By Clemence Alfazema:
The best news that greeted Malawi at the start of 2021, despite fears on the impending second wave of Covid, was the launch of the new national vision – the Malawi 2063 (Mw2063).
It was great news because we, as a nation have something that represents our common aspirations. Our aspirations are summarised in the vision statement as follows: ‘An inclusively wealthy and self-reliant nation’. And, cautious on the shortcomings of Vision 2020, Mw2063 calls for a ‘positive mindset built around values of national consciousness such as unity, patriotism, hard-work, integrity, self-help and hating hand-outs’ and, further, we assert as Malawians through this vision that we will not allow anyone to derail us’.
And another key focus of Mw2063 is on ‘making its happen’. The reason is obvious. Getting back to Vision 2020 which was as well, crafted expertly but was never ‘practically referred to’ by the governments that assumed mandates to run affairs of the country, The Vision 2020 review observed that there was little ‘centrally directed collective commitment and action supporting the envisaged transformation…’.
This shows that politicians that led the country during the life of Vision 2020 did not put efforts at making things happen. The review recognised that implementation of a vision requires ‘political will’ and the new vision recognises the primacy of political incentives in attaining the same. Wrong political motives have been behind the failure of past development plans, policy reforms and change processes.
The Vision 2020 review further recommends leadership structures to ‘inculcate a culture that does not accommodate the commercialization of politics but cultivates visionary and transformative leadership’.
But perhaps experience from other polities can provide some lessons on making Mw2063 happen. Scholars on the second emergency of the development planning recognise that realisation of development visions or long term plans in an electoral democracy is a challenge.
An important point commonly held by prodemocracy advocates during the cold war and even recently is that long term planning and democracy are incompatible. In electoral democracies, the party that wins the election enjoys a democratic mandate to implement its manifesto policies because they are assumed to have secured the democratic legitimacy.
And the Westminster model states that other than having the right to implement its policies, government has an obligation to do so, as it was elected based on the promises articulated through its manifesto. While long term planning requires continuity, learning and adaptation, frequent elections in democracy and incumbency turn over can disrupt policy pathways and incentivise public officials to focus on highly visible short-term projects that will either attract attention of the voters or offer personal benefits to the elite.
Promises that included construction of stadia for private clubs in Malawi to woo voters for those popular clubs in the run up to the 2019 elections are one of the examples. This is made worse in new democracies where institutions for sustaining democracy are relatively weak.
Some democracies in Africa have, however, raised hope on the actualisation of long term visions. Other than dominant party democracies like Botswana, South Africa and Tanzania where less policy disruptions have occurred due to maintenance of only one party in power over longer periods, countries with electoral turnovers like Ghana have shown sustained commitment to long term plans across electoral cycles. In such states, the process of planning has been inclusive and created some form of elite consensus across the political divide.
The Mw2063 consistently describes the inclusiveness of the process where consultations involved ‘representation of all stakeholders’. Getting the elite consensus in a fragmented democracy like Malawi is a challenge. An attempt to get everyone on board is demonstrated by commitment statements published in the Mw2063 vision document by different authorities like ruling and opposition parties, chiefs, religious bodies, private sectors, NGOs and donors. The commitment statements by leaders can be a point for assurance of support from their organisations as long as they are truly attached to those constituencies.
Another observation is that the long development plans survive where the national planning authority has a constitutional backing or is located in the most powerful office of the country.
The National Planning Commission (NPC) was established by an act of parliament and therefore has adequate legal backing and is insulated from interference, directives and undue influence by other authorities.
Experience has, however, shown that much emancipation of these institutions has to be fortified by the leadership of institutions themselves, otherwise the executive has the appetite to capture any seemingly weak authority. As for locating the NPC strategically, the Office of the President and Cabinet would be seen as that most powerful authority in Malawi.
Allocation of the NPC under the Office of the Vice President was meant to give the NPC an important status as the VP was touted almost as ‘co-president’ in the Tonse Alliance campaign and entrusted with an important task of reforming the civil service, hence running the two together would ensure that they complement each other since implementing the vision requires reforms.
Tonse Government has made quite some noise on empowering the office of the vice president so that unlike the immediate past, the office acquires honour and importance it deserves. Whether this empowerment is being actualised is a question for another day. However, the concern is that in case things fall off between the president and the vice again as has been the case in the past, implementation of the vision could be disturbed.
To be continued.