A few days ago on my way to a funeral in Chiradzulu, one gentleman recounted how they, on return from a funeral in Balaka, miserably spent four days between that district and Blantyre following the historical fuel crisis of the new millennium.
Almost everyone on board loudly agreed and a tumult ensued as everyone wanted to share their socioeconomic misery of the time. As most arguments blamed late president Bingu wa Mutharika’s souring relations with the West, one gentleman left everyone perplexed as he wryly and staunchly lauded the late president’s move, arguing “there are painful strings attached to every foreign assistance.” He continued in support of the zero-deficit budget, which, he argued, revealed President Mutharika understands the dynamics of international relations.
President Joyce Banda’s abrupt rise to power about a year ago has, arguably, altered the country’s political landscape. Several of her decisions on international relations have directly contradicted those of her predecessor. One of the most prominent policy reversals include her efforts in swift rapprochement between Malawi and the West evidenced by the commissioning of envoys between Malawi and Britain following Mr. Fergus Cochrane Dyet’s saga, frequent visits of top European diplomats to Malawi, and her own and those of her government officials successive travels to the Western world. The mode and pace at which this is being done, coupled with the President’s own unwavering confidence on the significance of aid to Malawi, leaves nothing to doubt the return to an uncontrollable “dependency syndrome.”
It is inconceivable that a national government in the contemporary era would operate under the conviction that aid is a vehicle for sustainable economic development. Yes, while proper use of it may at one point bear fruits and result into “economic independence,” it is unimaginable that after about 50 years of independence (and dependence) President Banda openly manifests her “begging” propensity largely to the West.
As Lucius Banda has humorously argued in his new song, Time, Malawi, at 50, can never remain a “breast fed, a toothless crawling baby.”By now, the country must at least exercise some (economic) independence through real commitment and not through sugar-coated economic recovery theories.
The leadership must understand the politics of aid as being the wealthy nations’ vehicle of exploiting underdeveloped countries in order to sustain their economic growth and remain wealthy. Indeed through aid and dependency, “third world countries have been underdeveloped as an intentional by-product of the development of the west” (Jackson and Sorensen, 2003).
From a lay man’s perspective, the current regime appears to have calmed the socioeconomic tsunami that flooded Mutharika’s Malawi. Yes, petrol and diesel may be found in abundance, but at what cost? How many tomatoes can 100 kwacha buy? How often have the prices of essential commodities risen on the market?
The President’s rapidity in reversing Mutharika’s anti-western decisions has inoculated Western confidence in controlling the affairs of Malawi once more. However, the leadership ought to know that not all conditionalities are forcibly pertinent for Malawi’s political and socioeconomic survival on the world stage. It is, thus, imperative for President Banda to demonstrate shrewdness and vigilance in her pro-western foreign policy choices. This is not just to eschew confirming the Western marionette title she is currently wearing, but importantly to ensure that her Western inclination builds a self-sustaining Malawi in the short-run.
The President’s recent acknowledgement of China’s “unconditional” assistance to Africa is a welcome development for the country’s progressive international relations. To ensure maximum benefits, the leadership could shrewdly use the existing diplomatic rivalry between China and the West to the advantage of Malawi by playing a nutritious prey for a meal in the eyes of both territories while weighing economic advantages presented by either territory. In actual fact, rules of ‘faithfulness’ in international relations do not apply. In other words, diplomacy does not work like a monogamous marriage vow where spouses need to stick together till death separates them. It is not, thus, necessary for President Banda to bend to every West’s monopoly.