President Mutharika showed a hopeless lack of political thinking and lack of ideology when he asked the ECAMA members to come up with solutions to the country’s economic problems. This shows a simplistic and clueless type of thinking that treats economic measures as technocratic solutions to technical problems. But they are not!
Economic choices are at the heart of the direction that our leaders are taking the country. Mutharika is supposed to have known this before elections so we could know what we are voting for or against. But we seem to be left in the dark, guessing what each political party and political leader stands for.
Do we want to follow the “Washington Consensus” as promoted by IMF and such? (This is a neo-liberal type of thinking coming from Washington, not Africa, and it is a consensus between neo liberal institutions in Washington: the IMF, World Bank and WTO, not a consensus with Africans) This would mean ending Malata subsidy, FISP and protectionism and opening the borders for flash capital that comes in and out, and wooing international investors with Export Processing Zones and such. The neo liberal idea is that this will grow the economy and thus the income of everyone. This is debatable, but in South Africa similar policies by Thabo Mbeki (first term) have not worked. They failed to bring the economic growth hoped for, and he left them behind in his second term.
Or do we want to sail our own course?
Do we want more regional integration with our neighbor countries?
Do we want subsidies for the poor or do we want market based pricing?
All these are deeply political choices that are not to be left to economic technocrats. Without knowing the issues, and while treating every challenge as a technical problem we miss the larger structures, and we go in no particular direction of our own. We let ourselves be pushed by outside forces like IMF, instead of deciding our own fate. Which is what we elect our politicians for. We need an interconnected government strategy on socio economic issues. For this we should decide where we want Malawi to be in – say – 50 years, and then with every measure decide whether it takes us in the right direction or the wrong one.