The Malawi economy is still failing to take-off 48 years after attaining independence. We are still depending on donors to support most of our programmes.
Economists, market analysts and other business gurus have in the past tackled this topic before. I will not belabour to repeat what they said.
My contribution is, however, on how urban and regional planning can help to reverse this trend.
We are facing economic challenges because the central government is the sole driver and promoter of national economic growth and development when in the normal case such duties were supposed to be shared between the central and local government required by the Malawi Decentralisation Policy and internationally accepted best practices.
Because there is not shared responsibility, the local councils spends more time on social programmes instead of focussing on activities that can promote economic growth and development, thereby creating wealth and revenue for the country.
While the central government is more or less adequately staffed with qualified personnel such as economists, urban and regional planners who are mainly based at its headquarters or regional/divisional offices, local councils do not have such strategic personnel due to either system failure to fill available vacancies or the current â€˜establishmentâ€™ which does not provide for such positions.
Under such circumstances, local councils are reduced to â€˜spectatorsâ€™ as far as promotion of economic growth and development is concerned.
Consequently, management teams in our local councils devote much of their time doing social work, organising national tree planting programmes and coordinating relief programmes.
This is good, but coordinating relief programmes cannot their local economies generate wealth for the country. Because of such things local councils even fail to generate enough resources for their operations.
To make matters worse, the meagre resource they generate is misallocated by local council themselves instead of being ploughed back into the local economies or fund strategic projects that can support their economic growth and development efforts.
In the West and, of course, in some advanced countries on the continent such as South Africa, national economies are directly linked to cities, towns, municipals and district councils.
In such set ups, local councils are mandated to promote and manage economic growth and development projects in their areas. For example, the British economy revolves around such cities as Edinburgh, London and others.
Such cities work hard to be competitive both at the national and international levels. Google Edinburgh City Council to see efforts its managers put in marketing it.
Such cities have framed, among other strategies, what are known as cities development strategies which are evidence-based and framed through a participatory and an apolitical process.
This competitive spirit is passed on to all economic actors in the urban/rural local councils. As a result, the accumulative gains made by individual local councils (cities and their local economic actors) constitute the national economic growth and development efforts.
If we want the Malawi economy to take-off, among other strategies, let us empower our local councils technically. Let us make all local councils in Malawi competitive at national and international level while emphasising on local economic growth and development.
It is high time our local councils were staffed with strategic personnel who can enable them to develop and implement local economic growth programmes.
It is ironical and disheartening to see local councils having district/municipal disaster preparedness officers when the local organisation structures do not provide for the strategic positions of district economist, district urban and regional planners and so on.