“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.
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.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :