Once more as we approached the Independence Day, I received telephone calls. “You as one of the senior citizens (old men) of the country and as an economist, how do you assess the progress made by Malawi over 53 years of its independence?” My response was not very different this year from those I gave in the past except in details. By visual observation we certainly have made a good deal of progress.
Looks for photographs of Malawians in pre-independence days. You will agree that most people are better dressed today. Malawian women in urban centres are distinguishable from white women only by their colour, not dress as was the case in the past. In those days, police officers wore shorts, these days both police officers sport trousers.
In 1964, if you counted vehicles cruising between Limbe and Blantyre, you would find that out of 100 up to about 80 or ninety percent belonged to Europeans and Asians, and only about 10 to 15 percent to Malawians. We had only one bus company, foreign owned. Now we have several bus systems most of them owned by Malawians.
It was rare those days to come across brick houses with iron roofs in rural centres. It is common sight these days to come across a village where all houses have iron roofs and the village looks like a trading centre.
As for physical infrastructure, we have tarmac roads strapping down the country from Nsanje to Chitipa, Nkhotakota to Mchinji. The railway systems used to end at Salima from Nsanje. During the first 10 years of independence it was extended northwards to Mchinji and Nayuchi.
We started our independence without a university of our own and only a handful of secondary schools. Now one has to rack one’s head to remember how many universities the country has. It is difficult to remember the number of primary and secondary schools. In those days, job vacancies were waiting for graduates, these days the country has more graduates than it can employ all at once.
In pre-independence days, it was rare to see a Malawian woman in the office as a clerk. Now we have doctors, judges, commissioners of police and ambassadors. Must I go on?
Enough has been said to highlight that Malawi has not been stagnant economically or socially. Politically, Malawi is one of the countries that have known stability, no coup d’état or civil wars. We must be proud of this because it means we are mature enough to solve our political differences constitutionally.
If this article ended here, someone would conclude that Malawians are among the happiest people not only in Africa but in the world. But in fact, we are among the poorest not only in Africa but in the world as a whole.
During the colonial era, this country then known as Nyasaland was nicknamed the Cinderella of the British empire and one of the poorest 10 countries of the world. During the Kamuzu/MCP era (1964-1994), it was one of the poorest 10 countries. By international comparison, Malawi has been stagnant in that it has not left the unchanged cycle of the very poor.
Has Malawi failed to develop because its people are lazy and dull? Not at all. During colonial days employees in neighbouring countries up to South Africa and Belgium Congo were enticing Nyasas to go and work there because they found them to be highly intelligent and hard- working.
The Phelps Stock Commission on African Education in East and Central Africa described Nyasas as equal in intelligence to the best in other part of the African continent. There are several reasons Malawi is not prosperous.
Its natural resources such as we know, have not received the capital and human investment that could bring it maximum development. Moreover, its natural resources do not seem to have been explored in full. May be it is true we do not have gold, diamonds and copper.
But are we sure Malawi does not have any other type of minerals which like Kayelekera’s uranium can find global market?