was a star performer between 2004—2009 only to plunge the nation into a mess in his second term. By the time he died in 2012, forex and fuel were in short supply; diplomatic relationships had soured, amid other shortfalls. The rest is history.
Today, how do you feel seeing the Vision you touted mockingly staring deep into your eyes with utter triumph of defeat? What do you think when a panorama of history is laid bare before you—beholding a nation tittering on a precipice of poverty?
To us, this is a defining moment not only for you but for all of us—collectively.
Where did we go wrong? Is there anything we did not do better? What can we do now, looking ahead? To quote the words of Bingu, the past is for us to learn from, the present to manage and the future to change.