The state of the State

The state in Malawi looks less and less stable. This is inherent in the type of governance we have. It creates underdevelopment, dependence and subordination to foreign interests, which in turn generate poverty, illiteracy and disease.

Our history of capitalist colonialism has lead to this situation. Africa was a continent of mostly self sufficient social units. But the colonials have introduced the destabilizing factor of  international capitalism, forcing us to produce raw materials for their industry and then buying back the products from our own materials at a premium price.


Banda did not see this situation as a fundamentally problematic one: he perpetuated the economic class relationships, but replaced the European ownership of tobacco to a local ruling class. The population suffered as before. In the tea plantations, he largely left the Colonial Masters in place. Now the population was being robbed doubly: the former colonial power still paid low prices, but also the local elite was taking a cut from the surplus value, lowering the workers share even further. The  abject poverty of the population is only worsening in recent years, inequality keeps rising (check the GINI coefficient!).

With growing access to media and advertisements the expectations of the population are growing while their purchasing power is eaten up by the local and international elite. This post-colonial experience is frustrating the population more and more, and this frustration will find a channel of communication, most likely first in banditry, and later in organized resistance (which does not necessarily need to be violent, think of the peaceful  land invasions in Thyolo).

The population demands three things:

  1. an elimination of excessive and rising inequality between the happy few and the masses. This requires a fundamental overhaul of the capitalist/feudal relations that currently exist in Malawi.
  2. a reasonable level of services from the government in exchange for its taxes
  3. a reasonable standard of living.

The enigma for government is that the conditions which support its hegemony are exactly the same as those that make it impossible to fulfill the rightful demands of the population: the corruption and inefficiency in delivering services to the population are the exact mechanisms that enable the ruling class to enrich itself. And these do not only undermine the government services, but also limit the expansion of surplus value generated by the population. This is the reason the local ruling class in Malawi relied heavily on foreign aid to finance its material excesses. Now that the foreign aid is being limited, the local ruling class is not giving up an inch of its privileges, and passing on the burden to the population. Never before has the population of Malawi suffered at this level.

So far the ruling class has been mostly successful in preventing political translation of these rightful demands: political parties are all conservative, supporting the hegemony of the capitalist/feudal ruling class at the expense of the population. It seems the ruling class is keeping the margins narrow, so they can keep on extracting the surplus value from the population. Nominally we have multi-party politics, but the electorate does not have a choice in the direction they want the country to go: all parties keep things the same (despite rhetoric). This renders multi-party democracy meaningless, and just another perpetuation of the one-party type politics of extraction of surplus value from the population. In fact, our politics have been depoliticized, which renders democracy an empty slogan.

While this may seem to enhance stability, the opposite is true:

The only politics happening are the struggles over state power between the different factions of the ruling class. With this, the opposing interests of the different classes in society keep growing, and the impoverishment of the population is worsened, destabilizing state power.

If the population’s demands are not translated politically, the barrel will boil over at some (not too distant) moment, and we may be looking at a situation much more violent than the 20 July 2011 mass demonstrations. We could be looking at whole sale revolt, with disastrous repercussions for the majority of the population.



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