Why Malawi and Rwanda are different like day and night

Malawi and Rwanda are both small landlocked countries in Africa. But unlike Malawi, which has not known war over decades—and which proudly and perhaps deservedly giving itself the accolade warm heart of Africa—Rwanda has a deeply troubled past. In just over 100 days between April and July, 1994, Rwanda went through one of the most internecine civil wars on the globe. In what is known as the Rwandan genocide against the Tsutsi, about 800 000 people—Tsutsi, Twa and moderate Hutu, were slaughtered by ethnic Hutu extremists.

But Rwanda has turned the engine on under the firm leadership of President Paul Kagame. It has averaged between 5 percent and 10 percent GDP growth for two decades, outperforming many neighbouring countries and earning the nickname of could-be ‘Singapore of Africa. The country’s GDP per capita in 2018 was $773.00.

On the other hand, Malawi’s average GDP growth over the same period has been between 2.7 percent and 4 percent, with 6.9 percent being the highest in 2010. Malawi’s GDP Per Capita was $401.00 in December 2018.

Both Malawi and Rwanda have over the decades received support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, and both countries have made important economic and structural reforms, but while Rwanda has been able to sustain its economic growth rates over the last decade, Malawi has not. 

Rwanda, just like Malawi, is an agro-based economy with 90 percent of its population engaged in agriculture and agro-processing. Rwanda’s agricultural sector accounts for 33 percent of the national GDP. Similarly, agriculture anchors Malawi’s economy, directly accounting for about one third of gross domestic product (GDP). Agriculture significantly contributes to employment, economic growth, export earnings, poverty reduction, food security, and nutrition. Agriculture is the sector in which Malawi competes most successfully in international markets.  While maize has been the major food crop in terms of the policy agenda and hectarage planted, tobacco has been, and continues to be, the dominant cash crop in the economy accounting for approximately 58 percent of the country’s total export earnings. Tobacco should, therefore, have given Malawi a competitive edge over Rwanda. But nay!

What, therefore, is the difference between Rwanda and Malawi?

It is in the leadership. Rwanda has Kagame and Malawi has its own crop of leaders. The leadership sets the vision for the country. Like many other development blueprints, both Rwanda and Malawi, adopted the Vision 2020.

For Malawi, this vision envisaged that by the year 2020, Malawi as a God-fearing nation will be secure, democratically mature, environmentally sustainable, self reliant with equal opportunities for and active participation by all, having social services, vibrant cultural and religious values and being a technologically driven middle-income economy.

Some of the key assumptions for achieving this vision were the attainment of good governance and political discipline, an efficient State, skilled human capital, a vibrant private sector, world class physical infrastructure and modern agriculture. Rwanda can proudly flaunt its success story in all these areas. But the same is not the case for Malawi. Malawi did not create an environment and infrastructure to facilitate attainment of the goals of the vision.

Malawi’s biggest problem is bad governance, specifically corruption. Leaders are not made to be held accountable for their actions. Malawi is the 120 least corrupt nation out of 175 countries in the world, according to the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International. Rwanda, on the other hand, is the 48 least corrupt nation out of 175 countries. Corruption has cost the country billions of Kwacha every year and widened the gap between the rich and poor. This is money that could have taken the country very far if invested in health, education, agriculture and other sectors.

That is why if you ask Rwanda now what their biggest problem is, they will be talking about Aids and poverty in general but not corruption.

But busting graft is not possible when those who are supposed to fight it are the ones leading the pack of thieves. So they steal from government with impunity. Khoswe akakhala pamkhate sapheka.

Rwanda will therefore continue to soar economically with its Cabinet recently approving an intergovernmental cooperation agreement with Russia to advance the peaceful use of nuclear energy as a tool for socio-economic transformation in the East African nation. This is a feat out of imagination for Malawi, which can’t even crack down on procurement gurus who sold the $50 billion 177 tractors and 144 maize shellers for a song. Malawians will be saddled with that loan from India for the next 20 years. Yet no one is ready to offer not even a simple apology to Malawians for their wrong doing. But it is only when you see the list of people who bought the tractors and shellers that you can begin to agree why nobody will ever be prosecuted for this broad daylight theft of government resources. It’s impunity of the highest order.

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