This week, Malawi marked its 57th Independence Anniversary on July 6 with muted celebrations restricted to a National Service of Worship in Lilongwe due to Covid-19 restrictions.
The event was celebrated under the theme Building an Inclusive, Wealthy, Self-reliant Nation Through Mindset Change and Servant Leadership.
During the celebrations, President Lazarus Chakwera and the officiating clergy stressed the need to drive Malawi out of poverty to prosperity through enhanced productivity in all spheres of life.
There is a saying that life begins at 40, meaning that by age 40 one should at least have come of age and stand on their own feet! On July 6 this year, Malawi celebrated 57 years of existence as an independent nation with six presidents over the years.
Half a century and seven years later, Malawi is still not economically independent, heavily banking on the goodwill of donors to finance its public health sector, especially the drugs budget. Malawi remains highly indebted despite having 90 percent of its $2.9 billion (about K2.36 trillion) external debt written off in 2006 under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative. As at end-December 2020, the foreign debt, at $2.5 billion (about K2.04 trillion), is back to the same unsustainable levels and still counting.
In random interviews on Independence Day, many ordinary Malawians said they saw no reason to celebrate the freedom they have. They cited tough economic environment where a majority cannot afford basic necessities due to skyrocketing prices, lack of job opportunities, poor roads and other infrastructure, lack of opportunities for entrepreneurs and politicians’ unfulfilled promises as some of their frustrations.
Many of the challenges daunting this country, especially on the economic front, have followed prescriptions from international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Despite all this, Malawi as a country has lagged behind other countries such as Mauritius with which it was on equal footing in terms of growth in the 1960s. The question that rises is where did Malawi get it wrong? Did the economic “doctors” give wrong prescriptions or did the “patient” not follow the dosage?
Every year, during Independence Day celebrations, hope is rekindled, but the promises are not followed with concrete action. Successive governments have promised to take people out of poverty, but nothing much has changed as Malawi is among the 10 poorest countries in the world. The irony of it all is that most of the countries sharing the unenviable bottom 10 slots with Malawi at one point or another experienced civil strife while Malawi has always had peace.
This year’s celebration, albeit low-key, was no exception as the President, as usual, made a beautiful speech. But if truth be told, Malawians have had enough of brilliant speeches. What they want now is for the outlined policy measures to trickle down to them through benefits such as business opportunities, employment and affordable prices of goods and services. In short, what Malawians want is meaningful economic empowerment.
If policy measures do not respond to or resonate with the people’s expectations, independence anniversary celebrations will remain an illusion. It will be a case of much ado about nothing for Malawians. Independence should mean and translate into real change.