Malawi under Mutharika duplicate Zimbabwe crisis

Long winding queues snake around every service station in Malawi as motorists hunt for the scarce commodity. The scenes are reminiscent of Zimbabwe before the formation of the coalition government in 2009 with motorists queuing for what seems like an eternity.

The queues tell of the true story of a Malawi on fire. They tell a story of shortages, corruption, aggressive youth militia, mediocrity and duplicity in the political discourse of the country’s leadership. Actually, the whole story reads like a novel authored in Harare.

Political analysts in Malawi wonder how a country with an economist as president could slide into such unprecedented economic turmoil where there are no essential medicines in hospitals, rampant fuel and foreign currency shortages, and virtually no learning and teaching materials in public schools.

Mugabe greeting Malawi's former official hostess Mama Kadzamira as Mutharika looks on

Impoverished Malawi is presently locked in a diplomatic row with its former colonial master and biggest donor Britain over a leaked embassy cable which referred to President BinguWa Mutharika as “autocratic and intolerant of criticism”.

That leaked cable led to the expulsion of Britain’s ambassador to Malawi Fergus Cochrane-Dyet. The actions of the self-styled “Ngwazi”, which in the local Chichewa language means a God-given leader, are a reflection of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, who is a close ally of Wa Mutharika.

Analysts are drawing parallels between Mugabe and Wa Mutharika, who has been criticised for a series of increasingly autocratic moves seen as restricting political freedoms.

Mugabe plunged Zimbabwe into dire straits by expelling white farmers in a chaotic fast track land reform programme resulting in the European Union withholding funds. Like the case of Zimbabwe, soon after the expulsion of its ambassador to Lilongwe, Britain reacted swiftly by kicking out Malawi’s representative in London and suspending aid worth US$550 million.

This freeze has dealt a body blow to the budget of a country which has for long relied on handouts, and intensified a dollar supply crunch that is threatening the Kwacha’s official peg at 175 to the United States dollar.

Prompted by the fuel shortages and soaring costs of imported goods, Malawians took to the streets in July to protest against Wa Mutharika’s rule. His government responded with brute force leaving 20 people dead in the ensuing crackdown.

These scenes mirrored Zimbabwe in 1998 when riot police, armed with batons, shields and automatic rifles, fired teargas at demonstrators who had used bricks and logs to block streets and intimidated others to stay away from work in demonstrations against the rising cost of food stuffs.

Reuben Chilera, director at the Excutivewrite, a political think tank, said: “We are almost a Zimbabwe, both in the economy and in political governance. There are similarities in terms of their president (Mugabe) and Wa Mutharika.

They’re both using a heavy hand in terms of their governance, in terms of how they want to rule. And also disregarding other branches of government — the judiciary, the legislature. Like Zimbabweans, Malawians right now are frustrated. Malawians are disgruntled in terms of how the country is being governed, how the economy is moving.

They want to have more voice. Malawians are distressed by what they see as the hypocrisy of their government, which came to power denouncing the corruption of the previous regime, but rapidly became embroiled in scandals of its own.”

Mutharika, who came to power in 2004, has been subject to intense criticism for expelling rivals from the ruling party, expanding presidential powers and signing laws that have restricted protests, media freedom and lawsuits against the government.

These moves have alienated foreign donors. Long fuel queues, failure to pay civil servants, badly run municipalities, power blackouts, forex and water shortages, rising costs of living – all these have been experienced by Zimbabweans before.

Echoing Mugabe’s anti-West rhetoric “Zimbabwe will never be a colony again”, Malawi seems to be marching headlong toward disaster and it is high time Sadc acted to avoid another Zimbabwe.

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