Excerpts from an article in the January 3 edition of the Malawi Daily Times:
President Bingu wa Mutharika, in his New Year special message to the nation, said Malawi was on the road to prosperity, promising the country would see more development this year.
He added that based on the experience of his government’s impressive performance in 2007, prospects for 2008 looked brighter. “Malawi is on the road from poverty to prosperity,” he said. “We shall see new growth in our country. We are poised to implement more projects than we promised you in 2004.”
Mutharika said 2007 was a good year for Malawi and its people…
Mutharika said.. he inherited a “sick economy” in 2004 and decided to institute reforms in the public sector and the civil service. They required enforcement of strict fiscal discipline within the social framework of a home-grown development strategy. “We now own the development process and are responsible for its achievement.”
He said in 2007, his government reduced interest rates to 15 percent, making it affordable for businesses, especially small scale and medium scale enterprise, to borrow and service loans.
“We have also reduced inflation rate down from 17.1 percent in 2006 to 8.5 percent during the year. This has been in response to vibrant business activities in the private sector,” he said.
He said his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had delivered on what it promised, adding “we didn’t promise what we couldn’t deliver, but delivered what we promised.”
Mutharika in the message said the country was no longer experiencing food shortage during certain months of the year as was previously the case. He said due to sound agricultural policies, Malawi last year produced 1.3 million metric tones of food, which was more than what the country needed annually.
And to give people more money in their pockets, government negotiated higher prices of some agricultural commodities like tobacco, cotton, groundnuts, soya beans and maize. “As a result, many people have had increased purchasing power that enabled them to have effective demand for products. This made many business traders really rich in 2007,” he said.
To reduce dependence on rain-fed agriculture, government built large dams during 2007 and rehabilitated many irrigation schemes that were constructed during the Kamuzu era, to give clean water to rural communities and develop aquaculture industry.
For anyone familiar with the sad reality of present day Zimbabwe, the contrast between how 2007 was for it and its small neighbour Malawi are stark indeed, even keeping in mind that some of Mutharika’s speech was merely the self-serving triumphalism of a politician.
But there are lots of independent indices of how 2007 was indeed a very good year for Malawi. Without a lot of fanfare, Malawi achieved its second maize bumper harvest in a row. Some of the surplus maize was sold or donated to bigger, more “developed” but impoverished and hungry Zimbabwe. And it was done not with any dramatic, wholesale changes to anything, but by the application of simple incentives like a fertiliser subsidy.
After vowing not to repeat the indignity of the country having to beg for food aid as it did during the famine of 2005, Malawi accomplished in two years what Zimbabwe has failed to do in the close to 10 years since “the land revolution.”
Malawi’s achievements are merely another indicator of just how wrong things have gone in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has innumerable natural and man-made advantages over Malawi, but we can be pretty certain that Mugabe is unlikely to ever have the opportunity to deliver the kind of good news wrap-up of a year’s performance that Mutharika has been able to do for Malawi.
The two neighbouring countries provide a stunning example of the importance of effective leadership in determining the fortunes of a country. In Malawi we have a poor country with relatively few competitive advantages maximising them to forge ahead. In Zimbabwe is a country blessed with abundant potential wealth not only floundering, but falling behind with each passing year. The main difference between the two? The quality of leadership.
While Mutharika justifiably crows about his government’s achievements in Malawi, all Zimbabweans can expect from Mugabe is more scape-goating, more hurling of insults at real and imagined enemies, more repression and more justifications for failure. The state of present day Zimbabwe, and its short-term prospects under Mugabe, is a tragedy of historical proportions.