Grace to Grass: Malawi’s Lessons for Africa

Published on 10th April 2012

The African Executive wishes Malawi a peaceful transition after the death of its president, the late Bingu wa Mutharika. From 2004-8, Mutharika saw his country achieve high agricultural productivity and food security. Malawi, considered one of the poorest countries in the world, for the first time saw poverty decline from 60% to 40%. In the 2008/9 season the country’s food surplus reached 1,3 million metric tons.

Malawi witnessed a socio-political and economic turbulence when in April 2011, a leaked diplomatic cable from British High Commissioner to Malawi, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet labeled Mutharika “autocratic and intolerant of criticism.” Upon the envoy’s expulsion, Western donors, primarily the UK, withheld aid to the country, particularly financial support which constituted 40% of the country’s budget. Fuel shortages, rising prices, high unemployment and dissenting voices arose, sparking protests. Malawi’s plight offers vital lessons to the rest of Africa that newly sworn in President Joyce Banda should learn.

Many African leaders ascend to power promising to meet the aspirations of the electorate but change course as soon as power is in their grip. Such a stance soiled Abdoulaye Wade’s record. The continent’s leaders must thus be accountable to the electorate and respect set institutions. Looking at the economic turmoil Malawi has undergone within a short time, it is doubtful that the booming economy was genuinely local. It is imperative that African countries wean themselves off foreign aid as it produces artificial economies and sends negative ripples when withheld. The instability experienced in the nation’s tobacco exports is a wake-up call that the continent ought to nurture, grow and service its  internal market before looking outwards. This will cushion the continent from the shock of falling exports.

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