There is an ongoing debate on the role and impact of development planning. Supporters of five-year or 10-year plans claim that countries and their governments require a clearly articulated vision that will guide public policies aimed at achieving certain desirable outcomes. They argue that policymakers know what is required to stimulate economic development, reduce poverty and resolve societal problems. Pointing to numerous developmental successes around the world, they believe there is considerable evidence on ‘what works’. Thus, the solution is to allocate adequate resources that can be effectively used in a well-coordinated and coherent national strategy.
Critics accuse planners of supposedly being more interested in applying ‘global blueprints’ rather than adapting to local conditions. The economist William Easterly has thus famously made the case for ‘searchers’, who not only find solutions that work but also accept responsibility for their actions in comparison to “planners” who tend to announce initiatives based on good intentions but are not in a position to motivate others to implement them. Still others claim that in addition to planners and searchers, countries also require “doers” and “champions”.
Malawi’s Vision 2020, launched in 2000, provides an illustrative example of some of the above-mentioned challenges. The goal was to ensure that ‘by the year 2020 Malawi as a God fearing nation, will be secure, democratically mature, environmentally sustainable, self-reliant with equal opportunities for and active participation by all, having social services, vibrant cultural and religious values and a technologically driven middle-income economy’. The Vision 2020plan was guided by themes related to good governance, sustainable economic growth and development, infrastructure, food security, fair and equitable distribution of income and wealth, and sustainable environmental management.
A recent review of Vision 2020 has concluded that despite some improvements in the health and education sectors, this grandiose plan not only failed to attract an institutional home but also individuals who could champion its implementation. Apart from one specific target – to become a middle-income country with a per capita income of $1000 by 2020 – the Vision 2020 was not operationalised into measurable indicators that could guide monitoring or track performance. The short story is that Malawi’s economic growth has remained well below the target (4.39 percent rather than 9 percent) and the country has failed to transform its agriculture and industries. And while there has been reduction in urban poverty, rural poverty has increased. Unfortunately, Malawi also continues to rank among the most corrupt countries in the world. As Malawians embark on a new phase of planning for future development, it is crucial to have a national conversation on the politics of poverty and development. Indeed, the focus should be less on the money and more on debating questions related to power and political culture.