Airport politics above national security: Malawi 2014 Elections

In the previous week Atupele Muluzi and Joyce Banda, respectively took their respective election campaigns to Mangochi, a traditional stronghold of Mr Muluzi’s United Democratic Front. It is yet to be seen how Mrs Banda’s People’s Party (PP) will do in the district given that this PP’s first electoral contest in the district. What surprised me about those two rallies however is that these two presidential candidates promised a construction of a new airport in the district should they form the next mandate.

Yes, you could think of Mangochi, a lakeshore district, in terms of tourism – an area that Malawi is seriously undersold. Yet, for me the promise of a new airport is bizarre and misplaced, even as a campaign gimmick. Malawi has no national airline and the current administration has told the nation that the presidential jet is sold. Now who and what is the airport for? Malawi does not even have public transport system. If Mangochi people and indeed tourists needed some form of transport, should we not be talking about sorting out affordable public transport system that link Mangochi, with other districts and the country’s main cities?

The Bombardier Q400 aircraft touching down at Chileka Airport in Blantyre on its maiden flight- Pic Lucky Mkandawire
The Bombardier Q400 aircraft touching down at Chileka Airport in Blantyre on its maiden flight- Pic Lucky Mkandawire

I have previously stated on this page that separate studies by Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and Afrobarometer have established that majority of Malawians are more concerned about food security (hunger) and economic stabilisation above all Malawi’s perennial problems. These are essential issues to everyday life of everyone Malawian, rich and poor. Everyone eats and food insecurity affects everyone, from any angle you are looking at it – it is not just feeling empty stomachs, it is national security issue.

New African magazine (March 2014 issue) accurately noticed that despite other social, economic and political issues that contributed to the North Africa’s Arab Spring in 2011, it was food security that ignited the inferno of revolutions, which started in Tunisia. The magazine notices:

“[Food security] played a crucial role in fomenting the so-called “Arab Spring” in North Africa … Mohammad Bouazizi, the young Tunisian man who sparked it all, burned himself to death basically because the authorities got in the way of his means to put food on the table for his family.”

As it is the case in many countries, Malawians spend a significant amount of their income on food, which is increasingly scarce in this country. Maize rationing at Admarc deports nationwide as early as September last year is testifies to this. This means that average Malawians struggling to find their staple food even when they have money in their pockets.

Malawi has abundant irrigable unused land or underused yet UDF and PP leaders think an airport is a priority? Why not make all the idle land productive, utilising this country’s abundance of human capital? I am not against building of infrastructure but I do not think airport is what Mangochi or indeed Malawi needs. Instead of exporting raw materials, why not concentrate on adding value to the little Malawi produce?

The current population projection is that by 2025, 11 years from now, Malawi will have 23 million people. About 8 million people more than the current population estimates. Now if Malawi cannot feed itself today, what more when the country adds the 8 million in the next decade or so? This is a serious issue of national security, not just food security. It should concern everyone who cares about this country. Yet, people campaigning to run this country do not appear concerned about such issues.

Promising construction of a new airport may be ‘issue-based politics’, which most Malawians are advocating for but for Malawi to prosper, the country also needs evidence-based policies, to assess its shortfalls today and plan for the future.

The unfortunate thing for Malawi like is that the priority for every governing party is to win the next election. Sadly, the next election is never won on long-term development plans and policies. What will happen to Malawi in 11 years time does not concern anyone looking to win elections in 2014 or even in 2019.

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