Before we can answer the question on how Malawi can be transformed, we must specify from position what to position what. In other words, we must know the position we wish the country to be in tomorrow. Today, Malawi is a multiparty democracy and before 1994, was a one-party democracy, or if you want to be more candid, a dictatorship.
The first transformation Malawi must undergo has to be political. The multi-party democracy that we have has brought its own disappointments. Among them is the influence of regionalism and tribalism in our electoral system which frustrates election of men and women of merit to Parliament and to the presidency.
The second position worrying us is the economic one, the chronic poverty of the country. For decades, we have been told by international experts that Malawi is one of the poorest of the poorest; though it has resources abundant enough to transform it.
The third situation is social and cultural. We must transform ourselves into a united nation where regional or tribal loyalties are outdated.
Culturally, we should develop that spirit which makes a nation an achiever. Those aspects of our culture which are inimical to development must be discarded. We must become a nation with a work ethic. Without this, our country’s resources will remain abused and underutilised. A nation that accords priority to sports and leisure is doomed to perpetual backwardness.
When a Canadian newspaper magnate was asked the secret of his success, he replied: “No leisure, no pleasure” There will be no transformation of any type if we are unwilling to give up some of our bad habits such as playing games or drinking during hours when we should be doing productive work.
Vice-President Saulos Chilima’s party has the word transformation in it. This might turn out to be another empty slogan unless transformation is first made at the political level. Benjamin Franklin said: “In bad government and in rivers, light things swim at the top.”
We cannot have good governments as long as the electoral system is a form of constituionalised rigging. A system where a presidential candidate who scores 30 percent of the votes with 70 percent cast against him is declared a winner simply because his competitors have scored even less is a mockery of the principles of popular democracy. To make sure that the 2019 electoral results are more democratic than the preceding one, the 50+1 electoral bill should be re-introduced in Parliament before end of the year.
Many people have expressed disgust that our current president got into office with only 36 percent of the votes. With the United Transformation Movement on the scene, the next president might be declared a winner with only 28 percent less if the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) torpedoing of the 50+1 bills is taken as irreversible.
Most countries in Africa have provision for re-reruns, including Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Liberia and Tanzania. Those in Malawi who are resisting the 50+1 indirectly admit that on merit basis, their candidates cannot win. Hence, they prefer an electoral system that produces glorified provincial commissioners or paramount chiefs as presidents.
For possible transformation, Malawi must discover Margaret Thatcher, Charles de Gaulle, Lee Kuan Yew or Yoweri Museveni. These genuinely transformed their countries from bad to better situations.
With the insights of technocrats both domestic and foreign, they diagnosed the elements that made their economies sickly. They then applied the remedies with determination even against rent-seeking opportunists who had prospered in economies when the majority had withered. The great Kwame Nkurumah used to say seek first the political kingdom other things will be added unto you. I would modify this and say seek first political reforms then the transformation will be added unto you.
How far have the civil service reforms chaired by Chilima gone? Not far enough just because there have been no reforms higher up. You cannot expect genuine transformation from those who are privileged under the existing system. They fear they might lose out.
For transformation to be most inclusive, the population problem must be tackled. During the federation days, each of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland had the same population with that of Nyasaland equal to that of Southern Rhodesia and slightly more than that of Northern Rhodesia. I was flabbergasted recently to learn that Zimbabwe’s population is only 13 million whereas that of Malawi has increased to 17 million.
The population explosion in Malawi has both a historical cultural and religious explanation.