Malawi lost cause? Next leader could learn from Rawlings and Kagame

A friend of this author suggested that Malawi was a lost cause and should be left its own devices.  

The person said there was no justification for leaders of country as poor as Malawi to be living large, riding in luxury cars on potholed roads which lead to hospitals without medicines and schools without supplies.

For all this “foolishness”, the friend said, it was the people of Malawi who were to blame. The long and short of the argument was that if the people were unhappy with what was going on, it was their responsibility to act.

Rwanda President Paul Kagame
Rwanda President Paul Kagame

There is no shortage of prescriptions for Malawi’s social and political ills. We hear and read about them every day. All are equally important in the author’s view assuming they come from a good place.

Malawi, like many other places, has people in public office for self-enrichment. Except for themselves, they cannot point to anything they have done for their constituents yet people continue to reward them with positions of authority.

Jerry Rawlings, a flight lieutenant in Ghana Air Force, saw high levels of corruption first hand in his country and decided to do something about it. But his attempt to overthrow the military government in 1979 failed and he was sentenced to death. Fellow soldiers who believed in the cause got him out of jail before he was executed and installed him as the country’s leader.

Rawlings did not stay long in power. A civilian and constitutional government took over but economic mismanagement continued and less than two years after relinquishing power, Rawlings staged another coup d’état in 1981. He went on to serve two terms after leaving the military.

Powerful individuals, who were deemed corrupt, among them senior military officers and Supreme Court justices, were rounded up and killed. While Ghanaians questioned the morality of his action, they agreed that deep corruption was eating away at their society. Rawlings, a populist at first, later instituted tough economic reforms which breathed new life into the country’s economy and by the early 1990s Ghana’s economic growth rates were among the highest in Africa.

In 1994, the same year Malawi switched from single to multiparty democracy, there was genocide in Rwanda where one ethnic group led the slaughter of another. General Paul Kagame ended the massacre which left close to one million people dead.

Kagame, who assumed power in 2000 after the resignation of the president, is ambitious and wants Rwanda to be a middle income country by 2020. Last month the World Bank, which says Rwanda is among the best places to conduct business in Africa today, agreed to a $70 million financing package which is the last portion of a three-year aid programme.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said about Malawi. Donors wary of corruption do not want to dole out any more cash.

If you have read other entries by this author, you probably know where this is going. Twenty years ago, the economic situations of Malawi and Rwanda, whose main exports are tobacco and coffee respectively, were similar if not worse for Rwanda after its traumatic experience from the genocide.

But Rwanda emerged from the ashes due to sound leadership. In the 14 years Kagame has been in power, he has made his presence felt. (Read  5 years enough to change Malawi or throw the bums out, Nyasa Times, February 13, 2014).

To get all his ducks in a row, Kagame has been authoritarian yet the West happily deals with Kagame. We know that donors decided it was a bad idea to rap Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika over the knuckles after 20 Malawians were killed by police during protests against his regime in 2011 and his refusal to devalue the currency.

Following Mutharika’s death in 2012, his successor Joyce Banda managed to regain some donor confidence but a huge financial scandal uncovered last year involving some senior members of her party has put Malawi at odds with donors at large.

One can argue that President Banda could have been toast in next month’s elections if the UK was not in her corner. After it financed a forensic audit of government books, the UK has treated Malawians with disdain for demanding to know the names of those responsible for the theft of millions of dollars of public money as though Malawians like mob-justice so much that they could not resist the temptation to quickly dispatch them to hell before their day in court!

That donors can be partial is true but Malawians cannot use that as an excuse for mediocrity in governing themselves. As this author argued in EU fed up? Malawi needs a benevolent dictator to breakthrough -Nyasa Times, February 22, 2014, it was the same strong leadership that dealt with corruption decisively and helped Ghana and Rwanda forge a different kind of future. By learning from the experience of others, Malawi has nothing to lose but gain.

*The author is the former founding editor of Maravi Post  who is now  a columnist on Nyasa Times,

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