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The development madness that is Malawi

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The focus on elections has, ironically, been one of the major obstacles to alleviating poverty in Malawi. Since 1994, the bigger political parties have often been defined on tribal and regional lines. None of the current political parties are strong in one region and have little support in other regions. It is also clear that the rural areas of Malawi are where the votes are; the city is where the money is.

It is not surprising that once a party gets elected, it immediately starts campaigning for the next election and embarks on a variety of patronage schemes that distort the markets and perpetuates many of the country’s problems. These schemes often times take precedence over good governance and fiscal sanity. It is therefore not a surprise that each successive government usually dumps the predecessor’s patronage scheme no matter the merits or demerits of such schemes. This is why there is no continuity in development policy in the country.

Malawi needs a long-term strategy that no government that comes to power will change overnight. In fact the party manifestos under such an environment will be based on which party has the best plans to achieve those long term strategic plans. Party manifestos will not become a detractor of development as the case now but a means to achieve the developmental aspirations of the country. Under such an environment it will be possible to do away with the personalisation of economic policies in Malawi that have become the order of the say since 1994.

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The most shameful thing in Malawi is that we are now exporting raw materials and importing same back in finished products at higher price level. We are the third largest producer of tea in the world, exporting it since 1880s and yet our shops are full of imported tea bags. Surprisingly, Malawi teas are not so well known as specialty teas, their superb colour and brightness means they are used in the blending of leading British tea brands that we end up importing back into Malawi at high costs.

Malawi started exporting tobacco leaf in 1893 and now over a 120 years later we do not add any value to the leaf but export it raw despite the fact that Malawian tobacco is found in blends of nearly every cigarette smoked in industrialized nations including the popular and ubiquitous Camel and Marlboro brands. Each year we continue to export raw cotton and imports clothing?

Why then do Malawian smallholder tea producers and tobacco farmers complain every year of low prices? It is because Malawi has no say in the prices of these primary commodities it exports to other countries. This why we need to start manufacturing things and not exporting raw materials in order to have a say on the pricing. Prices of raw materials are determined at the international commodity market but the prices of manufactured products are determined by the manufacturers.

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So while the rhetoric since 1994 has been that we need to make Malawi an export driven economy, the actions of our leaders have fortified the mentality of begging and looking for handouts at every opportunity. We have turned into a consuming nation and not a productive economy. We have become a nation that expects to have handouts and not ready to pay for anything. We are now a nation of consumers and not producers. It is time to become a productive nation based on solid manufacturing and focused on areas that are critical to economic development and develop the value chain along that line.

It is pure madness that a country that has the biggest fresh water lake on the continent suffers hunger due to erratic rainfall while watching massive amounts of water pass through to the Indian Ocean. It is madness that we spend massive amounts of money globetrotting to encourage investment and yet these investors whether local or foreign will need energy to produce. Do we really have an effective energy policy? In the energy sector, there is no comprehensive energy policy to guide the nation on where investments are needed in line with industrial development of transforming this economy from a consuming nation to an export led economy. That is why today there is no sufficient power supply even to areas where there is concentration of industries.

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