The 2007 to 2009 were the worst years of economic crisis in the world, with attention focused on the possible impact of downturns in the developed countries. Malawi, located in the sub-Saharan region started feeling the heat two years ago when it faced its worst acute shortage of foreign exchange. It was around this difficult moment that the world needed dearly people with economic minds.
To the advantage, Malawi has an economist in the name of Professor Bingu wa Mutharika. He leads a 14 million people populated country where life is still on less than US$1.25 per day after 47 years of independence. In describing his achievements to the country, the learned Professor describes Malawi as an economic miracle with vibrant security and a good atmosphere for investors. His critics however see him as an autocrat in the making who is intolerant to dissenting views.
Anointed as an economic engineer by his predecessor, Dr. Bakili Muluzi, President Bingu wa Mutharika goes into the history of Malawi as a President who chased an ambassador of Britain for a leaked memo that described him as an autocrat, the first president who has never had good relationship with any vice president and a President who under his leadership, 20 people were killed for staging peaceful demonstrations on bad economic policies and governance.
The major challenge that the Malawi government has is to convince its citizens that Malawi is not heading to oblivion in the next two years. That the ship which Mutharika is the captain is not about to sink
Rising above pity politics
There is a lot of political mediocrity in Malawi. One of the well-known economists and a former minister of finance of the country, Matthews Chikaonda says ‘the political software we are using is out dated and needs to be upgraded, Malawi needs political reform. Policy indecision and political craziness is destroying the country. The country seems to have resigned and accepted poverty as a norm. we are all saying let it be. But poverty should not be accepted because it is a form of slavery.’
Suspicious fires: civil society activists’ houses and offices have been going up in smoke. Media houses have not been spared. Poor businessmen properties in markets burned down on sorrowful strategic periods. According to one writer, Mzati Nkolokosa this might be the work of the opposition. ‘If you are a vocal civil society activist, don’t be scared of the ruling party and its government. The Ruling party has everything to lose by inflicting misfortune on you. It is those who come to you as friends that will eliminate you because your death will make people angry with the DPP. But opposition figures and civil society leaders believe this is the work of government to frustrate them in fighting injustice. There is a mongering suspicion among Malawians as they continue to leave in fear.
Mysterious death: The death of a University student, a critic of the Bingu government Robert Chasowa has brought much discomfort among Malawians. The police, basing on a report which was later disowned by pathologist Dr. Charles Dzamalala immediately concluded to say he committed suicide. However, Dr Dzamalala in a report he has authored concludes ‘based on the isolated nature of the fresh injuries to the head. With prominent parts of the head and the rest of the body spared of these fresh injuries, it is my opinion that these injuries are most likely to assault to the head with blunt instrument or instruments rather than fall (suicidal or otherwise).’
Policy responses to the crisis
In the hovering dust, Malawi is performing badly in diplomatic relations especially with main donors. Britain suspended aid of close to 19 million pounds indefinitely to the impoverished nation by saying ‘Demonstrations have been suppressed, civil society organisations intimidated and an injunction bill passed that would make it easier for the government to place restrictions on opponents without legal challenge’. Malawi is not Seeing eye to eye with the International Monetary Fund over the devaluation of the Kwacha. Aid from other donors has been stalled as well for failure to complete a review of its economic performance by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The newly elected Zambian President Michael Sata has asked President Mutharika to make a public apology if the two countries are to have solid relationship.
With this cat and dog relationships, there is a call by citizens of Malawi for the leadership to rise above pride and engage in holistic restoration of relationships with other countries considering Malawi is a landlocked country.
There has been a good call by the president on his government to exercise fiscal cushion in adopting developmental approach to social protection, encompassing public works and food security. Already excessive foreign travels and expenditures have been halted with government projecting MK400 million kwacha-about 1,550,174.32 pounds saved, the Cabinet slightly reduced and external borrowing minimised.
Of urgency, Malawi needs to start looking at ways to diversify from the reliance of tobacco which its sales have dwindled by 70 percent in the recent year. Economist and businessmen have to bung heads in coming up with alternatives. Malawi has huge potential in exploring tourism, fisheries and legumes. The country boasts of one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.
So Malawi will continue to face large, persistent and costly shocks and these shocks will continue to cause great human suffering. Without a secure standard of living, the people might turn to unproductive or even violent activities, possibly leading to instability, a breakdown of democracy, or violence-all compounding the initial suffering. The curse of poverty can easily turn into the curse of conflict.
Malawi has serious challenges. But they are not insurmountable. As Nelson Mandela once said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done”.
Emmanuel Mwale is a writer who normally blogs at http://www.emmanuelmwale.