Sunday, 16 September 2012

Mountain too High (Part 2)

My short spell in Malawi was very revealing. Let me start with more of the same. Kenya Airways and South Africa airways landed almost at the same time at Kamuzu International Airport. Congestion followed in the arrival hall. I have to admire those immigration officers who have to manually fill in arrival details of passengers on plain sheets of paper with lines drawn using a ruler. I asked this fellow what they do with the papers. He smiled and said "we take them back and transfer this information on yet other papers and then we destroy the originals". Many countries have gone electronic but the poor Malawi Immigration have to manually collect data whilst computers are in many public "bosses" offices covered with " zidoyilo". Minister of Home Affairs, please, let's see change. It is very easy to computerise your systems. We are in modern times. I arrived a day before Jonathan Good-luck arrived in Lilongwe. PP zealots in their “orange colours” were up early on Monday morning to welcome the Nigerian leader. Old habits die hard. Orange flags were flying alongside the Malawian and Nigerians flags along the route. Motorists were in shock on Monday morning as roads were closed and many people were only able to arrive in their office after 09am. I wondered why roads were even closed. Leading a nation of 15 million people should fairly be an easy task especially if the majority of these people live in the rural area and their key needs are mainly basic necessities. After all, Malawians are known as "docile" people, less militant and our anger quickly wears out. This does not seem to be the case for President Joyce Banda (JB). Barely 5 months after occupying Plot No. 1, the economy, is struggling with voices of disgruntlement growing by the day. The noticeable challenges include; increase in prices of basic commodities, fuel price increase, re-emergence of fuel queues, runaway inflation; dissatisfied low and middle-class; poor tobacco season, 1.2 million people facing hunger; etc. Many observers argue that JB and her People’s Party have no vision for Malawi and that what we are seeing is a “Subsistence Government”. In all fairness, JB inherited an economy that was on its knees (if not on its back) and the country was almost bankrupt. The last half of 2011 and prior to Bingu’s demise we saw an increase in Central Government accessing funds from the banking system to finance domestic activities owing to reduced donor flows and heavy Bingu commitments. She inherited a country with foreign exchange crisis, electricity and water crisis, fuel crisis, human capacity problem with low labour productivity. There is no dispute that Malawi had to devalue the Kwacha and had to quickly transit from a fixed exchange regime which was a complete misfit to the realities of the economy. The argument is not about the devaluation but rather about technical matters, timing and sequencing. There was also no illusion that the devaluation of kwacha was going to have a major impact on incomes and livelihood of the majority of the people. Although those voicing concern are mainly blaming JB’s inability to protect consumers from effects of devaluation, the reality is that JB could not do much to cushion this pain, nor could she intervene to make fuel prices remain stable. Perhaps it is the uncaring conduct and statements being made by JB and her lieutenants that is fueling anger and sentiments from people like John Kapito

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