Malawi has many challenges, but one our biggest challenge is creating an economy that works for ordinary people, not just the elites; an economy that helps ordinary people become financially secure.
I would suggest that this is in fact Malawi’s biggest challenge, because until people are financially secure, everything else is immaterial. Until people can afford to live without struggling, everything else is inconsequential.
Or to put it a different way, for all the religiosity surrounding many of our ceremonies in Malawi, complete with prayers before and after misonkhano, and yet unless we put in practice what St John said about Love in 1 John 3:17, we’re lying to ourselves.
Ask any non-partisan, independent and ‘sober-minded’ political commentator in Malawi, and they’ll tell you that our leaders have failed to discharge their obligation to ensure that they create policies that uplift (or at least protect) the economic interests of everyone. Simply put, for all the claims to be a “God fearing nation”, we don’t love our brothers as ourselves. Far from it.
Let’s break it down…
We all know hospitals are important, I’ve campaigned for better hospitals in Malawi for a good part of 10 years. But even if you have the best medical care, once you’ve treated a sick person who comes to the medical facility, if you then follow that exercise by sending them back to a house that …. is in a slum, that has a leaking roof, with poor sanitation, non existent or poor utilities infrastructure…the kind of setting inhabited a lot of Malawians, then don’t be surprised when in no time that person is back in hospital with the same problem or a different and worse illness.
Clearly that’s not a sustainable situation for any country or any leader to constantly grapple with.
What we lack are conscientious leaders who can see the bigger picture. Who say yes we need good roads, we need people and goods to be able to travel quickly and easily across the country and into our neighboring countries, but we also need decent housing with clean running water; yes, we need good hospitals, high quality medical facilities, but we also need well-paying jobs that will enable people to afford a good diet that keeps them fit and in good health; that yes, we need good facilities, hotels, shopping malls and golf courses to attract business executives and other high net wealth individuals, but we also have to rejuvenate our current national parks, and ensure the people who will be working in those hotels and golf courses(and who currently work in those national parks), are well paid, and do not become slaves of the rich. You get the drift…
It’s always down to the kind of leadership you have that allows people to thrive, or to suffer. And in Malawi we urgently need such conscientious leadership, because the current Tonse government is showing signs of an acute lack of understanding of this transformative kind of leadership. It’s either that, or they are blind to the scale of problems which the country faces.
In fact it is the leadership we’ve had in the past that has perpetuated the many problems we face as a country, including the problem of corruption. And you would have thought that the Tonse Alliance, with everything they promised, would have acted early on to prevent some of the excesses of the past which we’re now seeing manifesting.
I mean, with all the talk of mindset change, and of being tough on corruption, whose idea was it to take a whole hoarde of board members all the way to Dubai, for a capacity building exercise!? And not just in one Parastatal.. In 3 or 4 parastatals??!!!
I digress, but my point is Malawi is failing to manage the country’s resources so that they benefit every Malawian. And that is creating a scenario where we are struggling to create an economy that works. The often quoted sombre statement Pa ground si pali bwino is in fact a cry against the classic inequality scenario of gross inequality; where only 500 to 900 Malawians have benefitted by a total of at least least US$10 million from the Government in as many years, while the rest are either struggling or wallowing in poverty.
Where does that scale of inequality leave the rest, the remaining 17.9991 million Malawians?
What about them? Don’t they matter?
No folks, such a grossly unbalanced scenario can’t possibly be right. Not in front of God, and increasingly, not in a secular world where inequality is now being viewed as a perilously negative characteristic that needs to be urgently addressed – wherever it may be found.
What we need in Malawi is a scenario where 10 million Malawians in the same timeframe benefit by US$900 each. It’s still the same US$9 Billion which you’re distributing, except this time around you’re just sharing it to a lot more people than the initial 900, in the first example. Thats how you share resources more equitably; that’s how you fight inequality.
Friends, that is the challenge the selfishness and corruption of the last few decades has created, and fails to square up to. Because the Norman Chisales, the Lutepos, the Mullis and the Batatawalas of our country have skewed the game for everyone else.
And this brings me to my second point.
You can’t build a stable economy by empowering only your friends and political connections, or more generally, people who agree with what you stand for.
Bold statement? No. You can’t build a strong economy by depriving your political enemies and those who don’t like you, of vital resources, because you need your political enemies to be strong for your country’s economy to be strong.
There are too many Malawians who find pleasure in the idea of depriving resources from those who support a different political party, their political enemies…
“Anadya kale amenewa, nthawi yawo inatha“; si wa dpp ameneyu, aah atuluke; palibe chake uyu wa opposition, afunika awone nyekhwe …
all very unwise because those politicians and political enemies we want to put down, also happen to be the very same people who support thousands of ordinary Malawians every month.
And so if you destroy them financially, they will most likely be unable to support the thousands of Malawians who rely on them, with the result that unemployment grows, the state doesn’t have enough social services to support the unemployed, …so your people suffer, your economy suffers, and ultimately your country remains weak.
I’m not saying neopatrimonialism is good. No, what I’m saying is until you have social services that can support people who depend to some extent on politicians, it’s unwise to seek to bankrupt or deprive your Political enemies…often people in the opposition party, of vital resources. And you can’t create an economy that works for everyone by doing that.
As much as it may sound self-defeating, for a poor country such as Malawi you actually need your political enemies to be strong for your country’s economy to be strong.