Hon Folks, Malawi at 52 still invokes the muse in my head, or is it the heart? First, it‘s government’s claim to development—could it be three-dimensional and I am only able to see it from one contorted perspective?
Why the optimism when, more than five decades of our sweat and toil, half the population is on the verge of starvation and our per capita income is probably the lowest in the world? Why are the poor getting poorer yet they won’t stop gyrating and handicapping when the rich use deceit and thuggery to steal more and more from them?
These are hard questions and the system carefully skirts around them, ensuring that focus is trained on artefact, fooling the voting masses in the village into believing that political success is about infrastructural development—a road here, a bridge and a hospital there and there’s a case for granting a hopeless incumbent or their party longevity of tenure.
The opposition side is equally uninspiring, always opposing for its own sake and joining the rat-race by sounding like voting them into power means more roads, more bridges, more schools and more hospitals. Nobody wants to excel on governance.
Yet infrastructural development has been, from Kamuzu Banda’s days until this year, 80 percent donor-funded. Now they are almost 90 percent donor-funded although APM keeps on talking about emancipation from donor dependency.
Shouldn’t it be about steering the country out of project cost-overruns due to gross inefficiency and rampant corruption? As for the hunger, the blame is all heaped on the El Niño weather condition.
The fact is that it hit the entire Southern African region and beyond yet while it floored Malawi and Zimbabwe on their shrivelled bellies, other countries in the region—including our neighbours Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania—showed more resilience. Shouldn’t the discourse be on why are we so more vulnerable?
The more I think about our woes the more I am convinced the answer lies in the calibre of leadership. Vice President Saulos Chilima’s public sector reforms project tackles the human factor. It’s bound to fail because even our ancestors long ago realised that you don’t kill a snake by hitting its tail.
The 80/20 principle applies here: failure, like success, is 80 percent attributable to leadership. Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and Jacob Zuma as well as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe offer bird’s eye perspectives on this argument.
Only that the point I would like to emphasise is that we are where we are not because we are lazy or unpatriotic or because of adverse weather condition but because Kamuzu Banda, Bakili Muluzi, Bingu wa Mutharika and Joyce Banda let us down.
APM sounds pretty much like his brother, the late Bingu wa Mutharika, promising to fix the economy within the span of his five-year term and take Malawi out of donor dependency.
Yet it’s on his watch—at the start of his third year for that matter—that half the population is food insecure, the paltry government contribution to the development budget has been further cut and projections for economic growth were reduced by nearly 50 percent even before the first quarter of the fiscal year rolled out, casting doubt on whether MRA will be able to meet the revenue targets imposed on it.
But in a multiparty political dispensation economic debate makes sense if superimposed on the bedrock of political stability. Can we bank on the 22 year-old multiparty system to guarantee the much needed stability?
We all know that our claim to peace is in general terms, meaning there hasn’t been civil strife or coup in Malawi, a feat so rare on the continent. But violence, atrocities and even needless loss of life have stained our political path to this day.
Reports from neighbouring Zambia indicate that the rivalry between President Edgar Lungu and opposition leader Hakaidde Hichilema has yielded youth militia on both camps to play the bodyguard and, if need be, teach the enemy a lesson.
In multiparty Malawi, we have witnessed the rise of young democrats, young cadets and other brands of youth militias. As politicians become more desperate to grab so they can live a life of millionaires amid poverty and retain power to avert possible arrest and humiliation after change of government–prospects for revitalising youth militias are very high in elections times.
Zambia has done it. Will Malawi be next and prove Kamuzu true that multiparty means war?