By the time you read this, you will already be here—in 2015. I guess congratulations are in order for those of us who have made it.
Praises, by all means, be to God for keeping us breathing despite the numerous challenges that rocked the country during the year gone by.
On the other hand, our hearts are broken, having lost our dear friends and relatives in 2014. But for those of us who are here now, what does the future hold?
We are smarting from a 2014 of political, economic, social and leadership failures. We had a tripartite election in which President Peter Mutharika was the victor.
Yet, six months down the line, his legitimacy remains in doubt. The credibility of the electoral process before, during and after the last polling centre was closed is still a big question mark.
Talks of electoral reforms to avoid a repeat of the mess in future remain just that—talks. For how can these reforms be carried out without a champion? So far, there is no institution that appears to own the process and that is a huge problem in any change management models and concepts.
In the civil service reforms, for example, it is clear that Vice-President Saulos Chilima is the change agent and champion where people with issues can go for guidance and leadership. That is not the case with electoral reforms.
Meanwhile, the political bickering, brinkmanship and the resultant polarisation continue.
On the economic front, there is plenty to write about, but space means that I have to condense.
There is no doubt that Cashgate is the beastly devil we wittingly invited into our homes and has ravaged us—it is the anaconda we babysat and coddled for a long time and, as these things always happen, it turned on us and is now devouring us, one at a time.
Its effects are dire. Donors—scared of the Cashgate reptile—have taken to their kneels although they keep claiming that their money is still in Malawi only that it has been ‘redirected’ away from government systems to non-State players.
We all know that is not the same as provision of budgetary support. The fleeing of the donors also meant that a huge source of balance of payment support has evaporated. Given that budget support is the most significant source of foreign currency after tobacco, the kwacha crushed soon after the leaf’s marketing season closed and there was not much to keep the local currency buoyant and competitive against its major trading currencies.
The pain of the kwacha fall was excruciating. Prices of goods and services jumped sharply and national inflation figures followed suit. Interest rates donned more wings and further flew away from consumers of loans.
Thanks to Cashgate, government’s bills to the private sector remain mostly unpaid. That tethered capital—coupled with a hostile macroeconomic environment—are choking businesses, leaving them gasping for breath. Others have succumbed to very painful deaths.
Of course, some businesses relied too much on the easy Cashgate money and when it dried up, they either folded or are running around with their tongues drawn out looking for buyers of their firms. As fate would have it, there are no takers.
Thanks to Cashgate, government is struggling to even pay its civil servants, thereby further depressing consumer spending, which is in turn slowing down the economy even more.
The public social service architecture has disintegrated—literally—with medical facilities, education system, subsistence agriculture activities and general social services in dire straits.
Then there are the ongoing and embarrassing water shortages that have hit especially the commercial city of Blantyre and, to a sporadic extent, the capital Lilongwe.
It had to take faeces—yes, that disgusting by-product of digestion—to make Blantyre Water Board (BWB) be more responsive to its customer’s needs when veteran consumer rights campaigner John Kapito threatened mass protests that would include dumping human waste at BWB offices.
The demonstrations were called off after some last-minute deal with the Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) chief. It has to be said, however, that very little has changed.
There have also been other social unrests, with strikes being announced every week, including those at the Judiciary now going on for months, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), the University of Malawi and others.
Unfortunately, there has not been demonstrable leadership to resolve these problems and disputes. That—leadership deficit—is probably the most depressing crisis to come out of 2014.
President Mutharika has appeared indifferent and oblivious to what has been going on around him. To put it bluntly, he has demonstrated levels of incompetence that make the hapless Joyce Banda look like a great leader and that, my friends, is a scandal. But will 2015 make things better? I am not so sure. In the waning days of 2014, the President appeared to start asserting control.
He, for example, reversed the sealing of ACB and, for the first time since the chain of crises started, addressed the nation. That gave me hope that Mutharika is finally waking up to the art of governing.
But then, he allowed his top civil servant Chief Secretary George Mkondiwa and his Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale to threaten the Judiciary and give them ultimatums instead of honing negotiation skills.
The other day the President even allowed his wife’s Beautify Malawi Trust to just watch as ‘businesspersons’ went in front of cameras with heaps of banknotes arrogantly displayed in the name of refunding National Aids Commission money on the First Lady’s organisation’s behalf. What sort of crappy public relations is that?
So, no, 2015 maybe a slight improvement on 2014, but on things that matter and on balance, it is likely to be another painful period.