If aspirations of Malawians as outlined in the Vision 2020 back in March 1998 were to come to fruition, yesterday, New Year’s Day 2020, the country would have attained middle-income status and be on the right path to reduce poverty.
While the Vision 2020 has an expiry date of December 31 2020, meaning that there are still 12 more months to implement, its review as commissioned by the National Planning Commission (NPC) has already established that largely the vision failed to achieve the set targets.
Following nationwide consultations that included national workshops and networking activities dating back to 1996, Malawians produced a vision statement that summed up their aspirations for a better Malawi by 2020.
Reads the vision statement: “By the year 2020, Malawi, as a God-fearinfg nation, will be secure, democratically mature, environmentally sustainable, self-reliant with equal opportunities for and active participation by all, having social services, vibrant cultural and religious values and a technologically-driven middle income economy.”
Fast-forward to 2019, most targets in the Vision 2020 were far from being achieved. Economic infrastructure deteriorated, economic growth rates were below the targets, good governance remained “elusive” and Malawi moved nowhere near the aspired middle-income status.
Prevailing international thresholds define a lower middle-income country as one where per capita income ranges between $1 006 and $3 975 while an upper middle-income country has per capita income in the bracket of $3 976 to $12 275.
Malawi’s per capita income has remained flat and low, averaging $372.95 (K276 020) from 1960 to 2018. At roughly $400, our per capita income is below the aspired $1 000.
Poverty reduction, yet another target, failed with 50.7 percent of the population still living below the poverty line of $1.90 (about K1 406) per day and 25 percent of the population living in extreme poverty.
What went wrong? Where did Malawi miss it?
Oliver Saasa, proprietor and lead consultant of Premier Consult Limited, which reviewed the implementation of Vision 2020, did not mince words. In his presentation summarising implementation of Vision 2020, he said: “The country was doing efficiently in wrong things.”
To achieve some of the aspirations in Vision 2020, Malawi needed an annual growth rate of nine percent. But in reality, growth rates averaged 4.39 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) between 1994 and 2018. In fact, in 2018 the economy grew by a paltry 3.7 percent.
Economists argue that high growth rates are key to creating more jobs, attracting foreign direct investment, increasing tax revenue, reducing debt to GDP ratio and unleashing high average incomes to consumers as well as improved public service delivery.
Worth highlighting is that growing the economy is critical, but not sufficient in itself. There is need to balance the equation to ensure that the growth trickles down to people so that income levels are not skewed.
Malawi is currently developing Vision 2020 successor branded National Transformational 2063, which aligns to the Agenda 2063 of the African Union and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), among others.
The largely flawed implementation of Vision 2020 and experiences from other countries should provide Malawi lessons on how to make development and implementation of long-term visions and their supporting medium-term plans work.
When all is said and done, not all is lost. Implementation of Vision 2020 has provided valuable lessons. Besides, during the implementation period, there was an improvement in maternal mortality rates from 984 maternal deaths per 100 000 live births in 2004, to 439 in 2016. There were also attempts to reduce inequality through Malawi Social Action Fund and Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp).
Moving forward, diversification of the economy, graduation from raw commodities exports to value-addition, tangible investment in energy and infrastructure development will be key to achieving the transformational agenda. Wishing you a happy New Year 2020.