Today, July 6, Malawi is celebrating 59 years of political independence from Britain attained in 1964.
If I were asked to briefly describe the 59 years of independence, my response would be that it is a mixed bag punctuated by high levels of debt, poverty, hopelessness and, in some cases, a lack of direction. Besides, there have been several missed opportunities along the way.
This year’s K300 million celebrations are being held under the theme ‘Celebrating renewed unity and patriotism’.
From independence, Malawi under founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda, mostly focused on agriculture as a key driver of growth. It is only after 1994 that the country seriously started talking about diversification to mining and other ventures.
What is unfortunate is that 59 years later, Malawi is bundled in the bracket of the poorest countries in the world such as Burundi, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Niger. It is not an enviable tag considering that Malawi has generally enjoyed absolute peace and stability over the years whereas most of the countries it is sailing in the same poverty boat with, have, at one point or another, faced civil strife that destabilised their economies.
During the decade between 2010 and 2019, the World Bank said poverty levels in the country remained high with about half of the population trapped in extreme poverty. The trends were said to have been worsened by, among others, population growth and recurring climate shocks, especially in the Southern and Central regions where floods and droughts have been persistent.
Public debt has also been on the rise over the years such that Malawi, which had an estimated 90 percent of its foreign debt written off in 2006 under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative, is back on its bended knees appealing for debt forgiveness again. In 2020, Malawi Government owed creditors about K4.13 trillion, but as at December 2022, the public debt stood at K7.9 trillion with K4.43 trillion as domestic debt and K3.47 trillion as external debt. For the record, the current Tonse Alliance administration, in just three years, has accumulated about K3.3 trillion in debt.
The Independence Day theme revolves around “renewed” unity and patriotism. How ironic! Over the years, especially in the multiparty era from 1994, our society has become kind of polarised with most appointments in the public sector seemingly influenced by ethnic group or one’s so-called “home of origin” and experience has shown that those from the same geographical area or sharing similar political leanings with the ruling elite are at an advantage.
My take is that as we celebrate 59 years of independence, we should take this as an opportune time to reflect on what we have done in the past, where we went wrong and how we can improve.
Dependency syndrome will also take the country nowhere. If anything, the masses will continue wallowing in poverty while the ruling elite become filthy rich by any measure.
It is also worth noting that some of the challenges our country faces on the economic front have come against a background of several prescriptions from international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Today’s celebrations should also provide a point of reflection and put into action and what the country needs to do to improve the plight of Malawians trapped in poverty. It is, however, encouraging that the National Planning Commission is in place to oversee implementation of the Malawi2063, the country’s long-term development strategy that seeks to graduate Malawi into a middle-income economy.
Finally, I see a kind of subdued mood surrounding this year’s independence celebrations. Surely, we can do better with few colourful decorations in strategic places in our cities. Besides Lilongwe, the venue of the celebrations, it would not do anyone’s harm to decorate the Independence Arch and the Clock Tower in Blantyre. Similar décor was also needed in Mzuzu and Zomba. Such gestures would instill a sense of patriotism and ownership of the day by the citizenry.
I wish my fellow Malawians a happy 59th independence anniversary.