Malawians need to change mindset or continue languishing in poverty

One thing that makes me feel proud that I am a Malawian is the fact that despite our political differences, cultural and ethnic diversity, we have never experienced a civil war. We succeeded in forging a nation whose people have lived and continue to live in peace and harmony in every corner of the country. This by all means is not a mini achievement. We need to realize that this is not only a strength but an opportunity too.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world and more than half of its 15 million people live below the poverty line.

There are countries on our continent that can only dream about what we have attained and managed to sustain throughout the years. However, in spite of such strength, our tragedy has been our inability to take advantage of this opportunity to transform ourselves into a prosperous nation.

Malawi became a republic in 1966, all these decades we have experienced, enjoyed and lived in a peaceful environment. What this means is that we have had completely no deterrent to creating innovative ways to improve the socioeconomic terrain of our nation. It is a shame that we have for decades been at peace, endowed with arable farming land, plentiful fresh water and yet we have perpetually grappled with hunger and starvation.

Our political leaders claim every day that we are making progress and yet over seventy percent of our people are still living on less than a dollar a day. Our people still cannot access good medical services. Our graduates eternally loaf in the streets hunting for job opportunities that no one is creating. Corruption is still rampant. Education standards have continued to deteriorate. The gap between the rich and the poor has continued to grow.  A litany of the aforementioned issues will tempt one to think Malawi is probably one of those war tone countries in Africa, assuming one is reading about it for the first time.

Together, all of these issues are indicative of an extremely vulnerable country being brought to its knees by extreme poverty exacerbated by a prolonged civil war. Malawi has never experienced civil disruption since its inception, what then is causing these astounding conditions? Why are our people unable to make progress in fighting abject poverty? Why are we one of the poorest countries in the world? Why are we in the same bracket with countries that all they have known since establishment is civil war?

There are definitely numerous factors contributing to the current state of our nation, however, it is imperative to note that central to the perpetuation of poverty in our country is government.

We have habits in Malawi that are so detrimental to progress. We are a country with great developmental policies and yet with so little or no political will at all to implement those policies. We elect unqualified people to be our leaders and yet we are surprised when they miserably fail to deliver. We under-fund the Ant Corruption Bureau and yet we expect corrupt practices to decline.

Beginning of every fiscal year, the finance minister walks majestically into the chambers and presents a budget with over 70% of its budgetary lines just for consumption. These are budgets whose major objective is to rapidly deplete hard earned forex through procurement of things from outside the country. As if that is not enough, when budget implementation begins most of the money is lost in questionable deals done with unscrupulous contractors.

These contractors are largely ruling elite sympathizers and yet no one asks anything when a subsequent budget session convenes. Then shamelessly politicians make rounds with the rhetoric of turning the country from predominantly consuming to a producing hub in the Sub Saharan region. That is just a bunch of malarkey. How can we produce goods and services when we have refused to invest?

We need a radical shift of our thought process, habits and altitudes. We cannot continue to depend on politically driven subsidies anymore. Countries that have made significant economic strides have had full and complete engagement of the grassroots. We need to take matters into our own hands. It is the common people who must strive for a better life by engaging in individual income generating initiatives if we are to create a prosperous nation.

We need to begin to believe that each household is primarily responsible for its own existence and survival. For instance, people should not have kids if they cannot manage to take care of them. If we all can have kids proportional to our ability and income, there is high probability that those children will be given adequate support in their psychosocial development and will grow into not only productive citizens but responsible people too. The time of depending on aunties and uncles or parents to raise them for us is over.

The concept of extended families creates nothing but laziness and irresponsibility amongst family members. Relatives should be encouraged at all cost to be independent and learn to take responsibility for their own choices and actions. Handouts are unsustainable, they stifle creativity and spirit of hard work. It is therefore not only plausible but reasonable too to eliminate them from our midst.

Let us set our priorities right. The fuel of our economic growth is agricultural production, it goes without saying that we need serious investment in agriculture. It is a complete mockery to conventional wisdom that we depend on rain fed agriculture when we have fresh water all year round, flowing from Chitipa district to Nsanje district. It’s like we live the growth of our economy to chance.

Furthermore, there is an urgent need for diversification of the agricultural sector, we cannot continue to heavily depend on the unsustainable promotion of two crops: maize and tobacco. It is madness how we keep producing tobacco in large quantities when the product faces stagnant international demand.

Does it require a genius to see that we are barking up the wrong tree? If Malawi does not change its direction sooner, I am afraid 53 years from now we shall still be confronted with the same questions we are asking today.

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