Malawi stands at the cross-roads. In marking our 50 years of independence this year, we must answer the unavoidable question of whether we have made ‘good enough’ progress to transform our economy and society to meet our goals as anation. While there may-be some debate on the appropriate ‘metrics’ to respond to such a complex query, facts demonstrate without reasonable doubt that we still have a long way to go.
Our windows of opportunity are closing in. With global growth moving at a slow pace, developing countries (such as Malawi), are expected to be the main engines of both regional and global growth, moving at an average of 5.7 percent. But, this is dependent on our ability to overcome domestic challenges and weaknesses. Donors are also under increased scrutiny over the aid they provide to countries including Malawi, with their own tax payers demanding better value for money, especially as these resources would be equally used to meet their internal needs. At home, Malawians are restless. Public outcry over the recent ‘cash-gate’ scandal and robust debates around the need to choose the right leaders during our May 2014 polls show that we want a ‘step-change’ in the way this country does business, and that this must happen now.
Evidence of progress made over the last 50 years is sobering. Malawi remains a low income developing country, and is ranked 170th out of 186 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index of 2013. It has a GDP per capita of only US$268, far below the average for Sub-Saharan Africa. Efforts towards diversification of the economy (i.e. the agricultural sector, which currently comprises 28 percent of the economy) have remained dismal, with mining contributing to a mere 2 percent and the service sector at 33 percent; with a large chunk of these services linked to the agricultural sector. Inflation continues to remain at double digits-27 percent for 2013. Maize prices have remained on an average high, year on year, with wide-spread shortages associated with food insecurity.
After 50 years of independence, the national poverty rate is 50.7 percent while half of our children under the age of five are still chronically malnourished. Mortality is high- more than one in ten new-borns die before even reaching their fifth birthday, while the HIV and AIDS pandemic continues to wreak havoc. Some 20 percent of Malawians aged 15 years and above have never attended school. All in all, Malawi is unlikely to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) on eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal free primary education, ensuring gender equality & empowering women and improving maternal health.
So, what must we do?
First, we have to be disciplined about what it is that we want to do and how we want to do it. We need a clear and prioritized ‘policy reform package’, which must be consistently implemented and championed by Malawi’s leaders; who must also be answerable for the delivery of these reforms even in periods of difficulty and uncertainty. The United Democratic Front (UDF) has listened to Malawians and developed a package with two broad pillars: inclusive growth and governance.
Second, to grow Malawi inclusively, the UDF will stabilize the economy (by managing our domestic debt; implementing sensible fiscal and monetary policies and using our national budget to spend our public resources on the right priorities and monitor these accordingly). We will encourage our private sector partners to develop small, medium and large scale enterprises in a range of growth sectors, beyond agriculture, whilst also improving our infrastructure (transport, energy and telecommunications) and simplifying the ease of doing business across the formal and informal sectors. We will provide skills to our young men and women to take up employment opportunities across all our key growth sectors. We will develop a social protection system that will take care of our most vulnerable (especially in cushioning them against the impact of economic reforms), and guarantee them equal access to high quality basic services such as education and health and other opportunities.
Third, to do this, the UDF will ensure that the State gets its ‘rules of the game’ (i.e. governance institutions); right. It is common knowledge to most Malawians that many of the challenges in our key reform sectors are governance-related. Malawi will have to master the discipline of managing its public purse (i.e. sound public financial management, procurement, auditing and monitoring) in a manner that forces the State to spend on the right priorities.
The UDF will build and grow effective Malawian institutions to monitor and constrain (rather than reward) the abuse of power and public resources. We will ensure that ordinary Malawians feel confident that they have appropriate channels to have their voice and needs heard. Malawi’s leadership, through its Cabinet, will be at the center of infusing this culture across state and society. UDF will establish a credible Cabinet, whose role will be to set major policy priorities of government; make tough choices within those competing priorities through the national budget (we cannot do everything at once, we have finite resources) and hold it-self accountable to the people for delivering on measurable results.
Malawians must see exactly where every kwacha is going. We will ensure that where our resources are not reaching the people who need it, this is tracked and stopped. This principle lies at the heart of any social contract between the state and its citizens. We cannot expect resources (including aid) from our external partners if we cannot manage our public purse transparently.
As we enter into this critical era, Malawi is faced with three major tasks: developing the discipline to set out and implement aclear package of policy reforms in a very challenging setting; stabilizing and inclusively growing a fragile economy (while protecting its most poor and vulnerable) and establishing open and transparent rules of the game that make its leaders (and the State) accountable to the people. These may appear to be daunting tasks, partly because they are. But they are also achievable.
One of Africa’s greatest states-men, President Nelson Mandela said: ‘Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people’. We, the United Democratic Front and all of Malawi, must and do stand ready to do so.
- Atupele Austin Muluzi is President of United Democratic Front (UDF)