We are few days away from 2013 and it has been hard for Malawi. Generally, 2012 was a tough year for political leaders, businesses and all Malawians. A tale that was high GDP growth through a generally successful maize subsidy programme aided by good weather is mere history now. Economic growth has been reduced to something slightly above one percent. Inflation now exceeds the 30 percent mark. Water shortages have now caught up with power outages. In all this, there are many lessons for all of us and indeed, success of the Economic Recovery Plan (ERP).
Firstly, the former president went from hero to villain. In 1993, Malawi adopted a democratic system of governance. With it, went away autocracy and a new era of freedoms were ushered with a bill of rights enacted in the Republican Constitution. Unfortunately, in the second term of his presidency, Bingu wa Mutharika decided to take a path of very few remaining clubs of dictatorial regimes. The response was catastrophic. We lost support of the international community and with it, foreign resources that we really needed to oil our fast growing economy then. Foreign reserves shrank while a populist policy of overvaluing the kwacha proved too costly. Prices still went up as traders scrambled for foreign exchange on the street. Common sense economics prevailed over pure liberation style political rhetoric.
While we recognise our sovereignty as paramount, our politicians across the divide must realise that autocracy or dictatorships are no longer fashionable today, not in the 21st century. Its costs are so high. Good governance, rule of law and respect for human rights remain indispensable ingredients of economic prosperity. The cold war ended in 1989 and dictators that existed on basis of west-east alignment found themselves redundant. The few that still exist only play the fuel-gas-nuclear warhead game, not tobacco growing, but again they are endangered. The citizenry is quite enlightened and will jealously fight for their rights despite any form of thuggery.
Amid the turmoil came a lot of hope and optimism after Joyce Banda took over the reins of power. Malawians felt so relieved and ERP was put in place, probably targeting a few sectors from the MDGS II. Similarly an export strategy has been developed. But the line “politicians are all the same” is fast reverberating as reality sinks in, and excitement of a new president weathers.
Prices of goods are still on the rise. The man at Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) is calling for mass protests, probably testing the regime’s resolve to respect rights of citizens to freely assemble and peacefully demonstrate. It could be a turning point with respect to rights of citizens that were wantonly violated by the previous government. Fuel shortages show no sign of abating. Water and power outages, especially in the cities continue yet a deodorant purchase is an irrational choice amid soaring food prices.
Some questions are beginning to come up as to whether we are in for another long ride, much worse than the unfinished term of the kahuna. Businesses are not hiring and the costs of doing business remain so high. Young people are finding solace in cheap but dangerous alcohol, often with fatal consequences because there are no jobs. A drought is slowly ravaging the country and most rural households will run out of food. Urbanites are hit hard by the devaluation.
On a positive note, it seems sanity has prevailed on the diplomatic front. Relations seem to have normalised with most of the countries Malawi found itself on a collision course. But there are key fundamental aspects that not only concern our development partners, but the average person as well. Schools remain poorly resourced and hospitals have inadequate medication for the most common ailments. All this is crucial to realisation of economic prosperity of the country.
Critically people judge you on the basis of accomplishments, and the ability to solve problems that affect their lives, business and overall prosperity. There is no excuse because elected leaders are accountable to the masses they govern. Some of our partners remain very conscious of how they can support our development goals because of the perception that Malawi is a very corrupt country. On the line of corruption, a general perception exists that powerful elites are getting away with it, through ways unexplainable. It has fast become a norm and way of life, except when a traffic cop is busted for soliciting a 20 dollar bribe. The news and publicity stunts that follow are utmost comical, traditionally deficient in political clout to deal with this evil. Could be, they are indeed all the same. We are only guessing, but feel the pinch anyway.
To sum up it all, as we approach 2013 and look forward to the future, political will is the main weapon to spearhead our economic recovery. Without it, the bumpy ride may take longer than we envisage.