LILONGWE, Malawi — As Malawi celebrates 50 years of independence from Britain, it is an opportunity to glance back at past successes, but also to look toward future improvements for what is currently one of the least developed nations in the world.
Malawi suffers from intense poverty, with 61 percent of its 15 million inhabitants living below the poverty line of $1.25 per day. Up to 40 percent of the annual budget is funded by international donors, primarily by the United Kingdom, who funds essential programs such as social development, health, education and agriculture.
Frustrated socio-economic commentator, Henry Kachaje, expressed, “It’s disappointing and pathetic for a country that has been independent for five decades to still be struggling to feed its population, in a country endowed by fresh water from the third largest lake in Africa.”
Ranked 170 out of 186 on the Human Development Index, there is much progress to be made in Malawi. Only 10 percent of the population has electricity, and difficulties in the education sector pose consistent roadblocks to development. Education is one of the key ways a country can invest in youth and escape poverty, yet Malawi faces a lack of teachers, necessity for new classrooms and worrisome ratios of 76 students per teacher.
Further disadvantaging development was the reduction of foreign assistance after the “cashgate” scandal” at the end of 2013. A total of $150 million in aid has been suspended since the new president Peter Mutharika’s election in May.
There have been five different governing presidents since the country’s independence. Each have set out to achieve development in different ways, leaving none of the programs completely finished and the citizens feeling the negative effects.
Much of the international focus surrounding Malawi’s independence anniversary has been focused on the current widespread poverty. It is important to focus on how to improve, but the international community should also recognize the positive advances that Malawi has accomplished since independence, particularly in the past decade.
In 2008, Malawi successfully held the position as the second-fastest growing economy in the world. Between 2012 and 2013, it managed to increase its GDP growth from 1.8 percent to 5 percent thanks to tobacco exports and growth in agriculture, manufacturing and services. Their GDP is projected to further increase to a growth rate of 6.2 percent in 2015.
In addition to economic growth, Malawi successfully decreased the rate of new HIV infections by 73 percent between 2001 and 2011, according to the United Nations.
Following the scandal at the end of last year, the government set in place an action plan to fix cracks in public finance management with the help of international donors. Hopefully this and Mutharika’s pledge to “crack down on corruption” will help Malawi regain international trust.
Frederick Ndala, presidential spokesperson, claims that the celebration of independence is the “beginning of a new generation which calls for people to sit down, reflect, and project into the future.”
Hope is in sight for newly elected president this past May, Peter Mutharika, who admitted, “it’s obvious that we are facing very serious problems in this country.” Despite this, he encouraged his 11 fellow presidential candidates to join him in rebuilding the country because “no single person can do it.”
Chairman of Common Approach to Budget Support Alexander Baum, has noted that if the country successfully maintains a growth rate of about 7 percent to 9 percent over the next five years to 10 years, this will dramatically help to reduce their dependence on donor aid.
A combination of continuing economic growth and a strong commitment to combating corruption, paired with improving health and education, will help pave the way for poverty reduction in Malawi. The 50-year mark is an excellent point for this relatively new country to pause and look back, but most importantly, to look to the future.
– Kim Tierney
Sources: AlJazeera 1, The Guardian 1, SlateAfrique, Mail & Guardian, UNDP, The Guardian 2, AlJazeera 2, AFDB