Updated: Jan 21
Do we wonder how solutions to Malawi’s development seem untenable, yet our leaders consistently convince us they have figured it all out?
At the end of each five-year term, the campaign rhetoric shifts to one that shares the sentiments of voters, acknowledging the challenges, but how only they will chaperon the nation to a future so transformed that our problems might as well be a thing of the past. The Malawian voter instead becomes the pawn getting tossed from one end of the pendulum to another. The result is that we have been locked up in a zero-sum game where the citizen’s welfare recedes while the politician’s makes definite strides forward. The country stays the same.
There are times we have been tempted to believe that capacity of our country to thrust development’s engines is lacking in a significant way. We deem that this deficiency is particularly widespread in politics, and our dwindling education is responsible for the weakness in the quality of our workers in government and private sectors in a manner that no more innovation and creativity take place. This website has also argued that an uneducated electorate is more likely to vote in mediocre leadership than otherwise. Despite these facts at play, this article would like to acknowledge the privilege Malawi has had with respect to a breed of highly educated people who have lived and worked in Malawi for over the five decades of our independence. Just to bring some perspective, two Yale University graduates oversee the running of the country’s affairs: one resides at Kamuzu Palace; the other is battling corruption with the Anti-Corruption Bureau.
Although no longer and necessarily a consequence of our universities and other tertiary institutions, there are more people educated well coming into the workforce. They are charged to make decisions that will determine the fate of the nation. So far, we need to candidly admit that the educated have not made much of a dent. And so, it is fallible to think that human capabilities are solely to blame for our development inadequacies.
It appears that interrogating our bleak sojourn to prosperity should court factors beyond the visible. For purposes of this article, we explore the possibility that there is a consciousness to just not doing the right thing. The much-lauded Bingu wa Mutharika first term was a result of this willingness to change things combined with the fortune of good rains, turning the country from hunger to food exports in the first couple of years of the half decade term. It took a man who willed it all to happen. The result was the overwhelming 2009 vote of confidence in the old man, a point that beats the argument that education of the electorate has potential to only breed bizarre outcomes. In spite of the great start, the PhD-level economist Bingu self-turned into a tyrant whose death was a celebration by a weary nation that looked forward to a godly intervention as they despaired about the country’s future on miles of queues headed towards dry petrol stations.
The successive regimes of Joyce Banda and Perter Mutharika have also shown how critical willingness to do right for the sake of progress is to actualizing results. The announcement of Mrs. Banda’s first cabinet was all one needs to know about a leader whose accidental rise to power was only a chance to take her turn to mess up, rather than to put right what her predecessor mudded. What followed was, of course, Malawians demonstrating another democratic resolve to rid the country of mismanagement and corruption that were pinning them to ruthless poverty. And then came the man who spent decades in the United States of America, whose exposures to the advanced world culminated in merely converting taxpayer money into ramping up subsidies for cement and iron sheets for the poor. And, like Mrs. Banda, he shares a table with Nicholas Dausi – a character whose career accomplishment has been having the podium on which he can frequently direct memorized English vocabulary at dissenting views – in cabinet meetings to provide advice on information and civic education policy.
We have also argued before the limitations of Malawi’s opposition Parties (click here for article), particularly the only opposition Party that has a chance at beating the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in general elections, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). What is clear from the MCP presidency’s statements is the dearth of constructive negotiation of how the government machinery should be steered to make it functional and deliver its promises to the people. Instead, the good man spends too much time calling out the regime’s corruption and impregnating his speeches by his anticipated landslide win in the 2019 elections. There is no dispute that malfeasance must be addressed, but rooting out corruption will not be the most critical thing that will save Malawi if shaping action on strengthening the relevant institutions is skipped on the list of solutions.
He, instead, could spend time reviewing and informing Parliament about rural development policies, transport, revamping the rail system that lost its glory with Bakili Muluzi, shaping health sector plans that will sustainably capacitate Ntchisi District Hospital treat malaria, and climate-resilient agriculture strategies for our farmers to grow horticultural crops in greenhouses throughout the year. This is the big picture we want our opposition to see, and especially the good Reverend.
We confidently assert that, if Reverend Chakwera spent the bulk of his time doing this, he would win 2019 without the aid of an opportunistic ‘retired’ lower Shire politician who is creating a mirage of bumped up support from our Muslim brothers and sisters and the good people of the ‘lower states.’ Although a clever tactic on the surface, it overlooks the fact that these two electoral bases are severely torn between factions strongly aligned with the DPP and the United Democratic Front (UDF). And the prospect of an opposition Party that is living under an illusion, and the sole tenacity to win elections at every cost, is worrying for the future of Malawi, particularly for its potential to recycle the socio-economic stagnation we bemoan today.
Unfortunately, shirking doing the right thing, in spite of its political advantages to either incumbents or opposition Parties, has no structured solution other than to simply nurture the mentality to stay focused on the things that matter to Malawi. In part, it should be powered by a strong love for the country, and less of the self. For it is better to go down in history as one of the most formidable political voices that drove development than a government that failed. Honorable George Nnesa of Mafunde started out with such a reputation, and many Malawians who follow the country’s politics have the excuse to respect him for his loud mouth. Independent parliamentarian Joseph Chidanti-Malunga is another; and Juliana Lunguzi continuously shows that change can happen, and one does not have to be a member of the Executive to do so.
Time is running out for Malawi relative to other countries in a similar state. Having been in the comfort zone for far too long and our shared denial that our country is neither the land of milk and honey nor the warm heart of Africa any more will continue to exacerbate the stagnation malaise.
It’s time to untie the blindfolds and open our eyes to the future we all desire.