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October 31, 1998

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Memories of October 31, 1998 come to mind. The excitement could be felt and was vividly touchable. Malawians hoped and believed that for once since independence in 1964, something big and good had happened in Malawi.

The launch was colourful and there was unity of purpose. The opposition and the governing parties put their differences aside and for once agreed that the people’s aspirations and vision mattered.

Yes! Those of us old enough to remember recall that the jingles were repeated ad libtum on the country’s only television station; the newspapers and the radios were also not left behind bellowing adverts and messages of the momentous event all day long. This was the day when Malawi’s Vision 2020 was launched. The president of the time Mr Eleson Bakili Muluzi and the leader of opposition of the time Mr Gwandanguluwe Chakuamba Phiri both had their signatures on the document and shared the foreword.

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The Vision 2020 was a culmination of a process that had started in January 1996, just over a year after Malawi’s second freedom, the reintroduction of multiparty politics. The year 2020 is just four years away. Vision 2020 was a 20-plus-year project and, after 18 years, is not time to take stock? Let us quickly take a look at the mission statement of the Vision 2020. The Mission statement reads: “By the year 2020, Malawi as a God-fearing nation will be secure, democratically mature, environmentally sustainable, self-reliant with equal opportunities for and active participation by all, having social services, vibrant cultural and religious values and being a technologically driven middle-income economy.”

Do not laugh, this is not fiction, it is reality! In four years’ time, our Malawi, will be a middle-income economy, with a mature democracy and self-reliant. The battle is not yet lost; the vision has not disappeared. Of course, Malawi has changed since 1998, both physically and structurally. Those born in 1998 are now legally adults and allowed to vote. There are various new and emerging activities; today’s economy is different from that of the late 90s. Not only is there more concrete water shortage and electricity blackout-cum-shedding, there are now more people using laptops, mobile phones and bicycles/ motorcycles as a means of transport in routes that otherwise forced people to walk on foot.

For a country that has for a long time been described as poverty-stricken, it has indeed done very well on ideas and plans. Malawi has such a surprisingly sophisticated awareness of what needs to be done to improve economic performance. Perhaps what we lack is the seriousness and commitment to put what is on paper in practice. Since 1994, we have gone through the Malawi Poverty Reduction Strategic Plan (2002-2005), the two versions of the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) (2006- 2011and 2011-2016), the Economic Recovery Plan spiced in between with several policy documents. This my dear Malawians is the nature of the country. If you, like me, have taken time to read these documents, you will notice that whatever party has been in power so far has produced rich and detailed plans with reassuring regularity, playing and occasional successful part in making Malawi not a middle-income country but a poverty-stricken nation.

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Soon we, as a nation, will be embarking on another planning sessions for the successor of the MGDS II. Once again, this document will provide acompelling template for reducing poverty and making Malawi a middle-income country by some date in the future. The problem in Malawi is not lack of dreams or visions. We have not been short of dreams; we have dreamt in black and white, then grey and later in colour, the problem is in the implementation of those dreams when we wake up. There is a place for a national strategy the likes of MGDS but one must caution against going long on strategy and short on execution. I think we have not executed well enough and we are going to have to execute better if we are going to want to grow.

This government and the previous governments must be held to the fire on implementation. Despite a plethora of policy prescriptions, key areas of national importance such as electricity generation, infrastructure and food security remain largely unaddressed. Put simply, millions of citizens have not yet benefited from these grand plans.

Despite the dreams, hope, excitement and posturing, Malawi is still not a middle-income country; in fact, we have now become accustomed to being called poverty-stricken and semi-starved country, and if we do not change the way we do things, this label will remain so for the foreseeable future.

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