The number of Malawians leaving the country for greener pastures has doubled in the past four years, an indication that the economic growth that has been registered has not trickled down to ordinary Malawians, especially the youth.
While the National Statistical Office (NSO) registered 21 487 Malawians leaving the country in 2014, about 54 230 left in 2018.
According to the 2018 Population and Housing Census, most were leaving the country in search of work while a small percentage were either following family or going out to study.
The census shows that the Malawians emigrating were predominantly working as shop assistants, domestic workers or in other sectors apart from farming and mining.
The census collected information on household members who emigrated from Malawi between 2008 and 2018 census and why they left Malawi, and registered that 254 934 Malawians left in the period.
The question of non-return emigrants by country of destination was asked to relatives of those who had left Malawi during the census.
However, the final census report released on Friday shows a troubling trend in which more people have left Malawi in the past four years than the earlier years after the 2008 census.
In the 10-year period between the last census and the 2018 census, 44 099 more Malawians left, the majority of whom are based in South Africa (81 percent) followed distantly by Mozambique and Zambia.
Outside Africa, NSO registered that 1 198 had left for the United Kingdom in the past 10 years, 1 090 for United States while 3 739 were in other countries outside the continent.
“Most emigrants left Malawi looking for work [almost 38 percent], six percent were following family, two percent were students while 15 percent for other reasons and 39 percent did not state the reason for leaving the country,” the census report reads.
A 10-year analysis by region of the population that emigrated in the 10 years prior to the census shows the number of emigrants from the Southern Region has gone up in the past years, jumping by 549 percent from 4 586 people in 2008 to 29 802 in 2018, with the most people coming from Mangochi followed by Machinga.
The Central Region registered a 463 percent increase from 1778 to 10 073, the majority originating from Lilongwe and 273 percent in the Northern Region from 2 889 to 10 736 with more emigrants coming from Mzimba.
The country is losing a productive age group, between 20 to 39, according to the census.
Of 254 934 who emigrated, according to the census, 191 602 fall in that age range of which 149 906 are male.
Economics Association of Malawi (Ecam) president Chiku Kalilombe said if Malawi loses such a productive age group, it will have failed to harness the demographic dividend.
The census indicates that Malawi has a young population which, if not addressed, could pose a danger to the country’s development goals.
The 2018 census results revealed that 6.3 million people were aged between 5 and 17 years and about 8.7 million were aged 18 years or more at the time of the census.
Kalilombe said the growing number of emigrants in the past four years was an indication that the rates of economic growth are not giving people opportunities for jobs.
He said: “With the growing population, people are looking for alternatives in terms of employment and income and if they cannot find it in Malawi, they leave. It can get worse if we don’t work on the economy, for example, growth rates should be higher than opportunities and the divide between rich and poor should be narrowed.”
Kalilombe said these are people in the productive age group and would have increased the demand for food and services.
“A growth in the production sector is the only way to resolve this issue. If we grow the economy with production, self-employment would be attractive, people would have earning power and the means to demand services,” he said.
But on the flipside, the country has registered an earning of $186 million in remittances through money transfers from Malawians residing outside the country, thereby boosting the foreign exchange reserves.
However, economic commentators have argued that these amounts are direct financial assistance to families here and cannot be translated into huge investments.
The Oxfam report ‘A Dangerous Divide: The State of Inequality in Malawi’ which proposed solutions to reducing inequality in Malawi found that inequalities in education and health are the main drivers of corruption.
Oxfam indicated that inequality could only be minimised when government has enough money to spend on social services for the poorest.
“Inequality in Malawi is growing, and its impacts are not only taking a devastating toll on the poorest people, preventing millions from escaping poverty. Inequality also threatens the country’s overall economic growth, fuels corruption and could even jeopardise its stability,” the report reads.
The organisation proposed that government revenues be increased with the comeback of budgetary support, increasing the tax band for high income earners, launching a review of the wealth taxation, including land rates for high value land.