By Taonga Sabola & Mathews Kasanda
The United States (US) government has described Malawi’s poverty levels as a national crisis.
US Ambassador to Malawi David Young said this in Lilongwe on Wednesday night during celebrations marking ‘Juneteenth’, which is a US holiday commemorating the end of slavery.
Addressing a gathering that included Finance Minister Sosten Gwengwe, Information Minister Gospel Kazako and Foreign Affairs Minister Nancy Tembo, Young said, despite that the country enjoys massive support from developing partners, the people of Malawi continue to wallow in poverty.
According to Young, the international community provides hundreds of millions of dollars every year—through health, education, emergency food assistance and other programmes—adding that the US provides more than $250 million each year to save lives and change lives for good.
“But the sad reality is that all of the international assistance that has come to Malawi has not ended the cycle of poverty. We need to pair such interventions with the creation of a culture of opportunity to raise incomes and spread prosperity,” he said.
The US Ambassador said extreme poverty is not inevitable, adding that, looking around the world, one sees that hundreds of millions of people have risen out of poverty in recent decades.
He said, just like in the battle against slavery, the brutalising effects of extreme poverty can be defeated.
“The difficult reality is that the structure of Malawi’s economy is broken. The Malawian economy today does not work for the vast majority of Malawians. It works for a few people. But it does not work for Rebecca and Mary. And it also does not work for the vast majority of people in middle-class and working-class jobs.
“There are three things that, I believe, are essential if Malawi is to move forward in its battle to fight poverty and change lives for good, because no amount of foreign assistance will lift people out of poverty if the structure of the economy is broken. And to even begin talking about 2063, we must make changes in 2023. The road to progress must begin now and each step forward must be fought for and made with determination and courage,” Young said.
According to Young, Malawi’s first big task is to grow the economy through increased investment and private sector engagement. He observed that the sad reality is that the economy has been shrinking in human terms for years.
“The economy is now growing at, perhaps, two percent per year but the population is growing by nearly four percent per year. If the pie keeps shrinking, Malawi won’t be able to help its farmers and its urban and rural citizens to live better lives.
“Growing the whole economy is essential to lift Malawi’s people out of poverty. It is essential to expand two-way trade and investment with other nations, both around the region, across Africa, and around the world. The policy framework needs to be reset to make this possible. There must be a proactive approach to creating an environment for business and foreign investment.
“Laws should be supportive of investment – by both Malawians of all backgrounds and those from other countries as well. This can help diversify the economy into new agricultural crops, as well as services, financial activities, mining and other sectors. The constraints holding back investment in Malawi must be addressed. As President [Lazarus] Chakwera has said, the private sector is an ally, not an adversary,” Young said.
The US government representative said another big task for Malawi is combating corruption head-on with courage and conviction.
Young said corruption creates a web of relationships that perpetuates poverty and illegality.
“Battling corruption is a long-term battle, but it must begin today in earnest. The corrupt must be dismissed from positions of power. Through the development of a culture of transparency and openness, and with a strong dedication to access to information for the public, the rot of corruption will fade.
“This is Malawi’s battle and it must be led by Malawians. We, as partners, support the President’s efforts to combat corruption. It is a central part of making the economy work for all Malawians,” he said.
On her part, Tembo commended the US government for the strides it had made and urged Malawians to find solutions to the challenges.
“We will not make it if we are pulling in opposite directions. We have to pull in one direction for the good of the Malawi nation,” she said.
She acknowledged that there were many challenges the country was facing that ought to be addressed.
In commemorating Juneteenth, Young called for the need to make sure that countries do not slide back to enslavement of any form and that there should be equal rights and dignity for all people.
On June 17 last year, US president Joe Biden signed into law Senate Bill 475, making ‘Juneteenth’ a federal holiday. Juneteenth is a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the US.
Juneteenth gets its name from combining ‘June’ and ‘nineteenth,’ the day that Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, bearing a message of freedom for slaves there. It is also referred to as Emancipation Day or Juneteenth Independence Day.