As the country celebrated its 53rd Independence Anniversary three days ago, and as we still reflect on the occasion, the most asked question was and is: what has independence meant for the majority of the people in the country? Put simply, how has independence changed the lives of the people?
If one were to go out onto the street to solicit views from the people on the subject, there would be one dominant response—namely, that we are worse off than how were during the colonial era. We are still wallowing in poverty. We are one of the poorest countries in the world—with a per capita income of $381, worse than the newest country in Africa—South Sudan, and only better than war-torn Somalia. The gap between the rich and the poor has widened. Life expectancy remains at 52. Population growth is one of the highest at 2.8 per cent.
We are rarely food self-sufficient. Although we are endowed with a huge water resource—with Lake Malawi covering 20 per cent of the total area of the country—fertile and arable land, we still depend on rain-fed agriculture. When rain is in short supply, we go down with a begging bowl to the same colonial masters to feed us like babies.
In terms of agriculture, we are stuck with tobacco whose prices on the global market are low because of the anti-smoking campaigns and poor leaf quality.
Yet the country has millions of tones of unexploited deposits of uranium, bauxite, limestone, nobium, to mention but a few. And we are just groping in the dark about how to start benefitting from them.
Over the years we have borrowed millions of dollars from the Export Import Bank of India for the Greenbelt Initiative but we are yet to start ripping the fruits of this initiative.
Corruption has risen to astronomical levels. Only four days ago US Ambassador to Malawi Virginia Palmer minced no words when she said there is no sense of accountability on all government levels in the fight against corruption.
Politicians, civil servants and business persons connive to plunder the public purse. Those who go into politics do so with the sore aim of enriching themselves and not to develop the country. One hardly needs to belabour the point on this. It is the reason political parties are poor when they are in opposition but once they go into government, they are transformed beyond recognition overnight. Where do they get the money from?
Social services are a mockery of what they should be. Public health services and educational standards have gone down. Only 10 per cent of the population is connected to the national electricity grid. Security is almost non-existent. The road network has become a death trap.
We have misinterpreted democracy and human rights to mean that we can do anything without regard for the rights of others.
These stats simply mean we have a lot to do going forward. And as we celebrate 53 years of independence—with people born at independence now grandmothers and grandfathers—it is high time we took stock of what we could have done better.
One good starting point would be to improve on intra- and inter-party democracy. We can borrow a leaf from Rwanda which from April 7 in 1994 was in a comatose owing to the genocide that took the lives of over 800 000 people in a space of 100 days. But it has gone through a healing process and moved on and metamorphosed economically. We can hold interdenominational prayers as we have done year-in year-out, but if we don’t embark on a process of reconciliation and healing where we put aside tribal affiliations and begin to see one another as just Malawians, we will be labouring in vain. This is because political affiliations in Malawi are largely tribal based.