It is pleasing to note that the development of the new medium term development strategy to replace the MGDS II is near completion. It is at the same time disappointing that this process has taken too long that now almost two years after the expiry of the MGDS II, we still do not have the document ready. We will still for the second year running be developing a national budget based on ‘expired’ development targets and indicators.
However as the process of developing the strategy is underway, I have as a citizen of the country a few expectations that I would like to see in the document going forward. Firstly, it has to be noted that these medium term development frameworks are building blocks to achieve the country vision 2020 and this strategy being developed will be the last in the series of such strategies that have been developed in the past 15 years.
The Malawi Vision 2020 states that “By year 2020, Malawi as a God fearing nation, will be secure, democratically mature, environmentary sustainable, self-reliant with equal opportunities for and active participation by all having social services, vibrant cultural and religious values and a technically driven middle income country” so this strategy by all means it is supposed usher us into the a middle income country.
The question that I have always asked is whether this country is still pursuing this vision or we have thrown it into the dust bin. This is because by the look of things and the progress we have made in the past 15 years, we are very unlikely that we will be a middle income country in the next three years unless a miracle takes place. I would like therefore that the farmers of this document explain where we are in the pursuit of the vision 2020 and also explain what needs to be done to achieve the vision in the remaining time; if at all my skepticism can be challenged.
In every development strategy, one of the first things that need to be clearly defined is the development philosophy that will be followed in achieving the strategy. It seems to me that the MGDS I and II never had a clear philosophy; it was more of a wish list of issues that need to be done to keep us busy, whether we are going forward or not it did not matter. That’s why for two years now we have no medium term development framework yet we passed the national budget, we are busy doing something that in the end it is taking us nowhere.
Malawi adopted neo-liberal market oriented development thinking in around 1979, under the structural changes introduced by the IMF and World Bank, to the extent that when we were developing our country’s Constitution in 1994, we enshrined these ideas therein. On Chapter III, Fundamental Principle (n), it state “To achieve a sensible balance between the creation and distribution of wealth through the nurturing of a market economy….”
However my observation is that after we adopted this way of thinking our economy has not been in any way better. I have also asked questions whether it is possible to have a purely market economy when our national budgets have always been pro-poor and are usually heavy on social spending. I see a kind of a mixed up here.
I therefore fail to understand as to why we had to mention this in our Constitution? Maybe the framers of the Constitution were in agreement with the former British Prime Minister Mrs. Margaret Thatcher who declared that “There is no alternative” (to neo-liberalism). Let me categorically say here that there are lots of alternatives!! As a matter of fact none of the today’s developed countries including Britain itself developed purely on free trade market policies.
At this stage in our development process, I would suggest that Malawi should do away with some of these development philosophies and adopt a “Developmental State” approach to development visioning and programming with an increased role of the state in planning and implementation of development programs in all sectors of the economy.
Most of the countries including most of the European and Asian Tigers developed because the state controlled the financial and monetary policies; it controlled all strategic industries and facilitated the growth of the industries in all the strategic value chains. I therefore don’t understand the reasoning for us to open up the economy too soon like what we have done.
Ethiopia and Rwanda are fast developing not because they are free market economies, as a matter of fact, the state in these countries especially Ethiopia is on top of everything. Our development strategy must therefore be clear on this as to what philosophy are we really following as a country, whether we are sticking to the current philosophies that have contributed for us to be the poorest country in the world.
Looking at the proposed areas in the upcoming strategy under development, I don’t have much of a problem with the proposed areas. However as it is said that the devil is in the details, I would like to see the actual issues that will be proposed under those proposed areas if indeed they are worth taking into a national development strategy that will bring about change. From what I have heard, the five proposed areas will include the following: Agriculture and Climate Change management; Education and Skills Development; Energy and Industrial Development; Transport and ICT Infrastructure and lastly Health and Population Management. Out of the five areas, I would like to propose one on Governance and Institutional Development.
On Agriculture and Climate Change Management, it has to be noted that food is probably the most basic need of all next to life and no country has ever developed without firstly addressing issues of food security. It is good that agriculture and climate change are being considered to be in one strategic area as agriculture is the main contributor to climate change but at the same time it is the sector most affected by climate change. I would like to see strong statements on how we are going to develop irrigation farming and management of strategic value chains like legumes, tobacco and other upcoming value chains like horticulture.
We need to have well structured market in all strategic value chains. We have just launched the National Agriculture Policy and also the National Irrigation Policy which, will all have their implementation frameworks but it has to be noted that when it comes to financing, the national budget is framed based on MDGS targets. Now if the MDGS targets are not aligned to the sectors implementation framework then there will be a challenge in that most of the sector aspirations may not be financed through the national budget.
On Education and Skills Development, I wish to thank the Government on its drive to develop rural technical colleges; however I would like to see the courses being offered in these institutions being based on demand. It seems we are training students for the sake of training in the end producing a cadre of graduates who are frustrated because they have nothing to do after graduation. As an Agriculturist who is fully convinced of the power of agriculture in development, I would like to see students being trained in agriculture processing and agriculture artisans’ development. I would like to see increased investments in science and technology.
Malawi has been exporting its agriculture products raw, this must be minimized. I would like to see strong proposal of increasing intake into the public Universities. In as much as we are planning of increasing the number of the current public universities, I would have loved if we could have firstly capacitates the universities that we currently have before thinking of build additional ones. The current combined population of the current four public universities is not more than 20,000, this is almost half the student population of the University of Dar es Salaam alone.
On Energy and Industrial Development, let me point out here that this is the engine room of development, if miss it here we have missed it all. We have all along been exporting raw and in the process exporting forex and jobs to other countries. I would like to see the strategy making proposals of how much electricity we are going to generate during the period of the strategy, what I mean here is are we developing new sites for electricity generation? We are looking at new possibilities of generating electricity from wind and new hydro station? On industrial development, I would like to see proposals on where we are going to construct new industrial park.
I would like to see the proposed industrial park in Chintheche being commissioned and new parks developed in Karonga, Salima, Mangochi, Mulanje and Chikwawa. These must be developed along specific agricultural belt with specific products being earmarked under an innovation system approach. The government must initiate these and incentivize the private sector to invest.
The technical colleges must therefore produce graduates along the needs industrial of these industrial parks. The Universities must increase intake to provide labour for the industry and at the same time to create a middle class to provide market for its products.
Transport and ICT Infrastructure is one of the major reasons why much of Malawi is rural today and the majority of Malawians are still not connected to the outer world, out of the vicinity of their villages. Most agriculture products don’t find their way into lucrative markets and the major issues are transportation and access to information. We believe that if we invest much in these areas we can open up much of the rocked rural areas and this will provide vast opportunities for the rural farming communities.
On Health and Population Management, let me say that population growth rates in Malawi are very worrying. The resources that we current have are failing to sustain the current population and I fail to imagine how we are going to manage the population level that are being projected in the next 10 to 20 years. We need to make strong decisions now. I would like to see strong proposal in terms of number of children per family and how that can be achieved. I would like we propose a limit of three children per family, this may help in arresting the alarming population growth.
Of the five proposed areas, I proposed one more on Governance and Institutional Development. This proposal is being made noting that corruption and fraud are probably the reasons Malawi is poor today. Malawi has the potential of being a self sustaining country only if we arrest corruption that has been part and parcel of our being.
Malawi is bleeding in all aspects and at all levels of the economy. I would like to see proposals on how we are going to deal with this problem, how we are going to strengthen institutions that have been established to deal with these problems like the Anti Corruption Bureau, Financial Intelligence Unit, the Fiscal Police and the Auditor General among others. Illegal externalization of forex must be faced with harsh punishments. I would like to see the public reforms process reaching a logical conclusion.
- Tamani Nkhono-Mvula is writing this article in his personal capacity and as a PhD student in development studies at University of Malawi (Unima).