Polish it up to gem-like brightness!
Honourable Folks, it’s now 48 years since we became an independent sovereign state. We may not have a national anniversary celebration this year because, we are told, the country, which was among the fastest growing economies in the world three years ago, is too broke to afford a bottle of Coke for the occasion.
At least we are commemorating our independence without the political tension that characterised the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s second term, gradually building to a crescendo as the 60-day deadline PAC-led civil society gave him to step down approached.
I shudder to imagine how many lives would have perished had disgruntled Malawians gone out to the street en masse after the 60 days, trying to bring change the Arab-Spring style.
Who can forget that on a single day—July 20, 2011—the police opened fire and killed 19 unarmed Malawians whose crime was to exercise their constitutional right to demonstrate against an elected leadership which governed badly and violated human rights!
So damaged was the trust between the people and those they entrusted with sovereign authority that it is unlikely the late President could have effected the changes JB introduced to restore donor confidence in the economy—devaluing the kwacha by 49 percent and significantly increasing fuel prices—without sparking an inferno.
Analysts sympathetic to the late Mutharika’s futile search for a home-grown solution to the acute forex shortage that rocked Malawi last year, argued—I dare say rightly so—for government’s stubborn resistance to devaluation on the ground that it could have led to political instability.
The real problem was that there was simply no love lost between Mutharika’s autocratic regime, on the one hand, and the citizens and donors on the other. JB effected these inevitable but extremely painful changes within weeks upon assuming office and Malawians understand it’s the pressing of the boil to remove puss that heralds the healing process.
But must DPP die with its founder? That, in my opinion, would make our hard-won democracy the major loser. While JB’s PP is gaining currency, attracting defectors by the day—much the same way as did DPP in 2005 when it unceremoniously displaced UDF from government without contesting in an election—it is DPP that represents a genuine face of the opposition.
The other parties, which were banded together with PP in the so-called coalition of the opposition when DPP was in government, have an identity crisis. It is not even clear if PP, by virtue of being in government, is no longer a member of the grouping. What is clear, though, is that they generally hold the same view as PP on economic recovery and poverty reduction.
Simply put, they all believe—as I do—that we need donor aid and it is suicidal to ditch them as did the late Mutharika. Implicit in that thinking is acceptance that donor aid is attached to good governance—including transparency, accountability and demonstrable commitment to the fight against corruption—and respect for human rights. In addition, donor aid requires strengthening internal capacity to carry out development projects in the cost-effective manner and adopting what the donors perceive as “best practices” in fiscal, monetary and economic policies. Removal of “universal” subsidies as well as devaluation and floatation of the national currency serve as typical examples of such best practices.
DPP, on the other hand, seems to have a different approach to national development. I noted with interest during just-ended budget session of Parliament the party’s general view that the zero-deficit budget, despite its perceived flaws, was still better if only because it shielded the majority poor from the pangs of devaluation.
Such dichotomy is what makes a multi-party system of government tick. What is probably missing is a bi-partisan ‘think-tank’ in economic development and planning that can draw from the best of these two opposing view-point and come up with a synthetic national development agenda, of course polished with donor- package of best practices to a gem-like point!
But both PP and DPP need to do the needful first. Their executive leadership should go and seek the mandate of members of their respective parties through the ballot in line with the spirit of democratic. To inherit a party, as the current president of DPP has done, is to insult the intelligence of Malawians who chose democracy in the 1993 national referendum.
Happy 48th Independence anniversary fellow Malawians!