In a month, we will hit 58 years as a sovereign State. The most logical questions to ask having gone that far are: what has independence meant for the majority of the people in the country? Or how has independence changed the lives of Malawians for the better?
If I were to go out onto the street to solicit views from the people on the subject, I would get mixed views. A majority of the people would blame all the ruling parties since independence—Malawi Congress Party (MCP), United Democratic Front (UDF), Bingu wa Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Peoples Party (PP) and Peter Mutharika’s DPP—for sleeping on the job. But having been in power for only seven months, the Tonse Alliance administration would this time round, rightly be spared.
The previous regimes would be blamed for not taking Malawians out of wallowing poverty. Some would say we are worse off now than during the colonial era. They would argue, and rightly so, we are one of the poorest countries in the world—with a per capita income of $381, worse than the newest country in Africa—South Sudan, and only better than war-torn Somalia. The gap between the rich and the poor has widened. Life expectancy remains at 52. Population growth is one of the highest at 2.8 per cent.
We are rarely food self-sufficient. For example, early this year 2.6 million Malawians still needed food aid. Although we are endowed with a huge water resource—Lake Malawi covering 20 percent of the total area of the country—fertile and arable land, we still depend on rain-fed agriculture. When rain is in short supply, we go down with a begging bowl to the same colonial masters to put food on our tables.
Many years after the anti-smoking lobby has dealt a blow to our tobacco, we are still stuck with the crop. Yet the country has millions of tones of unexploited deposits of uranium, bauxite, limestone, nobium, to mention but a few. And we do not have the slightest clue about how to start exploiting them. One can only hope the Tonse administration has plans for these resources.
Over the years we have borrowed millions of dollars from the Export Import Bank of India for the Greenbelt Initiative but we are yet to start repeating the fruits of this initiative. The $57 million we borrowed from the bank for the project just reminds us about the Tractorgate. Has this been swept under the carpet? Is this issue water under the bridge? Tonse administration?
Corruption has risen to astronomical levels. Four years ago the then US Ambassador to Malawi Virginia Palmer minced no words when she said there is no sense of accountability on all government levels in the fight against corruption. Have we made strides since then? Can the Tonse administration point at some strategies and a clear road map it has put in place to curb the malfeasance!
Politicians, civil servants and business persons are still as united today as they were four years ago in their brazen desire to plunder the public purse. The Tonse Administration will have to prove to us that they did not go into politics with the sore aim of enriching themselves but to develop the country.
For the parties that have been in and out of government, I hardly need to belabour this point. It is the reason, opposition parties are poor but once they go into government, they transform beyond recognition. Where do they get the money from?
Social services are a mockery of what they should be. Public health services and educational standards have gone down. Only 11 per cent of the population is connected to the national electricity grid. The road network has become a death trap. Despite the pathetic investments in electricity generation infrastructure, we still dream of attracting investors.
The Joyce Banda administration was punished for the K24 billion plunder that took place at Capital Hill between April and September 2013. But as we all know the K24 billion plunder was only a tenth of the total plunder that took place under the whole DPP administration. A whopping K235 billion was siphoned from government coffers between 2009 and 2014. But during the six years it was in power, the DPP swept all that under the carpet. Surprisingly, 10 months into government the new administration has not said a word about this issue.
There is no disputing 57 years is a long time. People born at independence are now grannies and grandpas. If all the previous leaders were committed to transforming the country, Malawi would by now have been better than Rwanda which in 1994 was in a comatose owing to the genocide.
Malawians are watching the Tonse administration. For now, they are holding their patience. One can only hope they are working on a blue print that will two years down the line begin to show results.