Honourable Folks, the notion that loomed large in my mind as we celebrated our National Day on July 6 is sovereignty.
Why was the 49th Independence Anniversary such a big deal for Malawi? The issue of sovereignty was particularly confusing. Remember the July 20, 2011 lecture by Prof. Bingu wa Mutharika (deceased), economic engineer and former President of the Republic?
He was so passionate about sovereignty he argued Malawi couldn’t claim to be an independent sovereign State while tied down to aid the former colonial masters were using to force us to do things their way such as allowing same-sex marriages.
Mutharika stressed we either had to say no to neo-colonialism and forego aid as a consequence while retaining our national pride and culture or cling to aid at the expense of our sovereignty 47 years after attaining independence.
The self-acclaimed economic engineer said emphatically it was time to go it alone, told IMF, Britain and other major donors off, and assured the nation the zero-deficit budget would lead us to economic emancipation. It didn’t. Instead, the economy which had hitherto been growing at over 7.5 percent per annum, went over the cliff and, by the time the president died suddenly on 5th April, 2012, there was no forex, no fuel, no drugs in hospitals and companies were closing or scaling down operations, sending employees into the dungeon of joblessness and excruciating poverty.
Now, we hear that while the economy was bleeding, Mutharika himself managed to rake out a cool K61 billion, much of which was stashed away in off shore accounts in millions of dollars.
Madame Joyce Banda, the incumbent President of the Republic, echoed Bingu’s concerns about July 6 this year. She said it wasn’t right that we should continue depending too much on donors, 49 years after attaining our independence.
Of course, the same JB has praised herself many times before for bringing back the donors after her predecessor had sent them packing. Her words of wisdom were incidentally preceded by a generous hike of donor aid to the national budget from 30 percent last year to 40 this year. If my memory serves me right, this increase did not worry MPs from the government side as they were discussing the budget. Instead, they saw the increase as a milestone for JB, proof of her ability to establish strategic relationships where her predecessor grossly failed at our peril.
Isn’t it in the name of sourcing handouts that JB and her government justify her globe-trotting tendencies and doubled her travel allocation in the austerity budget of 2013/14?
I bet it’s due to aid hike that government was able to increase allocation to the Farm Input Subsidy Programme to K60 billion from K40 billion last year, to allocate some K20 billion to the tripartite elections, to increase the wage bill in the civil service and still have plenty funds allocated for presidential local and international travels in this year of election campaign.
If it were not for donors, we could only manage to come up with such a budget by hiking taxes significantly and that, at a time when people’s buying power has greatly dwindled, thanks to 50 percent devaluation and floatation, could have translated into a one-way ticket out of government for the JB administration next year.
So, what’s there to celebrate on our National Day? Is it neo-colonialism, emancipation from colonial bondage or the fact that now its fellow Malawians messing us up? How come that when 49 years after becoming an independent sovereign State, we are just as bad—if not worse off in our living standard, than we were on July 6 1964?
I note with sadness that JB’s agenda is economic recovery, not growth and consolidation. What this means is that by the end of the day, she shall have accomplished her mission by merely restoring our economy back on course after her predecessor had derailed it.
Yet, while we are moving in circles like this, Africa is claiming the 21st century! It’s on this continent that foreign investors get highest return on their capital. It is also Africa whose economy is growing fastest than any other continent.
Closer home, our immediate neighbours—Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania—aren’t talking of economic recovery but progression from the rank of poor countries to the rank of middle-income economies.
Now is the time to ask ourselves the question: what is it that we are doing right? Unless we identify the cause of our failure and accept change, we shall celebrate our 50th anniversary next year, looking to donors for probably much more than 40 percent of the budget. Could this still be sovereignty?