Hon. Folks, bravo APM for taking a commercial flight to Addis Ababa for the AU summit. Ethiopian Airlines has direct flights between Malawi and Ethiopia and its fares are highly competitive.
It’s my sincere belief that those extremely courteous stewardesses ensured my President had a very safe and comfortable flight from Lilongwe to Addis Ababa and back.
There’s no denying that some African heads of State landed in Addis Ababa with more pomp and dignity in the comfort of their own presidential jets. There could also have been some governments with the muscle to charter jets from Qatar or other far away, rich countries to fly their presidents to Addis. In such gatherings, showing off is inevitable.
But even if APM were the only African head of State going to the summit crammed with lesser mortals in a commercial flight, that would still be okay. Savings from the foregone luxury would help save life in public hospitals or provide nutritious porridge (phala) to a malnourished toddler in a rural public junior primary school.
A head of state committed to serving his country and people does not require convincing that it’s a fool who spends on jewel when there’s no food in the home.
Malawi may have always been in the category of least developed countries but we have not always been what we are now—the poorest country in the world by GDP per capita measure.
Malawi may have all along been a predominantly small, subsistent farming economy but we have not always been as food insecure as we are now when half the imploding population of 17 million looks to government and donors for food handouts.
A famished nation lives a hand-to-mouth lifestyle, spending energy and time moving around with the beggar’s bowl to address an immediate priority— survival. Less stamina and resources are left for wealth generation, the crucial starting point when developing an economy and improving living standards.
Where we are today—three years to 2020, the year when we were supposed to become a middle income economy of milk and honey—can only be described as quick or sinking sand.
Without direct budgetary support and with much of the development aid channelled through non-governmental organisations, thanks to the game-changer effect of Cashgate, government has been left with no choice but to broaden the tax base and borrow rabidly locally and externally.
The dream to squeeze foreign exchange out of our minerals, the breath-taking beauty of our country and the commercial growing of pigeon peas and other pulses in high demand in populous India, to help mitigate balance of payment challenges we face as a predominantly importing economy is proving to be elusive.
The reality is that diversifying our economic base in any way, including large-scale growing of nandolo for export, requires financial and technical capital which we lack.
Africa offers foreign investors so much choice that our land-locked country with poor infrastructure, extremely high utility costs, no domestic market (a result of growing poverty) and extremely high perception of poverty (PoP) ratings, becomes an unfavourable destination.
The capital our debt-ridden economy can bank on is the wealth we, ourselves, generate. Any external additions to it—remittances, grants, loans, etc., can only be an icing on the cake.
Government has the choice between squandering our wealth to maintain expensive lifestyles for the President, his ministers and others whose salaries come from taxpayer’s money and reducing such expenditure so as to channel more resources towards spurring economic growth.
Of course, foregoing luxury when flying to Addis Ababa would not mean anything if the savings were still wasted through inefficiency, fraud and corruption of Cashgate proportions.
Unless there’s the political will to take reforms to their logical conclusion, allow ACB to grow teeth and hunt the bad guys independently and sharpen the tool for fighting money laundering to “gem-like” point, revenue haemorrhage shall still haunt the beleaguered government to its grave.