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Malawi: The Warm Heart of Africa?

By Theresa Chapulapula

Malawi is fondly known as the warm heart of Africa. This aptly describes the country. The warmth and the beauty of its people really make Malawi a must to visit. If you have never been to that Southern African country, then you are really missing something in life.

The language barrier should not give you a headache. As long as you can speak English, you are home and dry. Many Malawians speak English and wherever you go, you will find someone who is more than willing to give you a helping hand.

Nevertheless on Wednesday July 20 the day of the now famous protests, things were different in the warm heart of Africa, as humble Malawians had no choice but to raise their voice against the leadership of President Bingu wa Mutharika and the economic crisis being experienced there through demonstrations.

Civil society leaders, the media, economists, political analysts and donors have advised government to critically look at the many undemocratic decisions it has engaged in that have led the country to the current economic crisis.

Malawi is facing a series of catastrophes on multiple fronts due to economic mismanagement and undemocratic leadership. The challenges are too many to mention. However the following issues may suffice to demonstrate the cause of discomfort by the humble Malawian.

Forex: Malawi has experienced acute shortage of foreign exchange for over two years, with no end in sight. This problem has had many consequences: scarcity of products and services due to difficulties in the importation of essential products. Malawians who utilise foreign currency have searched for it in vain to pay for expenses when travelling abroad, when purchasing products which are not produced locally, paying for examination fees to foreign education providers and accessing treatment for medical facilities.

Another challenge that has compounded the problem of foreign currency are the poor tobacco sales (which used to provide 74% of our forex reserves, but inflow has dwindled by over 70%).

Read Theresa’s story, which fingers a cartel of tobacco multinationals for colluding to fix the tobacco price at artificially low levels.

Fuel shortage is another hitch. The acute and never-ending fuel shortages have caused shrinkages in transportation which limit people’s traveling. Producers have been unable to transport products around the country leading to shortage of products and services. Critical services such as health services have not been spared and workers face a daily struggle in commuting between workplace and home.

Power outages have become a daily norm. In Malawi, black outs are no longer news as people are now used to them. The Electricity Supply Commission of Malawi is failing to provide electricity yet less than 20% of the population has access to electricity. Industries are hard hit with insufficient power to enable optimal production of vital products which may even substitute imports.

The current leadership has tended to exhibit deliberate disregard of the Constitution and the rule of law. Amid public condemnation, the current leadership and administration abused its majority in Parliament to pass an amendment to section 46 of the Penal Code allowing the minister for information to ban publications ‘deemed to be contrary to the public interest’. This law has taken Malawi backwards in terms of guaranteeing media freedoms as provided under chapter VI of the Constitution.

To crown it all, the media watchdog, Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) banned all private stations from airing live the demonstrations, again denying Malawians the right to know.

As people were demonstrating, Mutharika had a public lecture where he outlined his short, medium and long term plans for Malawi. Mutharika promised Malawians that the fuel and forex shortage and intermittent blackouts would be a song of the past.

He also appealed to Malawians that demonstrations were not a solution to the current problems but that ‘together we can find solutions’.

With that assurance from Mutharika, we can but hope Malawi will remain the warm heart of Africa with its humble and friendly people.

Theresa Chapulapula is a Malawian journalist with 7 years experience. She works with Blantyre Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Times, Malawi News, the Sunday Times and the Weekend Times. She has joined amaBhungane for three months on a short-term internship intended for journalists from the SADC region.

  • La Quebecoise

    Theresa, I am very sorry to learn of the severe problems in your country. It sounds as though Malawi is well on the way to becoming Zimbabwe.

  • MLH

    ‘…together we can find solutions…’
    Sounds so much like what is going on in SA, that I quake.
    Zim, Malawi, SA…we all seem simply to rinse and repeat.

  • IMPEDIMENTA

    I believe that irrigation from the lake would greatly improve the ability of Malawians to grow food. I was surprised to see so much fresh water and not a single irrigation system to villages on higher land. I have no doubt that the private growers, such as the tobacco producers, have irrigation and money would be well spent to extend irrigation to the villagers.

  • http://www.firelightfoundation.org Firelight Foundation

    We’re very sorry to hear about the struggles in Malawi and sending our and support to the people. We’ve heard that community groups remain strong and able to operate, which we’re happy to hear. We’ll be listening and sending our support through the Malawians we work with on the ground. Thanks for the article.

  • mbuya munlo

    Nice but impoverished article. What has shortage of fuel and foreign currency got to do with democratic leadership and economic management. If international governments and financial institutions are forming cartels and reaping of poor farmers what has government to do with it. You could have been explicit on what advice NGOs and political parties are giving government. These are parasites falling over themselves for donor money which they account to no one and sell outs who act as conduits for agendas than have no basis in the country. You have identified causes but you have oversimplified them and failed to give a sophisticated structural analysis.

  • Komuredhi

    ………….can’t agree more with @mbuya munlo.
    This is too pedestrian!

  • X Cepting

    “scarcity of products and services due to difficulties in the importation of essential products.” Is this an admission that Malawi is unable to look after itself? Perhaps the biggest problem in Africa remains the inability to come up with African-engineered solutions to African problems. That said, I would love to visit your country one day. Thank you for the post.

    @Munlo – the connection is power, which corrupts anything it touches, it seems.

  • Gail

    Perhaps the article appears pedestrian since it only highlights two areas which are not really understood by the readers and the intentions of the columnist was not to provide us with a long list of the many ills prevailing in Malawi – merely two which have a profound effect on every individual living in Malawi. Perhaps the wheel of civilisation as we know it in Africa should turn anti clockwise?

  • Nguni

    Yet another SADC member in the doldrums as the economic powerhouse SA is slowly brought to it’s knees by corruption, incompetence and the turning over of productive farmlands to clueless ‘farmers’ with the right skin colour. Only Botswana coped with the weakening of the dynamo despite it’s diamond-based economy taking a few knocks. Its pristine wildlife continued to bring in top tourist dollars.

  • Bovril24

    @Mbuya

    I think any informed observer would say that shortages of strategic items like fuel and currency can only be the fault of the government and poor management in any democracy – anywhere.

    Sadly, it is the African disease to blame other parties for every weakness of their incompetent politicians.

    South Africans will find a home from home in Malawi!

  • isaac munlo

    Bovril 24 you are wrong in this case. First you should familiarise yourself with the causes of these problems. The IMF advised the government that the Central bank should stop being the custodian of foreign exchange. Commercial banks took advantage and externalised the same. Curtails backed by their governments have conived to buy malawi products at lower than production costs, aid has been used to force issues that are clearly against Malawi’s interests. Commercial oil companies got rid of their fuel storage facilities saying these were expensive to keep. Government put in place institutions and structures to address the same. There are fuel shortages even in oil producing countries. Due to Malawi being landlocked it took time for these measures to take effect. The braibwashed civil society in Malawi would never spare government if it went against baseless donor prescriptions like devaluation etc, yet they do nothing about import substitution, they simply grow their bellies on donor funds which they get through mercenary activities. You should also familiarise yourself with the measures that the Malawi government is putting in place to address these issues. Bottom line is that uninspired and non inspiring civil society and increasingly coercive international community have gone into a marriage of convenience to frustrated the most informed, assertive and competent government Malawi has ever had. Don’t be naive, their is a lot of outside interference in Africa, all based on self serving agendas.

  • http://blogroid.wordpress.com Nicholas

    I have visited Malawi intermittently over the past three or so decades.

    During the era of a man called Hastings Banda the country was run as a private fiefdom to the benefit of a small party elite. Later after a relatively democratic revolution there was much talk of and parading of ‘democratic’ messages. These were scattered about in public places but seemed as devoid of reality as many do here.

    One always noticed that most of the citizenry were painfully thin [unlike Botswana curiously] and one was always aware of a small [somewhat sinister] handful of well fed leather clad fellows who seemed to make the main moves.

    Flying over the countryside in a low flying aircraft i was visibly struck by the obvious fact that notwithstanding the presence of a vast lake running the length of one side no attempt had [or seemed to have been] made to create irrigation passages into the interior which was dry and parched. My diary notes of the last journey, some 6 years ago referred to the land below me as ‘like an old man’s scalp, the hair thinning so the skull gleamed through.”

    That Malawi is a poor country is true. That it’s poverty is self imposed is, regrettably, also true.

    They did the Zimbabwe thing way back before Rhodesia fell and as Lear observed “Nothing comes of nothing”. The ‘can’ has been ‘kicked’ into a cul de sac: and so Malawi is now a prime jewel awaiting Chinese occupation.

  • http://diary.com/notes/2123935 Jolyn

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  • Johann

    I recently visited Malawi for the first and last time. The intention was to travel from Tete in Mozambique to Quilimane through Blantyre. We were not in the country for 15 minutes and managed to get a $100USD fine because our vehicle did not have the correct “markings” on it indicating that it comes from South Africa and also lacking some sort of reflector. The reflectors are not fore sale anywhere and the car has South African number plates on it!
    Needless to say, a short visit.

  • Amangochokocho

    Isaac Munlo/Mbuya Munlo, first of all you should have declared your interest being an Ambassador of the Malawi government to the AU and Ethiopia. You are backing govt in this mess because that is where your bread is buttered. I would like to invite you home and preach the nonsense you are preaching here and see if you will escape some beating. Malawi’s economy has totally collapsed and it is not because of IMF and World Bank. I am sickened that you are advancing the very points Mutharika -the Dictator- has been preaching. It would appear your mind is colonised although you have a PhD. Use your brain Doc.

  • Yasmin Iacovone

    What I really got out of this story was another lesson in how the brain doesn’t always correctly register what the eye sees. Af first glance, I saw a Corvair sitting alongside some older cars. Then I saw that the car on the right looked like a Studebaker from maybe the 50s and finally my brain woke up and said, “Idiot, that’s a Lark on the left.”

  • Observer

    Mbuya
    If you do your research and analize the situation in a deeper perspective you will understand why Theresa made this comment. The earlier government DID manipulate and were the reason behind the fuel shortages and so on. Many things were brought to light after Bingu wa Mutharika who was the current president at the time this article was published passed away. Malawi was doing just fine before he dipped his hands in its honey pot to pay for his lavish lifestyle.
    However, the past is the past and all that Malawians can do at this point is to move on and work towards a brighter future.

  • Dandala

    Malawi has a fair share of problems in this world and there is a lot that could be achieved if our leaders became serious and focused. Nevertheless, there is so much good about Malawi which cannot be appreciated by passerbys (whether they do so by air, land or water does not matter) unless they make special effort to do so. Unfortunately, Malawi is yet to experience journalism that takes pride in capturing this good instead of cataloguing the country’s problems in search of unattainable sympathy. God bless Malawi.

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  • rajesh

    Oh…Really sad to heard about Malawi.Actually last week I got a job opportunity letter from one of the school in Malawi.Before i had no idea about Malawi.but now I understood Malawi is not a good place for my works.