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Independence heavily laden with poverty cargo

Malawi simply cannot find a way out of poverty’s trap, or so it seems.

As such, despite having a plethora of development blueprints, the predictable outcome has, unfortunately, been loads of paperwork with little progress to show for it.

And the evidence of stagnation is as startling as it is shocking.

The Southern African Regional Poverty Network (SARPN) indicates, for example, that Malawi had a gem of a development blueprint in Vision 2020, only for Malawians to founder on their voyage to prosperity due to lack of proper action.

“The Malawi Vision 2020 Statement — a document created by Malawians themselves — is the framework for expressing self-reliance, equal opportunities and the desire as a nation to be a middle-income economy powered by technology. Goal for the Malawians is to flourish into a middle-income country, with a per capita income of $1,000 by the year 2020. With the hopes of obtaining adequate and safe access to food, Malawians will focus their energies on increasing food production, developing irrigation, improving efficiency of markers and numerous other strategies. They hope to encourage community leaders to take the first steps and visit research stations to learn about new and valuable technologies.

“Employment opportunities are often considered scarce, so Malawians aspire to reduce unemployment with techniques such as increasing commercial farming to enhance employment in agriculture. This will help aid in a fair and equitable influx of income. The result of inadequate resources promotes Malawians to strive for an economic infrastructure that will include the provision of roads, rail, water, air transport, provision of water and sanitation services,” it says in its report.

Others, such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, cite Malawi Growth and Development Strategy one, two and three as some of the shining documents on the continent, just that positive results have not been forthcoming or, if they have been forthcoming, they have not been doing so fast enough.

As such, Malawi has been in a quandary.

No wonder, SARPN says: “A largely agricultural country located in southeastern Africa, poverty in Malawi is widespread among the population of more than 18 million. Landlocked by Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique, Malawi is faced with 50.7 percent of the population living below the poverty line, and a staggering 25 percent living in what is considered to be extreme poverty.”

The World Bank defines poverty-stricken people as those who live on $1.90 per day.

In the case of Malawi, the statistics are startling, with poverty being manifested in the number of people who have access to the national electricity grid. As at now, according to the National Statistical Office (NSO), fewer than one in 10 Malawians have access to electricity.

What is more, National Aids Commission statistics indicate that over 90,000 individuals live with HIV and Aids, with SARPN indicating that poor children are more likely to drop out of school before they reach Standard five than those from well-to-do families— more so because “a majority of the poor reside in rural areas, where there are limited economic activities and subsistence agriculture is the main income”.

In August 2018, The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) indicated that inequality continued to rise in Malawi as evidenced by the rise in the Gini coefficient from 0.339 to 0.461 between 2005 and 2017.

Gini coefficient is a measure of statistical dispersion intended to represent the income or wealth distribution of a nation’s residents and is the most commonly used measurement of inequality.

MAINSTAY OF THE ECONOMY—Agriculture

A Gini coefficient of zero expresses perfect equality, where all values are the same, while a Gini coefficient of 1 or 100 percent expresses maximal inequality among values.

In its Country Programme Document for Malawi, which runs from 2019 to 2023, UNDP says the share of the poorest quintile in national consumption worsened from 10.1 percent in 2005 to 5.5 percent in 2012.

Malawi is classified as a least developed country, as nearly 70 percent of its 17 million people live on less than $1.90 a day, with poverty concentrated in rural areas, where 95 percent of the poor live.

Despite being largely peaceful, Malawi ranks 170 out of 188 countries with a Human Development Index of 0.476, placing it well below the sub- Saharan average of 0.523.

According to the country document, gender inequality is high in Malawi, with a Gender Inequality Index of 0.614, mainly due to negative social norms and discriminatory practices, resulting in women’s low levels of representation in politics and the economy.

However, Malawi seems to be failing to learn from history for, when he presented a paper during the 2016 Economics Association of Malawi annual conference, Chancellor College economist Richard Mussa warned that increased levels of income inequality could hamper the poverty-reducing effect of economic growth.

He added that extreme economic inequality was a threat to economic and social rights and threatened the realisation of all forms of rights everywhere.

“In 2004/5, the richest 10 percent accounted for 46 percent of total consumption, the bottom 40 percent accounted for 15 percent of total consumption.

“In 2010/11, the share of the top 10 percent increased to 53 percent in 2011, and that for the bottom 40 percent declined to 13 percent. The implication is that the consumption of the top 10 percent rose from being about three times higher to being about four times higher than that of the poorest 40 percent,” Mussa said.

He said, though the economy registered very high growth rates averaging over 7 percent per annum over the past decade, the Gini coefficient, or the gap between the poor and the rich, grew.

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