Malawi’s human development has soared 60 percent in nearly 20 years, according to a key United Nations (UN) global poverty index.
But growing systemic inequalities are pushing more Malawians into what the UN’s Human Development Report (HDR), which presents the Human Development Index (HDI)—calls multidimensional poverty that has a deprivation rate of at least 33.3 percent.
Inequality is not just about how much someone earns compared to their neighbour, according to United Nations Development (UNDP) administrator Achim Steiner.
“It is about the unequal distribution of wealth and power, the entrenched social and political norms that are bringing people onto the streets in cities and towns across the world, and the triggers that will do so in the future unless something changes,” he said during the launch of the HDR in Colombia on Monday.
Between 1990 and 2018, the country’s HDI value improved from 0.303 to 0.485 as life expectancy jumped by nearly 18 years; mean years of schooling rose by at least two years; expected years of schooling increased by 5.6 years while gross national income per capita surged by nearly 59 percent even as high population growth rates ate into the national cake.
Despite improvements in Malawi’s HDI, the country remains in the low human development category at 172 out of 189 countries and territories with over 52 percent of Malawians wallowing in poverty.
The persistently high poverty levels and intense deprivations points to policy implementation failures from the days of Malawi Poverty Reduction Strategy, to the Malawi Growth and Development Strategies that have guided Malawi’s development path over the past two decades.
While governance and economic experts blame it on corruption and failure to plan according to the demands of the growing population, other institutions such as Oxfam suggest progressive tax systems and investment in social spending can be a panacea for inequality.
UNDP, which produces the report, has since urged government to act swiftly on the inequality crisis before the situation gets out of hand.
Since 2015, several reports like A Dangerous Divide: The State of Inequality in Malawi (2015) and A Tale of Two Continents: Fighting Inequality in Africa from Oxfam, Mo Ibrahim Africa Governance report and the 2019 Africa Economic Outlook, have all been warning how much inequality is devouring societies.
Titled Beyond Income, Beyond Averages, Beyond Today: Inequalities in Human Development in the 21st Century, the report presents the 2018 HDI (values and ranks) for 189 countries and UN-recognised territories.
It masks inequality in the distribution of human development across the population at country level.
It also looks at Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI) for 150 countries, the Gender Development Index (GDI) for 166 countries, the Gender Inequality Index (GII) for 162 countries, and the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) for 101 countries.
According to the report, the loss in human development due to inequality is given by the difference between the HDI and the IHDI; as the inequality in a country increases, the loss in human development also increases.
It reads: “Malawi’s HDI for 2018 is 0.485. However, when the value is discounted for inequality, the HDI falls to 0.346, a loss of 28.7 percent due to inequality in the distribution of the HDI dimension indices.
“Mali and Zambia show losses due to inequality of 31.2 percent and 33.4 percent respectively. The average loss due to inequality for low HDI countries is 31.1 percent and for sub-Saharan Africa it is 30.5 percent. The human inequality coefficient for Malawi is equal to 28.6 percent.”
The country is also not doing well on GDI, which measures gender inequalities in achievement in three basic dimensions of human development.
These are health (measured by female and male life expectancy at birth), education (measured by female and male expected years of schooling for children and mean years for adults aged 25 years and older) and command over economic resources (measured by female and male estimated GNI per capita).
In an interview governance expert, RafiqHajat said the rankings are regrettable, but Malawi must expect more of her citizens suffering from poverty if the leadership chooses to maintain its laissez-faire attitude.
“When you look at the values from many years ago, you will notice that we are retrogressing. The population has grown, but we have not moved fast enough to accommodate the demands of the growing population.
“We have a toxic environment that needs to be addressed, if not, we should brace for more tough times,” he warned.
Gilbert Kachamba, an economist at Catholic University, said Malawi’s problems emanate from corruption, observing there is a positive correlation between graft and inequality.
He observed that very few Malawians were enjoying through business and opportunities, which means a larger part of the population is left in unimaginable poverty.
The economist also hinted that soaring inequality was catastrophic, as it worsens poverty levels and people become ungovernable leading to socio-political problems.
On his part, Achim Steiner, the UNDP administrator, has said inequalities surrounding education, technology and climate change have sparked demonstrations across the globe.
“As the Human Development Report sets out, failure to address these systemic challenges will further entrench inequalities and consolidate the power and political dominance of the few. What we are seeing today is the crest of a wave of inequality.
“What happens next comes down to choice. Just as inequality begins at birth, defines the freedom and opportunities of children, adults and elders, and permeates those of the next generation, so, too, policies to prevent inequalities can follow the lifecycle,” he said.
Meanwhile, Minister of Information and Communications Technology Mark Botomani has said government is working on several wealth creation programmes such as the Farm Insput Subsidy Programme (Fisp) aimed at ensuring food security.
“The economy has been stable for the past years. Inflation is at single digit. This means the country has created conducive environment for private sector growth which would translate into job creation,” he said.
Inequality bud being massaged?
For some reasons, the inequality bud seem to be massaged in the country, with reports going as far as 2015 warning how entrenched the vice had become and how Malawi can deal with it.
The 2015 Oxfam report warned that if Malawi does not change the trajectory of its growing inequality, 1.5 million more Malawians will fall into poverty by 2020.