IMF and the extended credit facility.



In the 1970s, for political reasons (the Israeli war) a number of big OPEC countries stopped delivering oil to the west. This tremendously pushed up the oil price, which transferred astronomical sums of money to the Arab oil producing countries. By the same token it had serious repercussions for the US economy. The US, very dependent on imported oil for its economy and military, seriously considered the “military option”. That is a euphemism for war and occupation of oil producing countries. With this violent concept under the table, the Arab countries were forced into a compromise: they could keep the oil price up, only if they would deposit the profits in American banks, so the Americans could still profit from it in some way. Now the US banks had enormous amounts of money they needed to use to create interests, and the western economies, because of the oil crisis, were depressed. So the banks looked beyond their usual customers and started offering big loans to third world countries (the contemporary term for what is now called “developing countries”). Clearly, these amounts of money seemed irresistible for the third world governments, at the time often dictatorships. These amounts of money promised “development” (a very vaguely defined term). This was actively promoted by western governments by using economic hit men, who would produce reports with strongly overstated development predictions from the projects financed with these loans. In some cases corrupt implementation lowered the benefits further, and in most situations the third world (developing) countries had trouble repaying. This gave western countries leverage over the political economy of the third world countries, which they had implemented by the IMF and World Bank. The resulting programmes were called Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). These were neo-liberal reforms that were designed to increase influence of capitalist companies over the world economy, by selling off state enterprises, lowering state expenditure, and privatising the commons. These SAPs created untold misery, as they resulted in imf-and-world-bank-keeps-africa-poorcollapsing health care, education, and economic prospects for the poor. In the mean time the multi-national companies and the local third world elites would profit. This is consistent with the neo-liberal goal of restoring and creating ruling class power over the population and increasing inequality. Because of the bad social outcomes the SAPs were replaced with (essentially the same) programmes called Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers. These were drawn up by the third world governments, but under the direction of the IMF with the same goals as SAPs so the outcome was essentially the same. Here in Malawi we have seen the real income of the common people go down since the 1980s, largely because our rulers went along with these schemes that were profitable for them and disastrous for the population. This again got a bad name so with minor adjustments this was renamed Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility, then Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility, and after that Extended Credit Facility. While each was slightly different from the previous, the neo-liberal background made it impossible to escape from the creation of greater and greater inequality, which was beneficial for the ruling class, as their share of the national wealth grew. Obviously, for the masses of the population this was destructive.

Typical stabilisation policies include:

  • Balance of payments deficits reduction through currency devaluation. This lowers incomes and lowers the values of savings, including pensions and such. That way the wage earners, savers and (future) pensioners pay for the balance of payment problems.
  • Budget deficit reduction through higher taxes ad lower government spending, also known as austerity. In (IMF) theory this should cut wasteful spending. But the wasteful spending benefits the powerful through allowances and luxurious conferences. So the powerful push this downwards, where the poor are confronted with inadequate health care and education among others.
  • Restructuring foreign debts
  • Eliminating subsidies, typically on essential needs such as food. This pushes up food prices, in Malawi most importantly the maize price. Again the poor are bearing the brunt of the load.
  • Raising the price of public services such as health care and education. We see this in Malawi by both refusing to hire teachers and nurses while charging draconian rises in university fees.
  • Cutting wages, mostly done through run-away inflation.

Long term adjustment policies that are pushed upon third world countries like Malawi typically include:

  • Liberalisation of markets, which pushes up the price of essential goods like food and fuel.
  • Privatisation of state owned enterprises. These are sold at give-away prices to the politically connected. In Malawi we have seen a lot of that under Muluzi, including Press Corporation and many others. Prices of public transport have risen since the privatisation of bus services.
  • Improving governance and fighting corruption: this would help the poor, so it is not done in Malawi
  • Enhancing the rights of foreign investors. We see Chinese and other foreign companies coming into Malawi, though piece meal because of bad governance and infra structure.

A lot of these conditions are under the so called “Washington Consensus” a deal made in Washington pushed by rich western countries on the rest of the world.

Cultural hegemony in our beautiful Malawi

Cultural hegemony is the domination of a society by the ruling class, by means of ideas, rather than brute force. Of course the ruling class has access to the lethal violence of the state machinery as we witnessed on 20 July 2011. But most of the time they dominate us in a more subtle way. The ruling class has access to the media. The political class to the public media, and the capitalist class to the private media. Private media can only exist because of advertising (sales of newspapers cover only part of the production cost, and private electronic media are totally dependent on advertising). That means they need to satisfy the needs of the advertiser. Also private media are owned (and thus controlled) by rich people: if you are poor you simply do not have the means to start a media house. So it is the rich and powerful who control the media. Quite naturally, the messages they disseminate in the media they control are those that reflect their values and opinions. This way we get fed the ruling class ideology of society. All discussions and differences included, there are background values that are never questioned and always amplified from all sides of the media spectrum. Not because those values are universal or inevitable, but because they reflect the ideas and interests of the ruling class, the rich and powerful, who control the media. In schools it is much the same: the political class dominates the government schools, the rich dominate the private schools. Here the same concepts are being disseminated.

One such concept is “development”. No matter who is speaking, the word development isimage001 used for positive connotations. Very conveniently for those using it, the word is only defined in the vaguest of terms. It can mean education, infrastructure, economic growth, well being, health care, food security, you name it. But rarely is anyone questioning the meaning of the concept. So it is used for almost anything, when someone needs positive connotations. Because it can mean almost anything it becomes almost meaningless. But because of the frequent repetition of the term, it seems logical and rational. However, a meaningless term cannot be used to communicate meaning. It is only used to communicate a slogan.

The concept “development” hinges on the “development model”. This world view states that countries need to take a number of steps from “un-developed” to “developed”. “Developed” countries supposedly have taken these steps in the past, “un-developed” countries need to take those same steps in order to become “developed”. But if we look at the way “developed” countries achieved their “development”, we see that those same steps are not available to us at all: the first country to industrialise (if we take that standard for “developed”) was the UK. They used colonies like us to finance their development: we provided cheap raw materials, often forced to sell far below market price. These cheap materials were shipped to the UK where they were manufactured into products, which were shipped back to the colonies and sold at high prices, so the manufacturer would make a big profit. We provided both the raw materials to make and the markets to sell the products. They “developed” at our cost, and we did not “develop”. We financed their “development”. We currently do not own colonies that we can abuse to finance our development, so that road is not open to us. Even so, this outdated model is used day in day out in the dominant discourse to provide positive messaging. And we see the results: we are not “developing” in any meaningful sense. (This is explained by the World Systems Model, which is much more modern and adequate than the Development Model.)

World-wide, there is another dominant discourse. It is slightly different (in “developed” countries the world “development” has other connotations). There it is the neo-liberal world-view that has become “common sense”. The neo-liberal buzz word is “freedom”. Neo-liberal means: Privatisation, marketisation, commodification. More private companies, less statal companies and para statal companies. This idea is only very partially implemented, though.

While US President Trump is a strong proponent of market capitalism, he has greatly expanded government spending, especially on defence (about US 52billion rise!), which channels lots of tax money to the private companies that supply the army. (this is called the military-industrial complex, and it has great influence on US government spending, which explains why US governments are so keen on making war: it supplies profits for the military-industrial complex). This dominant language is promoted by international organisations like the IMF, World Bank, USAID, MCC and other (American Government funded) organisations. These organisations are pushing neo-liberal policies on the recipients of their funds: the privatisation of (part of) Escom is a clear example.

Another example of neo-liberal policy is the new land bill that Atupele Muluzi brought in. It privatises the land. Land that used to be held in common by the community is now being divided up between people, and made personal property. The UK followed a similar policy in the 18th century. This brought more wealth for the rich and more poverty for the poor: it increased inequality. We can expect the same to happen in Malawi. Some people will out of poverty have to sell their land or use it as collateral for a loan. If their harvest is not sufficient to pay back, they will lose their land, and with it their means of livelihood. So this will create a class of landless peasants, the poorest in any society. Policies like this in India have led to terrible epidemics of suicide among the poor farmers in years with bad weather. It is quite possible the same will happen in Malawi as a consequence of Muluzi’s neo-liberal policy.

Our private media, which are organised in a capitalist way and mostly funded by capitalist advertising, promote neo-liberal policies as well, especially in the capitalist minded business sections. The public media are more stuck in the one party ideas of government-led development (like the failed government owned sugar factory in Salima and the crumbling Nsanje Inland Port).

Both models, development and neo-liberalism, exclude the biggest part of the population from the nation’s wealth. Small holder farmers make up 85% of Malawi’s population, but they make only very meagre incomes. The policies followed so far by governments since independence in 1964 have not improved their situation. Even worse: at the start of multi-party in Malawi in 1994 the per capita GDP (which is a measure of the wealth of the people) was lower than in 1964 at independence. And in 2014, after 20 years of multi-party the per capita GDP is lower than it was in 1994. The current models of policies do not lead to improvement of the people’s wellbeing. This means we need to look to radically different policies to improve the situation of the majority, the hegemonic models have not worked for us.

DPP thinking!

The other day I saw an interesting post on FB. It shows some of the thinking of some DPP apologists. It went as follows:

“You have been in fore front telling donors not to support DPP government and now there is no money for by-election because money has been channelled [sic] to equally important areas. So why are you making noise with unrealistic demands. This is obvious that you are under influence of opposition who have nothing to offer but full of jealousy. Don’t cheat us with your NGO when some of you want to contest as MCP mps”

It shows a lot of flaws in the thinking:

  1. The CSOs are blamed for the stop in budget funding, as if donors are some kind of tap that can be opened in the correct way and funds will flood. This type of thinking totally overlooks donors as actors who design their own policies. If you want to understand their thinking, read “ the white man’s burden” by Easterly. This also greatly overestimates the power CSOs are supposed to have over donors. The reason donors did cut off budget support is ongoing corruption and wasteful spending in government: NGOs are far more efficient in implementing projects cost-effectively.
  2. It shows a one party state thinking: It supposes the government should not be contradicted, the government is supposed to be accepted by all with no criticism. This is undemocratic thinking that was supposed to be left behind in 1994.
  3. It shows “developmental state” thinking as if there is a number of steps a country is supposed to go through to develop. This type of thinking has been debunked long ago. If this would work, Malawi would have been developed long ago. But western countries developed at the cost of their colonies: we provided the cheap raw materials for the UK industry to develop. We cannot take the same route because there are no colonies for us to exploit.
  4. The world hegemony at the moment is neo-liberal, which is good for the rich and bad for the poor like us. So we should not slave-like follow the directives and conditionalities of donor countries, we should operate strategically with what is available.

Our ruling class is obsessed with western style status symbols like luxury cars, western bank accounts in western currency. And they are obsessed with protocol. If you have something worthwhile to communicate, you do not need protocol, you can communicate straight ahead. But if you have nothing to say, you will want to use protocol (with no communication) to underline the power relationship (the ruling class power). Protocol is empty western habit, that obscures what is really going on. But our ruling class has nothing to communicate, because the real action is all behind the scenes: power struggles within the ruling class, corruption, diversion of funds, you name it. But all that is not being discussed in public, that is all secret palace politics.

An easy way to debunk the statement on top would be:

There is money for Cashgate, tractorgate, maizegate, Northern Water-gate. There is money for dubious arms deals. There is money for State Residences. There is money for a bloated Presidential convoy.

There is no money for democracy, There is no money to hire the 10,000 qualified teacher we need to educate our children. There is no money for drugs (at least, not for drugs reaching the patients, only for drugs being tapped off along the way)

But I feel the longer story is more informational. What are your comments?



The law: the content (by our rulers) and the application (by our rulers)!

In connection with a post about the arrest of Stella Assani and Vincent Wandale, I got this comment:

“If you break the law, prepare to meet the law. None of my business.”

This is an interesting comment that very concisely mirrors the rule-of-law. However it leaves to questions unanswered:

  1. What is in the law? Who decides what is in the law, what is the law, and how is this decided.
  2. How is the law applied? Is it as directly as stated in the comment or is it more complicated?

The answer to question one is supposed to be: the electorate is the final authority, because this is a democracy. But it does not really work that way. The electorate is only consulted once in five years, and in those five years a lot happens. We are being Represented, we are not present ourselves where the laws are made. And when there are elections, we can only chose from a limited group of candidates. When we look at the composition of Parliament, it becomes clearly that everybody does not have an equal opportunity to participate. Parliamentarians are:

  1. Rich, while the largest part of the population is poor
  2. Old while the largest part of the population is young
  3. Overwhelmingly male while the (small) majority of the population is female
  4. Powerful while the majority of the population is disempowered
  5. Educated while the large majority of the population is poorly educated

This shows how only a small section of the population is REpresented in Parliament, and this means that inevitably the interests of the rich, old, male, powerful, educated Malawian is more Represented than the average Malawian. On top of this the Executive (President and Cabinet) holds power over the Legislative (Parliament), through the power of the purse, and by applying other types of pressure. One former Minister (whose name I will not mention because it is George Chaponda) even prided himself in being the Bulldozer! (meaning he bulldozed his interests over other people’s interests). And the Executive, even worse than the Legislative is rich, old, male dominated, powerful and educated. So the democracy is heavily skewed and that means that the laws do not represent the average Malawians interests.

Then we have question 2: how is the law applied? And we see that the law is not applied equally to everyone, but some powerful people place themselves above the law. We know about the murderers of Robert Chasowa ( But they are not being prosecuted. The murder of Njauju is hardly being investigated. The murders of 20 unarmed demonstrators on 20 July 2011 has never been probed (who gave which orders at which level of the hierarchy at what time? Who decided on the equipment that the law enforcers had available (being guns with live ammunition and not crowd control gear)? Who decided that the Inspector General of Police was not on his post on this most important day?

These murderers are not facing the law. On the other hand, there are over 900(!) suspects of murder on remand in Malawi. Many of them for years (which is illegal!) but they are not being tried. ON the other hand several suspects are out on bail and not being tried either. So it is clearly not the case that :

“If you break the law, prepare to meet the law. None of my business.”

We need more equitable laws, by having more representative Parliamentarians, and we need rule of law applied equally to all concerned. Than that comment makes sense.

International ideological currents

Political current
Political tradition
Main agenda
Leading institutions
Internal disputes
Exemplary proponents
Global justice movement


De-globalisation of capital (not of people); globalization-from-below; anti-war; anti-racism/sexism/ homophobia; indigenous rights; feminism; ecology; decommodified state services; radical participatory democracy
Social movements like Occupy;  EZLN; environmental justice activists; indigenous people; autonomist groups; radical activist networks; leftist labour movements; left think-tanks; left media; semi-liberated zones; left part of the World Social Forum; Crimethinc
Fix-it vs. Nix-it for international agencies; role of the State/party politics; gender and racial power; divergent interests (Northern labour and environment vs. Southern sovereignty; tactics (symbolic property destruction)
H. Belafonte; J. Butler; N. Chomsky; A. Choudry; P. Freire; E. Galeano; D. Graeber; D. Harvey; J. Holloway; N. Klein; M. Moore; E. Morales; R. Nader; A Negri; J Pilger; A Roy; V. Shiva; G. Vidal; V. Wandale
Third world nationalism
National capitalism/


Increased and fairer global integration via reform of inter-state system; debt relief; expanded market access; democratized global governance; regionalism; rhetorical anti-imperialism; Third World Unity
Non-aligned Movement, G77; South Centre; self-selecting regimes; supportive NGOs
Degree of militancy against the North; divergent regional interests; religion; large vs. small countries; Islam; ego & internecine rivalries
Y Arafat; B. Al-Assad; HK Banda; F. Castro; H. Chavez; F. Fanon; Lulla da Silva; M Gadaffi; S. Hussein; Kim Jong-Un; N. Kirshner; N. Mandela; R. Mugabe; B. Wa Mutharika; Nasser; K. Nkrumah; D. Ortega; V. Putin; Xi Jin-Pin; J. Zuma
Post Washington Consensus
Liberal democracy/ social democracy
Fix ‘imperfect markets’; add sustainable development to existing capitalist framework via UN and similar global state-building; promote global Keynesianism; oppose US unilateralism and militarism
Some UN agencies (Unctad, Unicef, Unifem, Unrisd); some international NGOs (Care, Oxfam, Transparency International); big environmental groups (WWF); big labour; liberal foundations; Socialist International; some Scandinavian countries
Alliances with left or right (Washington Consensus); optimal reforms
K. Annan; Bono; G. Brundtland; A. Giddens; Hollande; J. Sachs; B. Sanders; A. Sen; G. Soros; J Stiglitz; G. Verhofstadt
Washington Consensus
Neo-liberal capitalism
Rename neo-liberalism; more effective bail-out mechanisms; financial support for US led Empire
US State; corporate media; big business; World Bank; IMF; WTO; elite clubs (World Economic Forum); some UN agencies (UNDP); some universities and think tanks (University of Chicago economics, Adam Smith Institute) most G8 countries
Differing reactions to US Empire due to regional-capitalist interests and domestic dynamics
T. Blair; J. Chirac; B. Clinton; H. Clinton; M. Friedman; A. Greenspan; T. Mbeki; A. Muluzi; B. Obama; J. Wolfensohn
Extreme right wing
Unilateral petro-military imperialism; crony deals; corporate subsidies; protectionism and tariffs; reverse globalization of people via racism and xeno-phobia; religious extremism; patriarchy, social control
Republican Party populism; right wing think tanks; the Christian Right; petro-military complex; Pentagon; right wing media (Fox, Washington Times); European extreme right; Israels Likud party; Islamic extremism
Disputes over US imperial reach; religious influence; protection culture; patriarchy; state sovereignty
Achmadinejad; A.B. al-Bagdhadi; S. Berlusconi; O. Bin-Laden; Z. Brzezinski; P. Buchanan; G.W. Bush; D. Cheny; N. Gingrich; J. Haider; B. Johnson; H. Kissinger; J. Kushner; M. Le-Pen; R. Limbaugh; T. May; R. Murdoch; J. Negroponte; R. Perle; K. Rove; D. Rumsfeld; D. Trump; G. Wilders;  P. Wolfowitz
 Inspired by P Bond

Theories of the media in modern day Malawi


In our journalism schools the students learn different theories of the media. This is good, hypodermic20needle20modelbecause a journalist should know there is not one correct view of the media, but it is possible to hold different, contradictory, views of the media, that are al valid. However one important theory is often left out, which deprives our future journalists of an important way to look at their occupation: the Propaganda Model of the media, developed by Herman and Chomsky.

The Propaganda Model describes how the Main stream Media in the USA functioned in 1988 when the book “Manufacturing consent” was published. There is an updated version from 2008 with an updated foreword and an updated post script. This updates the text somewhat, but it is not essential to my point here. I am trying to apply the Propaganda Model of the media to the Malawian situation now.

The Propaganda Model describes five filters through which the news goes before it is published.

  1. the size, concentrated ownership, owner wealth, and profit orientation of the dominant mass-media firms;
  2. advertising as the primary income source of the mass media;
  3. the reliance of the media on information provided by government, business, and “experts” funded and approved by these primary sources and agents of power;
  4. “flak” as a means of disciplining the media;
  5. anticommunism as a national religion and control mechanism.

Some of these apply to Malawi 2017, others need some adjustment.

Let’s look at them one by one:

  1. Ownership of the media has a clear influence on the editorial content. The public broadcaster is heavily influenced by the ruling party. On the other hand the private media tend to have a more liberal look on society, as one would expect from a profit based enterprise. They are promoting a liberal democracy with rule of law. The reporting is heavily biased towards politicians, who are often criticized for corruption, nepotism and such. Conversely many politicians have criticized the private media for being unpatriotic, biased, politically motivated and such.
  2. Advertising is a typically capitalist business: it promotes products to increase sales. Also in Malawi there are a lot of government sponsored advertisements. Advertising brings in most of the revenue for print media (mostly the two dailies) and all for the private broadcast media and the few internet publications that are not politically financed. . The public broadcasters are financed mainly from tax money through the ruling party, which gives a very different kind of bias. The business sections of the newspapers are strongly influenced by advertisers, who get preferential treatment for coverage in the newspapers. Also, capitalist advertisers would not want to advertise in a medium that is strongly critical of capitalism. This is clear in the US as shown by Herman and Chomsky. I do not have numbers available for the Malawian media.
  3. The reliance on information provided by government, business and experts funded by these is clear in Malawi. The coverage of news is heavily biased towards politics. Often journalists rely on transport provided by organizers of an event covered, and there are persistent rumours of “checkbook journalism” where the subject pays for the coverage. Because of strong budget constraints in the Malawian media often the funds are not available for independent research, especially when travel is required. This biases the news towards the financially strong in society. In Malawi this also includes NGOs, who provide journalists with opportunities to cover the news they find important.
  4. “Flak” in this case means lambasting of the media by government, business, business or government financed “think tanks” and such. In Malawi the media seems to be unimpressed with government lambasting, but does rely heavily on government or university experts. This is specifically prominent in economic and political reporting. This means other trends in thinking than those promoted by government or universities are mostly excluded from the news.
  5. Anti-communism is not very applicable in the 21st century, since communism as a world power is non-existent. In the US it has been replaced by the ”war on terror”. We notice this mostly in international news that is almost completely copied from international press agencies like BBC and Reuters. A clear exception is the reporting from IPS which sometimes is published in Malawi, and does not have this bias.

bigstock-speech-bubble-mass-media-22543973-1-300x225All in all, our news is strongly filtered in one direction, which means that it is difficult for the electorate (and the population as a whole) to form a sound opinion on matters of policy. This undercuts the quality of our democracy. We need wider news coverage with less filtering.


The President and the place of Civil Society

Mutharika’s remark last week, that Pac should form a political party shows a poor understanding of democracy. He seems to be saying that only political parties are legitimate political players, while we all know how important civil society is for democracy. Especially in Malawi where the separation of powers does not function well in politics, we need civil society to provide checks and balances to the powers that be. But Mutharika does not like it that way: he prefers to deal with elections only, and then the winner is the Bwana for 5 years. Well, Mr President Mutharika, democracy does not function that way. If we look at what the experts have to say about it, we see that all political philosophers see democracy as much more than only elections and winner is the Bwana.

Democracy needs checks and balances. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So we need to prevent absolute power, and to do that we need checks and balances. In an ideal democracy the three estates of government are balancing powers. But in Malawi, as in some other Afrian countries, we see that the executive takes much more than its share of power. One reason is that the President, who heads the executive, has too much power in one person. He appoints and fires all ministers, the OPC, and the Attorney General, who heads the judicial arm of government. So here the Executive has direct power over another estate, the Judiciary. This is a violation of the separation of powers. Also the President appoints and fire the heads of several organizations that are supposed to provide checks and balances: the heads of police, Anti Corruption Bureau, Financial Intelligence Unit. This makes it impossible for these organizations to investigate those who enjoy Presidential protection. The President can even be pressed into doing this by powerful members of his party or other powerful people. We need to protect the President against this by spreading the powers he has over more of the estates: the judiciary and the legislative. The same goes for the appointments of the heads of para statals, the Malawi Broadcasting Company and others. Again here the President can be pressed to politicize appointments. Again we can protect the President from this by spreading these powers over the three arms of government, and panels of experts.

blog_accountability_word-cloudNow that the situation is that there is an enormous power in one person, the President, and this power extends over the other arms of government, the opposition from outside government becomes even more important for the correct functioning of democracy. This means civil society: pressure groups like PAC, trade unions, professional associations and others need to provide the checks and balances that keep government in check.

Sometimes some government people give the impression that they feel civil society and other organizations are in their way when they try to provide development. Government has to take all kinds of hurdles in implementing its policies, and some of these are put there by civil society. However, the opposite is true: these hurdles are essential in providing the checks and balances that keep government functioning for the good of the people. Government functionaries inevitably develop interests of their own, which sometimes are different from the interests of the people. These interests are pursued, as all people pursue interests. This is not a character flaw or a lack or morals, this is being human. And we must recognize that all government functionaries all the way to the Highest position, are human. The way to protect them from immoral behavior is not to appeal to morals: in the current situation there are often no alternatives. So we need to change the situation to one where the checks and balances on the government functionaries are functioning, and the functionaries, all the way up to the Highest functionary, are not capable of behaving in an immoral way, because the checks and balances are strong.

If we look at the international situation: in the USA President Trump tried to impose an2b0ff2cf2d6a3ad5b1b0a566c337d0cf illegal Muslim ban, and he was stopped by the judiciary. He tried to take away health care from many American citizens and he was stopped by Parliament. The MPs were pressured by their constituencies in Town Hall meetings. All examples of checks and balances on power, which keep democracy functioning when a President tries to overstep his constitutional mandate. We need that too: we need a judiciary functioning independently of the Executive, which means the President cannot have the power to fire the AG. We need Town Hall meetings, or something equivalent, where the constituency can hold their MP to account. We need a Parliament that is not bought or intimidated into supporting bad laws. And we need civil society to expose any bad policy from Capital Hill. They have a mandate to do so, simply because of the fact they are inhabitants of the country Malawi. Whether PAC or any other organization or inhabitant wants to: every one of us has the right to hold Government to account. And that includes you and me!

Our rulers, our Democracy

We see some traits of democracy in Malawi, but a lot of them are not there. And there we need to improve. Democracy is not: vote once, and shut up for five years under a dictator. Democracy is much more beautiful than that.

According to experts (and they should know) there are a number of requirements before we can speak of democracy. An important theory holds that we need at least four things for a democracy to be democratic:

  1. Upward control: the sovereignty lies with the common people, they are the top authority. (this is what democracy literally means: demos is people, kratos is rule) Usually this is translated in free and fair elections, as well as other democratic controls like checks and balances on power.
  2. Active participation of citizens in political and civic life. This means people should be actively involved in the way the country is run. This is often done through civil society organizations like pressure groups such as PAC, through professional organizations like unions, through the media and these days also social media.
  3. Protection of human rights of all citizens. This is important for minorities, who otherwise could be mistreated by the majority. We see attacks on this in the US against muslims.
  4. Rule of law, where all citizens are equal before the law.

If we look critically at the situation in Malawi, we see that we are falling short to all of these, to a greater or lesser degree.

  1. The upward control is not strong here: we have elections, which are more or less free, but not fair at all: all government parties have abused government resources such as vehicles and state broadcasters for their campaigns. And even though there is one-person-one-vote, the other side of the equation is not free: only rich people who can buy a lot of support can have any reasonable chance of being elected. This means that only the rich part of the country is represented in Parliament and Office of the President and Cabinet. This clearly favours the interests of the rich over those of the common people.
  2. Active participation in political and civic life is severely limited for the common people in Malawi. The urban population has some kind of access, but the majority in the rural areas cannot afford the smart phones, televisions and other gadgets that ensure the option of participation. If we are only informed by a little radio, we cannot make meaningful choices in elections, or in other political activities. And the President recently tried to dismiss the PAC, which represents the religious section of the Malawian population: he told them to form a political party and wait for years before they can vent their concerns. This clearly shows Mutharika does not understand democracy. Involvement of everybody is important, to make the democracy function. This active participation is supposed to be a channel for the upward control: the common people dictate policy. This is important, because the political class inevitably develops their own interests, which are not necessarily parallel to the interests of the population as a whole. The fight against corruption is severely hampered by the exclusion of common people from the decision making process: it is in the interests of office holders that office holders can steal our tax money, while it is in the interest of the common pople that the money is put to the intended use. Because we have no channels for active participation, and because we have insufficient checks and balances on our political class, the country lacks behind in development, because a lot of the funds are stolen or diverted instead of being put to the intended use. Many projects are not designed for maximum efficacy in development, but for maximum efficacy in opportunities for lucrative contracts and/or kick-backs.
  3. Protection of human rights is essential for minorities. For instance sexual minorities Have difficulty getting their rights respected. Also women are being discriminated against, for instance we need a 50-50 campaign, because of this.
  4. Equality before the law is clearly not followed. The person who steals a chicken is punished heavier than the government person who steals billions of kwacha. And many influential people do not even have to face justice. Think of the murder of Robert Chasowa: we have a report that clearly states a number of people involved, but they have not had to face justice. By the same token: a poor person, who does not have the funds to hire a lawyer to further the case can be on remand for many years, which is illegal and a violation of human rights.

We see that our democracy may have one good point: elections, but that we are falling short on many others, and that this impairs on the development of the country. We need to do better, be active, hold office bearers to account. This can mean activism, blog writing, or other ways. But we need to get on the case of the political class to get them to behave. We owe that to our democracy.

Project objectives? Personal wealth?



Last Saturday the Nation opened with an interesting article: Priority mix-up in Government.

It shows how the different government projects are not working towards the same goal, in this case the scrapping of tourism as a priority and the building of an airport in Mangochi. These are two different directions, which means that no way will we get the best return on the investments. This is a familiar situation, I have mentioned examples several times.

However the journalist covers the story as if it is a lack of capacity and/or coordination in Government. It seems increasingly unlikely that that is the cause. If these types of mishaps and bad investments from Government side keep happening, one would suppose there is some systemic issue at hand. What can this be?

The answer seems surprisingly simple: if we presume that the overall objective of these projects is not as mentioned in the proposals and other project documents, but it is that certain well connected individuals get opportunities for lucrative contracts and/or kick backs, then suddenly it all makes sense. The abysmally bad management of the sugar factory in Salima, the building of an airport not in line with Government priorities, Nsanje Inland Port, Tractorgate, failed irrigation projects, the list goes on and on. If Government officials were rewarded for good performance as measured against project objectives, then we would have a very different situation. But the opposite is happening: what is rewarded is a creative abuse of project funds for personal benefit, and political support for the Government of the Day. This explains why Malawi is a “least developed country”: this type of priority stifles effective projects, but rewards ones that do develop certain people’s personal wealth, instead of the country as stated in project objectives.


With elections coming up (in 2 years, but we see the first signs of campaigning 4fb2177f1968895bb5b23812242cfa42_xlpoliticians) it is now more than ever interesting to look at democracy. What is it, and what do we want it to be?

I have noticed that some people are puzzled by my notions that democracy is more than “Vote-once-and-shut-up-for-five-years”. This error is sometimes reflected in concepts like: “There is only one boss at the time”. That is autocracy and not democracy.

Democracy means: demos=people, kratos=rule. People’s rule. This means there are 15 million bosses that rule Malawi together. This is the benchmark of democracy and we need to keep that in mind with everything we say or do in connection with our democracy.

Because it would be a bit cumbersome if every one of those 15 million bosses would have to discuss every single issue, we have appointed some representatives to represent our interests and opinions. These we call MPs and we appointed one called President. What we see happening in history time after time is that appointed authorities develop interests of their own, which are not always in line with the interests and ideas of the people. So we need controls on the appointed representatives, to make sure they stay in line with our ideas. This we do in several ways: one is the separation of powers.

This means we divide authority in three branches:

  1. the executive, which is administered by our employee the President, who we pay to do this for us. This branch of government is supposed to implement the policies we, the people, want, according to the law of the land. It does not always do that in a perfect fashion, so we have another authority to check on it:
  2. the legislative, called Parliament. Here we appointed 192 employees. They have several tasks to perform for us, for which we pay them (through taxes). They make laws, which reflect our values, norms and interests. Often these laws are proposed by the Executive in the form of a bill, which Parliament can pass or reject. Also Parliamentarians can make their own bills, where the Executive has no input. On top of this Parliament must control the Executive. In the worst case scenario they can fire the President for us. If we are not satisfied with the performance of our employee the President, we can order our representatives in Parliament to fire him (or her). This is called impeachment, and it has never been done in the history of Malawi, no matter how dissatisfied we were with the President. Personally I think this should be done as soon as we are dissatisfied. Then we have a third branch of government, which is supposed to be independent of the other branches,
  3. the Judiciary. They implement and interpret the laws made by Parliament. They should be able to overrule the Executive if the policies are not legal, but in Malawi that is extremely rare. Even when Bingu wa Mutharika bulldozed bad unconstitutional laws through Parliament, the Judiciary did not stop him, which they should do. This means that it is difficult for any citizen to have recourse to the law if he/she is maltreated by the Executive or another branch of Government. A problem here is that the head of the Judiciary, the Attorney General, is appointed and fired by the President. This undercuts the independence and with it the power of the Judiciary, and accounts for the situation that we have no recourse if the Executive mistreats us. Here the Presidential powers should be removed to be in line with the international standards for good governance and to give us, the people, an opportunity to fight back if the Executive misbehaves.

These are the official branches of government, but there is more in a real democracy. Especially because in Malawi the Judiciary and the Legislative are dependent on the Executive, we are not protected if people in the Executive develop personal interests and misbehave. We need more. Sometimes the Media is called the fourth arm of government because they also provide a check on Government activities: the Media carries out investigations independently of Government, so they can expose scandal in bad governance to the people. This reporting is essential because sometimes government people can lie to us to protect their own interests and violate the law as well as our interests in the process. Then the Media is supposed to step in and let us know, so we can fire the misbehaving employee, like the President or Member of Parliament. In the worst case scenario we have to wait until elections to vote a misbehaving employee (President, Councilor, MP) out of office. But this can take years, so we need more than just the Media. This is where Civil Society comes in: all of us citizens in a democracy can form an organization (officially registered or not) and organize. We can let the Government know when they are not performing well. We can do this by writing articles on social media or in the Media, we can organize mass demonstrations or civil disobedience. We can occupy government installations (the successful international Occupy movement is called after this form of protest). All of this is part of democracy. Mass demonstrations are legal, but multiparty-malawiour Government has killed protesters for attending, most recently on 20 July 2011. Other forms of activism may be peaceful but illegal, like occupations or civil disobedience. Even though some forms of activism can be illegal, they are still an important part of Democracy, and are integral to the checks and balances on our employees, the President, the Councilors, the MPs, civil servants and others that we pay to administer our business for us. Especially when the official checks and balances do not work properly, such as when the Judiciary and the Parliament are not acting independently of the Executive, but are being bullied, bought or otherwise commanded. Then we must take strong action. Sometimes illegal action from Government side can only be checked with illegal action from the citizen’s side. Keep in mind that not all illegal action is immoral, unethical or unjustified. The laws were made by Government and Government employees are not always ideal people who perform the task we pay them for. Unavoidably, some of these employees will follow their own interests, and they may make laws to protect their own interests instead of protecting ours (which is what we appoint and pay them for). If they pass bad laws, there is no reason whatsoever that we would be ethically bound to follow those laws. In fact it can5d88b123e73eb103335af3707cdf61f1 be unethical to follow unjust laws. Remember that it was legal to discriminate against blacks and coloureds in Apartheid South Africa. The population revolted against this, often in illegal ways. Consequently they got their rights after decades of hard and illegal activism. If the Government is unjust, undemocratic or otherwise birmingham_campaign_dogsflawed we have a moral duty to resist. The government in the USA South in the 1960s was officially democratic, but it was undemocratic in that it mistreated African Americans. So they revolted, often in illegal ways. They improved their rights so much that there was even an African American President in the USA (about 40 years later!). Here clearly it was ethical to resist in illegal ways to get bad laws changed and improved. We should decide for ourselves when this situation is happening here, and how we are going to act. It is Democratic for us to decide how to defend and improve our Democracy, in legal or illegal ways.