Malawian government is deeply dysfunctional. As long as it was prepped up by donors, the dysfunctionality was covered up a little. But now, the donors are under pressure from populist nationalist parties in Europe, who want to slash aid; in the US the same is shown in the popularity of Donald Trump. Western governments simply cannot afford to give aid which is being stolen by a rich elite in the recipient countries. So until there is serious action against corruption in Malawi, and the government finance system is reasonably effective, budget support is not returning.


fisp-malawiIn the history of democracy in Malawi we have seen one slightly more effective government: Bingu wa Mutharika I. His second term was marred more than any other government by corruption, inefficiency and other flaws. In his first term, he managed to implement a large policy that reached the population: FISP (Farm Input Subsidy Programme, mostly subsidized fertilizer). This got him unprecedented popularity: a president who does something for the population! After the later Kamuzu years and the lost decade of Muluzi, this was a great improvement.

The problem is that it is very difficult to replicate, because it was only possible in the unique circumstances that Mutharika was in at the time (and that he lost in his second term).

Mutharika came into the Presidency sponsored by UDF, but he early on ditched the Front and started his own political party, the DPP. With the UDF he also ditched all the political debts that the party (much of it in the person of the previous President Muluzi) had made, to win elections. In Malawi it appears necessary to buy support from many influential people in order to win elections. This means that the democratic value of Malawian elections is substantially undermined. Often the support is bought with (sometimes silent) promises of opportunities to enrich oneself, once the candidate has won elections. This gives rise to enormous corruption, nepotism, and incompetent people being appointed. Also the office bearers know they are not in office for performance, but for the support they have lent in the past. So their policy in office is not enlightened by striving for excellent performance, but by cashing in on (often corrupt) opportunities for self enrichment.

In his first term Bingu wa Mutharika was not marred by this kind of problem: he had ditched all that with UDF/Muluzi. This gave him the unique opportunity to do something for the population. On the other hand, for his re-election he got entangled in the corrupt practices that are the norm in Malawian politics, and his second term was a disaster.


If we look at the implications of this situation for the future, it does not give reason for optimism: in the usual situation the President will be hindered by political debts, which will take over governance. He (or she) cannot push through the policies that will benefit the country, but is bound to practice nepotism and allow corruption and self enrichment. We see this happening now: donors demand anti-corruption policies to be implemented, but the government is not complying. The ATI bill has been butchered to a point that the law (if acted upon) will be toothless. The government is not producing audited accounts or bank reconciliations. This means the opportunities for theft and corruption are plenty. And donors know it. They are not giving in. They channel their aid through other organizations, mostly NGOs. But these NGOs do not have the absorption capacity that the big government machine has, and only around half of the budgeted aid is being disbursed. This has huge implications for the economy and that is what we see happening now.

Meanwhile the population is suffering: the FISP is off track, the hospitals have no drugs, the education sector is losing the little quality is used to have, the currency is losing value with the run-away inflation the government policy is generating.

If my analysis is correct, we have little hope of solving our problems with the current youthbenefits-png-300x190political system in power. We cannot rely on opposition politicians generated by the same system that has produced such horrible governance in the past. We need new faces, new people, new types of politics, and above all: the abandoning of the all encompassing clientele system that characterizes Malawian politics. We need to look beyond Capital Hill, to the real population on the ground. We need to move away from the top-down power structures that are currently paralyzing the country. We need bottom-up empowerment, from the grass roots.

This is not to say I advocate for violence and revolution. I am afraid that will be worse than the problems we are in now. We need empowerment without violence, which means: non-violent resistance. Peaceful mass demonstrations and civil disobedience. To insist on accountability, and to elect new people who are not infected with the clientele system, and nepotistic tendencies.

This is not to say the change can go without sacrifice. If we look at parallel developments i the past in the developed world we see that there conservative powers used violence to stop even the gradual change that was taking place. In Eastern Europe, where the great Russian revolution effected massive change the loss of life was much bigger.

Here we see that the current DPP administration is willing to put the law aside when threatened, even by the in-crowd of Capital Hill: it has unlawfully arrested several opposition politicians. And traditionally the government is much harsher with extra-Parliamentarian opposition as evidenced in the police shootings of unarmed demonstrators on 20 July 2011 and the murder of Robert Chasowa. If we want improvement, if we want development, we are going to have to brace ourselves for tough, even murderous reaction. uganda-food-riotsThe alternative is not very up-beat either: already people are dying of hunger and economic violence from the ruling class.

If the CSOs do not organize the protests, there will be spontaneous food riots and such, which will be violent and uncontrolled. Times are hard. What do we do?



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