Up to about 15 years ago, the profile of Africa among the continents of this planet was quite unattractive. People of other continents would talk of Africa in disparaging terms as a continent that has supplied the American continents and the Middle East with slaves. Next it became a continent of colonies after independence because Africa was seen as a continent of corrupt dictators and retarded development.
No more that sort of view at present. In the past 10 or 15 years, Africa has made steady economic growth, averaging five percent of gross domestic product (GDP) annually. It has generally been assumed that this growth is driven by exports of oil and minerals. Since only a few countries have oil and minerals, the rest of the countries were thought to be incapable of development. But, wait a minute.
The magazine which every economist and policy maker in Africa should read regularly, The Economist of London has startling information. According to a study conducted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), out of 12 fastest growing countries of Africa, eight of them did not rely on natural resources. Moreover, these eight countries considered as unit grew even faster than the oil producers.
By the way, which are these countries? Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. Malawi is not there, why? Was it because it did not do what these countries did to circumvent the lack of oil and minerals? This does not give a full explanation. The study highlighted several characteristics of these countries, which were conducive to development. They had stable and purposeful policies.
Since Malawi got multiparty democracy in 1994, each party in power has tried to run things differently from the previous one. Continuity has been lacking. Certain policies to bear fruit must be implemented over a medium to a long period. This condition has been overlooked.
All the six countries after 1990 took step to control public finance. Both Tanzania and Uganda reduced inflation to single digit. Uganda’s inflation fell to six percent. Under previous DPP government with Goodall Gondwe as Minister of Finance, the inflation went down to single digits. But then the reversals stepped in with vengeance, since then interest and inflation rates in Malawi have stubbornly resisted attempts to push them down. The two phenomena have jointly frustrated economic growth in Malawi.
The IMF also found six countries to be less corrupt and to have better bureaucrats. There was a time some patriotic Malawians were skeptical when foreign organisations such as Transparency International put Malawi in the group of above average in corruption. The Cashgate now speaks volumes. The looting could not have taken place over a lengthy period without the connivance of some key people in society.
These are the days of developmental States. A government is an executive committee of the State, particularly the civil serivce also known less charitably as the bureaucracy. Unless the civil service is competent and honest, it will not fulfill its role as the pilot of the economy.
At no time since the advent of modern Malawi has the civil service been manned by highly educated people, with many having master’s or doctorate degrees as at present. One rarely came across such people during the colonial or Kamuzu civil services. Yet performance in several sectors, including public finance has left much to be desired.
These six countries are said to enjoy stable politics, are better regulated than their peers, price controls and State monopolies have been swept aside. Perhaps countries such as Tanzania and Mozambique have benefited from being so large and having ports of their own. But what about Rwanda, a smaller and more congested country than Malawi? Like Uganda, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia, Rwanda is landlocked. Malawi cannot give lack of sea ports as the main cause of its second-class performance in exports.
Some years ago, rich countries gave relief to the highly indebted poorest countries. These six countries are said to have invested wisely, especially in education, the bonanza they got from the debt relief. What did we do with the relief money? Did we invest or consume it? In the estimation of the World Bank, Rwanda is one of the best countries in which investors can start businesses. What is it that stops Malawi to improve on this? Are there vested interests in the bureaucracy?