As the nation paid its last respect to President Bingu wa Mutharika who died on April 5, Malawi has been graced by generous donations of fuel from Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania This gesture is in itself an indicator of how the economy of Malawi has declined due to the political environment that President wa Mutharika and his Democratic Progressive Party created in the past two years. One may ask how it was possible that the same leaders who transformed Malawi from a starving to a self reliant nation – in barely five years – could in only two years bring the same country to its knees. More important, though, is to know how President Joyce Banda and her party, the People’s Party (PP), think of reversing the situation.
There is evidently great anxiety among Malawians as Joyce Banda takes the driver’s seat as Malawi’s president. And this has nothing to do with her being a woman. Rather, it is the gravity of the situation. Worse still is the scenario that emerged when wa Mutharika died. His closest allies wasted little time in the traditional mourning. They busied themselves with political u-turns and repositioning to ensure they would keep benefitting from serving the government of the day. Others, however, went beyond the euphoria and engaged in objective and constructive discussion on how best the new government can bring the nation back to its feet.
The sympathy that Malawi has experienced from the neighbouring countries as well as investors, donor countries and monetary organizations, paints a rosy picture for the nation. Nevertheless, nothing can be taken for granted. The new government has great challenges to address. As Vice President, Joyce Banda had left the ruling party and worked with the PP. Now in government, the new president will have to tread carefully since she has no majority in parliament.
The opposition parties and the international community certainly have their own jokers at hand while at stake is the plight of many a Malawian, the national economy and the process of democratization. Malawians want to see the government tackle all these aspects. Yes, there is no shortcut to progress, but the nation expects the PP to address these challenges with a sense of urgency.
Local political and economic analysts have often stated that Malawi went off the track of the Millennium Development Goals due to the wa Mutharika’s Zero Deficit Budget. This means that the new government must seek new and different ways. No analyst has been eloquent enough to suggest “which way” for the PP and Banda should choose. After independence, Kamuzu Banda led the country to sustained growth by encouraging development of agriculture. Investments were made in the communication network, education and training of local people, and promoting agriculture based industries. Indeed, a 1972 report of the then Ministry of Finance indicates that Malawi achieved a growth of 18% in a period of only six years.
Judging from the success stories of Kamuzu Banda and Bingu wa Mutharika’s first term, the way forward remains that of support agricultural output and the rebirth of a manufacturing sector now moribund. These can afford Malawi the kind of growth that will, in the long run, reduce dependence on donors and open the doors to investors from emerging markets such as China, South Africa and Brazil. Malawi needs to see practical plant to improve its road network, production and distribution of electrical power. These must be the priorities of Banda’s government.
Unfortunately Malawi is not free to decide its future. A country whose budget depends on donor aid must handle its diplomatic relations with great sensitivity. The wa Mutharika’s zero deficit budget experiment was a flop and this experience has taught the nation that economic growth must be designed to move away from over- dependence on budgetary aid, yet within parameters acceptable by the global village, at least in so far as governance and human rights are concerned. Therefore, the solution lies on economic planning, strategizing and working with key partners in view of political/economic progress and empowerment.
It must be emphasized that fixing Malawi’s political and economic problems demands a lot of sacrifices of leaders and citizens alike. The sharing of the cake attitude cannot continue, also because there is little left to share. Ultimately, Malawians expect their leaders to act with maturity, placing the good of the nation above their personal goals. Unless a new spirit of unity will emerge, there will not be a positive political and economic growth for a long time.