Badge of dishonour: Muckraking on Malawi poorest of the poor ranking

“Always be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of someone else” Judy Garland 

So it is official? We are the poorest of the poor? Really? This, according to the latest World Bank GDP per capita figures.


President Mutharika and Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe: Running the poorest country in the world

President Mutharika and Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe: Running the poorest country in the world

According to the Big Bank, GDP per capita denotes the purchasing power parity (PPP). PPP GDP is the gross domestic product converted to international dollars using purchasing PPP. An international dollar has the same purchasing power over GDP as the U.S. dollar has in the United States.

GDP, at purchaser’s prices, is the sum of gross value-added by all resident producers in the economy plus any product taxes and minus any subsidies not included in the value of the products. It is calculated without making deductions for depreciation of fabricated assets or for depletion and degradation of natural resources.

If this is sounding like gobbledegook it is perhaps because it is! This is not the Muckraker speaking; it is the World Bank speaking! So, if I may be allowed to break it down in pedestrian terms, GDP equals the wealth of a country divided equally among its population. If you are still confused worry not for most of us are.

But let us carry on.

The available data on Malawi’s economy is more than distressing. Around 1964 when we weaned ourselves from Great Britain our per capita income, as calculated in US $ value of the mid-2000s, was US $141, slightly around 20 percent of the then sub-Saharan Africa average. Our GDP levelled at US $236 in 1979 but fell to US $179 by the time we kicked Hastings Kamuzu Banda out of his favourite Sanjika Palace in 1994.

The first multiparty president, Bakili Muluzi – perhaps riding on the crest of the post-one party euphoria, improved our GDP to US $213, still not good enough even at 1979 levels. Perhaps this can be explained in that, while managing the pluralistic politics, Muluzi was also positioning Malawi on economic policy reforms – privatisation et al. Remember this was the era the Bretton Woods institutions were still experimenting on the much-maligned Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs).

Bingu wa Mutharika’s seven years was a study of how not to manage first term successes. During his first five years the Big Kahuna managed to bring the GDP to an impressive US $261. But, by the time he was dropping dead during those “three mad days in April”, GDP had slipped and levelled at around US $258.

Love her or hate her, Joyce Banda brought a ‘breath of fresh air’ to Malawi politics and, by extension, the economy when the GDP rose – thanks to Western capitals’ immediate injection of US $1bn injection in the economy – to an impressive US $264 in 2013.

Now, according to the Big Bank, our GDP per capita is at the measly US $226, the lowest in the world – even lower than the perennial hunger-stricken Ethiopia, government/order-less Somalia and war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo. (I do not want to say anything about the Mozambicans who, on our watch, survived 16 years of a brutal war but still managed to rise up, dust themselves and cruised right past us!)

Just where did we get it wrong?

I must say when the distressing news that we are actually the poorest of them all was published earlier last week I expected the usual loudmouths from State House or Capital Hill to climb the nearest anthill to denounce these figures as the work of the opposition trying to put down the glorious work of the Mutharika administration.

I am, however, not sure what to make of the deafening silence. Is it a sign that we have accepted this ‘Badge of Dishonour’ to be the true reflection of what we truly are – dirt poor, the scum of earth? Or have we stopped caring?

Whichever way you look at it, such accolades are not something to be proud of as a nation. I have met very proud Malawians who always take me – and those like me who eke out a living writing about Malawi for foreign news outlets – to task when Malawi is qualified as “the impoverished southern African country” or “Aids-ravaged small nation of Malawi”.

That these are bare facts does not matter to these very proud and very patriotic Malawians.

But then here is the World Bank saying we are actually the poorest of them all after all.

And yet, come to think of it, Malaysia – for example, was at par with us when we got independent from Great Britain in 1964. Look at the ‘Asian Tiger’ now.

Just where did we go wrong? Is it our paternalistic politics or individualistic economic endeavours?

‘Poorest of the poor’? That is one ‘Badge of Dishonour’ we would rather not have.

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55 thoughts on “Badge of dishonour: Muckraking on Malawi poorest of the poor ranking”

  1. Wakiki says:

    Please leave tentani alone. Lets us accept the thr truth. we are poorest so what? Tel the boys cpital hill to stop carrying mony in boots. Once said in 2009 that this country wil one time face ecomomic anarchy. This now here. Where are now the spin doctors from capital who wil defend everything whether stupid or not so long their purses are swollen. Plz don degenerate our country into banana or potato republic. Plz I beg

  2. my right to speak! says:

    In 2011 the GDP per capita was 364.09USD. Ukunama Raphael Tenthani. Google “Malawi GDP per capita” You will see graphs.

  3. my right to speak! says:

    Raphael Tenthani, please google Malawi GDP and you will find an interactive graph for both GDP and GDP per capita. You will know when it went wrong!

  4. Sam says:

    I do agree with Chingolopiyo and Jesus is Lord 50 percent, having said that it shows i do not agree with above mentioned guys with the other 50 percent because of the following points;

    Firstly, for someone to open and run a company effectively their must be no red tapes from the government or politicians. Example, to connect electricity to a house it takes 5 years for ordinary citizens but 2 to 3 weeks for politicians. If ordinary citizens fail to pay electricity bills on time risk being disconnect but politicians no disconnection the Escom will cry fool when the politicians are out of power

    Secondly, if i have got a company and not politically connected my company will never win a tender from government, all tenders are handed to politically connected people like the “Timber saga” posted in paper. When a company needs more capital and apply for loan to any bank in our country the company is likely to be turn down if the owner are not politically connect. Example, Mulli Brothers got 3 billion loan from Malawi Savings Bank and the NICO boss outstanding loans.

    Thirdly, the government doesn’t do anything in terms of infrastructure to facilitate the growth of small to medium scale businesses that can help big business maximize meaningful profit. The government is there to collect all these inequalities and make sure super services are provided to the citizens and these small to medium companies will employ 10 to 20 people thus good for our country

    So in a nutshell the government is corrupt, it doesn’t care about the welfare of the Malawians but to fatten their purse not you and me. From the president going down their are all corrupt


    World Bank, the International Monetory Fund: Iwo ndowo amene amachonga mayeso athu? Samanena kuti iwo apanga contribute to Malawi’s achievements or failures, at how much. The Structral Adjustment Programs played a great role to our non-perfomance. Aid with conditionalities still probably continues. They wanted us to feel the pinch when the new government was coming in. They are now coming close, to entice and confuse our leadership and the business community. The colonialists made sure that Malawi remains a poor country. They got labout from Nyasaland to help in the building of Southen and Northern Rhodesia. Our Freedom fighters chased the Mzungu too quickly, they had nothing to lose after all. Guys, are you coping! Sometimes, history plays a great role to our status now. Do not blame selves too much. Be kind to yourselves and above all always do the BEST for your country. The grass shall always look greener on the other side of the fence.

  6. Nene Mwene says:

    Mr Tenthani please comment on things that you are very versed with, you are confusing people here by mixing the terms GDP and Percapita Income. How can you command a good following on this topic if you do not know GDP and PI?

  7. evans moyokunyenga says:

    have we ever been any better on this scale since 1964? what then suprises you today? ine l thought you will be giving us some figures above 400 somewhere in your outlinetu.

  8. EKaPol says:

    I would like to voice one dicontent with you Mr Tenthani on what you have written.. I don’t see the reason why you are trying to anger the people in power by telling us that they are not talking or rebuffing the news. I know that us Malawians are very good at talking rather than acting. I think the Prof and his boys are fighting with everything they have to return things in proper order. The novel approach that this government has adopted is just so cool and it shows that we have matured leaders in place. I know I would also loved to go bumping around and shouting that now lets see how they will respond but I’m telling you this is not something to make fun of. Again if you think this whoing is in the hands of our the government then you are a joke.

    Lets hold hands in fighting for our Malawi. If you have accepted it as you have indicated then its you not our country. We’ll come out of this with our own effort together as Malawians headed by our leaders. Do not provoke them by saying irritating things so that you can create unnecessary attention & pressure. Some of us are tired of leaders acting based on the negative environment you the press create. In most of the times they act to make people happy and silence you noisy guys but most of the outcomes are short -term, which later own comes to haunt us as the ranking has indicated. The ranking has come because some leaders wanted to get appreciated and praised but never for the long benefit of Malawi.

    So please lets bring constructive ideas rather than rediculing or provoking the government. I know the government might be panicking but the panic will be made worse if we continue depressing them instead of helping them with ideas. If you can have a column or a social site where people would contribute ideas on how to overcome this would be of help rather than irritating people who are giving all their best for things to get better… Remember silence is godern…

  9. chingolopiyo says:

    The truth pains Mr Tenthani. In Malawi we depend on donors to help us since independence. We have more charity organisations than companies. There is no innovation. Our mind are full of criticism , than positive thinking. We always think our region has better educated people than the other region, yet nothing tangible is seen. Our colleges and universities are not producing graduates who can start small and medium businesses. We are always out of the office drinking and not working. We are always thinking of where to get money for the day and not to make money. Malawi will remain poor country, because the people are poor in thinking. If we take away our wakwitu sydrome or akumagwetu sydrome or owani sydrome and focus on one thing changing the country to a better future, we will get out. Look at our farming practices, once people have harvest either tobacco, maize , cassava, nothing happens until next rainy season. Raphael, countries that have developed are 24/7 on their feet working, yet you and me we like our bed la sungwi or mulaza sleeping like no mans business. IF we are awake at night, then we are coming from a drinking joint or going to steal at someones house. Can a country move to any level Raphael? What we know best is politics and corruption and it does not look on tribe or region. We will cry, but nothing will change if our thinking does not change.

    1. jesus is lord says:

      This is just wonderful I couldn’t have said it better myself indeed we will remain poor because our thinking is poor that’s just it in a nutshell really its all there. Hate it or love it the truth is we Malawians are too happy with just maintaining the status quo while the guys like malaysia wanted to change it and did all they could to do so hence their current status, can we ever improve I wonder.

  10. vinjeru Limbani Kachali says:

    As much as i agree with few on this space , let me mention it here that my fellow Malawians lets stop behaving like we are secondary xul kids or ngati ana aku chaco or poly, it suprise me to see a person commeting motukwana or blame game debate on such serious public issues , this will not take us anywhere, mind u blame game is not a solution but rather deniying responsibility…..

    Anyway let me point it out here as well that Malawi is not the poorest ,please vist the latest UNDP report on HDI we are better off than many countries and secondly GDP per capita is divided by the total population , which means as the population increases and lets assume the GDP is constant then GDP per capita will be low, this is what exactly is happening to Malawi the population is incresing while economic growth is starving …remember we are still experiencing floods that are affecting our agro-industry that accounts for 38.7%. What this means is that even though the GDP is being announced by a very reputable organisation it carries some errors which most of our leaders dont want to admit and tell us the truth. Further more we should ask who collect this information,how,where and when….all this questions makes the GDP very questionable.

    All in all World Bank its a neo-liberal organisation that supports free market system and it believes that the state is an obstracle to growth.

    Malawians open up pls….

  11. Amayi woyeee says:

    It seems there is excitement over the alleged WORLD BANK figures. It’s a shame those figure are not FROM MAY 2014 but before,. The nonsense Tenthani is writing is a clear evidence of his impulse partisanship to please those who promised him presidential press officer appointment namely MCP. FARE THEE WELL TENTHANI

  12. victim Chamkhuni Lwazazi says:

    No hard work, no patriotism, youths of chamba smoking and drunkards, civil servants not devoted, mps greedy, ministers only playing politics, loss of investments like the Cape Maclear tourist hotel project, non-rewarding nation for hard workers like farmers and artisans, tribalism and nepotism, corruption, selfishness for national resources such as plots by responsible authorities, lack of seriousness by leadership of the nation, companies, security organs- are the main cause of poverty in Malawi. First term of late Bingu was a good example, Second term of the same president was bad – What do we honestly learn from that?

  13. John Muchizi says:

    A country that glorifies tribalism in 21st century and 50 years after its independence stands stands I chance of prosperity. Everything we do in this country is so primitive. One wouldn’t believe that our own president spend 40 years in USA. He is happy presiding over a country that has everything premised on primitivity and mediocrity. For instance a country desiring to develop can not have government sanctioned policies that discriminate its own citizens like the quota system in all levels of our education system.

    Appointments and promotions in civil service is influenced by tribalism and regionalism considerations. As a result none performers that can hardly define the developmental path for Malawi are given key jobs just to appease tribe or region from which the president come from. These practices by successive political administrations have ruined our economy. You can’t have mediocres in important national assignments and expect your country to develop. All countries that have developed economically have not only developed its human resources but have deployed it strategically and retained. Ironically Malawi leadership hates intelligent people. Most of our most important brains are in diaspora. This mentality that ” iye akuziona ngati ndani – we will not perish without him/her” has ruined our country.

    Like it or don’t like it Malawi will remain at rock bottom until we get a president who will come to develop Malawi and not to play politics. Some sort of a crazy guy who won’t mind second or third term bids but to get Malawi out of this penury. This APM guy is already thinking of 2019 and soon all his energy will shift to his second term bid. I wish Saulos Chilima was the president…..he is radical enough to harvest a significant economic turnaround.

  14. Chipatso says:

    True malawian

  15. John Muchizi says:

    A country that glorifies tribalism cannot prosper but can only underdevelop

  16. Liwonde says:

    very unfortunate as one has already said that our country was sold to the devil i’m afraid if good people will rule our country

  17. MMALAWI says:

    Real shame indeed. Our main downfall is due to poor leadership that only advances a blame game rather than solve problems. The solution is to have a young and ambitious leadership that is clean and untainted by corruption and all other negative-isms

  18. mtambo says:

    look in the mirror me bru together with the rest of us Malawians. We are lazy; non-creative; non-innovative; non-enterpreneural; gossip-loving; jealous-laden abd being so p****y lovingthat we produce too many children such that no matter how much tobacco (the only thing that we produce) we sell we have to divide it by and even bigger number evrry year!” we are finished!

  19. DA says:

    Malawi needs to get various sectors up and running, such as tourism, mining and agriculture. We have all the resources required such as the possibility of oil in our lake and uranium And possibly even expensive metals. These are the natural resources that are very rich countries such as Dubai don’t even have. Now, how do we use these to our benefits? What Malawi must do is earn a large amount of money very quickly. With this money, just as in a business, Malawi must invest it back into its own economy. My solution is, Let us allow foreign investment to come to the country to mine for our oil. Let this be done under the supervision of foreign organisations, This will mean that whatever the turbulence politically in Malawi, the same organisations can keep an eye on the same resources. Independent supervisors will also mean there will be no possibility of corruption and theft and mishandling of money as we saw with the cash and if this is done properly all this money can either go back into Malawi’s economy or can go on to benefit the people of the country socially. This cycle of earning money using a social game is essentially the aim of the country. If we do this, we will quickly see ourselves claim back the World Bank rankings and we will soon be an economic hub in Africa. Finally, I call on the people of Malawi to use this Title ‘the poorest country in the world’ to our advantage. If we use this to gain sympathy from the west and we can gain their confidence again they will be more than willing to help us. After all, to eliminate poverty, where better place to start then the very poorest country in the entire world. Please, Malawi, try to dig ourselves out of this hole, try to climb this mountain, and try to really gain our status as the warm heart of Africa and not the scum of Africa!

  20. Alomwe mwaonatu mukutigwiritsa dziphwisi..Angoni Saulo asiyireni anthuwa

  21. Ndikutelo says:

    Nanga SI a Malawi kupeleka tikamusankha munthu kuti atsogolele dziko timamutenga ngati ndi mulungu osadziwa kuti ngati tinali ndi mphanvu yomusankha tirinso ndi mphanvu zoonetsetsa kuti zinthu zikuenda bwino,Ena olimba ntima akadzudzula amakhala pa chiophsyezo ngati amapanga ka business ndie kuti atidye nawo amtsogoleli aonetsetsa kuti business yake ife. Dziko lingatukuke bwanji ngati anthu akuikana m’maudindo chifukwa cha ntundu? Kuiwala kuti SI ntundu imodzi womwe umakhoma nsonkho.

  22. pina says:

    Ndikubwela kudzatenga dziko la Malawi. Ndanva kulila kwa anthu a Malawi. Palibe amene akuwanjela. Mwaculukitsa injustice and corruption. Mudzaciya iti?
    Kodi simuchita manyazi mukamayenda mmmayiko akujawa, mumaona chitukuko chao. simukhumbila nanu mutapanga zomwezo mmudziko lanu? Anthu adziko lina ndikumakukambani chifukwa cha zitukuko za dziko?
    Ndikubwela kudzatenga malawi. Amalawi alibe munthu akuwanvela.
    akhala ngati mwana wamasiye opanda kholo lomusamala. Akhala ngati mkazi wamasiye opanda mamunawake omusamala.
    ndikubwela posachedwapa.

  23. Wakwithu says:

    Kkkkk come on Malawiana that’s a very good comment malawans love meangless gatherings punishing each other for riding a bike when they bloke the road for funeral 200meters from the road. Offices open late and close early. Contractors poor work. Hospital DHOs stealing money how can we do well?

  24. chigawenga says:

    indeed we are the poorest and scam of the earth. This is all despite the fact that we have some of the richest resources on the continent. We are poor because we have allowed greedy and corrupt people like Muluzi and Munthalika rule this country. what Malawi needs is a coup de tat to get rid of these inept corrupt bastards. They have ruined this country because of greed.

  25. Patriot says:

    Chala mwamba chala mwamba
    Tiyende pamodzi
    Ndi mtima umoooo
    Tiyende pamodzi
    Ndi mtima umo
    Malawi tiye
    DPP tiye


  26. dyton Chiwaya says:

    Poor working ethics. Governments like to appease voters with unatenable promises. Peo ple are left to look at the government for help. We are lazy ,cheats,drunkards, showy. Civics to be reintroduced.Weak laws and useless laws affects us all. Development is just hiding beneath our hands

  27. James says:

    Waiting For The Time Wen Our Leaders Begin To Think Of Their Country Not Themselves, Tribes Or Relatives… Its Shameful To Be Part Of This….Eish!

  28. Mwama Du says:

    Peter is running the poorest country.

  29. ujeni says:

    We have policies that cannot even be accepted in a mental hospital, quota system is one of them, promoting mediocrity at the expense of high quality

  30. ujeni says:

    Malawians are not hard working. Growing maize is not a sign of hardwork We have children who have grown up being stupid, generation after generation all stupid. Almost every Malawian you meet is stupid ofcourse unless he or she was brought up abroad, but all local breed is stupid. We have failed even on simple things. We are only good at breeding, waiting for miracles abd zinkhoswe basi

  31. Sad Huss Mthunzi-wa-Bowa says:

    We are all lazy people. We don’t work. What have you done today that has generated any worth. Kuphika nsima kuti udye? Kukapalira chimanga that will be used as food?

  32. kaizer says:

    what did you expect.every election has been won by people who do not have the country’s interest at heart.when they win they dont think of choosing a cabinet that is based on someone’s merit.i figured it out many years ago that for as long as people like patricia kaliati are appointed into the cabinet we will never develop.she and many others lack a sense of imagination,they are not innovative and are clueless.they are “blind”and dont even know how they can get us out of this mess.unfortunately a majority of our voters are somehow under some form of do people who want to be futureristic vote people of the callibre of kaliati at al into piwer.she is a barometer for which to me is not a good sign.pose a little and ask yourself this she and others the best we can have.

  33. Manyeretsa says:

    Nsanje ndiyomwe ukubwezera dziko la malawi mbuyo.

  34. just got says:

    I didn’t quite get your breakdown of the economic indicators. I think you needed to add more meat to your explanations with illustration. what are the subtle distinctions between these economic indicators? Are these indicators the best for judging an economy such as Malawian or does Malawi need whole different terms to understand it’s problems and to find points of intervention

  35. Kadakwiza says:

    Mr. Tenthani, Malawi is poor today because of; (1) Kamuzu Banda’s dictactorship style of government and his MCP party prevented investors to come to Malawi. I doubt if this Kamuzu really loved our country. (2) Privatization of government companies by clueless UDF government also contributed to our downfall, the idea works only to rich countries who manufacture goods not a country like Malawi which can’t even manufacture a screw or a spoon. Bakili Muluzi’s economic policies left our beautiful Malawi with debts. Which is dangerous. Our government did not save much. (3) One grouping of same tribe running government without involving other tribes have cost us badly. The same tribe of people in government is easy to do corruption and looting. Nepotism also is the contributor to our downfall of our economy. We need to be united and love one another as a nation if we to improve our economy. Tumbuka this, tumbuka that, Yao this, yao that, lomwe this, lomwe that. Chewa this, chewa that will take us nowhere. We need a government which involve every Malawian not a particular tribe.

    1. Jebison Slindine Nyoni says:

      Why are you failing to mention the Comnander-in-Chief Nepotism Bingu?

    2. Joj says:

      We Malwians in general lack vision!

  36. Patrick Majoni says:

    Apoor country with leaders who have money like nobody’s business.So pathetic.

  37. Phwado says:

    We are all to blame.Ndife opusa zedi.Toothless and domicile citizens.We are all indeed assholes.more

  38. upindi upile says:

    The World Bank should have gone further to say despite being the poorest country in the world, Malawi is number one in having a region that thinks that presidents will always come from that region. So if we are the poorest economically we make up that poor economic perfomance with world class regionalism where regions that are thinly populated will never rule our number one poverty stricken southern driven country.

  39. Malawiana says:

    This is what happens to a country where its citizens are touted as hard working when infact they spend much of their time in funerals, weddings, zinkhoswe, bawo, boozing, etc instead of working. We probably need more Chinese to come and teach us what it means to work for your country.

  40. Atcheya says:

    I agree that we need to accept the reality. I also tend to wonder why some people hate hearing of such ‘miserables’ when it is what we are. It is only upon accepting once’s situation that you can be able to improve it. We are, simply put, a pathetic nation that needs concerted effort to move out of this abyss of misfortunes

  41. Phaghlani Vwavwa says:

    This should not surprise anyone. We have in abundance the following: Poor leadership feeding on mass ignorance of the people, political patronage, cronyism, greed, laziness, mediocrity, exam cheating ( now resulting into cashgate and corruption), tribalism, nepotism, resentment against those who are successful ( I mean legitimate success not fraudulent) instead of emulating them and no standards. It is the political leadership that can transform this country into something better. Just look at Rwanda.

  42. jack Phalombe says:

    The answer is very simple we believe in consumption and no any production. Mumva kuwawa

  43. Austin says:

    Eish its rlly dishonour to b called like this while we know tht we r tryng

  44. Mngoni says:

    Kkkkkkkkkkkkkk, Ralph it makes me laugh out even louder to here this that malawi is actually the poorest in the whole world!
    Hope it will be a wake up call to our objectiveless politicians and above all to us all as malawians to start reflecting as to what future are we embracing for our nation!
    Bravo Ralph….!

  45. bwalero says:

    Are you sure this is world back figure….then blame amayi because in 9 months economy cannot be judged. Look at Greece .mr tenthani

    1. Phwado says:

      Another top class Asshole!Let Kondwani Nankhumwa,the idiot with his stinking mouth and his Agogo,the so called malawian president refute this!

  46. Jebison Slindine Nyoni says:

    Politics has become an was ladder to success. Muluzi the chief vendor started it and Bingu continued it. We need a leadership that can turn things around.

  47. BRIGHTON WADI says:

    it is a pity that we are ranked the poorest on the globe, but the main contributing factors has been overpopulation, massive plundering of Government resources, unemployment and others, All Malawians are to blame and its not right to point fingers we have all contributed to this, it is ample time to start working hard so that we can slightly raise our GDP

  48. Big Anti-Haram says:

    Surely Malawi can do better. The problem we have are these recycled politicians who have run out of ideas. the other problem lies with us Malawians; what did we do on 20th May, enthroning a clueless icon. Ndiponso kusolola too much a Malawi

  49. Yufuf says:

    Its sad that our beloved country has registered literally zero economic development in more than 50 years. Its actully buffling how a country this peaceful could be so stagnant.

    On a different note, Mr Tenthani your article could use some editing with regards to your explanations and use of the terms, GDP, Percapita GDP, PPP, PPP adjusted GDP Not very accurate

    1. Malawiana says:

      I agree the article may have been rushed abit. Credit, though, to Tenthani for bringing up the issue.

      1. Zomvetsa chisoni ndithu, another thing Umbuli unachuluka especially kumwera

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