Thinking Development

By Christopher Guta, PhD

At independence, Malawi’s population was around four million. Using the search words ‘Malawi Population Clock’ on Google made me land on a page showing real time changes to our population. A snapshot of the page at 9.03am on Thursday recorded the population of Malawi at 19,552,697. The additional people born in 2019 at that precise time was 513,196 including 783 that were born by that time on Thursday. On the other side of the life timeline, 111,869 Malawians had died.

I am yet to read and assimilate the 2018 Malawi Population and Housing Census Report recently published by the National Statistical Office. This report would have more accurate and official population of Malawi but I like the dynamic nature of the live population clock that I have used as a source for the numbers above.

The population of a country is an important social factor with respect to development. I have made reference to the historical fact that the United States of America did not, at first, embrace the free market principles it is associated with today generally – discounting, of course – the mind games Donald Trump is using to shake up the free market ethos on which the world economy operates, on account of a low population. The domestic population constitutes the primary market for goods and services. It is also the source of labour and, for this reason, countries spend a significant proportion of their national budgets to educate the population because a knowledgeable and skilled labour force determines the quality of life of a nation through the medium of high labour productivity.

This is where I am directing your attention to in this entry – how productive is that part of our population that is in the economically active age bracket of 15 to 64 years? Available data shows that that there are about 18 people in every 100 Malawians aged 15 years and above that have no education. At the other end of the economically active population spectrum, about 61 people in every 100 Malawians aged between 60 and 64 have no education. While those of us in this bracket have greater capability to be more productive having, hopefully, accumulated both physical and social capital, the long-term development of Malawi is at the mercy of those in the younger brackets of the economically active population.

It is against this backdrop that every time I drive past or into Blantyre Market, I go into deep thought about the boys that are on a daily basis perhaps, either calling passengers to board minibuses or following you while pleading that you engage them to carry your shopping bags. I must say that I always refuse to be helped to carry my shopping bags because, at the end of the process, I would be expected to give the boy some money. The reason I refuse is not that I do not want to give money to the boys. Rather, it is because the value that would be created by the exchange would be so small if any at all. I do not want to be a party to such misuse of our youthful population. I, however, ask myself the question: What is the alternative?

During the political campaign period, I observed, that there was effort to bring the youth into productive activities. There were public works in many areas of the country where the youth were recruited as workers. This is what my economics classmates would refer to as the Keynesian approach to development where government increases consumer demand using deliberate policies that expand the economy. The only proviso is that this needs to be done without raising inflation. We, perhaps, need more of this so that the youth at Blantyre Market, whose labour productivity must be very low as they idle-by, can truly become economically active.

As I conclude, I want to reflect on those 111,869 Malawians who, as at 9.03am on Thursday, had died. How many of these died during childbirth? How many of them were mothers who died in childbirth? To what extent are these deaths a result of the quality of our health system? The report of the Ombudsman on the quality of maternity health services offered at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital is truly disturbing. Anyone who may have misappropriated public funds that would otherwise have contributed to saving lives of newly born infants and/or their mothers has failed the nation. My plea to them is next time they are tempted to misappropriate public funds, can they remember the third verse of our National Anthem: ‘Freedom ever, let us all unite; to build up Malawi. With our love, our zeal and loyalty, bringing our best to her. In time of war, or in time of peace, one purpose and one goal. Men and women serving selflessly, in building Malawi’.

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