Malawi’s Zero-sum Democracy: The Case of South Korea Labour Export – by Jimmy Kainja


Malawi’s Zero-sum Democracy: The Case of South Korea Labour Export  via Jimmy Kainja

The story that governments of Malawi had struck a deal South Korea to export labour turned that it was yet another pack of lies and deceit. If there’s any truth in it then it probably lays somewhere between the government of Malawi’s claim that it was a done deal and South Korea’s denial of such agreement. About two months later, Malawi has moved on to other issues, this story is dead in the water.

This epitomises successive Malawi governments, since the country’s return to multiparty democracy in the mid 1990s, close to zero locally initiated policies are seen through to the end, and that is how government resources are spent. The country is littered with unfinished projects. How much ministry of labour spent setting and promoting the South Korean scheme is unknown and the likelihood is that the public will never know. Because the story is now dead and there is no legal provision that empowers the taxpayer to demand information on how their money is spent.

This is how democratic Malawi is run. Successive regimes have always come up with quick-fix, populist policies that are only aimed at exciting people in short term and help the ruling party return power at the turn of five year electoral interval. No long-term policies to help Malawi wean itself off aid dependency, for instance. Nearly 40% of Malawi annual budget is subsidised by the donor community. The country’s economy nearly collapsed two years ago when Malawi’s late President, Bingu wa Mutharika foolishly decided to bite a hand that feeds – he became hostile towards donors. Donors packed their bags and leave the country to fend for itself. Mutharika portrayed himself as a victim of neo-colonialism and western imperialism, which to some extent he was but the main issue was and remains Malawi over dependence on foreign aid.

Mutharika resorted to local borrowing, meanwhile lying to Malawians that its initiative of spending no more than it could raise locally (zero deficit budget) was working. The truth of the matter only came out after President Joyce Banda seceded wa Mutharika in April 2012. The Finance Minister who oversaw the lies on ‘success’ of zero budget deficit, Ken Lipenga still holds the same portfolio. An inquiry setup by President Banda apparently established that Lipenga was not aware that the government was surviving on local borrowing. In any case this amounted to incompetence anyway. One wonders if there is anything that would stop Mr Lipenga lying to Malawians again.

Everything and anything that can help you win elections in Malawi is game, ethical or not. Ethics are not part of the game in fact. Lipenga is seen as an asset in the ruling party, so he must be taken care of. Knowing this fact, it is not surprising that President Banda’s administration is leaving no stoned unturned in its pretence that it is concerned about a huge youth unemployment rate in the country. Youth unemployment is a global problem at the moment but this cannot be President Banda’s mitigating factor, each government must sort out its own. Thus, Malawi government wanted to be seen trying to do something youth unemployment. After all Malawi has tripartite elections in May 2014 in which President Banda’s People’s Party contest. 65% of Malawi’s 14 million people are aged between 15 and 35. Thus, the youth forms a huge voting block.

The move to export labour drew a considerable amount of criticism and protest. Some have accused the government of initiating modern day slavery and others have referred to it as government sponsored brain drain. These are strong words that cannot be ignored. Yet the level of unemployment and helplessness, especially among the youth in the country means that there are thousands of young men and women ready to takes risks in search of a better life in places they have no idea about.

Now there is deafening silence on the issue as the country has moved on to other hot topics. Government resources spent on lies, suffering youths lied to and deceiving ministers maintaining their portfolios to lie and deceive again. This is a story of Malawi, a story of impunity; tale of a system that is very good at capitalising on people’s mystery while masquerading as its saviour. Those that are outraged by such system and speak out against it are labelled “controversial”, trouble-markers up in arms against the ruling part, which is a de facto government in Malawi. The country thrives on “you are either with us or you are with them” kind of totalitarian kind of politics; a zero-sum game. Sadly, no successful nation has ever been built on such foundation.

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