With elections looming, politics (and I mean dirty politics) taking centre stage, we all need to take a step back and think about the sort of country we wish Malawi to become. Central to this reflective notion is the role of good governance. Governing and true leadership is about delivering on a promise and so many times we have been let down by those we elect to be our fathers and mothers of the nation.
In my view, the biggest challenge any government faces is improving the quality of life for its citizens. A very key question to ask is, “are you and I better-off today than we were five years ago?’’ Or to put it slightly differently “in what ways has your life improved or worsened from what it was five years ago?”
Each one of us has an answer to the above, but if you have been following events on the ground, you will know that Malawians are currently going through a very tough period, to name a few issues:
• High inflation rate has led to an increase in the cost of living
• Price of maize and other necessary goods are ever on the increase
• Malawi continues to suffer due to being a net importer; the cost of commodity prices is at an all time high (relative to average wages)
• High interest rates in the range of 25% and above
• The minimum wage is still at the rate it was before the devaluation of the Kwacha, this equates to 4,500MwK.
Since the devaluation of the Kwacha, the economy has not responded as expected and many commodities are now twice as expensive as they were a year ago. Further, there is critical shortage of maize in the urban areas, leading to a rationing regime (10kgs per person at the moment) that has been introduced by the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC).
However, despite the bleak picture, I do commend Dr. Joyce Banda, President of the Republic of Malawi, for devaluing the Malawi Kwacha since the country had long been an inflated economy and that bubble would have burst at some point, with potentially devastating effects. Having said that, there is clearly an absence of “safety nets” or measures which would have safeguarded those who have been most hit hard by the devaluation.
Economists and scholars have been vocal in highlighting the dangers of this devaluation and have asked the government to devise measures to cushion the impact. A recent Integrated Household survey found that 52.2% of the country’s population is now living in poverty, surviving on less than a dollar a day.
Meanwhile, the number in extreme poverty, surviving on less than 10 cents a day, has increased from 22% to 25%. In response to this study, the University of Malawi’s political science lecturer, Blessings Chinsinga said ‘’the levels of grinding poverty which Malawians are facing is largely because of types of politicians who are voted into power to lead the country- mostly clueless’’. Chinsinga goes on to say, “the country needs new leadership which thinks outside the box. The leadership which works with professionally competitive civil service that is able to implement policies not only on the basis of selfish political considerations but on the basis of what is good for this country.”
A government needs to have a policy, which is both clear and coherent, and use available resources as efficiently as possible to produce the results that citizens expect. But how do we achieve this essential goal when many of the representatives we have in parliament or as ministers are strictly speaking neither suitable nor sufficiently well versed to competently serve their nation?
My simple (and somewhat complicated) answer is that we need responsible leadership (a leader who is responsible, charismatic, has strong leadership skills and is ready to be held accountable for his/her actions). This can only be achieved once we identify and implement the goals and ideals of good governance.
As elections loom, I find myself thinking that if we are to change Malawi’s prospects, we have to be very careful when voting, so that we choose those whom we believe will uphold all the above mentioned values of leadership. Thus, like many other Malawians, I am keen to hear the agenda or manifestos of all political parties, and if they haven’t already done so, key to each agenda should be:
• What would their government do, specifically, to improve living standards in the country?
• How will it leverage available resources to obtain desired results?
• What are the instruments available to them if elected for implementing the programme?
• How much citizen engagement will be required and what systems are in place to achieve this?
• In their manifesto, what role do the youth of Malawi have in advancing of the nation?
• How will they reduce high unemployment?
• Given that Malawi has one of the worst education standards – ranked 47th in Africa with and education score of 30.9 out of 100 (2012 Ibrahim Index of African Governance), what will they do to improve education?
• What incentives will be put in place to ensure skills provided through education be successfully transferred to the working environment?
• What sort of job creation will be made to ensure there is no brain drain?
• And how will they measure outcomes?
I sincerely hope that the party which wins the 2014 election will empower the youth to have a very strong voice in the development of Malawi. After all, the youth constitute 36% of Malawi’s population. This youth bulge is Malawi’s most important asset and it is essential that the government invests in them by creating and implementing policies that target young people, including programmes that address their livelihood, health and wellbeing, education and training, employment and various other needs.
My dream for Malawi, come 2014, is for Malawi to have a leader who is open to the people, has an inclusive government with no bias of gender, age and ethnicity. A progressive leader who can mobilise people around a vision, that achieves desired outcomes and most importantly is driven by the values of good governance. I hope this dream comes true sooner than later.
Originally posted in Nyasa Times (March 2013)