Should Malawians celebrate yet another year of mediocrity?: ‘Cut the chaff’

In Weekend Nation newspaper, popular columnist  Ephraim Munthali of the  ‘Cut the chaff has  called for the rejection of celebrations of one year in office of President Joyce Banda. Here if the full articled as it appeared:

So, Joyce Banda, Malawi’s first female State President and Africa’s second after Liberia’s 24th and current leader, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has clocked one year in office!

I wonder how Noel Masangwi, him of “Malawi is not ready for a female president” fame must be feeling right now after watching (with clenched teeth and fists I am sure) Banda clocking one year in office!

That Joyce Banda only became President after the death of her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharikia is immaterial and, if anything, speaks volumes about the maturity and enduring nature of our fledgling democracy.

Here is a 20-year-old democracy with an almost religious fidelity to the Republican Constitution that collectively allowed the rule of law to take its course despite a few misguided, greedy and unpatriotic political elites who wanted to cheat us out of a peaceful transition and a place in world history.

President Joyce Banda and Vice President Khumbo Kachali:12 months afterwards
President Joyce Banda and Vice President Khumbo Kachali:12 months afterwards

So, yes, we are proud to be the first country in southern Africa to accept a woman as Head of State. But our celebrations should end there and let’s collectively reject the planned overreach of festivities that the People’s Party (PP) government wants to thrust on the country.

It is ridiculous that we should be celebrating 12 months of leadership. The mockery becomes more pronounced when one considers what an incompetent driver President Banda has been.

Sure, she took an audacious step in the liberalisation of the country’s economic policies after years of unsustainably iron-clad policies that could have sent the country into more spasms than we are experiencing today.

But as any informed observer knows, she allowed Western Capitals, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) too much leeway in exploiting the crisis of an impoverished and desperate country to push through an ideological shift without comprehensively identifying and analysing potential risks and putting in place measures to mitigate against them.

The Banda administration was so desperate to return to an IMF economic programme, which would unlock foreign aid that they could not see beyond the nice words and reassurances of “social protection” programmes that would cushion the poor against the reforms.

The focus of the naïve administration was the correction of the macroeconomic imbalances which, if you ask me, have always been there and will always be part of the structure of the Malawi economy until we develop the capacity to produce goods and services that are in enough quantities and qualities for exports that can bring in enough foreign currency to meet or surpass the forex we spend on imported products.

Critics, therefore, have a right to question President Banda’s judgement in throwing into Lake Malawi a kwacha heavily weighed down by the huge forex demand and outstanding import bills without any buoyancy (dramatic injection of forex into the financial system) and expect it to float on the crystal clear waters.

No wonder, disaster followed.

The country—which takes pride in importing almost everything, even toothpicks—saw the prices of products climb astronomically as the value of the local currency plummeted on a daily basis.

And so, I ask: What is there to celebrate when the K10 000 (about $25) that would buy 20 items the day Mrs. Banda took over power can only get five similar items 12 months into PP’s Capital Hill occupancy?

What is there to celebrate when K10 000, which used to buy me 34 litres of petrol a year ago can only get me 14 litres, which is not even half of what that amount used to get me?

Of course, someone would argue that in United States dollar terms, the price changes have been negligible. That is true. The problem is that real wages and incomes have not caught up with the dollar-linked price increases. Indeed, apart from the history of having a female president, what is there to celebrate when the interest rate on my loan has more than doubled when my income has only risen by a mere 20 percent?

Surely, a policy that impoverishes citizens, increases unemployment and shrinks the national economy cannot be said to be good. So, why pursue it? Why celebrate it?

Tell me; what is there to celebrate when the PP administration has happily allowed maize to rot in the silos as Malawians starve for lack of the grain in Admarc markets, which mainly serve the poor? Had that maize been released on the market before it got rotten, it could not only have helped bring down the staple grain’s prices through the increased supply, but also could have saved millions of poor citizens from queuing under the sun for hours waiting for maize.

Granted, Mrs. Banda has ended the fuel queues, but she has also brought the maize queues that were non-existent during the Bingu wa Mutharika rule. What would an average Malawian choose between food and fuel? Your guess is as good as mine.

I know the President has picked up one or two honours, including an honorary doctorate that precedes her name these days for the very policies that have brought misery to Malawians.

No one can begrudge Mrs. Banda of celebrating these feats, but I doubt Malawians are in the mood to join the merry-making. Why can’t the President just celebrate with her family and her tidye nawos surrounding her?

It will be good for the economy and everybody’s soul.

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