People have a tendency of listening to those who have money even if what they say is not sensible. It is equally true that people will listen more to those in power even if it is obvious that they are clueless and misleading every one.
This seems to be the situation in Malawi. Those in power mostly do not listen to what the opposition parties and other people say, especially on doubtful national programmes. There are many examples on this.
On September 3 2015, The Nation newspaper carried a front page headline, which read: ‘Government abandons the poor in Fisp’. This shows that the programme has failed. Without doubt, this has not come as a surprise to most people. Both the starter-pack style of subsidy and the giving of two bags of fertiliser per person have had no real impact.
Imagine the starter-pack fertiliser was just enough for eight ridges of 30 metres. The maize grown would finish right in the field—eaten as fresh maize. Nothing to harvest. So, what was the purpose? Time and again there has been numerous suggestions about farm input subsidy that would reduce prices across the board as it used to be during the MCP rule of Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
If those in power had listened to the voice of reason on subsidy, money would not have been wasted on the programme which seemed to be more on popularising the leadership as a caring lot.
The other programme the government has to seriously listen to the people’s views is the Shire-Zambezi waterway. While it looks attractive on paper, will it serve Malawi effectively? The government should tread carefully, failing which a lot of money will be wasted while the waterway remains another white elephant.
President Peter Mutharika and his government should not be carried away in thinking that other Sadc countries are seriously interested in this project. This cannot be their priority. For example, Mozambique already has access to the ocean and so is Zambia, which has a railway line to the port of Dar-es-Salaam. Malawi should just improve on its railway connection to the ocean instead of toying with ideas of a waterway. In fact, which countries does the DPP government have in mind that would bother sailing up the waterway and for what purpose? With all due respect this will be a meaningless milestone.
Further to the Shire-Zambezi Waterway, there is now talk about the Greenbelt initiative which will stretch from Karonga to Mangochi. If this will involve relocating people, then it will create land problem. Despite promising to compensate people, some are likely to refuse to be relocated. In fact, it does not make much sense to make people landless for the sake of an investment that no one is sure about its outcome.
If the idea is to grow more crops under irrigation, then it is better just to revamp the already established irrigation schemes such as Hara, Wovwe and some in the Centre and South.
Politics aside, former president Joyce Banda got it right. At the time president Bingu wa Mutharika died in April 2012, the economic situation in Malawi was bad. There was no forex, fuel and electricity were rare commodities. It was so dramatic that as soon as Joyce Banda took over forex and fuel became available. She will be remembered for this. Indeed, a leader can best be remembered by delivering services, and not by introducing programmes with no head or tail that are likely to be abandoned in mid-stream. It is in the same vein of leaders making a name that they put foundation stones on old roads which are just being upgraded.