Hon Folks, in 1994 Malawi had a peaceful transition from one-party to a multi-party system. At that time, 800 000 lives were lost to genocide in Rwanda.
Fast-forward to 2017: Rwanda is Africa’s rising star, a land of peace and economic prosperity.
Malawi, on the other hand, is a unique case study of how a country that has never experienced war, and has rich soil and plenty fresh water, can show symptoms of economic distress similar to those seen in failed or war-torn states.
Low gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, low scores on human development index (HDI), huge and growing gap between the poor and the rich, government being run the warlord style, using political clout to amass wealth by hook or crook, so part of the loot can be used to “buy” the blind support of cronies and roughnecks.
Allow me to digress a bit. Following our smooth transition, President Bakili Muluzi led the nation into cobbling a bipartisan blue-print to guide our development agenda—Vision 2020.
When Paul Kagame in Rwanda doused the fire and pacified the warring Tutsis and Hutus, he realised that it was time to re-build the country. He did not invent the wheel, instead, he went to learn from other African countries that already had a head start, Malawi being one of them.
I am reliably informed that when Kigali got hold of our Vision 2020 they were so impressed that they adopted and started implementing it. Some well-informed sources also talk about Kigali learning from the life of Kamuzu Banda. They saw something valuable in his life that our leaders could not see!
By the end of the day, Rwanda’s economy is heading towards assuming middle income status we wanted for ourselves by the year 2020. They are peace-loving, corrupt-averse people who are busy developing expertise in information technology, preserving their environment and passionately pursuing the happiness they were denied in 1994.
Why am I saying all this? It all comes on the heels of the just-ended national conference on corruption in Lilongwe. I want to remind you folks and decision-makers at the Capital Hill that we have been there before, meeting, eating and producing resolutions.
We tend to see conferences, seminars and workshops as an end in themselves, not as a means to an end. The brilliant ideas raised and the resolutions passed in such fora often end up being well-typed and properly filed at the Capital Hill where they gather dust.
It was like that for Health for All by the Year 2000. It was like that for Vision 2020. It was also like that even for the campaign to reduce world poverty by half by the year 2015 which we embarked on under the auspices of UNDP.
The theme for the just ended conference was questioning whether corruption is a reality or perception. Either way, the effects on the economy can be devastating. It’s for a good reason that Transparency International (TI) uses the Perception of Corruption Index (PCI) to measure and disseminate to donors and investors alike, information that informs their analysis of investment risks a country has.
We have the Corrupt Practices Act 1995 and the National Anti-Corruption Strategy 2008. We have the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) yet corruption, instead of being tamed, has evolved to Cashgate, why? That is the question. The answer is our leaders should get out of their comfort zones and stop running Malawi like warlords.
The laws against corruption must apply equally to all of us, from the President to the city, town or village resident. Unless ACB and related agencies are free enough to watch over all of us—and not just the opposition–and unless the courts can handle Cashgate cases expeditiously and without fear or favour, corruption will grow and so too abject poverty.