Here’s my blunt and unfortunate prediction after visiting Malawi in the last week of December 2011:
The Government of Malawi is destroying whatever little the country may have had, 2012 year will see serious hunger, and unless Malawians radically change their government—and soon—things will get a lot worse.
Three days and two nights staying in the same village I lived in for a year starting in May 2008 was enough to convince me of all this. Whereas times were tough before but getting better, now there seems no prospect of improvement. Villagers are without seed maize, without fertilizer, with less trees, water and land than ever before, and worst of all with a government that is not only completely ineffectual but set on making things worse.
Ever since Bingu wa Mutharika, the current Malawian president, started losing his mental marbles the repercussions have been devastating: hyper-scarce foreign exchange to pay for vital imports, whimsical agriculture policies and prices leaving small farmers with unstable and uncertain markets, chronic petrol shortages and suspended international aide on which the country hugely relied to construct a semblance of a national budget.
Though if you drive into Lilongwe coming from Zambia you might not believe me. On this drive you’ll see more more shopping complexes, strip malls, new age restaurants, tourist lodges and shiny new industrial sheds than you’d think a impoverished nation could muster.
“Malawi’s in the midst of a construction boom and everything is on the upswing,” it might be said.
But it’s a façade; look closer. Two day long queues for petrol. Sparse stock in the shops. Soaring prices for soap, maize, cooking oil and just about every other basic good. Vehicles rolling down hills in neutral to save gas.
To me, the one explanation of this simultaneous construction and crisis is what seems to often happen during uncertainty: the rich getting richer and the poor become even worse off than before.
Add in the fact of the ruthlessly suppressed protests that attempted to break the silence of government kleptocracy earlier this year and you have the full story: Malawi is coming unglued.
With the next election a long three years away and no assurance of Mutharika’s removal even then—he’s grooming his younger brother to take over the job—Malawi’s fortunes degrade with every passing day.
It’s a sad story for a country just recently known for making a bit of headway.