Malawi’s troubled times ahead

The disputed May 2019 presidential elections are set to cast a long shadow. Protests – at times violent – have continued since then as the opposition seeks to force government to negotiate. The protests have been strongest in opposition strongholds in the northern and central region of Malawi.

International observers ruled that the polls were free and fair… [but the constitutional court overturned the vote]. Former president Bakili Muluzi and some civil society groups have sought to play a mediating role but have yet been unable to achieve a compromise between the two sides.

President Peter Mutharika, known for his slow decision-making and his ambition to turn Malawi into a country like Singapore, won re-election in a tightly run race. The leader of the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) secured 38.6% while Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) got 35.4% – a difference of about 59,000 votes. Saulos Chilima who is Mutharika’s deputy and campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, won 20.2% backing. Chakwera and Chilima want continue to attack Mutharika on his governance, and want Malawi Electoral Commission boss Jane Ansah to be sacked.

Rallying MPs

Because of the split vote, the DPP took just 65 seats in the 193-seat national assembly, followed by the MCP with 55 and independents with another 55. Chilima’s United Transformation Movement took just four seats. That leaves the opposition with enough power to trouble the DPP’s legislative agenda, if it can rally enough independent members of parliament…

In terms of diplomacy, Malawi’s border dispute with Tanzania is one of the country’s top concerns. Despite years of discussions about seeking a mediated solution, there does not seem to be a resolution on the horizon.

Mutharika’s agenda for the year ahead is largely focused on the economy. The country is dependent on rain-fed agriculture, with tobacco the country’s top export and maize its most important staple crop. Malawi was due to produce 206.9 kilogrammes in 2019, up from 202m in 2018. In terms of agricultural diversification, the government is pushing for more cotton and legume production.

Cyclone aftermath

Education, infrastructure and diversification are some of the Mutharika government’s main policy priorities. But it has a three-year International Monetary Fund programme in train due to high public debt and deficits, which will constrain its ability to spend.

Despite the devastation of from March 2019’s Cyclone Idai, which made many people dependent on food aid, the economy is on a short-term growth spurt. Maize production was predicted to hit 3.4m tonnes in 2019, representing 25.7% year-on-year growth. Rice and cotton predictions were for growth of 19.5% and 35.3%, respectively.

Irrigation is being rolled out to fight the reliance on unpredictable rain pattern. Funding from the World Bank is supporting the Greenbelt Initiative, which will cover 4,000ha on the banks of the Shire River.

Improving the power supply, which is currently based mainly on hydro-electricity, has been a challenge. Malawi has been importing power from Zambia since late 2018. Construction of the 300MW Kam’mwamba coal-fired facility is expected to pick up in 2020 and finish off in 2021. The country produces 350MW and is seeking to raise its generation capacity to 720MW by 2020 and to 1,000MW by 2023.

Natural disasters have left many households desolate

Mining projects are a potential source of diversification, but the government says that the post-election troubles have reduced investor interest. Canadian firm Mkango is working on its feasibility study for the Songwe Hill rare earths project. It is looking for investors for its Thambani uranium, tantalum and niobium project. – The African Report, January-March 2020

The unfinished business of the National Assembly

MPs should not take Malawians for granted. They were elected for a reason – to serve people and not self. The sad part of our democracy is that MPs sometimes think they are above the law; and their behaviour falls short of the salutation of “Honourable”. Legislators from both sides – government and opposition behave as if they are above the law. The arm of government they belong to – the National Assembly – is a serious one and needs mature people who put national duty first and the rest second. No wonder, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) leadership called the MPs childish.

We call upon our legislators not to let down the people of Malawi. They have an obligation to do what they were elected for – pass laws that would change Malawi for the better. What is critical for Malawi is to have laws that would help us elect a president that goes into office with a majority. The court has clearly stipulated what majority entails.

The MPs should therefore do the needful and pass laws that do not create room for a constitutional crisis and unnecessary protracted court battle – yet the Constitutional Court has ordered that within 150 days from February 3 – Malawi should hold fresh presidential elections.

The scuffles in the National Assembly must stop. They do not reflect well on the conduct of these honourables. They have serious business to conduct on behalf of the electorate from 193 constituencies from Chitipa to Nsanje.

That is why we feel the unfinished business of the National Assembly should be considered in view of an impending election. With laws that have been passed piecemeal – the country seems to be taking two steps forward and three steps backwards.

We are likely to have serious challenges, yet again, during the fresh presidential elections – thanks to the behaviour and conduct of our so-called “honourable” MPs. Malawians deserve better. They need representation in the National Assembly that is responsible; that is there to serve country first and politics and their parties later. Again – we say – MPs ought to rise above party politics.

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