The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) initially ruled this country between 2004 and 2012 under the autocratic stewardship of the late Bingu wa Mutharika. The DPP resurfaced in May 2014 as a governing party following polls, whose results were disputed by other political parties. Ironically, the new Head of State is another Mutharika, Professor Arthur Peter, a younger brother to the former.
During the first ‘Mutharika’ era, the DPP regime miserably failed on the social, economic and political score sheet. It is widely documented that corruption and theft of public resources were the order of that era.
The President and ministers were unashamedly enriching themselves through fraudulent award of huge government contracts. The Milton Kutengule saga; the Nyika-Vwaza Ecotourism Reserve Concession contract corruptly awarded to a United Arab Emirates firm; the fertilizer corruption scandal; the fraudulent acquisition of the Ndata and Mitundu Farms and other high-profile corruption and theft cases were exposed but no-one, indeed, no-one was ever convicted.
All these matters were swept under the carpet at the expense of real social and economic progress of Malawi, rated one of the poorest countries in the world.
During the last two years of late President Bingu wa Mutharika, things got much worse. K92 billion had been stolen, which practically emptied government coffers. There was no food for two (2) million people, according to official statistics. Nepotism was rampant. Universities’ calendars were often interrupted due to various misunderstandings between students and teachers on one side and Government on the other.
The United States Government had withheld $350 million in funding to Malawi following the shooting dead, at the instigation of the leadership, of 20 people on July 11, 2011during public protests over fuel and electricity shortages, rising prices and a general deterioration of the governance order. The $350 million was part of a Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) pact signed on April 7, 2011, which was aimed at reducing the fuel and electricity crisis in Malawi.
In April, 2011, the late President Mutharika had also ordered the deportation of the then British High Commissioner, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet. Cochrane-Dyet was ordered to pack up and go after he was quoted in a leaked cable as saying the late President was intolerant to criticism.
Relations between the Government of Malawi and that of Her Majesty reached an all-time low following that order. In retaliation, the UK ordered Malawi’s High Commissioner to leave following the “unacceptable” expulsion of Britain’s envoy.
Malawi had turned into an “autocratic kleptocracy”. Donors had pulled out because of outright arrogance by the leadership. There was rampant and blatant misuse and abuse of public resources. 40% of Malawi’s budget comes from abroad and the UK is the largest donor.
Foreign currency had vanished, which meant there was no import cover. Government could not be able to import fuel such that Malawians did not celebrate the 2011 Christmas and New Year festivities the ‘traditional way.’ Many people were sleeping at fuel stations.
The situation became extremely desperate at the beginning of 2012. Malawians could not have it anymore. A grouping of faith-based organizations and denominations, Public Affairs Committee (PAC) organized a two-day ‘all-inclusive’ conference at Limbe Cathedral from March 14-15, 2012.
The main resolution was a 60-day ultimatum to President Bingu wa Mutharika to either resign or call for a referendum for the people to choose the way forward. Before the 60 days elapsed, the President succumbed to a cardiac arrest and died on April 5, 2012.
When President Bingu wa Mutharika died, the then embattled Vice President of the country, Joyce Banda, was sworn in as the new Head of State despite attempts by some of Bingu’s croniesto prevent her from ascending to power.
When she arrived on the scene, with her People’s Party (PP), she got immediately down to real work. In 100 days, her administration had drawn a comprehensive Economic Recovery Plan (ERP) with a view to discovering the ‘Pillars of Sustainable Economic Growth’ for Malawi. The ERP was conceptualized to improve Malawi’s monetary and fiscal policies to enable the country get out of the economic crisis created by the previous DPP administration under the late President Mutharika.
The ERP became the centre piece of a phenomenal economic turn-around during that period.
Under the ERP, Government planned to implement medium to long-term strategies that could have created real growth in the economy. ERF’s focus, in the medium term, was on five sectors namely; Energy, Mining, Infrastructure, Agriculture and Tourism.
Under JB, as she is fondly referred to by her admirers, Malawi’s relations with Britain were restored; MCC was back; fuel was back; World Bank was back; Malawi was back on track on the IMF Programme; electricity and water supply tremendously increased. Briefly, there was an unbelievable turn-around in the people’s livelihood.
Following the elections of May 2014, the DPP, under a new Mutharika, Arthur Peter, were declared winners. Since their arrival on the scene, the situation has been reminiscent of the first DPP era.
The situation during the Joyce Banda administration has completely been reversed. There is simply no clear governance direction. Donors have left again. IMF is reserved in terms of when Malawi would be put on a full programme.
It is now seven months since the ‘new’ DPP came onto the ‘throne’. They seem totally puzzled about what running a successful economy entails. They are, instead, indulging in blame-game, scapegoating and political witch-hunting.
The new Mutharika, Arthur Peter, must be informed that it is counter-productive to run a government by blaming others; it simply doesn’t work. Malawians want to see a leader putting much effort to confront the many social and economic challenges that they are currently grappling with.
The President has five, yes, five years ahead of him to explore workable solutions to the current economic malaise. He should attempt to give hope to the people rather than getting preoccupied with petty political bickering.
The on-going industrial strikes are borne out of nothing but desperation where the cost of living is extremely unbearable to many Malawians. The economy is simply biting!
It does not make sense for the government to expend its energies on picking one former President as a scapegoat for its own failures. Should the whole government really spend its time more on insisting about the existence of some ‘CCTV footage’ instead of addressing the attendant social and economic woes? It is petty, to say the least.
- Hastings Kandoje is a Nyasa Times columnist who writes in his own right