Hon Folks, on my mind right now is something you may consider trivial—the clip trending on social media in which an NTV journalist makes an observation that in 2018 Malawi doesn’t have a single movie theatre where folks could watch the movie Black Panther on big screen.
In our set of priorities, there could be a litany of goods and services that are more urgent than a cinema hall—a cancer hospital, girls’ hostels, markets for our legumes, irrigation farming, good roads, more competitive transport mode to the ports, etc.
Still the lack of cinema is a pointer to a step in retrogression; we are deprived in the 21st Century of the small luxury we used to take for granted way back in the 20th Century.
Back in the ‘70s and 80s’, Blantyre alone had not one, not two but three major cinemas—Apollo, Rainbow and Five Star Drive-in. Lilongwe too had Drive-in cinema. When I was growing up in Zomba in the ‘70s, movie lovers could trek to Luangwa or Police to watch Charlie Chaplin or cowboy movies.
Don’t say the advent of TV has rendered the big screen superfluous. Anywhere else in the Sadc region the TV and the big screen co-exist and are both growing. In Malawi, the death of cinema serves as proof that the country’s middle class is too poor to pay for such luxury.
Enterprising business persons have tried to revive the local movie industry in this century but to no avail. The population of over 17 million is becoming more and more urbanised and the cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe may have a population of a million or more each, but the numbers of those who can afford spending on movies is too small to sustain even a single movie theatre!
Surprised? That’s how de-humanising abject poverty can be. We are rated the world’s poorest country by gross domestic product (GDP) per capita—an unenviable status we have assumed largely due to mediocre leadership and rampant corruption of the multi-party political dispensation.
Our hand-to-mouth lifestyle has led to the shrinking of the domestic market particularly for services. People can’t afford to eat out. People can’t afford to watch movies at the cinema. People can’t afford new designer clothes. People can’t afford visiting holiday resorts.
After government squeezes 30 to 35 percent taxes from their miserable salaries the real value of which diminishes whenever the kwacha depreciates, the little they are left with is spent on necessities—food, water, electricity, housing, clothes, medication and education for their children.
Forget the quality public services Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s government used to render in education, health, energy, water, roads and many other sectors. Multiparty politics demands of the citizen payment of heavier taxes for less in quality and quantity of public goods and service. Consequently, those who want quality education for their children or quality health services have to pay a lot for such in the private sector.
So brutalised are we by deprivation, that we are expected to clap hands for those in government now that the 25-hour load-shedding programmes have been reduced to 5-hour daily blackout schedules. Besides, the availability of enough maize to avert hunger this year, which has come partly because Admarc failed to sell its over-priced maize stock of last season, is a basis for projecting GDP growth rate of 6 to 7 percent!
But while Malawi is losing its capacity to generate wealth and create jobs, politics appears to have the enhanced libido to sire more money and power, especially for the governing party.
Not only does being on the opposition side mean no jobs and business deals with government but supporting “the government of the day” can also help the corrupt get off the hook.
Politically connected business persons easily get opportunities to sell substandard goods and services to government at three times the market value.
Sometimes they get paid handsomely for offering no service as attested to by a Cashgate convict who made half a billion kwacha within a month without having to supply anything at all.
Still wondering why the governing party is always the richest? I was lost in the maze too until Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe diverted K4 billion from the capital expenditure side of the budget so it could be shared among members of Parliament (MPs) who shoot down Electoral Reforms Bills.
When the opposition cried wolf, Gondwe simply offered them a share of the loot and they happily accepted. Now we face a situation where government, using taxpayers’ money, wants to tilt the 2019 parliamentary elections in favour of the incumbents. If that’s not rigging, what is? n