With the tripartite election in less than a fortnight, we reflect on some of the key issues that affect Malawi as a country.
Political parties have been all over the country selling their agenda and wooing votes. It is the sixth election since the adoption of multi-party.
The facts. Malawi has been independent for 54 years. It has never been at any war or civil conflict.
It is one of the poorest countries in the world. This often attracts shouts of writers being unpatriotic. I don’t know why but others argue it resonates with the notion that truth hurts.
At the peak of the cold war, Malawi aligned with the West and its poor human rights record was often ignored by countries that preach them. Some basic facts. What else?
Poverty is rampant across the country. Poverty itself has many dimensions. The poor have little education which means they cannot find decent jobs. It is not surprising that a majority are subsistence farmers or work in informal settings that offer job security.
This cycle often perpetuates itself across generations, and yes it has done so. Investment in health services has been mediocre. It means the poorest cannot access basic healthcare. All this comes as part of the 54 years of independence and peace.
We can add facts. To fight poverty, you need an environment where businesses can flourish, and decent jobs can be created. Maybe the lack of jobs spells doom and hope leading speculators to think it is the reason for the population boom.
The cost of doing business is among the highest in the world. To survive, businesses must find innovative ways. Sadly, the innovation that is in place is “tenderpreneurship”. The business of getting a government contract to supply items you have no idea. All you do is subcontract some company. That is the business that has flourished.
Major companies have closed shop. High transport costs, water and electricity woes that are difficult to quantify.
So, what happened in 1994? There was a lot of excitement. The freedom. New constitution, a very good one for academic purposes. Yes, the creation of various governance institutions whose independence is guaranteed in print than reality. None of these have been successful in removing the “poorest hash tag”.
Corruption remains the root cause of what this country has become. It has been normalised and the very reason we can’t attract meaningful foreign direct investment. Corrupt moguls are pouncing every day.
Inequalities rising. The poor losing their land or being forced to sell. We are predominantly becoming capitalist while failing to empower the labour force.
Looking ahead, will corruption ever end and what choices should Malawians make come May 21? The starting point is to recognise that no political party vying for office has publicly declared sources of its finance for the campaign. That should scare all of us. It could be a network of “scratch my back I will scratch yours” financing all political parties, rendering their agenda an exercise in futility. Maybe my view is fatalistic, but I have not given up.
What is the root of all this? Maybe we are dreaming carelessly, but can these dreams come to reality? The notion of becoming developed like countries north of the Mediterranean is quite interesting.
It helps to know what these countries did to be what they are. Forget about the world wars that were never world wars in the first place. Some pan Africanism? Surely not. Reality has it all. Countries that are well developed have many things in common. Similarly, poor countries have many things in common.
Common among developed countries are strong institutions. They operate a rules-based system that everyone adheres to. Transparency and accountability are the norm.
Institutions empowered to enforce the law and justice operate without fear and simply do their job. Each citizen or business is called to account equally below the law. It doesn’t require a beautifully written constitution that looks like a thesis.
Now you should be asking. What do poor countries have in common? You can guess that. What is more important is to reflect over these issues as you cast your ballot. But we must deal with realities that have pushed all of us in an abyss of poverty. Who will really fix it?
Institutions do matter. It is where we need to focus and strengthen them. Currently, our institutions are good only on paper with questionable accountability mechanisms. Now you know. Weak institutions deepen poverty.