The year 2017 runs its full course tomorrow. It was a year that posed more challenges to Malawians than opportunities. One can write volumes of books about the problems but citing a few of them may help us to prepare better for 2018.
During the year, inflation was largely managed. This helped the central bank to reduce the Policy Rate.
The expectations were that commercial banks and other financial lending institutions would follow suit to offer
Malawians relief by reducing the lending rates but that is yet to translate.
The country has also experienced relatively low crime rate, apart from a few “abductions” that raised more questions than answers. There were also some hijackings of motor vehicles, especially taxis in the Northern Region.
But persistent power outages washed away the gains that the country experienced. The blackouts hit hard the small and medium entrepreneurs (SMEs) who play a vital role in Malawi’s economy. These are the people who oil the cash economy in this country as they are often transactional in nature.
SMEs make money on daily basis but do not have enough to save in banks. This is because they do not qualify for loans from financial institutions and they also support so many dependents in their lives. This explains why the SMEs could hardly cope with the power failures because they could not afford alternative sources of power such as generators or solar energy.
The unreliable power from the national grid also affected big players in the manufacturing industries. The companies continue to spend a fortune on diesel generators to power their plants. As a result, some of them were forced to lay-off workers as operational costs became unbearable The high costs also meant that
Malawian products could not compete favourably on the regional market.
The other menace that caused so much anxiety and grief among residents of the country was the soaring numbers of road accidents.
Our roads turned into a death trap. Unfortunately, it was not dependent on condition of one’s vehicle. Some tin-on-wheels would just swerve and hit your vehicle. Being a religious nation, we all blamed the devil as if the devil stole anybody’s driving licence.
The road carnage drove the Department of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS) to a tight corner. DRTSS and the central government had no strategies to arrest the problem. In the end, the DRTSS came up with some funny fines, sometimes as high as K200,000. And the fines were supposed to be paid on the spot. To show that the measures did not make sense at all, even the government, which delights in milking Malawians at every available opportunity, overruled DRTSS.
Farmers had a share of their challenges too. The government gave subsistence farmers impetus to grow more through the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp). But when the crops, especially maize, were harvested, there was no market for them to sell their produce.
The same government banned maize exports, leaving the farmers hopeless.
This also applied to pigeon peas farmers. Previously, pigeon peas were predominantly grown in the Southern Region. But the government and its partners turned nandolo into a national cash crop. It was grown across the country, only for the farmers to be told that India was not ready to buy from them. Some farmers got loans to venture into the nandolo business and were left to face the loan sharks after the market failed. Trouble is, nandolo is so perishable that not many small scale farmers can preserve it until the next harvesting season.
The challenges were compounded by the fact that civil society activists turned themselves into mercenaries. They never spoke for the suffering masses but prostituted themselves to the highest bidder.
Circumstantial evidence is there that the activists connived with accused government agents to twist the truth. Some activists came up with fake research results to exonerate Cashgate suspects while others spoke for utility companies that failed to live up to the billing. Others cartooned themselves around, defending the indefensible policy blunders that the government committed.
Today they would be part of the Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) speaking for victims of Area 18 water pollution; tomorrow they would be members of the civil society platform on Area 18 saga then they would be coalition for the defence of the Lilongwe Water Board. Perhaps the late Bingu wa Mutharika knew the activists well when he alleged that they thrived on blackmail.
The blackmail tactics spilled over to social media. Some lazy bones hiding in masks (zigoba) resorted to character assassination of innocent citizens. Regrettably, our society is hedonistic. It supported such silly minds by promoting the falsehoods to the status of commonly accepted truths.
In the end, the blame went to the mainstream media as some citizens could not distinguish the two.
All these challenges became ugly because there seemed no solution in sight.
Government dug in on its predatory tendencies; members of Parliament were prepared to play a pimp while self-styled prophets sucked the last iota of hope from Malawians by encouraging docility and laziness. Yet these are the leaders that were expected to provide vision to the citizens. Wishing you a happy New Year!
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