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The nut cracker: Why has Malawi remained poor?

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Malawi has been a poor country since independence in 1964; it might have been probably poor even before then. Malawi was poor during Dr Banda’s time, remained poor under Mr Muluzi, continued in poverty under Professor Bingu Mutharika. The country did not become rich under Africa’s second female President Mrs Joyce Banda and is still poor under the leadership of Professor Peter Mutharika.

However, listening to the current arguments in Malawi, especially the opposition led by Dr Lazarus Chakwera and Mr Uladi Musa, it is easy to “wrongly” conclude that Malawi was a rich country until Professor Peter Mutharika became the president and single handedly made it poor.

But why has Malawi always been poor? This question is based on two assumptions. First, Malawi’s poverty is not inevitable, the country could have been richer (or less poor by now) and more developed. Second, that there are reasons for why the country is still poor. If we understood the reasons, we could do something about it. The issue then is why do we not publicly ask that question? The reason might be due to the fact that the question it is not politically correct. In addition, if the question was publicly asked, then the honest answer may not be very flattering to some of the political leaders and their supporters. It may show that some people who steered the ship of the country were economically ignorant or economically incompetent.

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Malawi’s poverty is by choice, I don’t mean that the people of Malawi choose to be poor but the leaders of Malawi made bad public policy choices either deliberately or mistakenly which resulted in wide-spread, chronic and acute poverty for the majority of the citizens. There is no hiding the fact that policy mistakes were made repeatedly and consistently by all the past leaders of post-independence Malawi. The problem in saying this is that this leads to a “defensive reaction” from both the powers that are and that have been.

The fear I have as a Malawian is that if we do not do an honest post mortem of what went wrong during the reigns of all these leaders there is no chance that we will transform the country. We have to know the past to understand where we are in the present. If we know how we got here, if we know our present coordinates, we can chart out a course to a desired future.

When will our leaders learn that Malawi cannot develop on handouts, when will Malawian citizens realize that when someone offers you something for free it is not (you might not pay in monetary terms But for sure there is going to be another form of payment expected). As a student of economics I was told one economic truth that I have come to believe, there is no such thing as a free lunch. The moment we vote for politicians, who promise us free maize, food and free money, we are essentially complicit in the miserable outcome we suffer once they are in power and they become corrupt and mega rich overnight.

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The illusion that Malawi is poor because God created it poor serves some peoples purposes and gives them the advantage to act as semi gods whose acts of “mercy” and “grace” should not be questioned but appreciated through giving them votes during elections.

Our fathers and mothers struggled for a decent living during Dr Banda’s rule. We are still suffering today; it will not be fair for our children to face the same hardships we are facing. It is our duty to transform this country and transform it now.

I envision a day in the near future when I will be able to face my children and answer them without shame when they will ask me “Dad you saw what dire straits Malawi was in. You knew what needed to be done. Did you sit phwii and do nothing?” I want to look them in the eye and state in a strong voice that “Children, look here, I did my best and I did it for you.” The best way to do this is to stop celebrating mediocrity and stop defending and glorifying corruption.

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