A recent Mail & Guardian Africa article reporting on a new survey findings by a US-based pollster, Gallup, which hinted that even though the traditional economic indicators such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), household income and unemployment stats are ‘the most heavily relied on by policy-makers, these measures underplay the importance of people’s happiness.
Looking at citizen’s happiness levels and an indicator of a nation’s stability, the report says Botswana (surprisingly), Senegal and Malawi are sub-Saharan African countries where people are likely to revolt against their governments. Burkina Faso, where people power recently brought to an end 27 years of Blaise Campaoré presidency toped the list of the most likely countries to have an uprising.
A common analysis of the Burkinabe uprising is that Campaoré attempt to stay in power beyond the current term limits is the straw that broke the camel’s back. Yet, the Gallup study indicates that Burkina Faso’s uprising may have more to do with poor public service delivery as lack of job creation – people’s livelihoods, more than presidential term limits.
It is the latter point that has got Malawi on this unwanted list.
According to the report, nine of the 10 countries of the world with the lowest employment rates are in Africa. It makes grim reading for Malawi. The country is only 1% better than Burkina Faso, which tops the list with 5% lowest payroll to population rate in this part of the world.
In Malawi we have a very bad tendency of disregarding polls and findings such as these because majority of Malawians have been blinded by partisan politics. Folks see everything through partisan politics, blinded by political party colours. Thusly, findings such as these are most likely to be denied and criticised by a party in power and its sympathisers. While those in opposition will use it to discredited the incumbency.
Yet, the findings being discussed here would not come as a surprised to those who have been following events in Malawi closely. The economic situation in Malawi is pathetic at the moment. I will not list the number of industrial strikes and numerous grievances that Malawians have against their government and its subsidiaries – they are too many.
Meanwhile, Malawians are made to believe that the government is running on a shoestring budget because donors are withholding up to 40% of annual budgetary support.
Yet, the actions of government suggest the ‘business as usual’ way of doing things. Exemplified by the lack of fiscal discipline and its petulance.
Malawians knew form the onset that the frozen aid meant limited government spending – even on essential services. Most Malawians would give the government some leeway as a result. What Malawians will not take are patronising government policies, appearing in whatever guise, the current one being the “harmonisation” of civil service salaries.
The truth is that well-meaning sounding words like the salary “Harmonisation” means nothing for a graduate who cannot find a job and cannot access any loan facilities to set-up businesses. “Harmonisation” is nothing when people are going weeks without running water and the government is silent nothing about it. Under this environment, it is provoking people’s anger when the government announces pay increase for the presidency, cabinet ministers and the legislature while denying others demanding the same.
What the civil service salary “harmonisation” debacle show is a government out of sync reality. The presidency has a luxury of having limitless ‘advisors’. This is the time these advisors earn their wages. Someone must nudge the president before it is too late, I don’t think he has a full picture of what is going on in Malawi. Malawi might not go the Burkina Faso way, as Gallup speculates but there is a danger when people lose confidence of their leaders and can no longer trust their government – consequences can be dire.
It happened with Ebola – a deadly virus that has affected devastated parts of West Africa. Liberia has a specific lesson. Liberia has a very corrupt government (and so is Malawi) and service delivery is very poor. The citizenly have no trust in their government. So when Ebola struck, Liberians never took any advice from the government and authorities on how to stay away and contain the deadly virus. As argued by Daily Maverick’s Simon Allison, Ebola not just a devastating virus, it is also a case of shambolic governance and poor service delivery, especially in Liberia.
As it is, Malawi government is losing trust of its people. There are more questions than answers. For instance, how could the presidency turn down the salary increase only after it had been publicly announced? Was the presidency not a part of that decision making? If not, who is really in charge? Or is it that the government is playing politics with what should be a governance issue? Should Malawians trust the people in charge? And who are they?
At the bottom of all these issues is a government lacking transparency. Transparent governments are not only better placed to provide essential public service but it is also clear and apparent to the citizenly when the government genuinely lack resources to meet some public services. Governments must be seen working to meet people’s expectations, or be prepared to lead an angry nation.”
- Jimmy Kainja