Malawi would probably be one of the richest countries on the continent if all the development plans that experts in the country have produced over the years were strictly implemented.
We are blessed with some of the brightest minds when it comes to planning what we really need to do as a country to move away from our wretchedness.
It is a story we have told many times; a tired subject which we should, of course, not tire to remind ourselves about, because hope springs eternal. We should forever find a renewed, comforting cause for optimism.
But we must also be very ashamed of our poverty levels which are at par with—even worse than—those of conflict-riddled countries. For a moment, we must strike our chests and damn ourselves for a job we have been badly doing since the reintroduction of multiparty politics.
Whatever happened with the ambitious Vision 2020 is a sad state of affairs. Several mismatches in that document, produced after extensive consultations and streaked with achievable deliverables, thrust the vision to the periphery of actual development on the ground.
It is dispiriting that some elements of the vision were adopted by other countries which implemented them and realised attractive outcomes.
And that is not the only attractive development plan that has gone to waste.
We have so many policies developed by experts to advance crucial development aspects, which are either lying idle on shelves at Capital Hill or discarded altogether.
These documents have been launched with pomp and funfair, but nothing happens beyond the colourful events except participants’ continued donning of the garments procured for the inaugurations.
Take this, for instance: Malawi launched two ambitious policies on agriculture and irrigation, which were billed to significantly commercialise farming in the country and move thousands of households from subsistence production.
To this day, you hear little about the two policies. All the energy that went into their development has been wasted. How sad!
All what the experts expounded during the launch of the two policies a few years ago has turned out to be useless. And that has been the case with the proficiency of several other experts whose views should have significantly propelled this country forward.
Now, recently, President Lazarus Chakwera presided over the colourful launch of a master plan developed to revamp the country’s tourism sector.
In an ideal situation, this master plan would be a game changer—but not in Malawi, at least if experience is anything to go by.
In fact, there already is another master plan which partly touches on tourism: the transport master plan. Whatever happened to this ambitious strategy is difficult to comprehend.
All the technocrats you can identify participated in the development and launch of transport strategy. They even provided comprehensive analyses after the launch, casting a very positive picture about the country finally revamping its transport sector.
So, we must really move away from just launching documents without following up with strict implementation. Imagine where we would be as a country if all the ambitious schemes we have produced translated into actual products on the ground.
We are now talking about finding alternatives for tobacco as the crop keeps being threatened by low demand partly triggered by anti-smoking lobbies.
Tourism was once taken as a sector that would help in bringing the much-needed forex into the country. We have the third-largest freshwater lake in Africa and the ninth in the world, but fail to fully tap from its potential.
Elsewhere, our beautiful shorelines would be dotted with high-rise hotels and resorts with the lake teeming with glitzy watercraft.
But we are too comfortable in our poverty and seem to happily ignore any plan to improve our country’s welfare. Even when resources are available, we would rather steal them than use them for real change in the outlook of the country.
Even the Vision 2063 will not be realised if we do not change the way we do things. It is simply an ambition and will not realise itself. It needs our collective efforts.
For once, we should think about posterity more than we have ever done before. The pathetic condition of our country in many ways should bother us.
It is unfortunate that even after they travel to several countries, our leaders do not seem to be troubled by Malawi’s pathetic status in terms of infrastructure development.
They fly out through old, falling-apart airports and enter other territories through beautiful state-of-the-art airports but never push that we have the same in Malawi.
For such kinds of leaders, not even a well-researched and tailored master plan will bring the required change. But, once again, hope springs eternal. Perhaps, we will one day move away from just developing and implementing the attractive policies and finally start implementing them in earnest.
Alick Ponje is a features writer at The Times Group. He graduated from the University of Malawi with a bachelor’s degree in education, majoring in literature in English. He believes that quality reporting is critical in bringing positive change in communities. Alick is the Southern Africa Development Community journalist of the year (2020) in the television category. Follow him on Twitter @aponje