Malawi has been urged to halt the “zigzag” development pattern because it has tended to negatively affect pro-poor development gains due to detrimental economic policy changes brought about by various political parties in power.
Former Norwegian ambassador Asbjorn Eidhammer, speaking in an exclusive interview with The Nation in Lilongwe on Friday just before his return to Oslo, Norway, pointed out that often, such changes are highly influenced by development partners and international financial institutions.
Said Eidhammer: “One will see shifts in policies, in particular when it concerns agriculture, at almost regular intervals. These policy changes, which often have been detrimental to economic development, have not always been domestic. They have often been highly influenced by development partners and international financial institutions.
“Such changes have been one factor leading to a zigzag development: growth, crises, recovery, and then a new crisis. Of course, other elements have been important, like the fluctuations in the international prices of commodities and a globalisation which Malawi has not yet been able to take much advantage of. I have the hope that this situation is now changing.”
Eidhammer said Malawi has the potential of attaining great development heights, like Norway did after a dismal start in the early years of its independence 200 years ago, by entrenching democracy and fully utilising natural resources such as minerals.
But he stressed that government needs to engage professional advisers to help negotiate contracts and to ensure that the revenue-creation and utilisation processes are transparent and benefit ordinary people.
“The benefit for Malawians must be secured. But there has to be a balance, so that investors are not put off. Stability in the economy is a key both to attracting investments and securing the rights of Malawians,” the envoy stated.
Asked why Norway was one of the countries to have suspended its substantial budget support for Malawi, once the infamous Cashgate emerged last year, Eidhammer said that was because the scandal betrayed the mutual trust donors have in the financial management of a government.
But the envoy expressed happiness that although the future of budgetary support is uncertain among Malawi’s bilateral partners, Norway and some partners found ways of channelling funds into programmes that continue to benefit ordinary Malawians.
He noted with pride that democracy and freedom of expression are national values Malawians enjoy and he expressed hope that the people will not permit leadership that takes them back to authoritarianism and economic experimentation.
Said Eidhammer: “I cannot see the people of Malawi accepting authoritarian rule in the future. Newspapers and the many radio and television stations will not accept to be silenced. People will also demand sound economic policies.”
Eidhammer was one of the longest serving envoys in Malawi, having concluded eight years of diplomatic service during two separate assignments in the country.