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Lilongwe: a city of two tales

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George Orwell in a n introduction to his collection of essays Why I Write says: When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”

But here I just want to draw attention to some facts about Lilongwe, the country’s capital city.

It is not about that the capital city is the centrepiece of the shameful thieving to have ever happened in Malawi dubbed Cashgate.

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No question, Malawian society is a bipolar but Lilongwe is fast becoming more bipolar, especially in construction.

Lilongwe is a good example of society where a tiny minority controls most of the country’s wealth while the vast majority of the country’s inhabitants are impoverished and oppressed.

Even the administration has no regard for integration even if it knows too well that social exclusion can result in serious social injustices or upheaval.

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Let us look at this situation.

Guardians and patients at Bwaila Hospital are groaning under the weight of hunger.

The reason is shortage of food has hit hard the health facility for a month now after the hospital suspended provision of meals.

Hospital officials recently told The Daily Times that the development has emerged due to accumulative debts to suppliers amounting to K156 million.

It is said the situation has hit hard patients that come from distant places.

“We are just staying here without food. The little maize that I bought ended last week. Since then, I have had nothing,” one guardian says.

Another woman also shares the sentiments, saying her patient has been surviving on leftovers from other patients.

District Health Officer, Alinafe Mbewe, recently confirmed the development.

But in contrast if you move around Lilongwe, you will be fascinated, if not startled, by the many lavish buildings and the speed at which they are mushrooming in the city’s townships.

You have to start off from Gateway Mall, for instance, and take popularly known as ‘Gulliver Road’ going towards Area 49. Not far away, you will be treated to the first two tales of Lilongwe sitting side by side in the name of Mtandire Township and opulent buildings in the Bingu National Stadium vicinity.

Of course, straight on, you cannot miss the glitzy Malawi Housing Corporation and Chinese-owned Henan Guoji Development Company-built Guoji Dream Town along the road. But that is not all. Opposite the dream town, turn to your right and move on for about 100 metres then turn left. At a less-than-50-metre distance, sits a perimeter fence hemming in newly built but classy structures under construction. The structures comfortably sit as if mocking densely populated Senti to the east.

A quick count on the solar panels mounted on the structures’ rooftops tells you there are not less than 15 buildings inside the perimeter fence, all, sources say, but owned by one of President Peter Mutharika’s aides.

The economy has really been in a free fall since Democratic Progressive Party took over the mantle from Joyce Banda of People’s Party.

So how does the construction industry grow in the capital city to the extent of an individual or firm erecting more than 15 structures at a go?

One prominent economist with the University of Malawi’s The Polytechnic who did not want to be named says: “To begin with, for an individual to own such wealth in a contracting economy is eye-raising and mind boggling. What sort of an economic activity is he or she undertaking to warrant such a flow of income? The net impact is that the few will keep on accumulating wealth at the expense of the majority.”

President of New Labour Party and former speaker of National Assembly and cabinet minister, Sam Mpasu, also have reservations on the purity of the growing construction in some parts of the country, particularly in the capital city.

Asked on how is it possible that one industrial sector could be on the rise when the economy is on its tailspin, Mpasu says: “It is difficult unless one has cash under the table, that is, they have illegal cash which is being converted into legal asserts.”

You may also choose to take another short wander from Area 10 to Nigeria High Commissioner to Malawi offices in Area 43. From the Nigerian Commissioner offices take a ring road and stroll for about 50 metres then turn left. You will once more be greeted by other stunning houses being constructed in the area. The Kauma – to the east – ridiculing houses, sources say, belong to another top government official if not a Cabinet minister.

But Section 30 of the country’s Constitution makes it clear that development, which includes enjoyment of economic, social, cultural and political development, is a right for all, and that the state shall take all necessary measures to ensure this right is enjoyed.

Again, the section says the state shall also introduce reforms aimed at eradicating social injustices and inequalities, and that it has the responsibility to respect the right to development and to justify its policies in accordance with this responsibility.

Distinct two tales in Lilongwe, therefore, signify that government has failed on its responsibility of fulfilling of the national policies as provided for in Section 13 of the Constitution such as rural life, economic management and public trust, good governance and so forth.

Remember the capital city construction is flourishing while Finance, Economic Planning and Development, Goodall Gondwe, towards the end of 2015 went public with a rather startling confession of defeat and failure, saying: “The fate of the economy is in God’s hands.”

In this year’s budget statement, Gondwe, said: “Malawi’s real GDP (gross domestic product) growth slowed down substantially from the rate of 6.2 percent registered in 2014 to 3.1 percent in 2015 due to the erratic weather conditions that disrupted the 2015 harvest. The undesirable performance in the agricultural sector, which declined by 1.6 percent last year, adversely affected the performance of other sectors of the economy, including wholesale and retail trade as well as manufacturing.”

Even if the Finance Minister tried to lace the misery economy with reassurances, in its third edition of Malawi Economic Monitor, entitled “Absorbing Shocks and Building Resilience” launched in June, the Word Bank says:

“From what was already an adverse 2015, Malawi is expected to record subdued 2016 growth of 2.6 percent. This is due to the weak performance of the agriculture sector and the ongoing widespread food insecurity, exacerbated by a tightened fiscal stance and continued weak business sentiment in the manufacturing and services sectors. Output in the agricultural sector is projected to contract by 2.2 percent during 2016, while industry is projected to grow at 4.2 percent and services at 4.6 percent,” reads part of the report.”

But all Malawians yearn for dignified life. All Malawians need to be part and parcel of the development process.

Government needs to do more in terms of economic building including checking the glaring gulf between the haves and have-nots.

Malawi deserves selfless and patriotic leaders who are ready to take the country to another level, desired by all.

And that way, perhaps Lilongwe will be a single tale of sharing poverty as well as wealth.

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