Prof Zeleza on Malawi’s debilitating developmental and democratic deficits: The challenge for 2019

I write as one of the multitudes of Malawians in the diaspora. Some of us live in the neighboring countries in Southern and East Africa, others across Europe, the Americas, and increasingly Asia. Many of us have families and have established deep roots in the countries we reside in. But almost invariably, we love the country we were born in or where our parents came from. We care about what happens in Malawi. We are committed to the country’s success, to the establishment, since the “Second Republic” in 1994, of a truly democratic developmental state and society.

Prof Paul Tiyambe Zeleza

Personally, I’ve been in the diaspora since 1977. Through all these years my interest and concern about developments in my homeland has remained steadfast.

Now that I live closer, in Nairobi, which is only two flight hours away, I visit the country regularly. I was there in July for a conference on higher education where I gave a keynote address, and I just returned last Sunday from a ten day vacation.  I was shocked to read that a fierce critic of the current government, and supporter of the newly established United Transformation Movement, Ms. Manice Hale, was arrested at the airport as she was about to board a flight to the United States where she lives. Other media reports indicate that a crowd that gathered at the police station where she was being held was tear-gassed by the police.

This is unacceptable. This is dangerous. It recalls the brutalintolerance of the Banda dictatorship, the culture of tyranny that terrorized this beautiful country for three decades. The “First Republic” of authoritarianism left Malawi a basket case of economic underdevelopment, political dysfunction, and social despair. The country is still haunted by the devastating legacies of the despotic era and the debilitating failures of the regimes of the last 24 years.

Visiting the country is often a dispiriting experience. One is struck by how pervasive and paralyzingthe cultures of corruption, dependency, tribalism, and mediocrity have become. This is evident at every level of society, and in every sector.

The data speaks for itself. In 2017, according to World Bank data, Malawi had a per capita income of $338.8, the lowest on the continent (the average for sub-Saharan Africa was $1,553.8). The country’s GDP is a mere $6.3 billion, paling in comparison to all its neighbors—Mozambique ($12.3 billion), Zambia ($25.8 billion), and Tanzania ($52.1 billion).

The figures for education are even more depressing. Malawi enjoys the dubious distinction of having the lowest enrollment ratio for tertiary education in the world, at less than 1%, compared to the African average of about 12%, world average of 33%, and more than 60% for the developed countries. Such is the poverty of leadership that the country is obsessed with quotas to the four public universities, rather than embarking on a strategic and sustainable program of massive expansion of tertiary institutions!

Malawi’s political class and elites need to be serious if the country is to realize its potentialpromise. They need tohave bold and visionary aspirations for the country. Instead they seem to relish wallowing in the culture of low expectations. Theirs is a deadening mindset of petty projects as if the country is doomed to eternal poverty. This surrender to irredeemable underdevelopment was implanted by colonialism under which Nyasaland was regarded as nothing but a labor reserve for the mining and settler economies of Southern Africa. Successive post-colonial regimes reinforced this mindset, first under the Banda dictatorship and then in the multi-party era in which the impoverishment of the masses served to perpetuatethe politics of patronage, clientelism, and dependency.

The threats of political intolerance and terror by the ruling Democratic Peoples Party, threaten to inflame Malawi’s developmental and democratic deficits as the country lurches to the 2019 General Elections. There’s no better way to fuel political passions than to arrest government critics, whatever the excuse, and to foster state-sponsored violence against protesters.

The Banda dictatorship used terror for three decades, but it eventually collapsed in the face of protracted and popular struggles for the “second independence.” Since 1994, different ruling parties have come and gone. The current government cannot escape its own rendezvous with history based on the way it has governed over the past four years and the way it conducts itself over the next nine months to the May 2019 General Elections.

More importantly, Malawians must not allow themselves to be robbed of their hard won democratic freedoms and developmental potential by crass, corrupt, and clueless leaders. Countries get the leaders they deserve. If enough Malawians believe they deserve an inclusive, integrated, innovative and sustainable democratic developmental state and society they should choose better leaders than the ones they have been cursed with for the past 54 years of ruthless dictatorship followed by a lackluster democratic dispensation.

The vast majority of Malawians—more than 60%—are under the age of twenty five, which means they didn’t experience the Banda dictatorship. Some of us who did fought until the regime was banished to the dustbin of history. Unfortunately, we failed in constructing a new and transformative democratic order. Consequently, today’s youthhave grown up under mediocre and mendacious governments in which the culture of political recycling, the circulation of political retreads has been perfected as politicians jump from party to party, leaving the masses as cheering and clapping bystanders increasingly based on invented and instigated ethnic affiliations.

This is the time for the youth to demand, resolutely, a better future for themselves, and for their beloved country. To do so they need to be vigorously engaged, to be informed about real issues, and not allow themselves be manipulated by self-serving politicians selling shoddy promises of national development masking projects of personal aggrandizement. They need beware of imperious practices from the discredited dictatorial past of this country sneaking into current political discourse and practice.

Failure to nip the creeping tentacles of the autocratic one-party state threatens to condemn them to years and even decades of persistent struggle against bankrupt political leadership and persistent underdevelopment.

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#DzukaniAmalawi
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#DzukaniAmalawi

One thing that Malawi should be proud of is that it dealt with one-party dispensation and that’s it. Post 1994, there were a number of new political parties that ruled the country ie UDF and then DPP and then PP and then DPP again. Although these political parties or politicians were from one mother body (UDF), the point of the matter is that Malawi never experienced a dominant party from 1994. In fact the politics of Malawi has been very dynamic with no single party assured of winning elections and if they do, they do so with less than 50%.… Read more »

Elias Chimombo Banda-Chintheche
Guest
Elias Chimombo Banda-Chintheche

Prof. Zeleza is right.Since 1994 we can’t point out any real development in the country.There is a shortage of Universities and Collages.The same politicians jump from one party to another when voting time is near.The same people who were part of the ruling party that was stealing money for development purposes from ordinary malawians are now pretending to be innocent.It’s not easy really to choose who to vote for because people have been late down by the same people who are running those parties.I think we should advertise the positions of ministers and have outsiders apply and run our country… Read more »

Ntuli
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Ntuli

Prof.Zeleza has been an MCP strategist since time in memorial.

Ineso Ndangodutsamo
Guest
Ineso Ndangodutsamo

Nde amuchotse ntchitotu. Nanga monsemuja sikuwina bwanji?

Aphiri
Guest
Aphiri

This is the problem with some Malawians who shoot their mouths without knowing what they’re talking about. Prof Zeleza was a fierce critic of MCP and has never shied of criticizing subsequent governments as he does in this article. He was actively involved in the democracy movement, but turned down a ministerial appointment in 1994 by President Muluzi.

Zinazi
Guest
Zinazi

Just a short note our beloved prof Zeleza. Malawian education is still very high. One needs to be selected and just a carry on education. For just your information, I could not make to Chanco or and other college while in Malawi but now have got all
these degrees from Obama and Trump land !!!! So easy!!! Viva Malawian education!!!

QueenB
Guest
QueenB

You couldn’t make it to the University of Malawi because of your broken English. Your grammar is poor. Some of us made it to the University of Malawi because we deserved it.

Nane Ndangodutsamo
Guest
Nane Ndangodutsamo

Tiyambe… I hope its you. I read your Madala’s children in 2004. What a nice book. But ask yourself why out of all the people boarding the plane, she was the only casualty? And why out of all Malawians who freely express their views on social media etc, she is the only and first person to be nabbed. Bwana Zeleza.. mmayi uyu anaonjeza ndizopsetsa mtima kumangokutukwana daily. Let her be silenced indeed. We must all learn to be respectiful. Criticism is not wrong. Kuli ana achina Kajoloweka amalankhula mosapsyatila but facts which we all share. I wished the police had… Read more »

Chigaru
Guest

Well said, prof. The total lack of perspective and the tendency to politicise everything, corruption, patronage and tribalism. And even when you say to the politicians that Malawian degrees have little value in terms of quality outside the country and that in the UK, for example, Malawian degrees are being classified as higher national diplomas and masters as first degrees no one pays attention to this looming crisis. Incredible.

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