Malawi’s sate crisis: Safe haven for mafias                   

Our government is a major economic force in many cities and towns across the country. Through their hiring, purchasing and other activities; such as upholding law and order, the state generates millions of dollars in economic activity with the potential to benefit citizens directly, but only if the right measures are put in place.

The idea is that if you have a strong bureaucracy that puts the security and well-being of their citizens at the heart of their functioning there may be a good chance of fostering a perfect mutual understanding between the governed and the governors, and this is necessary condition for development of any kind.

Despite this reality, few, if any, local and regional development action plans in Malawi are built around this utopia; In fact, there are still fewer strategies that seek to harness the government’s economic potential to create opportunities for low-income people.

One might object here that the challenge is not necessarily that not enough development strategies are being drafted, but rather that the state is unable to carry out its tasks satisfactorily.

But isn’t that just another way of saying Malawi is a failed state? The answer, surely, may not be as straight forward as we all think. But, as stated in the United Nations Charter, besides having a population, history, terrain, and leader, a state ought to be in a position to provide and deliver essential political goods and services to its own citizens.

Sadly, this hasn’t been the case for Malawi for God knows how long—even though it still holds a seat in the United Nations and functions as a sovereign entity. The mystery of whether Malawi is failed state or not is complex, let alone, debatable. But if the United Nation’s definition of a failed state is anything to go by Malawi definitely makes the grade.

Malawi’s state crisis is not a new phenomenon. It has been around for a little over two decades now. It must obviously be traced back to the legacy of democracy of 1994, as well as the socio-economic condition of the country prior to the onset of Bakili’s second term of office.

If the truth be told, Muluzi’s term in office was the beginning of the end of the strong state that his predecessor Dr. Kamuzu Banda had established during his term in office.

Malawi under Muluzi witnessed a different political landscape. Among other things: nationalism was mistaken as identity politics; and more importantly, nation building was overshadowed by the rising demand for a  new form of state—a democracy. For instance, state hiring focused more on individual identity than merit.

This brief account, believe it or not makes up a major part of the reason as to why Malawi’s government quality today is a mess.

Knowing that one would deliberately think that Malawi’s state capacity has gotten better with time. You would be wrong. As wrong as the government itself. Like ministers, DPP party, and opportunists. The truth is that the opposite has been the case.

And here’s the thing; it’s hard, actually, to believe today at only fifty-three years old our capital city Lilongwe, is as dirty as hell. Piles of trash are apart of our capital’s terrain. Worse still, this refuse often makes its way into the rivers, and subsequently polluting the water that was meant to be used by the city dwellers.

As if that is not enough some of the entrepreneurial activities that are surfacing in Lilongwe; leaves a lot to be desired. It’s true that entrepreneurship is a requirement for development, but if it remains unchecked it can be fatal. For sure, a good chunk of business dealings in the capital today are raking-off on other people’s backs in the name of entrepreneurship.

For example: paid bridges that are continuously erected along the Lilongwe river. The idea is merely convenient, let alone a necessary condition for economic development.  But it offers little about safeness of crossing these bridges. For instance, the materials such as trees, timbers, and nails that are often used while making these bridges are far below standard: putting the lives of taxpayers on the line.

What makes it worse is that most of these criminal activities occur under the state’s watch. Some are even aided by the state officials. The land, for instance, that is being used by these villains to lay their bridges on is either grabbed or dubiously collected from some crooked government bureaucrats. The officials that are supposed to be protecting the same land from any wrong-doing.

But if this is so, why do our governors play at being blind? It is because they don’t care. Truth, something that exists outside their greedy political ambitions, is no longer apart of their political ideology.They have no interest in the well-being of the citizens.

Be this as it may, Malawi’s state crisis has gotten worse in the recent years. But should we panic? Believe it or not there’s yet another cost to be paid here.

Look, the gap between state crisis and violence is not huge. There seems to be an established one-one relation between these two—state crisis and violence. Often state crisis tend to lead to violence.

The state crisis of southern Italy in 1860, for example, demonstrate this interaction.

One example  of violence increasing due to an unreliable, corrupt, or an altogether obsolete state could be seen in  history of southern Italy. This violence came about because of low-trust, political antagonism, and economic hardship that had swept the southern province in 17th century. The state was completely out-placed. It could not even manage to keep its premises clean—stacks of trash were frequently seen lying idle in those streets of Sicily. If you like, the state was good as nothing.

Obviously, living in such an environment, one would think that the best option for survival is to turn instead to a private service provider that would, for instance, protect you; regardless of the consequences.

This was a precondition that set mafias rolling in southern Italy. Mafias are private entrepreneurs who function by providing the protection of individual property rights in a society in which the state fails to perform such basic services. Think about it in this way: if you owe someone money he would normally take you to court, but when state is almost absent he would task a villain to come and break your neck or even burn down your house instead.

I’m sure none of us would want to live in such environment. We would like to live in a society where the rule of law and order are upheld. Not as it was the case in southern Italy.

So what has Malawi’s state crisis to do with southern Italy’s case? Everything! Even though the answer usually comes down to the party involved; if you ask DPP diehard I bet you get a definitive reaction whereas the street guy would present a different case altogether. But one thing I know is that Malawi’s state capacity is of no difference with that of southern Italy during the 17th century. And it is not even difficult to think that southern Italy’s fate might soon come upon us, if not it’s here already.

We have witnessed some shocking scenes already: thieves slaughtered by mobs, witches torched to death, endless corruption, the emergence of unlicensed bridge businesses, among others. All these consequences, however, converge at one point—state capacity.

My problem, however, is how we’re treating this issue. We tend to liken it to a girl-boy-friend issue; where solution often lies in the alcohol. Thinking that by consuming alcohol, one would forget everything. Sadly, this is not kind of problem that needs to be forgotten, but rather solved.

However, the 2019 elections are almost here and our focus should not be how we’re going to rig the elections, but rather how best we’re going to choose captains that can fix our broken nationalism and state building ego. Otherwise, we’re yet to learn in a hard way.

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