The centrality of the state in development practice, especially in less developed countries such as Malawi is not in dispute. In fact, in view of the forthcoming elections as it has been the case with five previous general elections since the transition to multiparty democracy, the discourse in the political circles is about which political party and presidential candidate has the wherewithal to spur development. While there is contestation for attribution for whatever dismal progress has been achieved so far since independence, there is no willingness to own up and account for the widespread, deep and severe poverty and the glaring economic inequalities that characterize our political economy. However, in the last few years, it has become clear that Malawi’s developmental outcomes are lagging too behind when compared to many countries in the region that have similar or even worse circumstances.
It is for this reason that for its most recent Country Economic Memorandum for Malawi, the World Bank chose a very uneasy title – From Falling Behind to Catching up–to express both a difficult pessimistic diagnosis of our situation (i.e. falling behind) while being diplomatic enough by projecting an optimism that catching up is possible. The indictment is clear: The Malawi state is unable to spearhead development in a robust way.
Studies on the political economy of development have increasingly noted that part of the explanation of the variance in development outcomes between states lies in the internal structures of the particular states and in how the state relates to society. The assertions are that different kinds of state structures create different capacities for developmental action; and structures define the range of roles that the government is capable of playing for development. Development outcomes depend on whether the roles the government plays fit the context and on how well they are executed. Studies in the politics and sociology of development across the regions of the world show that based on variations in state structures and state society relations states are in two main categories. Predatory states and Developmental states. Predatory states extract resources at the expense of society, undercutting development even in the narrow sense of basic capital accumulation. Developmental states by contrast preside and oversee industrial transformation and plays active roles in making it happen.
Predatory states militate against quick and significant development outcomes. They do this through their five typical characteristics.
lThey lack the ability to restrain individual incumbents from pursuing their own personal goals using the power and instruments of the State. The processes and systems for determining national interests are weak or non-existent. Consequently, the national developmental agenda is run on the basis of personal idiosyncrasies of the President. Politically, his or her personal interests are transposed for national interests and any contrary views earn the description of being unpatriotic. Systems and process and institutions are undermined and cannot enforce accountability. The personal and the parochial get dressed as national and the result is a widespread lack of inspiration among the people and increasing social and political inequalities.
lPersonal ties and parochial identities are the main source of cohesion. This often results from political process and practices that are not genuinely inclusive resulting in one or two parochial groups dominating the state and using it to set and execute an agenda in furtherance not of the true national interest but of their group interest but dressed up as national interest.
lIndividual maximization of personal benefits accruing from the state takes precedence over the pursuit of collective goods that would deliver the greatest good to the greatest numbers in society. – “Those who control the state plunder public resources without any more regard for the welfare of the citizenry than a predator has for the welfare of its prey”.
lPolitical representation which connects the state and citizens take the form of ties to individual incumbents—presidents, vice presidents and Members of Parliament rather than being connections between constituencies and the state as an organisations.
lGovernment’s effectiveness are repression of citizens, especially those citizens that belong to parochial groups opposed to the group that controls the reins of political power, substantially exceeds its effectiveness at delivering developmental goods and services.
I have read, heard and engaged in many discussions in workshops, seminars, conferences that have focused on assessing the development trajectory of our country since independence. Each political epoch (presided over by MCP, UDF, DPP and PP) is never short of many illustrative cases of each of the five characteristics of the predatory state. That is the nature of the Malawi state. It is at the core of our dismal development performance and outcomes. n
—Governance & Development Specialist