I heard the news at around 4pm last Friday as I was about to leave the office. It did not register. I knew it must be true, but I refused to believe, let alone, accept it.
How could it be?
I walked to the Nation Online newsroom, hoping to find her there, welcoming me with that smile, which always appeared to be a permanent fixture just as nose, eyes and ears are on a person—always there.
But it was the cruelty of her empty chair and the hollowness of the room that confronted me. I quickly walked out of there, dragged my suddenly heavy legs downstairs and wobbled back into the main Nation Publications Limited (NPL) newsroom, feeling defeated and cheated by death.
Still, I was naïve enough to hope, even against hope that someone would come and say it was just one big, unfortunate mistake.
The following morning, on Saturday, I saw her, a small smile playing around her lips, even in death. There she was, Elizabeth Lisuntha Banda, seemingly asleep, but nearly 19 hours into her lone journey that, at least to relatives and friends, she had embarked on way too early suddenly.
That’s when it hit me.
Shrinks or psycho-analysts or whoever they call themselves would say it was delayed shock. I broke down, openly, not caring who would see me in that rare moment of weakness.
It was so senseless, dying so young, so full of life and with so much promise, leaving behind a teenage daughter.
Liz, a highly competitive and driven professional as well as colleague, became a good friend of mine because of my wife, Maria.
They were so close that when she suggested that our son be named Vitumbiko—months before he was born—we embraced the christening and henceforth, in our heart of hearts, we always considered Liz to be Vitumbiko’s ‘god mother’.
That she is gone is unthinkable, yet I will not mourn her for too long. Liz would never have liked that—she hated being pitied.
But, I will fully celebrate the life she led, the gift that was her personality and the enduring legacy she bequeathed to us—of a life well lived. Rest in peace, Liz.
Turning to the economy…
Maybe it’s me who is blind but I can’t see the optimism that is coming from politicians, policy makers and even respected economic analysts who somehow see that the economy is improving.
Apparently, there is a capacity utilisation survey that the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) conducted in February 2013 which shows that real gross domestic product (GDP) would rebound this year.
Nico Asset Managers quotes the survey as indicating that industrial activity is expected to improve to 66.7 percent in 2013 from 55.8 percent in 2012.
But given how tiny our manufacturing sector is, even if the mining industry was included, I do not see an increase in capacity utilisation impacting GDP output much.
All the same, there seems to be consensus that 2013 is the year of “breakthroughs” after more than two years of tepid growth.
For this year, the highly regarded Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) forecasts growth of 4.1 percent whereas the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects output of 5.5 percent and the Malawi Government is targeting annual GDP expansion of 5.7 percent by December 2013.
“Growth in 2013 will be supported by the recovery in aid, the expansion of agricultural subsidies, fiscal discipline, possible stabilisation of exchange rates and improved investor sentiment as well as an increase in uranium production,” observes Nico Asset Managers.
But looking at the major macroeconomic variables—which are crucial to the country’s industrial resurgence—we have reason to be cautious.
For example, Nico Asset Managers notes that:
• During the month of February 2013, headline inflation rose to 37.9 percent from 35.1 percent in January 2013, with urban inflation increasing by four percentage points to 39.60 percent from 35.60 percent and the rural inflation increasing by 0.4 percentage points to 33.70 percent from 33.30 percent. Let me add that even with people starting to harvest; inflation is likely to continue climbing due to lagging effects of high food prices and continued jumps in fuel prices.
• The All-type Treasury Bill (Tb) yield increased to 42.37 percent in March 2013 from 32.16 percent in February 2013. To me, this signals heavy domestic borrowing by government that is crowding out the private sector as it pushes borrowing rates up which, apart from other factors, will worsen the cost of doing business in the country, including manufacturing.
• The kwacha weakened against all the major currencies during April. As at March 31 2013, the kwacha was trading at K405.18 to $1 (6.9 percent decline); K613.04 to £1 (6.6 percent decline); K43.75 to the South African rand (4.1 percent decline) and K517.82 to €1 (4.6 percent decline). I have to say that for a local industry that imports most of its raw materials, this will hit output hard, especially given that the local unit will continue to slide on the back of a large and monetary current account deficit.
Finally, there is the small matter of our confused and confusing economic policy in which the objectives of strengthening competitiveness and growth are fatally colliding with the need to control inflation (unsuccessfully) and limit excessive credit expansion.
Let’s wait and see.