As we write this article, President Peter Mutharika still holds power in Malawi. He looks likely to hold onto that power by any means necessary. He’s refused to fire Malawi Electoral Commission commissioners, he’s refused to ratify bills that would allow a new election to take place, and he’s fired the commander of the defense force and the entire cabinet. There is significant political feeling against him in the country, but for now at least it appears that he’ll be staying in his position whether people like him or not.
Even if we assume that he’ll be able to hold onto his position in the short term, though, he will eventually come to a point where elections need to be held, and his ultimate fate will be placed into the hands of the people. If that election were held today, the overwhelming majority of polls suggest he’d lose and lose badly. Could anything happen between now and the eventual date of the next election to change that, though?
What could the President do to get the public behind him, and increase his chances of staying in office? Could the decision to legalize cannabis in Malawi that was taken last month ultimately prove to be the one that saves him?
Over the course of the past year, we’ve seen Malawi open itself up to new sources of income associated with habits that people have long seen as vices. Cannabis use is one. Gambling is another. Late last year, the Malawi Gaming Board began to accept proposals for new casinos in the country in a move that could eventually see the legalization of online slots websites in Malawi.
The existing laws that govern gambling in the country are unclear, and so although citizens have access to online slots UK, nobody knows whether or not anyone’s breaking the law by playing them. By opening up more casinos and making the legality of those online slots websites clear, Malawi could make billions of Kwacha every year. That would be a great boost to the economy – but the boost that may come from sales of medicinal marijuana could be even bigger.
It’s unfair to compare Malawi to the United States of America due to the difference in size between the countries, and the vast differences between the Malawian economy and the American economy. We can, however, look at the effect that legalizing cannabis in certain states has had in the USA. The state of Colorado alone passed one billion dollars in revenue from marijuana sales in the middle of last year, and that figure is thought to have increased significantly since.
Some estimates from respectable forecasters suggest that by the end of 2023, the total revenue from all cannabis sales in the USA will have passed thirty billion dollars. Such a figure is unthinkable for Malawi, but the numbers don’t have to be that high for there to be a clear and obvious boost to the economy at home.
A healthy economy isn’t everything when it comes to the popularity of a President, or for the prospects of that President successfully standing for election, but it definitely helps. When there’s more money in the public purse, there’s more to spend on public services. That means better roads, better hospitals, better schools, and investment in labor.
When the Government can pay for expansion, that expansion brings more jobs, and more families are lifted away from poverty and toward prosperity. Not every voter will forgive Mutharika for his current perceived transgressions just because they’re earning more money than they used to, and life has become more comfortable, but a comfortable electorate is a lot more likely to stick with the status quo than an angry one.
The connection between an expanding cannabis industry and work becoming available to Malawians is an obvious one. More than eighty percent of the workers in Malawi are employed by the agriculture industry. At the moment, the overwhelming majority of those people work in tobacco. Those tobacco jobs will still be required, and so more people will have to be employed in order to harvest cannabis and prepare it for sale.
In a country that’s still identified by the World Bank as one of the poorest on the planet, that can only be a good thing. There is still more work to be done to ensure that employees are paid a fair wage and aren’t exploited by their employers, but having some income is better than having no income at all, and that’s likely to be the line that the Government uses to sell these new employment opportunities to the public.
None of this will be music to the ears of Lazarus Chakwera, who has never been convinced about the legitimacy of the most recent election and would like to see a new one happen as soon as possible – perhaps even as early as May this year.
Whether or not Mutharika would eventually have been forced to face that date might be irrelevant now – it’s likely that the global spread of COVID-19 will make elections impossible whether the country’s legal system has the ability to force the President to face the music or not.
It would appear that the virus might have bought the President time, and it might even be enough time for Malawi to start seeing the benefits of cannabis being sold within the country and also to the wider world. Should that happen, it wouldn’t be against the odds for him to improve on his 38% share of the vote last time around. He might even dare to dream of going beyond that and securing 50%, thus fulfilling one of the proposed requirements for electing any new President in the future regardless.
It’s unlikely that the President had any of this in his mind when he first signed the papers that legalized the sale of Malawian cannabis. At that time, he was probably only thinking of increasing the country’s revenue and creating more jobs within his country.
He probably didn’t imagine that it was the masterstroke that would keep him in power when everything else seemed to be going against him. This is a strange world, though, and we’re living in strange times. Somewhat improbably, a combination of COVID-19 and cannabis sales might turn out to be what keeps Mutharika in his office for the foreseeable future.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :