An Unhappy Independence: How Did Malawi Miss Her Vision?
Updated: Dec 30, 2019
“By the year 2020, Malawi, as a God-fearing nation, will be secure, democratically mature, environmentally sustainable, self-reliant with equal opportunities for and active participation by all, having social services, vibrant cultural and religious values and a technologically driven middle-income economy.” ~ Malawi Vision 2020 Statement.
In 1998, the faces of President Bakili Muluzi, Vice President Justin Chimera Malewezi, and then Leader of Opposition Gwanda Nguluwe Chakuamba stood juxtaposed with their respective forewords of what we then proudly termed “The National Long-Term Development Perspective in Malawi,” a.k.a., Malawi’s Vision 2020.
It was a demonstration of multi-partisan support for a shared vision of prosperity for all Malawians granted to all Malawians in the heydays of our democracy. A 10-person National Core Team (NCT) led the process; 60+ experts from various backgrounds supported the NCT; scores of consultants were hired to conduct the heavy-lifting; and Malawians were tickled to speak out their dreams. Over US$4.5 million were spent by development partners, coalesced behind the leadership of the United Nations Development Programme, to ensure every voice was heard and every aspiration sketched in full color.
The process itself was to lay the foundation for citizen engagement for the first time since a weighty dictatorship and was to set the standard for all medium-term development strategies in the future. The everyday Malawian demanded everything under the sun from her/his government and all accountable to reach this vision of a ‘middle-income country.’
This year, the 55th Independence anniversary would have come at the eve of the Vision’s expiration date. After four democratically elected presidents, billions of donor money, and what has now materialized only as an illusion of freedom, the Vision 2020 Statement means we are supposed to walk towards the 2020 Independence celebration as living manifestations of self-reliance, moral astuteness and secure higher incomes.
Unfortunately for Malawi, this vision is far from materialization in spite of its fixed deadline in just a few months coming ahead. This week, this website takes some time to reflect on some of the key tenets of the Vision 2020 that reassure us how unattainable this vision is if no miracle will come our way.
Is God unwilling to listen to the God-fearing nation?
It is unsurprising that our claim to religious piety has not yielded the right development for the country. First, the articulation of a Vision that is driven by a religious ideal in a country with a secular constitution is not only contradictory but will also frequently use the name of religion for the sake of conveniently meeting the ends of certain interest groups. Second, the rollout of the Vision 2020 has coincided with a growing concentration of churches and, with it, religious fanatism that somehow must accompany every official deliberation.
Today, almost every meeting at the government offices on Capital Hill begins with a prayer, usually Christian prayers delivered to Christians, Moslems and atheists alike. According to Jessica Mandanda’s experience as a graduate government intern, this is usually a core job description of a junior officer and interns. Those lacking in the faith are left with one choice: to wander about in thought while the name of Jesus is echoed around conference tables. Likewise, every political rally will usually not start until a local religious figure graces the occasion.
The irony of it is that Capital Hill is an inefficient engine that frequently misfires. And together with politicians, the two make the main institutions in the country that are usually the genesis of corruption, Cashgate and many of the other ‘gates’ we have encountered.
To date, it is clear that neither Mr. Muluzi nor his successors in Bingu wa Mutharika, Joyce Banda and Peter Mutharika have been fit to deliver on this promise.
Democratic Maturity with so many “Madando.”
The one lesson we have all learned from the 2019 tripartite elections is how immature our democracy is. With one year to go before the Vision is supposed to be fully realized, our courts are filled with election cases. Our streets are ablaze with demonstrations to oust the very people who are supposed to protect our democracy at the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC). Let’s, for instance, toy with the idea that MEC played no hand in the contested outcome of the election. We’ve said it several times before that the 38% (for example, see this and this) that has led President Mutharika to the high office today laughs in the face of the notion of majority rule. While mandated to lead Malawi in what over 60% of Malawians will find to be very long, Mr. Mutharika won’t represent the views, wishes and aspirations of the majority of Malawians.
This signifies a failure of democracy, a limitation we were supposed to have addressed if the Vision’s aspiration of ‘mature democracy’ were to be realized. So “madando” will continue until one side gives in. If the voices of the aggrieved grow louder, a mature democracy should have the means to listen.
A technologically driven middle-income country.
There has never been a better time for any country to develop than in a tech-loaded 21st century.
Science and technology thrive and are reshaping the way people interact, learn and build new things. A prevalent malaise with Malawi – and Africa at large – is, firstly, how we learn and adopt new technologies only in certain parts of our society. The larger part of Western tech is left to be used and, at best, maintained with local expertise. This is why we still celebrate in bewilderment when a Malawian develops a new mobile application that’s meant to resolve some long-existing development challenges like linking farmers to markets – a phenomenon that was supposed to be quite regular by the count of free App development resources available.
Even if the prowess and tact for constructing new technologies were readily available, we continue to face much deeper structural challenges. Access to clean water (and, sometimes, water at all), electricity and healthy human capital, for example, remains critically low and choke away every possibility of success of those that truly work hard to change things for the better. Telecommunications, an important ingredient to business transactions, is one of the most expensive sectors in the world. The list goes on. On 7 August 2017, this website published an article titled “The Edison Effect” (click here to read) which decries how the lack of certain foundational investments will almost always stand in the way of progress for developing countries like Malawi.
A country of words.
Beautifully as those words, phrases and sentences of the Vision 2020 created a colorful future for Malawi 22 years ago, the only thing we continue to tangibly hang on to today is the colorful image the bounded volume created. This image is further buttressed by more promises by a leader who believes can turn around Malawi in two terms to the level of Singapore or Europe. More words. Even more lies. In the end, it is the perspective of the development we must achieve that we miss.
The duty of any leader in Malawi is supposed to have been to defend the Vision 2020. Not with words. But with the necessary plans and programs that would get us to the promised land.
It’s evident that what we lack is not a vision. It's the will to act.