I have, in recent columns, discussed the intrinsic value of freedom and democracy and potential reforms of the electoral system. Of late, I have also been thinking about what a newly-elected executive and legislature ought to prioritise in Malawi’s pursuit of development. Here are two very broad suggestions:
Strengthen state legitimacy: Upon assuming office, the government ought to conduct an extensive consultation process aimed at aggregating the interests of citizens—a process that theoretically began during the election campaign period. The executive should use all available channels—including innovative and low-cost strategies, such as use of social media, town hall meetings, and interactive village-level consultative forums—to solicit a diverse set of viewpoints and demands as well as identify local challenges and local solutions.
The goal should be to actively encourage a frank discussion of the shortcomings of current policies and encourage critical feedback. And based on such feedback and an extensive national conversation with all sections of the population (including minorities), the new government can articulate a shared national vision. The feedback gathered from this conversation can be used to supplement and adapt previously formulated policy priorities, including the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS).
Formulate realistic policies: The national vision can help formulate a set of realistic (rather than overly ambitious and populistic) strategies that are backed by adequate financial resources. While many believe that Malawi is “implementation poor”, there has traditionally been much less focus on how policies are actually formulated and legitimised. The executive, with the support of the legislature, should thus propose a plan that considers available and expected revenues from trade, taxation, concessional loans from China and India, as well as foreign aid and other types of assistance from bilateral and multilateral sources.
Using this information, the government may even consider assigning primary roles to some donors in some sectors and thereby strengthen its “policy space” and assume greater control of the development process. Of particular concern will be making agriculture more sustainable and better able to cope with adverse climatic conditions and ensuring greater energy security from renewable sources to stimulate economic growth. Any plan to improve food and water security, promote rural livelihoods and solve Malawi’s energy crisis that involves short-term and ad-hoc solutions (e.g. diesel gensets) will not be viable in the longer term.
Malawian citizens need to view their State to be both effective and legitimate—a task that will be helped when economic needs are politically articulated and adequately addressed. This requires an honest appraisal of what can and cannot be achieved in the next five years.
I hope the forthcoming elections will be free, fair and peaceful and that whichever party wins, it will assume power based on a credible and legitimate support from a majority in the population.