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.

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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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Wakiki
Guest

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

my right to speak!
Guest

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

my right to speak!
Guest

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!

Sam
Guest
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… Read more »
KASIYAMALIRO
Guest
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… Read more »
Nene Mwene
Guest

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?

evans moyokunyenga
Guest

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.

EKaPol
Guest
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… Read more »
chingolopiyo
Guest
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… Read more »
jesus is lord
Guest

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.

vinjeru Limbani Kachali
Guest
vinjeru Limbani Kachali
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… Read more »
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