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Labours of development

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By Andrew Saukani

SINCE colonial times, Malawi has been subjected to different prescriptions to spur development.   Not surprisingly, each regime has, since the re-advent of political pluralism in 1993, been promising meaningful development.

Other regimes have gone to the extent of arguing that Malawi is not poor but that it is the people who are poor. They have suggested that the country’s merger resources are ruthlessly abused, a problem compounded by poor implementation of domestic policies.

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The truth is that development is attainable once economic fundamentals are harnessed. Political stability and sustainable utilisation of natural resources also increase opportunities for the masses.     The fact that Malawi’s economy is agro–based cannot be ignored, but there is need to critically consider the implications of high population growth, adverse weather conditions and continued fiscal indiscipline on overall economic growth and development.

About 50 percent of the country’s population lives below the poverty line. To make matters worse, the latest United Nations Development Programme poverty indicators put Malawi at position 170 out of 188 countries. This calls for serious meditation.

Over the years, countless short, medium and longterm development strategies have guided the country’s development agenda but, sadly, with minimal success.  The first set of known development policies in Malawi was called DEVPOL covering the period between 1971 and 1980 and the second edition of the same covered the period between 1987 and 1996.

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These were operationalised by several sectoral policies and programmes usually spanning between three and five years.  Other strategies, notably the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) I and II, are a continuation of that tradition.

Malawi registered record economic growth between 1970 and the early 1990s, attracting praises from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Indeed, the term ‘star performer’ became synonymous with Malawi. But, even that time, agriculture remained the backbone of the economy and donors generously contributed finances to the budget, before the World Bank introduced the Structural Adjustment Programme.

Political reforms also became a necessary condition for aid.    Since the post-multiparty era, the country’s economic strides have been a rollercoaster of uncertainties, prompting analysts to describe some regimes as wasted, as poverty engulfed the very people who were promised economic transformation.

The country’s GDP grew highest by 9.6 percent in 2007 and hit a record low of between 1.7 percent and 1.9 percent in 2002 and 2012, respectively.   Irrespective of external conditionalities and related weather shocks, progress in the post multiparty era begs a clinical analysis of the calibre of elected leaders and managers running Malawi.

While government has not made any clear position, economists and development specialists point out that both MGDS I and II contributed little to the reduction of poverty. Poverty levels continue going north, widening economic disparities and leaving many Malawians languishing and impoverished.

Surely, determination in implementing public policies is key to attaining meaningful development.

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