One step forward, two steps backwards

Honourable Folks, a fact we can’t ignore as we begin the count-down to the New Year is that we shall have clocked 56 years as an independent sovereign state by July next year.

There’s little, if any, debate on whether there’s much to show for our post-colonial exploits. Our major credit is on the fact that we are among few countries on the continent that have not suffered coups, civil strife or tribal wars.

The transition from one-party to multiparty political dispensation was very smooth despite that we were dismantling a system steeped in the life presidency with its inherent autocratic tendency to brook no different, let alone opposing view to the one held by the incumbent and endorsed, albeit by default, by his cronies in government and party.  Kamuzu Banda was vehemently opposed to change!

Over the years, we’ve sailed through five presidential elections and, in April 2012, power changed hands peacefully from DPP to PP following the sudden death from cardiac arrest of President Bingu wa Mutharika.

Ironically, there has been very little in terms of development and economic growth to show for the peace we’ve enjoyed since 1964 and the multiparty dispensation that’s been there since 1994.  We move in the rhythm of one-step-forward-two-steps-backwards.

Imagine in the 1980s we bragged about feeding about a million refugees from Mocambique, yet today, we spend 10 percent of our national budget on farm input subsidies yet hunger still looms and we look to donors to help us feed 1.5 million to 2 million of our people every year!

Our public health system is designed in such a way that minor ailments are treated in health centres, those that can’t be handled there are referred to district hospitals and those that can’t be handled at the district hospital level are transferred to referral hospitals—Queen Elizabeth in the South, Zomba in the East, Kamuzu in the Centre and Mzuzu in the North.

Such a structure presupposes that the regional referrals are best equipped. Yet, they lack gloves, ventilators, pain killers, etc, just like health centres!

As for education, we’ve done enviably well in constructing classroom blocks and increasing enrolment from primary to the university. Yet the standards have deteriorated so much that only poor people send their children to these public schools. Politicians send their children to expensive private schools locally or abroad.

The results are there for all to see. It’s much harder for a brilliant poor child going through public school system to compete with a son or daughter of a politician or rich parent for the opportunities that education brings.

We may have peace and multiparty democracy but for a future with a difference at the national and household levels, we also need quality education, improved health delivery system and sustainable agriculture. These are core public sector functions for which government collects tax revenue and receive donor aid in our name.

There’s also the need for those in government to stop being petty and partisan. Government stop trying to destroy local companies perceived to be unsympathetic to its cause as that destroys the economy further and worsens unemployment and poverty levels.

Last but not least, government should de-politicize development, decisively arrest corruption which robs an estimated 30 percent of public revenue a year and reform the public sector to ensure it has the capacity to carry out development projects cost-effectively, within set deadlines and without compromising on quality.

If we continue electing wrong people, researchers have already predicted that even after another 50 years, we’ll still be moving one-step forward, two steps backwards while still enmeshed in poverty.

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